Over the course of your day, week and lifetime, your knees take a beating. After all, you use them to sit, stand, walk, run, and make countless other movements with your legs—and depending on the movement, you put a surprising amount of pressure on your knees.
It’s no surprise then that painful knees are a concern amongst women of all ages. However, everyday athletes are potentially at an increased risk.
According to Harvard Medical School researchers, when you walk, the force placed on your knees is equivalent to about 1½ times your body weight—meaning a 140-pound woman puts 210 pounds of pressure on her knees with every step. Walk up and down stairs and that force is 2 to 3 times your body weight. And when you squat down, you place a staggering 4 to 5 times your body weight on your poor knees (which is why proper form is essential when doing squats and lunges). Considering this, it’s no wonder so many people complain of knee pain as they get older.
But it’s not just those chasing fitness goals who might suffer from painful knees. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of risk factors to be aware of:
- Being overweight or obese increases the stress on your knees
- Tight or weak muscles offer less support to your knees and can, therefore, increase the risk of knee pain
- Extreme sports such as skiing
- Repetitive movements such as pounding the pavement when jogging
To keep these important joints healthy, first focus on maintaining a healthy weight. “Each pound of body weight can have a significant impact on the stress you place on your knees over time,” says Jake Pacheco, a personal trainer who specializes in knee and hip joint anatomy and founder of Modern Body, an online personal training platform. Then, it’s important to incorporate some key moves into your routine.
Here, Pacheco shares his top 5 exercises that’ll help keep your knees pain-free.
5 Best Exercises For Painful Knees
You’ve heard it before, and it bears repeating: Walking is one of the best exercises you can do for overall health and wellness. And it’s particularly helpful for ageing knees, says Pacheco. “Walking is an effective cardiovascular exercise that puts the least amount of stress on your joints, which makes it a great way to stay active, maintain proper weight, and to maintain your mobility as you get older,” he says. Starting a walking workout—even if it’s just a 15- or 30-minute stroll around your neighbourhood once a day—can be especially important if your knees are often stiff, Pacheco adds. “Staying sedentary will make stiff knees stiffer,” he says. “Walking is an easy way to get moving, and it’s accessible for everyone.”
One of the best ways to maintain healthy knees is to strengthen the muscles around the joint, which ultimately reduces the stress on it and keeps you pain-free, says Pacheco. While you can do these on a leg lift machine at the gym, you can also do them anywhere using no weights.
How to do a leg lift:
Lie on the floor and, keeping your right leg on the floor, raise your left leg a foot or so off the floor. Lower your left leg and repeat 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps, then repeat on the other side.
Similar to leg lifts, this move strengthens the quadriceps, glutes, and many of the other small muscle groups surrounding the knee joints, which in turn helps to keep them healthy over time. Pacheco likes this exercise because you can adjust the difficulty based on how good (or not) your knees are feeling on any given day.
How to do a wall sit:
Stand with your back up against a wall with your feet hip-distance apart. Slide your back down the wall, as if you were sitting in a chair, to come to a squat position. The lower you sit, the more difficult the move—and the more pressure you might feel in your knees. (Just be sure that at your lowest point, your thighs are be parallel with the floor, not lower.) Hold the squat for 30 seconds or until your muscles are completely fatigued. (If this is too easy, try these 6 wall sit variations.)
As you age, the ligaments surrounding the knee joint become stiffer, which means they can’t deal with the stress placed on them as well as they once could—and pain or injury can result. To keep these ligaments more flexible, you need to work the knee joint in a safe way—and step-ups are a great way to do this, says Pacheco.
How to do step-ups:
Set up a platform (or use a low bench or even a stair) and place both feet on the platform. Then, slowly lower the opposite foot to the floor, touching your toes to the ground, and then returning it to the platform. Repeat 10 to 12 times, and then switch sides. “Like wall sits, you can easily adjust the difficulty to suit you,” says Pacheco. “Feeling stiff? Use a low platform. Want more of a challenge? Simply increase the height.”
When it comes to knee health, it’s important to keep all of the leg muscles flexible, as they work in conjunction with the knees. This stretch hits all of the major areas of the leg, knee, and lower back. “Think of the muscles and ligaments around your knee and in your legs as a rubber band,” says Pacheco. “When you consistently use a rubber band, it functions well. When it’s not used regularly—and then you try to stretch it—the rubber band is more likely to snap. Stretching regularly keeps your muscles pliable and ready to be used, which means they’re less likely to sprain or tear.”
How to do a knee-to-thigh-stretch:
To do this stretch, sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you, and then bring your left foot toward your butt. Drop your left knee out to the side as you place the sole of your left foot in your right inner thigh. Then, bend at the waist and slowly fold forward, reaching your hands toward your toes. Stay here for 1 to 2 minutes, and then switch sides.
Mastered these exercises for knee pain? Progress on to the best cardio exercises for bad knees but before you do, invest in the best sports bra for your workout and download the best podcasts to keep you entertained while you workout.