Knee exercises are one of the best ways to repair, maintain, and strengthen those key joints. Knees are the most commonly injured joints because they are the largest, most complicated, and most used joints on the human body. Even people who do not exercise or are not very active will use their knees for sitting, walking, and climbing stairs. In fact these people are more prone to knee injury because they have not taken the time to keep the muscles and tendons strong.
Common Causes of Knee Injury
By far, most knee injuries are caused by two factors: overuse and overload.
This category covers injuries such as muscle strain, bursitis, and tendinitis, and develops over a period of time with pain occurring at irregular intervals. The pain worsens as the damage to the knee causes more and more inflammation to the cartilage and tendons. The most common difficulty in treating these injuries is giving the knee time to truly repair itself before beginning the activity again.
Overloading your knee does not necessarily mean lifting too much with it - though that certainly can be a factor. More common is that too much is lifted too soon - for example, diving into a high-intensity cardio workout when you haven't exercised for a long time, or trying to run many miles when you've not even walked around the block. Just as any exercise program should be taken up with the advice of a physician, any regimen that is going to involve stress to the knees should be prefaced by strengthening those joints with their own exercises.
Examples of Knee Exercises
The knee is a very complex part of the body, and strengthening it is more than simply trying to toughen the cartilage and tendons. In fact, you really can't toughen those parts alone, though there are dietary supplements that, by some reports, will help increase their viability.
Knee exercises have a dual benefit. Aside from strengthening the joints, they also strengthen and build muscle groups around the knee. Here are a few techniques that cover the main muscle groups that affect the knee:
- Quadricep - Straight leg raises are done (often with light leg weights) by sitting in a chair, one leg extended straight in front with the foot resting on a chair or bench. The leg should be parallel with the floor. Lift that leg a few inches off the bench, hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat with extending the length of time until each leg can be held up for three minutes, then begin to increment the leg weights ½ pound at a time.
- Inner Thigh Muscle - The complement to the quadriceps, this balances the pull of the outer muscle on the kneecap. Also done with light leg weights, it is similar in that it starts with the leg simply held out straight while sitting on a chair. Hold for a minute, then bend the knee so that the lower leg is at a 45 degree angle. Hold for 30 seconds, then break for a minute before repeating. Work up to 4 reps and then start incrementing the leg weights.
- Hip Flexors - This is a good alternative to squats and lunges, which have a greater chance of injury. Lie on your back, one leg extended, one bent at the knee, foot flat on the floor. Lift the straight leg up (keeping it extended) until your knees are parallel. Lower it to the floor, completing one rep. You want to work up to about 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for each leg.
- Bridge - While this may seem like an exercise for the core muscles, it actually illustrates the concept that there are more than just the leg muscles that contribute to the health of the knee. Lying on your back, bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Using the abdomen and glutes, lift your middle until your torso forms a straight line from neck to knees. Hold for a moment, then slowly lower back to the floor. Two sets of 8-12 reps is a goal for this exercise, which will strengthen the glutes, lower back, and abs as well.
These are only a few of the knee exercises which can benefit the longevity of this all-important part of the body. Any comprehensive regimen should include knee-strengthening exercises, and taking the time to warm up and cool down the knee is a good idea no matter what activity you undertake.