Chances are, if you’re a regular exerciser you’ll suffer from the occasional ache and pain. And knee problems are right up there when it comes to those who experience some type of exercise-induced pain. If you’re one to suffer from occasional knee pain that comes out of nowhere and throws a wrench into your fitness routine, then give these 4 knee strengthening exercises a try and make it a regular part of your pre-workout routine.
Improving Knee Tissue Quality
Before we get to the actual exercises, however, you’ll first want to address tissue quality, which can mean adhesions or trigger points for example.
These soft-tissue problems will prevent you from moving freely, as they restrict the free gliding of the layers of fascia. Soft-tissue restrictions will make you less flexible and decrease your power output, as force gets absorbed by the friction between tissues.
The cheapest way to address these soft-tissue problems is by massaging them yourself with a foam roller or massage stick.
5-10 minutes of tissue work to start your workout will go a long way…especially when it comes to keeping the knees healthy and happy. Focus on the quads, glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves by working out the tight spots and letting the roller or stick dig into the muscle and release any adhesions that might be holding you back.
Knee Strengthening Exercises Circuit
Ok, now that you’ve rolled the legs and released some of those tight spots, it’s now time to get to work on 4 simple exercises that will build strength and stability around those knees.
You can perform the moves below in a circuit fashion (one after the other) for 3 rounds, or you can perform all 3 sets of an exercise before moving on to the next one.
1. Clam Shells
Strong and glutes are very important for healthy knees. Your glutes help control the movement of the knee and produce abduction and external rotation and resist adduction and internal rotation. In other words, the glutes prevent your knee from collapsing in when performing a physical activity. The knees collapse increases your risk of ACL-tears, knee tendonitis and many other knee issues.
Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent and in front of you. Rotate the upper leg up and out by just using your glutes. Don’t move your upper body and don’t push off using your toes. Your range of motion will be low in the beginning if you’re doing it right and you should feel some muscles in your buttocks working.
Perform 10-12 repetitions and hold the upper position for 2 to 3 seconds. Concentrate on contracting the glute hard. Then switch to the other side. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per side.
When ready, you can add an elastic band to make these knee strengthening exercises more of a challenge.
2. Glute Bridge
Much like the clam shells, the glute bridge will place an emphasis on building strength through your backside.
Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and the knees forming a 90 degree angle. Now press yourself up into the bridge position by contracting your glutes hard. There should be a straight line from your upper body to your knees.
Focus on having your hamstrings less tight than your glutes with this drill.
Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Once that is too easy you can perform the one-legged glute bridge by having one foot in the air. Concentrate on maintaining good form at the upper position.
3. Band Walks
For this knee strengthening exercise, resistance band walks, you will need an mini looped resistance band.
Place the band around the ankles or just above the knees, squat down slightly and start walking sideways. Move one leg at a time. Don’t let the moving leg drag on the ground and do not lean the upper body to one side. Pick up the foot as you step and actively resist the tension of the band.
Take 10 slow steps to your right and 10 slow steps to your left….that is one set. Perform 3 sets of 10 on each side.
4. Deep Body-weight Squats
The deep squat is a basic human movement but often times people struggle with proper execution.
It’s beneficial for relaxing the hip musculature and providing the cartilage of the knee with nutrients. It should also be noted that squatting does not cause knee pain. Squatting improperly might cause knee pain, but doing anything improperly might cause pain.
The key to a good deep squat is to sit back rather than dip down. Keep the shin bones as close to vertical as you can. If you cannot do this without falling over backwards, your ankle mobility needs work. Find something to hold on to, like a doorway, or hold a light weight out in front of you for balance.
Imagine you’re sitting down on a chair that’s far away from you. This will engage your glutes and hamstrings a lot more.
Place your feet directly under your hips pointing straight ahead. It should be somewhat of a narrow squat compared to what you’re used to doing with regular squats.
Don’t let your knees collapse inward. Track your knees over your smaller toes. If your knees keep collapsing inward you can loop a mini resistance band around your knees and work against the pressure to keep your knees from collapsing. This will help you recruit and train the proper muscles.
Resting in the deep squat position is also highly beneficial for relaxing hip muscles and improving digestion. Hold on to something if you’re falling over backwards.
Don’t stand up too quickly if you’ve spent more than a minute in the deep squat position. Push your hips back as far as you can and don’t let your knees slip forward.
Perform 3 rounds of a 30-60 second sit.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.