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I often have knee pain. I`ve been to the doctor already and luckily I don´t have any serious disorder. But I do need to strengthen my muscles around the knee to avoid injuries and pain. What are the best exercises to do so?

And also, in a related question, what are the exercises that I should avoid?

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I strengthened my knee with squats. At first only bodyweight, then with dumbbells, before I switched to a barbell. Today I lift ~72kg (158lbs) and my knee hurts very rarely anymore. I know some people claim squats are bad for your knees, but that's only with bad form. If you go down all the way('break parallel'), you can avoid shear forces on your knee, which makes this a very good exercise to strengthen (not only) the knee. It has to be a back squat, though, as front squats, zercher squats, gobblet squats and chalice squats are very hard on the knees and should therefore be avoided. – LarissaGodzilla May 23 '14 at 15:39
@LarissaGodzilla you should of posted as a answer, so we can up vote! – Tracy at 2bactive May 24 '14 at 7:49
@Tracyat2bactive: That comment was all I could manage yesterday. Maybe I'll find the time to make an answer out of it this weekend. – LarissaGodzilla May 24 '14 at 8:28
I had this very same issue. My knee pain (which was constantly present wheter I exercised strength OR endurance, and lasted afterwards for days) disappeared after I switched to minimalist footwear (that means, no arch support and no heel raise). It looks like there was a postural issue at the root of my knee pain and changing the way I walk (and I use my feet while exercising) helped immensely. Since then I run, squat, lunge and jump with no knee pain whatsoever. Maybe it's worth a try for you as well. Do the switch very gradually because your feet are not anymore used to walk the natural way. – Dakatine May 26 '14 at 9:09
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The knee is very complex and it can be difficult to say what is good/bad for yours specifically. What is good/bad entirely depends on your condition and strength level. To make matters worse, even physios can disagree (depending on where and when they learnt, and how much they keep up with their science). For example, I've been told by some doctors and physios that cycling would be good for my knee (I had chondromalacia patellae) when in fact it has been detrimental.

  1. Squat: If you can do a full bodyweight squat pain free, then this is what you should do. Evidence shows that people who squat have stronger knees and have less injuries.

  2. If you cannot do a full bodyweight squat, work towards that goal:

    • You can start with lying (straight) leg raises. There are a bunch of exercises for VMO activation which can be beneficial, eg. squeezing a soft ball between the knees and raise the hips. Also, there are a couple of nuances, pressing the ball of the feet forward and turning the feet a little outside to activate the inside of the thigh.
    • Then, work on the seated leg press in full range of motion, and gradually increase weight and reps. Work on weights that are easy enough so that you can do 3x10 reps without pain.
    • If you can squat deep enough so that your hips are under the top of your knees, then slowly start adding weight.
  3. Stretching, mobility and relaxation: work on hip and ankle mobility and flexibility. The mobility of the surrounding joints is very important for healthy knees. Foam rolling the stiffer leg muscles might be useful.

Do not stick with preparatory exercises, work up progressively to the full bodyweight squat. But always work pain free. Avoid exercises which do not work the full range of motion. For example, I've been told by some physios to squat but don't bend the knees less than 90 degrees, and don't let the knees over the ankles. Such partial squats, together with cycling, have been major contributors to my knee pain. Since I'm working on full squats, my knee problems have completely went away. My knee feels the best after back squatting with 80kg!

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It depends on your knee problems. If you are able to do squats as Larissa says then great.

I know people who would be able to do squats, but would suffer for at least a week after. I would suggest slow controlled step overs, to start to build the vastus medius muscle, which will help take the pressure off of the knee.

Step overs. Take a bench. Step up and over touching the free leg to the other side. Do this slowly, then return, build to 30 repeats This maybe too easy, so raise the height. If this is done in a controlled manner it will help strengthen the supporting muscles.

Also, cycling may help.

It just depends, the extent of the problem. Find what works for you.

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