One of the most common messages I receive from readers is, “how can I strengthen my knees for running?” Fortunately, there are a lot of things we can do to prepare our knees for running. Along with a proper stretching routine one of the best ways to prevent knee pain and injury is through strengthening the muscles connecting to the knee. So today we will be looking at the best knee exercises for runners.
All of the exercises can be done at home and without any weights. A few require a band to activate the right muscle group. If you’ve never used a band for exercises or muscle activation I highly recommend it.
Let’s get to it!
Knee Exercises for Runners
The most important thing you can be doing to help your knees is stretching. Make sure you are take 15-20 minutes a day to do a simple stretch. Then add in these workouts in 1-2 times a week. Increasing the reps or length of the hold every few weeks.
Wall Sits / Wall Squats
A quad burner that will engage your calves, glute and core. The Wall sit is an exercise almost any runner can do at home. And just a little time will go a long way. The movement itself is not complicated. You will need to find a wall then you will simply sit with your back resting against the wall with your knees bent to 90 degrees, and your feet shoulder width apart.
Workout: 4 sets of 15-60 seconds
Unquestionably one of the best all around leg workouts you are going to find. Walking lunges may be the king of knee exercises for runners. Working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. Along with a bunch of stabilizers thrown in for the fun of it. Knee sleeves are a great idea for this exercise. To do a lunge you will start standing straight up. You will then “lunge” forward with one leg, then lowering your body so the back legs knee just barely touches the ground. You will then stand up bringing your back leg to meet the front.
Workout: 5 Sets of 20 Lunges (10 each leg)
Standing Banded Adduction
The adductor is the muscle that runs down your inner thigh attaching to the front of your hip. And biceps femoris is the muscle that connects to the back of the hip running down the inner thigh and connecting to the knee. Both of these are some of the harder muscles to target. But using standing banded adduction is a safe and easy way to hit both muscles effectively.
To do this exercise you will need a band and something to anchor the band to. Here is a link to kit with everything you will need, bands and door anchor. Once anchored you will step one leg into the band and side step until there is tension in the band with your legs a little wider than shoulder width apart. Now bring the banded leg and pull it past your other non-banded leg track just in front of it. This should be a slow and controlled movement.
Workout: 3 Sets of 10 on Each Leg
Copenhagen Adductor Exercise
While you have probably never heard of the Copenhagen Adductor Exercise, it may be one of the best exercises a runner can do for their groin area. And intern, stabilizing the knee. To do this exercise you will need a workout bench, coffee table, or stool to support your body weight. The exercise itself is pretty much a side plank or side plank dip, with your top leg supporting your body weight while propped on the bench. The inside of the foot on your upper leg will be in contact with the bench.
Workout: 4 Sets of 10-30 Seconds on Each Leg or 3 Sets of 4-12 on Each Leg
Banded Glute Bridges
If you have never tried a banded glute bridge, it’s hard to explain how much the band forces you to engage your glutes. Beyond that this exercise works your abductors, hamstrings, back muscles, and core. Making it the perfect knee exercise for runners. To start you will put the resistance band around both legs at just above the knees. Then lay on your back, placing your feet on the ground so your knees are in the air above them. Your feet will be about shoulder distance apart. Now arch your lower back off the ground making sure to keep your knees driven apart. Now hold!
Workout: 4 Round 15-60 Seconds
This is one that everyone should do but most people just forget. Simple enough that you can do it anywhere. Calf raises are one of the best ways to target your calves for high reps, you can also advance this workout by adding weight and/or doing it in a step to increase the range of motion. To do a calf raise just stand up, now thrust yourself up onto your tippie toes. And let yourself back down. Now repeat
Workout: 4 Sets of 25-50
Straight Leg Raises
This move will help strengthen the knee and prevent injury while running. One of the most popular knee exercises for runners and recommended by a lot of physical therapists. It will primarily target your hip flexor (iliacus and the psoas major), abs, and Rectus femoris (muscle in your quad that connects to your knee). This is one of my favorites and can be done easily at home while relaxing or watching tv. Just lay down on your back with one leg extended straight and one leg bent, with your knee up. Then raise your straight up to about 75-80% and lower it back down. And repeat for both legs.
Workout: 4 Sets of 8-16 of Each Leg
One of the most simple movements we can make. Simply stepping up and lowering back down is an incredibly effective exercise for building leg strength and stability. Hitting your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. All while working all of the stabilizers through our legs and core. To do a proper step up you are going to want to find a box, stool, chair or stairs that you can step up onto. Now stand in front of your box, placing one leg on top. Now use that leg to press yourself up AND lower yourself down in a controlled manner. Most people turn step ups into a sprint. It’s not. The idea is to make the movement controlled, using one leg throughout the movement.
Workout: 4 Sets of 25-50 Each Leg
Conclusion – Knee Exercises for Runners
The knees are a major connecting point for most of our legs muscles. Making it important to hit your legs from a variety of angles and holds. And the above list provides a great starting point for safer scalable exercises. If you feel like there are any exercises that should be added to this list, please let us know in the comments below!