During your training ‘career’, you’ve likely hit all muscle groups — your legs, your shoulders, chest, arms, glutes, hamstrings and core — but, no matter your exercise frequency, you may have missed a crucial trick: strengthening and improving the health of your knees. After all, they’re part of the foundation that keeps your entire body upright, a major pressure point during squats, presses and deadlifts and also help transfer momentum in the majority of overhead pressing moves and cleans.
Likewise, during your twenties, you may have got away with putting a lot of pressure through your knees, as your rate of recovery tends to be quicker thanks to a faster bloody supply to your joints. But as you go through life and towards your forties, tendon and ligament health begin to decline, making your knees more vulnerable than earlier in life. Simply put, they’re an invaluable tool, so it pays to keep them healthy. Here, personal trainer Loui Fazakerley walks you through five essential exercises to get the jump on your knee health.
Barbell Back Squat
“Back squats are known as the king of lower body exercises, as they target most of your lower body musculature,” explains Fazakerley. “They can be loaded up pretty heavy and will help to strengthen your quad tendons around the knee joint.”
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a loaded barbell resting on the back of your shoulders.
- Push your hips back, and bend at the knees. Squat down until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground. Keep your chest and head up and your back straight.
- At the bottom of the movement, pause and drive back up to return to the starting position, and repeat.
“Developing both explosive force production and force absorption through jump training is important to make the knees more robust,” says Fazakerley.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with your arms by your sides.
- Bend slightly at your hips and knees bringing your arms back slightly as you do so.
- Propel your arms forward and jump over the hurdle.
- Before landing pre-tension your ankles, calves, quads and glutes in order to achieve a stiff landing.
- Control the landing and repeat.
“Single leg training is key to balance out any left/right strength asymmetries. The step-up develops concentric strength of the quads, glutes and hamstrings,” says Fazakerley. “Focus on pushing up with the front leg, trying to not push off with the back leg.”
- Whilst holding a dumbbell in your left hand, place your right foot on top of the box making sure the entire foot is in contact with the surface.
- Drive your body up pushing through the heel of the foot that is on the box.
- Lower yourself slowly back down to the floor and repeat.
Slider Leg Curl
“Strengthening hamstrings is key to create balance around the knee joint,” Fazakerley explains. “These can be progressed to single leg to challenge you further once enough strength is built with this double leg version.”
- Start by laying down on your back, with your legs extended and your heels on sliders, hip-width apart.
- Contract your glutes to raise your bum off the ground, ensuring your weight is on both your feet and shoulders.
- Point your toes toward the ceiling and slide your feet towards your bum by contracting your hamstrings, until you end up in a bridge position.
- Return to your starting position by lengthening the hamstrings. Try to maintain a full glute contraction throughout the movement. Then repeat for a designated number of sets and reps.
“On top of developing strength and power around the knee joint, it’s important to keep those muscles flexible too,” says Fazakerley. “This stretch focuses on both the hip flexors and quads (rectus femoris most specifically) to reduce tension on the knee joint.”
- Take a knee and rest the foot on your kneeling leg on a bench or sofa.
- Push your hips forward, ensuring you do not arch in the lower back
- Place your hand behind your neck on the same side as the elevated foot
- Bend sideways away from your hip and hold the stretch.