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Get a Leg Up

Workout tips for strong knees

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Get a Leg Up

Are sore knees holding you back from making progress in the gym? Strengthen your knees with these knee strengthening exercises and tips.

Are sore knees holding you back from making progress in the gym? Exercise selection, technique, and lack of strength in stabilizing muscles can often be the root cause of knee pain.

Before you throw in the towel on lower body training, look over some of these solutions.

Exercise Selection

Choosing lower body movements that will help your knees become stronger while keeping risk of injury to a minimum is vital. For example, the leg extension machine places most of the stress on your quadriceps muscles and worse yet, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of your knee. This exercise actually provides more risk than benefit for your knees.

Depending on your current level of strength and conditioning, barbell squats with a shoulder-width stance will distribute equal amounts of stress not only on the quadriceps but also on the hamstrings, hips, and gluteals. Barbell squats, if performed correctly, will actually give your knees a break by incorporating more muscle groups with the least amount of risk.

Exercise Technique

Even the most beneficial exercises can bring on unwanted soreness and pain if performed incorrectly. For example, if you perform the barbell squat, the most beneficial technique is to simply drop your hips out (as if you were reaching for the seat behind you). This will not only keep the knees from falling too far over the feet (which will cause knee pain) but will also recruit more of your hamstrings and gluteals.

Stabilizing Muscles

Strength exercises that focus on the hamstrings and gluteals will increase the strength of your knees. The hamstrings cross over behind the knees and hips, thus constituting one of the knee’s best stabilizers. Weak knees are often associated with weak hip musculature.

The gluteals make up most of the posterior hip. A great two-in-one strength exercise for stronger knees and hips is the glute-ham raise (see sidebar), which strengthens the hamstrings and gluteals as well as the gastrocnemius, another posterior knee stabilizer.

Glute-Ham Raise (GHR)

Muscles targeted: hamstrings, gluteals, and calves

Step 1

Slide feet securely onto toe plate of the GHR equipment. Place thighs on thigh pad, making sure your knees are off the thigh pad by approximately 2 to 3 inches. (Placing your knees on the thigh pad will increase the stress on your knee caps.)

Step 2

Start with your body positioned horizontally on the GHR and begin motion by pushing toes into toe plate while flexing your hamstrings to pull you up. In the top position, squeeze your glutes before you descend for the next rep.

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