Knees naturally weaken with age. Overuse can also cause the knees to weaken. Keeping them strong through exercises if very important for healthy knees. You don’t have to do a lot of exercises, just consistent, low intensity is good enough to maintain knee strength.
General knee strengthening exercises build quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus and calves (the surrounding muscles) to improve knee strength, joint stability and support.
NOTE: If you have a specific knee condition or you find that a particular exercise hurts, stop we suggest you consult the orthopedists here at Ortho El Paso.
Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise listed here. Additional healthy knee exercises are illustrated on the infographic.
Wall or Chair Squats. If your knees are weak, stand in front of a chair or against a wall while you do squats so that you don’t lose your balance. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. While keeping your back straight against the wall, squat by sliding up and down. If using a chair, sit back and down as far as you can comfortably go without letting your knees extend past your toes. Stand back up. You can start slow: start with quarter or half squats and build up to full squats as your knees grow stronger.
Full Chair Sits-to-Stands. This exercise is just what it sounds like: sit down slowly in a chair, then slowly rise to standing position. Start slowly with a higher chair. To make it harder, use a low chair. As you progress, hold weights in your hands or rise or just use one leg.
Lunges. Forward lunges strengthen your thighs and hips and also improve balance. Here’s the proper way to do lunges:
- stand with feet hip-width apart, reset your fists on your hips
- take a big step forward
- slowly lower your hips, bending both knees but making sure that the front knee does not track over the toes
- pause, then push up off the front heel to return to start
- repeat with the other leg
Straight Leg Lifts. Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Engage the muscles in your right thigh and slowly lift your right foot until the leg is extended straight out in front of you. Pause briefly, then slowly lower the leg.
Side Leg Raises. Lie on your back, flex your top foot and slowly raise the top leg, keeping it straight and strong. Raise the leg about 6” off the ground, then pause briefly and slowly lower back down. After your set is complete, switch sides and raise the other leg.
Short-Arcs. Place an exercise roller, rolled up towel or ball under one knee, so the knee is slightly bent. Engage your leg muscles and slowly straighten the bent leg. Pause, then slowly return the leg to the starting position. After your set, repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Step-ups or Knee Marching. You can do this without a platform or use a short platform (or stair stepper). If needed, hold a wall or the back of a chair for balance. Step onto the platform or stair with one foot, then put weight onto that foot and lift the other knee to a 90 degree angle. Then, step back down slowly. Alternate legs.
Calf and Abductor Raises.
Calves: If you can’t balance on your own when you begin, put your hands on the wall or the back of a chair for support. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly transfer your weight to your toes and lift your heels off the ground. Pause before slowly lowering back down. As you get stronger, make the exercise more difficult by holding a barbell on your back or holding dumbbells in each hand.
Abductors: Lie on your side and prop yourself with elbow closest to the ground. Bend your top leg over the bottom leg (see image). Lift the bottom leg for a few seconds and then lower. Roll over and do the other leg. As you progress, add ankle weights.
Hamstring Curls. Hamstring curls reduce stiffness in the knees. For more balance, you can hold the back of a chair for balance and slowly bend each leg behind you in turn, reaching your heel as far back toward your butt as you can. Keep your thighs and knees in line with each other. As you progress, eliminate the need to hold on to a chair. To make either version more challenging, wear ankle weights or use a resistance band.
Hip Bridge. Lie on your back with knees bent and heels flat on the floor, about six inches away from your butt. Tighten your core muscles, press into your heels and lift your hips off the floor. Avoid arching your lower back; instead, keep your ribs relaxed and a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for several seconds, then lower down slowly. As you progress, lift one leg into the air to create a single-leg bridge.
Ortho El Paso treats conditions of the knees. Call 915-249-4000 for a consultation should you have extremely weak knees, constant knee pain or injury to the knees.