Unfortunately, the glute medius tends to be fairly weak in the general population, says Bochnewetch, which is why you should definitely incorporate moves that specifically target this muscle when designing a knee-strengthening routine.
Another tip, especially if you’re strapped for time? Pick compound exercises, like squats and lunges, which hit several different muscle groups at once instead of isolation moves (like donkey kicks) that focus on just one muscle group. The reason: Compound exercises provide more “bang for your buck,” says Bochnewetch, so you can incorporate more knee-strength work into your routine without adding tons of extra time.
When doing knee-strengthening exercises, make sure to follow the concept of progressive overload, which is when you gradually and continually increase the intensity of your routine by either adding more weight, increasing reps or weights, or reducing your rest time. This ensures you will continue to challenge yourself and improve your strength, says Bochnewetch.
In addition to doing exercises that help strengthen the knee, it’s also important to do moves that increase the stability of the joint, says Scantlebury. You can do this by performing knee-strengthening exercises on various surfaces—like foam pads and BOSU balls—that throw your balance off a bit, or adding some extra coordination challenges, like turning your head side to side while holding a single-leg deadlift, or doing a bicep curl while holding a lunge. (Of course, make sure you have the traditional version of the exercise down first before you add in extras!)
Another good idea: Incorporating isometric exercises into your routine. These are exercises where you get into a position where a muscle or muscle group is engaged, and hold (think: a static lunge, or glute bridge hold). Targeted isometric moves can strengthen the tendons that connect to the muscles that control the knee, and thus reduce your risk of issues caused by weak tendons, like knee pain or tendonitis, says Scantlebury.
That said, if you’re looking for knee pain exercises, it’s a good idea to talk to a physical therapist for individualized medical advice for your particular situation. Certain exercises may be contraindicated for certain types of knee pain and overuse injuries, so it’s always a good idea to get a personalized diagnosis and physical therapy treatment plan if you think you have an injury. (Curious about knee stretches? Check out these expert-recommended stretches for knee pain.)
How often should you do knee-strengthening exercises?
You don’t need to slot in knee-strengthening exercises every day in order to see results. In fact, Bochnewetch suggests doing knee-strengthening exercises just two times per week. Pencil them in alongside your usual leg workouts, or as a separate standalone routine, she says.
As a general rule of thumb, do each exercise for 8 to 12 reps and 2 to 3 sets. If you’re using weights, choose a weight that will allow you to perform repetitions at an intensity that feels between a 6 and 8 on a difficulty scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is the most challenging), Bochnewetch advises. If it’s an isometric exercise, hold for 5 to 10 seconds, and repeat for 5 to 10 reps, says Scantlebury.
10 Knee-Strengthening Exercises
To get started with knee-strength work, Bochnewetch and Scantlebury recommend trying the exercises below. You can pick two to three to add to your lower-body routine and switch it up over the weeks to shuffle through the list. Or, do five or six of them at once for a complete quad- and glute-focused lower-body workout. (If you’re a beginner, pick just three to four moves for the full workout.)
However you choose to incorporate these exercises into your routine, make sure to do a warm-up first so that you don’t jump in with cold muscles. It doesn’t need to be elaborate; a simple 5- to 10-minute walk will do the trick. Or try this bodyweight routine.
Equipment needed: A pair of dumbbells and a resistance band. If these exercises are new to you, stick with bodyweight-only first and work your way up to adding resistance once you’re comfortable with form.