Tone and strengthen your legs with these easy exercises that won’t compromise your knees.
When you wake up with stiff and achy knees, the last thing you want to do is a bunch of lunges. Instead, start your morning with these gentle stretches that will fix pain, rather than exacerbate it.
The discomfort of knee pain might persuade you to avoid working out, but it is actually more important to exercise when you’re experiencing knee pain in order to keep the muscles around the joint mobile and strong. The cause of knee pain is often muscular imbalances in the lower extremities, including weakness of the quadriceps, glutes, and the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) and tightness of the tensor fascia latae (TFL), IT band, and hamstrings – meaning exercising the right muscles are crucial to your recovery. (1)
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Don’t let knee pain and discomfort prevent you from getting the workout that your body needs. By using the correct exercises with proper form, you can quickly and effectively regain balance in your muscles for toned, pain-free legs.
Do this knee-friendly workout first thing in the morning to loosen up muscles and joints that have become stiff while sleeping all night. This routine can be done 3-4 days a week. All you need is a medium resistance exercise band and a mat.
8 Knee-Friendly Exercises for Long, Lean Legs
Crossed-Ankle Forward Fold | 30 sec per side
Start with this stretch to release tension in the outer hips, hamstrings, and calves.
- Cross your right ankle in front of your left. Bring your pinky toes close together and keep a small bend in both knees.
- Fold forward with a flat back, then bend your knees as much as you need to in order to bring your fingertips to the ground.
- Walk your hands over to the right to feel a stretch through the TFL and IT band on your left leg.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then walk your hands back to center and rise up to stand. Switch sides.
Standing Quad Stretch | 30 sec per side
Tight quads and hip flexors can lead to knee pain. The standing quad stretch can help to open them back up.
- Stand with your left hand resting on a wall.
- Shift your weight into your left foot and pick up your right foot. Reach back with your right hand to grab the top of your foot.
- Stand tall with your abs engaged. Bring the inside of your knees together to touch and gently press your hips forward. You should feel a stretch through your right quadriceps and the front of your hip.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Quad Sets | 10 reps per side
Strengthen your quads with this gentle exercise that brings stability to the knees.
- Sit on your mat. Straighten your right leg out in front of you and bend your left knee, placing the foot on the floor.
- Engage your right quadriceps muscles and flex the toes back towards the shin, pressing the back of your knee towards the ground. It should look like your quadriceps are lifting away from your kneecap.
- Hold for five seconds, then release for five seconds.
- Repeat for 10 reps, then switch legs.
Band Lateral Walking | 20 reps
Use an exercise band to strengthen the outer hips in this exercise. This move will bring stability to the knees, making day-to-day movements like stepping and balancing easier.
- Step both feet through an exercise band and slide it up to rest right on your lower thighs.
- Stand up with your feet a little bit wider than hip-width distance. Your toes should point straight forward. Engage your abs.
- Take a large step to the right, then tap your left toes halfway to meet your right foot. Next, take a large step to the left, then tap your right toes half halfway to meet your left. You should feel your outer hips working against the band.
- Continue alternating side-to-side for 20 reps.
Band Squats | 12 reps
Squatting with the assistance of an exercise band helps to fight imbalances by strengthening the quads, glutes, and outer hips.
- Keep the exercise band up above your knees with your feet a little wider than hip-width distance. Turn your toes out to 45 degrees and clasp your hands together in front of your chest.
- Inhale to bend your knees and sit your hips back like you’re going to sit in a chair. Keep pressing the band outward with your thighs to keep your knees in line with your toes.
- Exhale to stand back up, squeezing your glutes and quads. Repeat for 12 reps.
Clamshell Bridge | 30 sec per side
This bridge variation strengthens the outer hips and glutes.
- Start seated and loop your band around your thighs.
- Lie down on your back and bring the soles of your feet to touch. Let your knees open out wide. Reach your arms down alongside your body with your palms face down.
- Press down through the outer edges of your feet and inhale to lift your hips up towards the sky, keeping your knees out wide.
- Engage your lower abs and squeeze your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly release.
Band Standing Leg Curl | 12 reps per side
Strengthen the hamstrings with this band-assisted leg curl.
- Stand with your left hand resting on a wall. Loop the band around your ankles and engage your abs.
- Press your knees together and exhale to curl your left heel up towards your glutes, until the shin is parallel to the floor.
- Exhale to slowly release the foot back down. Repeat for 12 reps, then switch sides.
Seated Band Calf Extension | 12 reps
Sit down for this final exercise that strengthens your calves.
- Begin seated with your legs extended straight out in front of you. If it is hard to keep your back straight, prop your hips up on a yoga block or pillow.
- Loop one end of your band around both feet and hold the other in both hands. Flex your feet, sit up tall, and engage your abs.
- Exhale to point your feet and flex your calves. Then inhale to come back to start.
- Repeat for 12 reps.
(Your Next Workout: 10 Easy Exercises to Relieve Knee Pain)