Strengthening the muscles that surround your knee joints can help increase stability and thus decrease your risk of pain. There are five major muscle groups that cross over your knees, including your quadriceps at the front of your thighs, your hamstrings at the back of your thighs, your adductors at the inside of your thighs, your abductors at the outside of your thighs and your calves.
Prepping Your Workouts
Effectively build strength by scheduling two lower-body, weight-training workouts into your schedule. To prepare your knees before each workout, walk or ride a stationary bike for five to 10 minutes and then do an array of dynamic warm-up movements, like walking-quad stretches and walking knee-to chest or quarter-body squats. Perform each exercise for two sets of eight to 12 reps. Begin by performing exercises with no weights and then gradually increase intensity as strength improves.
Working the Quadriceps
Certified physical therapist Lee Boyce recommends incorporating the back lunge and squats with a box to strengthen your quadriceps while limiting the stress on your knees. During both exercises, keep your shins nearly perpendicular to the floor. For back lunges, start with your feet square and then take a large step back with one foot. Bend both knees to lower your hips toward the floor while the shin of your front leg remaining vertical. Rise back up and return your back foot to get back to a square stance. Switch legs each rep. Performing squats with a box helps you perform the exercise while protecting your knees. Stand with your back to a box. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your hips until your buttocks taps the top of the box and then straightens back up. The box promotes pushing your hips back, which in turn ensures that you keep your shins perpendicular to the ground.
Developing the Hamstrings
Work your hamstrings without placing stress on your knees by performing stiff-leg deadlifts. Performing deadlifts with your legs straight keeps your lower leg pointed vertical and thus doesn’t stress your knees. Stand and hold a weighted barbell at the front of your thighs. Keep your knees straight, but not locked, as you push your hips back and bend forward at the waist. The bar should remain close to your legs as it lowers toward your feet. Once your back is parallel to the floor, extend your hips to return to a standing position.
Inner and Outer Thighs
You can strengthen your hip abductors and adductors at your inner and outer thighs by incorporating side-lying hip abduction and adduction. Neither exercise puts stress on your knees. For side-lying hip abduction, lie on your side with your straight legs stacked on top of each other. Lift your top leg as high as you can without rotating your hips and then lower it down to complete the rep. For side-lying hip adduction, slide your top leg slightly backward so that your bottom leg is free to move. Lift your bottom leg up off the floor and then lower it down. Perform the exercises on both sides.
Strengthening the Calves
The gastrocnemius muscle in your calves runs along the back side of your lower leg, but it crosses the knee joint and inserts at the bottom of your femur bone. Standing calf raises are effective at challenging the gastrocnemius. Stand on the edge of a step with your heels hanging off the edge. Lower your heels toward the floor and then push off the balls of your feet to lift your heels. Hold a pair of dumbbells down by your side to make the exercise more difficult.