The integrity of your knee depends on the alignment and strength of your entire leg from your hip joints to your feet. Strengthen the muscles of your lower body to strengthen your knees for running. When you run, you are landing and propelling off of one foot. Therefore, you should include one-legged resistance and one-legged balance exercises in your exercise routine, along with squats, walking lunges, leg extensions, leg curls and isometric exercises. The American College of Sports Medicine encourages a sport-specific, periodization training program including strengthening of the lower-extremity and improving balance. Perform these exercises at your local gym.
The squat is a fundamental exercise for many sports conditioning programs because it is a multi-joint exercise and an exercise in which you can build the power of your leg muscles. It targets your quads, glutes, inner thighs and the gluteal end of your hamstring muscles. Perform up to four sets of 12 to 15 reps, gradually increasing the weight you are squatting with.
The walking lunge is another core exercise in sports training. Like the squat, lunges target your glutes, quads, inner thighs and the gluteal end of your hamstrings. However, the additional benefit of walking lunges is that you must balance on one leg during the transition phase when you switch legs. This mimics the transition in running, strengthening your knees as you balance on the foot in contact with the floor. Perform up to three rounds of 10 lunges per leg.
The one-legged dead lift focuses on your hamstring and glute muscles. Additionally, you further improve your knee strength as you maintain your balance on one leg throughout the entire movement. Do up to eight reps for four sets each leg.
Leg Extensions and Leg Curls
These exercises work your quad muscles and hamstring muscles, respectively. Unlike the squat, lunges and dead-lifts, leg extensions and leg curls focus on the part of the muscle closest to your knees. Complete 12 to 15 reps for up to four sets per exercise.
Balance exercises are crucial for knee strength while you run, especially on grassy and rocky surfaces. You can stand on one foot with your eyes closed, and switch feet every time you lose balance. You also may step on an athletic disc pillow or BOSU with one foot, eyes open. Alternate legs as you lose balance. Incorporate 10 minutes of balance training as part of your program.
An isometric exercise is an exercise in which you hold a contracted position for a given amount of time. Sit on a bench, extending your right leg. Hold and contract your quad muscle for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch legs. You may also sit against a wall in a squat position with your back flat against the wall. Hold this wall squat for as long as you can.
- Personal Trainer Manual: American Council on Exercise: 1997