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Strengthen Your Knees With These 10 Leg Exercises

Strengthen your knees and improve joint health with these 10 effective exercises for enhanced mobility and stability
4 mins read
Knee strengthening exercises
Credit // Shutterstock

Stronger knees with 10 exercises!

Knee pain is a ubiquitous issue today. In fact, knee issues are some of the most common problems seen by doctors today.

But while knee pain can be a serious hindrance, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the strain your knees experience during exercise. One thing that helps a lot to reduce knee pain is exercise, and strengthening exercise in particular (1). 

In this article, I’ll highlight 10 of my favorite exercises for increasing knee strength and decreasing knee pain (2). 

10 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises You Should Be Doing

10 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises You Should Be Doing
Image // Canva

1. Bodyweight Squats

Bodyweight Squats
Shutterstock.com

Squats involve three major joints of the lower body: the hips, the ankles, and the knees. For this reason, squats are known as a “triple extensor” exercise. While this move may cause some knee pain for certain individuals, most people benefit greatly from performing squats with good form.

How to Perform

  • Start standing, with your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees, keep your back straight, and lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • Stand back up to complete the rep.
  • Perform 10-12 reps per set, for 3 sets per session.

2. Pistol Squats

Pistol Squats Exercise
Shutterstock

This variation on the traditional squat is extremely helpful for knee pain sufferers. Pistol squats are essentially single-limb squats. This means that you can use this exercise to isolate any problems in your lower body that may be present on one side and not the other. 

How to Perform

  • Start by standing on your right leg, with your left leg out in front of you.
  • Squat down with all of your weight on your right side, using your arms and your left leg for balance.
  • Once you reach the bottom of your range, stand back up.
  • Complete 10-12 reps per side, per set, for 3 sets per session.

3. Skater Squats

Skaters have incredible leg strength. Therefore, any exercise that mimics their movements is sure to strengthen the muscles and bones of the lower body, especially in the knees.

How to Perform

  • Start on your right leg, with your knee slightly bent.
  • Jump toward your left side, landing on your left leg with a soft knee.
  • Immediately jump back to the right, repeating the motion on the right side. 
  • Complete 10-12 reps per side, per set, for 3 sets per session.

4. Single Leg RDLs

Single leg romanian bodyweight deadlift
Shutterstock

Romanian deadlifts, or RDLs are one of the key strengthening exercises for the lower body. When you perform them on one leg, you increase the balance demand, making your knees, ankles, and hips work even harder. Also, you can make this exercise more difficult by changing the angle of movement slightly, or adding a multi-directional component.

How to Perform

  • Start by standing on your right leg.
  • Bend forward at the waist, keeping your right knee bent slightly.
  • Allow your left leg to extend behind you as you reach for the ground with your left hand.
  • Stand back up and repeat for 10-12 reps per set, for 3 sets per session.

5. Banded Walks

Banded Walks
Shutterstock

Using resistance bands is really a game changer when you’re trying to improve your lower body strength. Even light resistance bands can dramatically increase the difficulty of an exercise.

How to Perform

  • Secure a looped band just above your knees.
  • Perform a partial squat.
  • Walk forward by taking big, wide steps.
  • Walk backward in the same way.
  • Perform 30-40 steps forward and backward each session.

6. Split Squats

Split Squats

Split squats are incredible for building glute and quad strength. This exercise has become very popular in recent years, as it is gentle on the knees, but yields great results.

How to Perform

  • Start standing on your right leg with a bench or chair behind you.
  • Place your left foot on the bench, performing a “semi-split”.
  • Squat down as low as you can, then stand back up.
  • Perform 10-12 reps per set for 3 sets per session.

7. Walking Lunges

Walking Lunges
Image // Canva

Much like single-leg squats, lunges provide a great way of ironing out any asymmetries in the lower body.

How to Perform

  • Start in standing, with your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Take a big step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee, lowering your left knee close to the ground.
  • Then, stand up, stepping your left leg past your right leg as you rise.
  • Perform the motion on your left side and continue in this manner for 15 reps per set, for 3 sets per session.

8. Single Leg Bridges

Single Leg Bridges
Image // Canva

Bridges are traditionally thought of as an isolation exercise for the glutes. However, when they are performed on one leg, they force you to stabilize your body with the muscles surrounding your knees.

How to Perform

  • Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Shift all of your weight onto your right leg as you straighten out your left leg and lift it high in the air.
  • Perform a bridge, contracting your glutes.
  • Slowly lower back down to complete the rep.
  • Perform 10-12 reps per side, per set, for 3 sets per session.

9. Weighted RDLs

Weighted RDLs
Image // Gymvisual

Earlier, I described the single-leg RDL. This exercise simply adds weight to the movement. If you are using really heavy weights, you should perform it on both feet. If not, one leg is still acceptable. 

How to Perform

  • In standing, hold one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Bend forward at the waist, keeping the knee bent.
  • Once you’ve reached the bottom of your range, return to standing.
  • Complete 10-12 reps per set, for 3 sets per session.

10. Calf Raises

Calf Raises
Image // Canva

One of the major calf muscles, the gastrocnemius, crosses the knee joint. Therefore, keeping these muscles strong can aid in knee stability.

How to Perform

  • Stand on one or both legs.
  • Rise up on your toes slowly.
  • Slowly lower back down.
  • Complete 10-15 reps per set, for 3 sets per session.

Conclusion

Knee pain is a tricky issue that can leave you frustrated and worried about your future. But by keeping your legs strong, you can stave off or eliminate knee pain in many cases. 

Try this workout 3 times per week for the next few months and see what it does for your knee symptoms. Also, be sure to ask your doctor before beginning any new exercise program or making any changes regarding your health.

Works Cited

  1. Vincent KR, Vincent HK. Resistance exercise for knee osteoarthritis. PM R. 2012 May;4(5 Suppl):S45-52. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.01.019. PMID: 22632702; PMCID: PMC3635671.
  2. Farrokhi S, Chen YF, Piva SR, Fitzgerald GK, Jeong JH, Kwoh CK. The Influence of Knee Pain Location on Symptoms, Functional Status, and Knee-related Quality of Life in Older Adults With Chronic Knee Pain: Data From the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Clin J Pain. 2016 Jun;32(6):463-70. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000291. PMID: 26308705; PMCID: PMC4766069.

Bennett Richardson, DPT, PT, CSCS

Bennett Richardson, based in Pittsburgh, PA, is a dedicated physical therapist and writer. Certified as a strength and conditioning coach (CSCS) since 2014, he holds a BS in exercise science and a doctorate in physical therapy, both from Slippery Rock University. Beyond his professional pursuits, Bennett enjoys leisurely reading and staying active.

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