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8 effective knee strengthening exercises

People doing knee strengthening exercises at a gym

Despite their numerous health benefits, high-impact workouts such as running and HIIT (high intensity interval training) can cause havoc with some people’s knee joints.

But, if you start to experience pain or discomfort in this area, don’t think that all is lost and you have to abandon your morning jogs and stress relieving cardio sessions.

By incorporating knee strengthening exercises into your weekly routine, the muscles around your knees will start to gradually develop. This will give them extra support while you’re pounding the pavements or launching into a jump squat, and improve your overall flexibility.

As long as your doctor or physical therapist gives you the go ahead and you start slowly and build up over time, knee strengthening exercises can be an effective way of relieving pain and avoiding any further damage.

However, before you begin, make sure that you warm up you properly. This will help you get more out of your workout, stretch more deeply and reduce the chances of you hurting yourself. If you’re in the gym maybe hop on one of the spin bikes for five minutes, or if you’re at home you could go for a quick brisk walk and do a few calf raises.

Then simply pick a few options from our list of the best exercises to strengthen knees below, and repeat several times a week. Different exercises work best for different people, so give them all a try and then just stick with the ones that suit your body the most.

Knee strengthening exercises to do at home

Straight leg raises

This is a great exercise to remedy knee pain, and an easy one to start with if you are just beginning to experiment with strengthening the muscles around your knees.

It effectively targets your quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thigh), whilst putting little to no strain on your actual knee. No equipment is needed either, so you really can do it anywhere.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor or on another flat surface.
  2. Bend one knee and place your foot flat on the floor. Keep the other leg straight and stretched out.
  3. Then use your thigh muscles to raise the stretched-out leg in line with the height of the opposite knee.
  4. Repeat 10 to 15 times for three sets.

Calf raises

As the name suggests, this one targets your calf muscles, found in your lower leg and behind your shin bone. You can do this holding onto the back of a piece of furniture, or on stairs whilst gripping the banister and letting you heels hang off the edge of the step.

How to do it:

  1. Slowly raise your heels as high as you can, then lower again equally as slowly.
  2. Repeat 10 to 15 times for three sets.
  3. To make it harder, stand on the edge of a step with your heels hanging off the edge, or lift one foot slightly off the floor so that all your weight is on the other foot.

Side leg raises

This is a handy move that targets a number of different parts of the leg, and you might even have come across it before in a Pilates classes.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on one side with your legs stacked, then bend the bottom leg for support and to help you balance.
  2. Straighten the top leg and raise it to 45 degrees.
  3. Hold it in the air for five seconds, then slowly lower it back down.
  4. Engage your leg and glute and repeat 10 to 15 times. Then switch sides and do the same with the other leg. (basic recommendation but see your qualified personal trainer for specific sets, reps and rest periods)
  5. To mix it up try to point the toe of your upper leg slightly toward the floor as you raise it.

Knee strengthening exercises for in the gym

Leg presses

If you’ve never tried this machine before it’s best to ask a member of staff to help you get set up. But, once you’ve done it once you’ll find it super easy to progress with independently.

  1. Sit on the leg-press machine with your back and head against the support and your feet flat on the foot plate in front of you and about level with your chest.
  2. Slowly push the plate away from you until your legs are extended but not locked out. Bend your knees and return to your starting position.
  3. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps and keep increasing the weight as you get stronger. (basic recommendation but see your qualified personal trainer for specific sets, reps and rest periods)

Hamstring curls

This move is designed to target your hamstrings, the muscles along the back of your thighs. A lot of gyms will have a specific machine for this move, or you also do it lying on your stomach or standing up and holding onto something in front of you.

  1. Lie face down on a mat and slowly bend you knees to bring both heels as close to your glutes as you can. If standing, lift one leg at a time in the same way.
  2. Do three sets of 10-15 reps (basic recommendation but see your qualified personal trainer for specific sets, reps and rest periods).
  3. If the move starts to feel too easy, you can add some one, three or five-pound ankle weights. These can then be increased as you get stronger.

Step ups

You can do this on a plastic step in the gym or on a step or low and sturdy surface in your own home.

  1. Place one foot on a step bench.
  2. Keeping your hips level, bend both knees and slowly lower one foot to the floor, lightly tap it and then pull it back up to the starting position.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times, then switch legs. (basic recommendation but see your qualified personal trainer for specific sets, reps and rest periods)
  4. If it feels too easy, use a higher step or touch your heel on the floor instead of your toe.

Advanced knee strengthening exercises

Wall Squats

This is a more difficult move that’s best attempted when you have been training your knee muscles for a little while.

  1. Plant your feet about shoulder width apart and stand with your back against a wall.
  2. Slowly bend your knees and slide your back and pelvis down the wall, keeping your back straight.
  3. Hold for five to 10 seconds in this seated position and then repeat.
  4. Don’t bend too deeply and immediately change your position if you feel pressure or discomfort in your knees.
  5. Try to hold the pose for a few seconds longer each time.

For more personalised advice about how to deal with knee pain and which knee strengthening exercises are best for you, contact the team at Embody Fitness.

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