Editor’s Note: Think you don’t have time for a workout? Join Stephanie Mansour for a five-part series of quick strength workouts and start feeling better, five minutes at a time. This is Part V.
If you suffer from knee pain like one-quarter of adults in the United States, according to research, you may feel weak, debilitated and even worse off from being more sedentary since the pandemic. Perhaps you feel pain in your knee joints when you stand up or walk, or maybe it’s something like patellofemoral pain — pain in the front of the knee and kneecap.
Strengthening the muscles of the lower body, like the quadriceps, hamstrings and hips, is imperative to improving the functionality, flexibility and strength of the knees, studies have shown. Oftentimes if there is pain in one area of the body, like the knee, strengthening the areas above and below the pain helps stabilize the focal point and rebuild strength there.
Intense workouts or movements aren’t always necessary to build strength; instead, focus on mindful and precise movements and muscular contractions. Each exercise in our workout is designed to engage and stabilize the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the knee joint to develop a strong system of support.
Stretching the muscles in the lower body can also aid in reducing knee pain. Check out our five-minute yoga routine (that can be done in bed!) if you’re not in the mood to stand up.
Stretching and strengthening is the key combo to reducing knee pain. This routine focuses on the strengthening exercises. Approach each move thoughtfully; do not rush.
Standing leg lifts
This exercise strengthens the quadriceps, the large muscle at the front of the thigh, and stabilizes the knee joint by keeping the patella, or kneecap, in place through the movement.
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, place your hands on your hips for balance. Then point the right foot in front of you, keeping your legs straight, and squeeze the quad.
You should feel your kneecap being pulled up and stabilized.
Then lift the right foot off of the ground about one foot, and lower it down. Repeat this 10 times and then switch legs.
Standing hamstring curl
This hammer curl works the back of the legs, which helps to stabilize the back of the knee joint and also improve mobility in the front of the leg. It works the hamstring, which is the opposing muscle of the quad, engaged in the standing leg lift. Together, these two exercises improve muscular balance in the lower body and therefore improve knee strength and stability.
Start in the same position as above. Bend the right knee by using the back of the right leg to curl the foot up toward the glute.
Place it down. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.
If you step away from the wall, you’ll perform a regular squat. However, the wall acts as support to take a bit of pressure off of the knees, but still requires the knee joint to perform a functional movement. Standing up and sitting down require proper alignment of the hips, knees and ankles, and this exercise prepares the body to do this.
Stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders. Step the feet a few feet away from the wall, and lean back against the wall with your upper back. Bend the knees and lower yourself down the wall so that your upper back, middle back and lower back are on the wall.
Then press down through the heels to come up to standing. Repeat this 10 times.
Calf and heel raises
The lower legs and the ankles need to be strong in order to support and strengthen the knee joint. By working the front of the lower legs and the back of the lower legs, the muscles and tendons that run from the knee joint to the ankle joint are forced to engage and stabilize the movement to prevent you from falling over.
Stand with your feet as wide as your hips and hands on your hips. Shift your weight forward onto your toes and come up onto your tiptoes by working the calves.
Then place the feet down flat, and rock the weight back into the heels. Lift the toes up off of the ground, then come back to center.
Repeat this 10 times.
Inner-thigh leg lifts
This exercise stabilizes the inner leg and strengthens the medial compartment, or the inside, of the knee joint.
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips and hands on your hips, point the right foot in front of you. Then cross the right foot over your body toward the left. Externally rotate the leg. Squeeze the quad to pull the kneecap up. Then lift the leg up about one foot, and lower.
Feel an engagement in the right inner thigh and groin. Repeat this 10 times, then switch legs.
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Some of these knee strengthening exercises can be done seated, too. The standing leg lifts and inner-thigh leg lifts can be done seated on a bench, chair or even on the couch! This five-minute knee strengthening workout can be done daily and is a great way to take a break from working from home.
Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.