The 5 best exercises that make my knees love me

I’ve had knee problems since I was 20 – and of COURSE it comes from being stupidly competitive in a game of family kickball. No, it can’t be from me running from a bear or rescuing a baby from a runaway horse, no, it comes from overconfidence and under-competence. Fun times!

But now that I’ve been regularly physically active for the last year and a half, my knee problems have diminished significantly. These are the top exercises that have helped me the most:

Walking

If you do nothing else, walk more. I walk every day at my job whenever I can since I sit at a desk. On the days or weeks where I haven’t walked all that much, it shows in my long hikes and runs and it hurts more than it would have otherwise.

When I ran my first marathon, I ran with a pacer who had run over two dozen marathons. This was her cross-training program:

Walk on a treadmill on steep incline (like a 7.0) for 45-60 minutes.

What? No upper body? No push-ups? No kickboxing? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

But it’s incredibly effective. I have a couple of different routes I do to take breaks during work and I get in at least a couple of miles on the really good days. (Some people can walk more, but this is about the maximum I can do and still be employed.) Now that winter is approaching, I’ll be walking outside less which means I’ll be walking around the office building a lot more. I’m lucky that my work has a gym so I can just go on the treadmill, but man, those treadmills can get boring.

If you don’t have access to a treadmill or a large corporate building to walk around, then sometimes you gotta bundle up and walk outside. It’s a great way to process thoughts (I often talk to myself out loud) and it helps your knees.

Squats

Aside from giving you a butt that won’t quit, squats can help with knee pain. Not only that, they strengthen your hips, which in turn help your knees. Make sure you have correct form – it’ll make all the difference. This video should help:

Lunges

Also known as the “split-squat,” lunges have simultaneously strengthened my knees and slaughtered my thighs. When doing lunges, make sure you have a 90-degree angle with your front leg that’s lunging forward. Watch out – you’ll be hella sore the next day.

Running

Yes, really. Granted, when I’m doing a long-distance run my knees start feeling it – and there have been some murderous downhill hikes and runs I have done where my knees have declared all-out war on me – but running on varied terrain has made all the difference. When you’re going downhill on a hike or a run and your knees are dying, go slower. It’s frustrating because if you’re anything like me, you just wish this was over already. But slowing your speed can help reduce the impact.

Ellipticals, swimming, cycling

Isn’t it nice to know there’s multiple ways to exercise? There are some days where I am just NOT FEELING IT for exercising, but the elliptical machines and the bikes in the gym have come through for me. Besides, it’s a nice massage on my knees.

This is what has worked for me. I can’t speak for everyone and there are a billion ways to strengthen your knees – you can just google it and find even more exercises. But staying active and continuing to walk has made all the difference and my knees thank me for it.

What are your favorite knee exercises? What has worked for you?

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