6 of the best exercises to strengthen your knees

Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, or weightlifter, strong knees are important to performing at your best. But how can you strengthen your knees to prevent knee pain, and how often should you add these exercises to your training routine? Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best exercises to strengthen your knees.

The knee is the largest joint in the body and we use it every day for simple activities like walking or climbing stairs. As a result, knee injuries are common, and according to one study, runner’s knee is one of the most common sports injuries out there. While it can be tempting to sit on the couch and put your feet up when you’re experiencing knee pain, this isn’t always the best solution. Instead, doing exercises that strengthen and support your knee can help relieve knee pain and prevent further injury from occurring.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re experiencing severe knee pain, it’s worth checking with your doctor or physical therapist. If at any time you find that one of the exercises on this list hurts your knee, stop immediately and try something else or seek medical attention.

The best exercises to strengthen the knees

Knee strengthening exercises will not strengthen the knee joint itself, but rather the muscles around it. Before practicing these exercises, it is best to do a gentle warm-up, such as walking, jogging, or cycling.

an illustration of a woman doing a seated leg raise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Straight leg raises

To do this exercise, start by sitting up straight in a chair with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Engaging your thigh muscles, lift one leg until it’s extended in front of you, foot flexed and toes pointed toward the ceiling. Hold at the top for a few seconds, before lowering your leg and repeating on the other side.

This exercise targets the hamstrings. To increase the intensity, wrap a resistance band around the ankle of the leg you’re lifting (here we’ve found the best resistance bands for home workouts) or add ankle weights to your legs. Alternatively, you can do the exercise lying flat on the floor, straightening the leg you’re lifting and keeping your resting leg bent, foot pressed into your exercise mat (we’ve found the best yoga mats here). Start by doing three sets of 10 leg raises on each side.

an illustration of a woman doing squats against the wall

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2. Wall Squats

Despite what you may think, squats are great for strengthening your knees and for your overall health. That said, they can put extra pressure on the knee joint if performed incorrectly, so wall squats are often a safe alternative.

To do wall squats, stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your back flat against the wall. Your feet should be about two feet from the wall. Keeping your back and shoulders pressed against the wall, squat down until your knees are at about 90 degrees, as if you were sitting in a chair. Pause for five seconds in the squat, before rising to your starting position.

This exercise targets the glutes and quads. Keep the exercise slow and controlled, and try to do three sets of 10 wall squats to start.

an illustration of a woman doing a side leg raise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. Lateral leg raises

Lateral leg raises target the quads and inner thighs. To do this exercise, start by lying on your side, with your legs and hips stacked on top of each other. Bracing your core, flex the foot of your top leg and slowly lift it toward the ceiling to about shoulder height. If you feel unbalanced, you may find it easier to slightly bend your lower leg. Pause at the top, before lowering your leg back down. Keep the entire movement slow and controlled, and aim for three sets of 10 leg raises on each leg.

To make the exercise more difficult, add a resistance band above your knees to increase resistance, add ankle weights, or hold a dumbbell against your top leg as you raise and lower it. You can also increase the reps or add some pulses to the top of the movement.

an illustration of a woman doing step-ups

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. Step-ups

Step-ups are a brilliant way to strengthen your knees, as they target your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hips. For this exercise, you will need a step or box to step on.

To do a step-up, stand in front of a step and place one foot on the step, keeping the other on the ground. Engaging your glutes, slowly come up, keeping your leg straight, and tap your foot against the step, before slowly lowering back down. You can hold on to a wall or a chair for support if you need to. To make the exercise more difficult, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Aim for three sets of 10 step-ups on each leg to start.

a photo of a woman doing calf raises

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Calf raise

As the name suggests, calf raises target the calf muscles. To do a calf raise, stand on a step or box with your feet hip-width apart. Put your weight forward on your toes and rise up on your toes. Pause at the top, then lower back down to your starting position. You may need to hold on to a wall or a chair for support.

To make the exercise more difficult, hold dumbbells in each hand or a barbell across your back. Keep the entire movement slow and controlled, and start by doing three sets of 12 reps.

an illustration of a woman doing hamstring curls

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

6. Hamstring Curl

Last but not least, strengthen your hamstrings by doing hamstring curls. To do a hamstring curl, stand facing a chair, holding on to it for support. Flexing your foot, bend one leg toward your bottom, keeping your thighs and knees in line with each other.

To make the exercise more difficult, place a resistance band around your ankles or add ankle weights. Aim for three sets of 12 hamstring curls on each leg.

Looking for more exercise inspiration? We’ve found the best abs exercises you can do for free, an exercise that’s better than squats for strengthening your glutes, and one of the best abs exercises when it comes to sculpting a slimmer waist.

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