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Low-Impact Workouts for the Knees and Leg Strength

author image Heather Hitchcock
Heather Hitchcock has been writing professionally since 2010. She has contributed material through various online publications. Hitchcock has worked as a personal trainer and a health screening specialist. She graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science.
Low-Impact Workouts for the Knees and Leg Strength
A man works on leg extensions. Photo Credit LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images

It may seem logical to avoid exercise entirely when you suffer from knee pain. However, low-impact strength and flexibility training can help increase the muscle around the knee joint, which can reduce pain and reduce your risk of further injury. Strengthening and stretching both the quadriceps and hamstring muscles are necessary for healthy knees and improving leg strength.

Quadriceps Exercises

The quadriceps consist of four different muscles that work to extend the knee joint. Knee pain and injuries are often a result of the vastus medialis being weaker than the vastus lateralis causing the patella to become displaced. This can be prevented and corrected by performing leg extension exercises throughout their complete range of motion. The vastus medialis becomes activated during the last 20 to 30 degrees of extension exercises such as leg extensions and leg press, notes ExRX.net.

Hamstring Exercises

Hamstring weakness can also contribute to knee instability during exercises with the knee is flexed. Maintaining balance between the quadriceps and hamstring muscles are essential for healthy knees, because the hamstrings work to counter the quadriceps during exercises such as squats and leg press. Perform an equal number of hamstring and quadriceps exercise in your workout program to maintain balance and reduce your risk for injury. Hamstring exercises include good mornings, straight leg deadlifts and seated or lying leg curl.

Flexibility Training

Although, strength training is necessary to strengthen the knee joint, it can make your muscles tight and at an increased risk for injuries, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Regularly stretching both your quadriceps and your hamstrings can keep your muscle long and flexible. Perform a quadriceps stretch by standing next to a wall or chair for balance and bringing your heel up toward your glutes. Grab a hold of your ankle and pull your heel closer to your body holding the stretch for 30 seconds before repeated on the other leg. Perform a hamstring stretch by sitting tall on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Slowly reach toward your toes until you feel the stretch and hold the position for 30 seconds. Stretching should not be painful. Stop immediately if it is.

Low-Impact Workout Plan

Begin by warming up for at least five minutes by walking or cycling. Perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of squats, leg press and straight leg deadlifts resting one to two minutes between each set. Alternate between leg extension and seated or lying leg curl for three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions each. Perform each exercise with slow and controlled movements throughout their entire range of motion. Conclude your workout by stretching your quadriceps and hamstring, holding each stretch for 30 seconds two or three times.


Always check with your doctor or physical therapist before beginning a new exercise program. Begin the strength exercises slowly. Use a light weight until mastering the technique. Perform the above workout once or twice weekly on nonconsecutive days, or split up the workout and train your quadriceps one day a week and your hamstrings two or three days later.

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