Exercises for Strengthening Knees

If you have knee pain during exercise, strengthening the muscles that support the knee may help reduce pain and make exercise as well as daily movements more comfortable. The following exercises offer both strength and flexibility benefits for the quads, hamstrings, and inner and outer thighs to help support the knees.

If you have knee pain or any type of knee discomfort, consult your doctor for a diagnosis and get clearance before trying these, or any other, exercises.

Workout Tips

  • Warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of cardio. This can include brisk walking, marching in place, or any activity that gets your heart rate up and warms your muscles.
  • Complete 1 to 2 sets if you're a beginner. Try the moves with no resistance to get a feel for the exercises.
  • Complete 2 to 3 sets if you're more advanced. Just be sure to take a short rest in between.
  • Modify the exercises as needed. Tailor these moves to suit your specific needs, abilities, and goals.
  • Stop any exercises that cause pain. Pushing through pain or discomfort could cause or exacerbate injury.

Equipment Needed

For this workout, you will need a step or platform, a chair, an exercise ball, and resistance bands.

You might want to skip the resistance bands at first if you're a beginner. You can also use ankle weights in place of a resistance band as a modification to build additional strength.

Resistance Band Leg Lift

Leg Lifts

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  • Stand sideways next to a chair or wall for support and loop a resistance band around your ankles.
  • Lift the left leg out to the side with the foot flexed and the hip, knee, and foot in alignment.
  • Try to lift the leg without tilting at the torso.
  • Lower and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps.

Push Step

  • Stand with your left side to a step or platform and place your left foot on the step.
  • Push into the step to lift up a few inches and lower back down.
  • Continue with the push step, moving quickly for about 30 to 60 seconds on the left leg before switching to the right.
  • Repeat for 1 to 3 sets.

Wall Sit

  • Stand against a wall and slide down as low as you can (no lower than 90 degrees), making sure your knees stay behind your toes.
  • Hold this position, keeping your weight in your heels, for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for 1 to 3 sets.

Resistance Band Pull-Through

  • Loop a resistance band around a sturdy object toward the floor and stand with your back to it, straddling the band.
  • Step away from the anchor point to increase resistance and stand with feet about hip-distance apart, holding the band in each hand.
  • Tip from the hips, keeping your back straight and your shoulders down, lowering the torso as far as your flexibility allows (you can keep a slight bend in the knees).
  • Squeeze through the glutes to stand back up, pulling the band through your legs. Imagine that you're pulling from your hips rather than your arms or lower back.
  • Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps.

Knee Lift

  • Loop a resistance band around your ankles, leaving enough space so that the band is tight as your feet spread about a foot apart.
  • Shift the band under the bottom of the standing foot. Hold onto a wall or chair for balance if needed.
  • Lift the right knee up until it's level with the hip (or as high as you can).
  • Lower and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Hamstring Curl

  • Stand in front of a chair for balance and bend the right knee, bringing your foot up behind you (like you're kicking your own butt).
  • Slowly lower and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.

Add intensity by wrapping a resistance band around your ankles or using ankle weights.

Inner Thigh Squeeze

  • While seated with good posture, place an exercise ball or a rolled up towel between your knees.
  • Squeeze the ball by contracting the inner thighs and releasing slightly, but don't release all the way.
  • Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps.

Seated Straight Leg Raise

  • Sit tall on the floor with the left leg bent, the right leg straight, and the right foot flexed.
  • Wrap your arms around the left leg for support and engage your core.
  • Lift the right leg off the floor, keeping the leg straight (but not locked). Avoid leaning back, using your core and your left leg to stay upright.
  • Lower the leg, lightly touching the floor.
  • Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

  • Sit on a step and stretch the left leg out straight (you can also sit on a chair and prop the leg on another chair), keeping the right foot on the floor.
  • Bend forward, keeping the torso upright, until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the leg.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat for 3 sets on each side.

Lunge Stretch

  • Stand in a staggered stance with your right foot forward and left foot back (you can hold onto a wall for balance if needed).
  • Bend both knees and press the back hip forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the left thigh and hip flexor.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat for 3 sets on each side.

Standing Calf Stretch

  • Stand in a staggered stance with your right foot forward and left foot back (you can hold onto a wall for balance if needed).
  • Bend the front knee and lean forward until you feel a stretch in the calf of your left leg.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat for 3 sets on each side. 
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  1. Vincent KR, Vincent HK. Resistance exercise for knee osteoarthritisPM R. 2012;4(5 Suppl):S45–S52. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2012.01.019