Exercises To Strengthen Knees for Running - Runner Knee Exercises

Article by Jake Amos, Personal Trainer and owner of Hitchin Running Club & Burnt Hare Events and edited by Jemma Walsh 

One of the most common injuries that occurs for those taking part in cardio fitness is a runner’s knee. Whether you have been running for a long time or are new to the running world, runners must build runner knee exercises into their fitness journey to both prevent and aid any emerging injuries that are occurring in the knees. Today we have spoken to Jake Amos, the owners of Hitchin Running Club and Burnt Hare Events, with his opinion on all things runner’s knee and the best exercises to strengthen knees for running. 

What is ‘Runner’s Knee’?  

Runner's knee is very common among both long-term runners and those starting out running. According to hopkinsmedicine.org runner's knee often presents as dull pain which is felt on the front of the knee. It may be that a structural defect is causing this pain, or it may be down to a certain walking or running style. Symptoms of runner's knee may include pain accompanied by a rubbing, grinding, or clicking sound around the kneecap area. Usually rest and taking a break from running is an effective treatment, which should continue until the pain goes away. 

Why do runners tend to get bad knees? 

As suggested by christopherboonemd.com, your running posture can be affected by your levels of core strength and general mobility. For example, if you have weak hips or weak thigh muscles, this may increase your chances of an injury to the knee. If you are overweight, then this can also elevate the chances of an injury to the knee due to the extra weight that is placed on your knees during each step taken. 

If I start running, what can I do to prevent getting bad knees? 

There are many steps you can take (no pun intended!) Working on your core strength is one thing you can do that will help your posture, as placing too much weight over certain areas will cause increasing stress to the muscles. Doing plenty of stretching (to mild tension in the muscle) is also very beneficial as it allows greater flexibility, which is a better range of movement, and this means that you can use more of the muscle fibers to distribute the load required to run! 

Another thing to consider is thinking about a sensible dietary plan if you think that you may need to. This can be an awkward conversation for some, but it’s important to address rather than duck the issue if you are participating in fitness and looking for an overall healthier lifestyle. If you think you may be carrying more weight than you would like then completing your own food diary is a great way to monitor your food and drink intake, or you can speak to a more qualified person who will help you. Take a look at our blog ‘How to Lose Weight – Our Top Tips’ as a great starting point on your weight loss journey.  

Are there any exercises to strengthen knees for running?  

There are many exercises to strengthen knees for running for all abilities, whether you are a long-term runner or new to starting out! We suggest doing a variety of different runner knee exercises so that you are making the muscles work in a variety of ways. This way you get to target different muscles, not just the big leg muscles but also the assisting muscles that help to stabilise the knee joints. 

Examples of runner knee exercises include: 

  • Sitting on a chair and extending your legs out (repeating multiple reps) - that will help to work on the quadricep muscles that support the knee 
  • Squats and lunges - that employ multiple muscle groups 
  • Straight leg raises from a standing position - that will help target the hip flexor muscles 
  • Side lunges - that will help develop the leg muscles in a different plane of movement 
  • Standing on one leg with the knee joint bent – so that load is applied and the muscles contract  
  • Wall squats – that strengthens the overall knee joint 

Is there anything I should be doing pre and post run to prevent injury when running?  

Before you run it is always imperative to do a robust warm up and some mild stretches. By doing this, you will promote blood flow, the muscles and connective tissues become warmer and more pliable which creates better movement, and you circulate synovial fluid in the joints (think of oil in a car engine to lubricate the moving parts to reduce friction that causes wear and tear). It is recommended that doing at least 10-15 minutes will improve your performance levels and help to reduce injuries than if you were to start cold. The mild stretches are important as it gives your muscles a better range of movement and they will contract more efficiently, increasing the number of available inches in your range of movement. Head over to our Post Workout Stretches blog for some tips if you need some inspiration or if you are looking to build strength to help with your running regieme, make sure to read our Strength Training For Runners blog too.  

What are your top 5 examples of exercises to strengthen knees for running? 

  1. Seated leg raises as this will give stability and comfort 
  2. Isometric exercises for control and stability (e.g. static wall squats) 
  3. Standard squats to employ movement patterns for the muscles to develop 
  4. Lunges to focus on specific legs to help strengthen the target areas 
  5. Adductor and abductor straight leg raises (lie on your side and lift the leg up and down slowly) to work on the hip area and the muscles that stabilise the knee to contract and grow 

Are there any runner knee exercises I can do to help prevent pain when running? 

My advice would be good quality, comfortable, and cushioned shoes that will help reduce the load and absorb more of the impact and shock from running. If you are new to running, look to invest in a pair of running specific trainers which will help assist you on your running journey. Of course, the other piece of advice is going back to the warmup. A warmup should be a staple feature on any exercise participation to make sure that the body is as warm as possible before you partake in the main exercise however long or short that may be. 

Is there any different runner knee exercises / workouts I should be doing alongside running? 

It is always a great idea to do as many different types of exercises as possible as this will cross train the muscles and help enhance your overall fitness level. Good examples include walking, cycling and swimming. Use gym machines if you have access to them as they are great to target specific areas as they have a low to zero impact on the knee joints - machines good for this include the cross trainer and stepper. If you don’t have access to a gym then everyday household activities or garden additions are good too, as this promotes using a variety of muscles in different planes of movement. 

Summary of the best exercises to strengthen knees for running 

Overall, Jake recommends a variety of exercises to help strengthen the knees for running. The main takeaways include making sure you complete a comprehensive warm up for a minimum of 10-15 minutes, including stretching to help lubricate and move the knees before any cardio or high impact movement. He also recommends a good pair of dedicated running shoes, working on your core strength and looking at a dietary plan if you are looking to lose a little weight.  

Jake’s top strengthening exercises include a variety of squats, lunges, isometric stretches and straight leg raises as the most effective exercises to strengthen knees for running. By doing this you will strengthen the muscles in the legs and knees helping with the overall movement of running and impact on the potential for getting or straining a runner's knee. We hope this blog helps you in your running journey and if you have any concerns about your knees when running then please make sure to contact a doctor health care professional.  


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