We put our knees through the paces. We climb hills, squat down to pull weeds, and run, walk, and jump. All that bending, straightening, and pounding takes a toll.
That’s why it’s a good idea to work on strengthening the muscles that stabilize your knees. The stronger these muscles are, the less stress your knees will have.
Two big muscle groups help your knee joint absorb the shock of daily activity:
- Quadriceps: the muscles on the front side of your thigh.
- Hamstrings: the muscles along the back of your thigh.
To help strengthen your knees, here are four movements you can do at home to target your quads and hamstrings. You don’t need any special equipment, though you can add weights or resistance bands if you like.
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Knee Strengthening Exercise #1: Squats
There are many variations of squats. The two that are most accessible are basic squats and wall squats. These exercises work both quads and hamstrings.
Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, lower your hips as if sitting back into a chair. Keep your back straight (don’t bend forward) and push the weight back into your heels. Think about engaging your abs as you do this.
Hold for 5 seconds. Continue to push heels down into the floor as you rise back up. Do 3 sets of 10.
This is the same motion, but you perform this squat with your back against a wall. Your feet will be slightly wider (hip-width) and should be about 2 feet from the wall. Slide down the wall until you are nearly in a sitting position.
Hold for increasingly longer periods of time (30 seconds, 45 seconds, 1 minute). Aim for 3 sets.
Knee Strengthening Exercise #2: Hamstring Curls
Using a chair for balance, lift one leg behind you and bend your knee. Try to pull your heel up toward your glutes, keeping your knees close together. You should feel this in your hamstrings.
Hold for 5 seconds and release. Do 3 sets of 10. To make it more difficult, add an ankle weight to the leg you lift.
Knee Strengthening Exercise #3: Straight-leg Raises
This exercise works your quads (and your abs a bit, too). Lying on your back, pull your elbows under your shoulders, so you are supporting your upper body with your elbows. Bend one knee (foot flat to the floor) and keep the other straight.
Lift the straight leg about a foot off the floor. Tighten your quads as you lift. You should also tighten your abs, to keep your low back into the floor (don’t arch).
Hold the free leg up for 5 seconds and then lower with control. Do 3 sets of 10 on each side. To make it more difficult, add an ankle weight.
Knee Strengthening Exercise #4: Straight Leg Raises in Prone
This move works your hamstrings. It’s similar to the previous leg raises, but you’re flipped around on your stomach.
Lying on your stomach with your legs straight behind you, prop your elbows out and rest your forehead on hands. Keeping your pelvic bones pressed into the floor, lift one leg as high as you can. Squeeze your hamstrings and glutes as you do this.
Hold for 5 seconds and then lower down with control. Do 3 sets of 10 on each side. To make it more difficult, add an ankle weight.
Help maintain your knee strength and stability with these simple tips, so you can keep up with your busy schedule and enjoy the activities you love free from a knee injury.
To learn more about joint-specific exercises and knee injury treatment options, visit our website. To schedule an appointment with UPMC Sports Medicine, call 1-855-937-7678.
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