Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board
Knee strengthening exercises will help nearly all cases of knee pain and can even prevent knee problems from developing and recurring.
Here we will look at intermediate level strengthening exercises for the knee and leg muscles.
I have grouped these knee strengthening exercises by muscle group: quads, hamstrings, buttocks, kneecap, calves and balance. Pick the ones you find best for you.
If you haven’t already tried the beginners strengthening exercises, I suggest you start there. Once they are feeling easy, come back to these ones. Then, when you have mastered these ones, you can move on to the advanced knee strengthening exercises.
These are the muscles at the front of the thigh that straighten the
knee. Weak quads leads to increased pressure through the knee and knee
cap. Knee strengthening exercises for the quads is one of the most effective ways to
reduce knee pain.
This exercise is a great twist on traditional squats and is one of my all-time favourite knee strengthening exercises. It strengthens the quads but protects the knees.
Top Tip: As you squat, don’t let your knees come too far in or out - Keep your knee in line with your second toe so you can always see your big toe past the inside of your knee
This is a great quads knee strengthening exercise that also helps reduce knee pain with stairs.
Top Tip: If you don’t have any steps at home, be creative e.g. telephone directory
Step downs help to strengthen the quadriceps, improve balance and improve knee stability.
Top Tips: 1. You are aiming to do this in a slow, controlled fashion
2. Don’t let the knee twist inwards, keep it in line with your second toe so you can always see your big toe
The hamstrings and glutes are the muscles on the back of the thigh and the buttock muscles and they often work together. Most people with knee pain have weak glutes, but they are often ignored.
Having weak glutes and hamstrings increases the forces going through the knee. Along with the quads, knee strengthening exercises for the glutes and hamstrings are one of the best ways to reduce pain.
The Clam is a great way to strengthen the buttock muscles (glutes) which helps support the knee and prevent excessive weight going through the inner side of the knee. It is another one of my favourite knee strengthening exercises as most people have weak glutes. But make sure you can do The Clam Stage 1 first.
Top Tip: Do not let your top hip roll backwards
Bridging is a great knee strengthening exercise as it strengthens the hamstrings whilst also working the quads and buttock muscles. Make sure you can do Bridging: stage 1 first.
Top Tips: 1. Keep your back straight – don’t let it arch as you lift up, it should be your bottom doing the work
2. Don’t hold your breath – keep breathing normally
3. Don’t let your hips drop during the exercise – keep them up as high as you can
Muscle weakness can lead to patella maltracking, where the kneecap doesn’t move properly, which is a common cause of knee pain. Targeted knee strengthening exercises for the muscles that control how the kneecap moves can make a big difference.
Kneecap clenches is the best place to start when it comes to strengthening the muscles on the inside of your knee that are responsible for how the kneecap moves. They also help increase knee stability
Top Tips: 1. Feel for the VMO muscle tightening with your fingers
2. When you squeeze the ball, make sure the squeezing movement comes from your knees, not your hips
The calf muscles are at the back of the leg, below the knee. They help support the knee and co-ordinate knee and ankle movement.
A simple exercise to strengthen the calf muscles to help support the knee
When you can do 30 repetitions on a single leg, that is a good sign you have good strength in your calf muscles
The knee plays a vital role in ensuring good balance and proprioception. This is often affected when there is knee pain and doesn’t always improve after an injury, even once the pain goes away. This leads to an increased risk of further injury in the future.
As a quick test to see whether you would benefit from balance exercises try standing on one leg with your eyes closed. If you can’t do it for one minute, you’ve got some work to do!
This exercise helps to improve balance and proprioception and helps your body learn the subtle adjustments needed for good balance.
To challenge yourself further:
1. Reach one arm out in different directions
2. Close your eyes
3. Throw and catch a ball
4. Slowly bend and straighten your knee a small amount
Knee strengthening exercises should be challenging, but not painful. The more you do them, the stronger your muscles become and the easier the exercises are. It is important to work at the right level to get the best results without damaging your knee.
If exercises are too easy, they won’t make much difference, if you work muscles too hard, they may cause pain. See our Top tips on getting knee strengthening exercises right section for more info.
You will probably need to do knee strengthening exercises at least four times a week for a month before you notice much of an improvement in your knee pain so stick with it!
If these exercises feel too difficult at the moment, try some beginners strengthening exercises for a few weeks and once your knee is a bit stronger, revisit this section to help you. You may want to mix and match basic and intermediate knee strengthening exercises. Be creative and keep exercising if you want to beat your knee pain!
Once you have mastered these strengthening exercises, CONGRATULATIONS! You are ready to move on to advanced knee strengthening exercises.
Page Last Updated: 15/01/23
Next Review Due: 15/01/25
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