10 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

10 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

One of the most common ailments during aging has to do with joint and knee pain. Since the knees support everyday physical functioning, it’s important to keep them healthy and mobile.

Basic tasks such as walking, sitting, and supporting smaller physical movements depend on the mobility of the knees and legs. Depending on the lifestyle of each individual, the knees can take more impact than actually necessary.

Knowing the optimal exercises and postures which involve the knees can prevent and sometimes even improve the condition of the knee joint. With age comes more wear and tear on the body. Since the knees are what support the upright body, they can be prone to pain and weakness in seniors.

Knee Problems Among Seniors

Many seniors all over the world experience knee issues. In the medical field, the top recurring knee problems that are seen include:

  • Tendonitis: Inflammation and swelling of the knee joints caused by overuse or improper use of the knee. It can be most often seen among those with an athletic background.
  • Osteoarthritis: Cartilage in the bones and joints breaks down over time. Osteoarthritis causes weakness, pain, stiffness and can lead to further injury. 
  • Sprains: Weakened joints or muscles can lead to sprains more easily. Knee sprains are often seen throughout aging as the body is working harder to support its weight despite the gradual decline. 
  • Falls: Knee pain and deterioration are a leading cause of falls among older people. Because the knees support a lot of weight of the entire upper body, it makes falls and accidents more likely to occur. Even the simplest tasks can become risky when the knee isn’t as strong as it used to be.

Even though we can’t always control what happens to the body, there are preventative actions just about anyone can take to support their knees through old age. 

Two elderly people on mats.
Stretching is a great way to reduce or even avoid knee inuries.

Preventative Tips For Knee Strengthening Exercises

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Every step someone takes puts pressure on their knees. Walking requires the tendons, ligaments, and muscles to carry out specific movements. Cartilage in the knee, called the meniscus, helps to absorb the impact felt during each step, stumble, or shock.

Having excess body weight can add pressure and impact to not only the knees but the entire body. Being overweight is one of the leading causes of physical injury and health decline. The Department of Health at Harvard University suggests losing weight or sustaining a healthy weight as one of the best ways to prevent knee ailments among seniors.

Have a Regular Workout Routine

Exercise is not about how much you can handle. It’s about being consistent and deliberate with your health. Including knee exercises in your regular workout routine will help them age well with you, preventing early deterioration and injury.

Healthy habits are key to overall health! Make it a regular thing, like bathing or brushing your teeth. Aim to exercise 3-5 times per week.

Avoid Injury 

With any physical fitness routine, it’s essential to know what proper form looks and feels like. When performing an exercise, there is a right and wrong way to carry out each movement.

Doing a stretch or a strengthening exercise the wrong way can cause damage to your body. Before doing new or more challenging exercises, make sure you have someone who can guide you in proper form to prevent injury.

Stretching and Mobility

When it comes to knees, strength is important. But it’s just as important to stay flexible, balanced and loosen the tension surrounding the knees. It’s recommended that you include basic stretching and balance exercises with any strength goals you’re trying to achieve.

Even as you focus on strengthening, you don’t want your body to become too tense that it can’t move.

Why Exercise the Knees?

Physical activity is essential at any stage of life to maintain healthy functions of the body and mind. If you need support getting your legs in better shape, here are some of the most practical ways to exercise your knees.

10 Knee Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

1. Calf Raises

Calf exercises help your supporting muscles in your calf and back leg, taking less pressure off your knee when standing and walking. 

These exercises can be done by simply rising on your tippy-toes then slowly lowering your heels to the floor. Or you can do more of a challenge through these steps:

1. Start by standing on a step, workout stool, or curb. Make sure you have something to hold onto to support your balance. Let the back of your heels hang off the edge of the surface slightly.

2. Rise on your toes, allowing your heels to come up. You’ll feel your calf muscles flex.

3. Slowly lower back down, allowing your heels to go a little bit lower than the surface you’re standing on. You’ll feel a subtle calf stretch.

4. Repeat calf raises 10 times for up to 3 sets.

2. Knee Extensions

Extensions are beginner-friendly. Alternatively, you can make them more advanced. They help strengthen the quadriceps muscles which carry out movements attached to the knee.

1. Sit in a chair upright with your feet flat on the floor.

2. Keeping yourself seated, raise your right leg off the floor and extend it out in front of you.

3. You’ll feel your thigh and quad muscles working. Hold for a count then lower back to the floor.

4. Switch and raise your left leg. Hold, and return to the starting position.

5. Repeat for 10 counts on each leg, up to 3 sets.

3. Standing Knee Flexion 

Knee flexions help strengthen the hamstring muscles. These exercises are easy to do and help improve balance, lower body strength, and can improve gate.

1. Begin standing with a bar or chair in front of you to hold on to for support.

2. As if you’re trying to stand on one foot, raise your right foot off the floor, bending it back behind you at the farthest angle you can. 

3. Straighten your leg back down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

4. Repeat the routine on the left leg 10 times.

5. Do up to 3 sets on each leg.

4. Leg Raises 

If you want a knee exercise that won’t strain your leg muscles, straight leg raises are a great beginner option to try. This simple movement builds strength in the quads and hamstrings which support the knee’s mobility.

1. Lie on your back on the floor with your legs out straight.

2. Point one leg up toward the ceiling, placing the foot flat on the floor toward your butt. This will be your supporting leg.

3. Keeping your other leg straight out, raise it as high as you can to align with your opposing supporting knee. You’ll feel your muscles working to lift it.

4. Lower your straight leg back to the floor. Repeat 10 times.

5. Switch legs and repeat on the other side. Complete up to 3 sets.

5. Wall Squats

If you have confidence in your balance, here’s an intermediate move to try. Wall squats challenge the strength of your upper legs as well as your glutes and knees.

This is a great exercise to build and maintain your overall lower body strength.  If this exercise causes you joint pain, stop and try a different exercise. 

1. Begin standing, arms at your sides, with your back straight against a wall.

2. Keeping your back against the wall, slowly lower yourself down by bending your knees. Keep your feet and knees aligned, feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your back and pelvis are aligned.

3. Hold the contraction for 3 to 10 seconds. You’ll feel a slight muscle burn. 

4. Still keeping your back against the wall, slide yourself back up to a standing position. 

5. Repeat 10 times, up to 3 sets per day, depending on your fitness level.

6. Step-Ups

Classic step-ups are great for cardio and balance while working out the legs. This exercise is modifiable and exactly how it sounds: you simply step up onto a higher surface.

1. Stand straight with a workout stool, stair, or low curb in front of you. If you need help balancing, use a chair or ask a caregiver to help spot you.

2. Step up onto the step with your right leg, then your left.

3. Step back down with your right leg, then your left.

4. Repeat 10-12 times for up to 3 sets. On every other set, start with the opposite leg.

7. Side Steps 

Side steps are easy and help maintain balance and mobility. You can do these basically anywhere without any special equipment. 

1. Stand in a neutral stance with your feet hip-width apart. 

2. Step to the side with your right leg so your legs are wide apart.

3. Then bring your left leg next to your right. 

4. Reverse the movement: Step to the side with your left foot, then bring your right leg back in.

5. Repeat 10-12 times for up to 3 sets.

For a more aerobic workout, use some ankle weights when performing side steps.

8. Resistance Band Squat Steps 

Working up to more intermediate movements, the resistance band side squat is similar to the side steps mentioned above. Squats will require more balance and lower leg strength, with the resistance band helping gain mobility and knee stability. It’s best to perform this exercise with a fitness trainer or guide.

1. Place a resistance band below your knees. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.

2. Slightly bend your knees as if you’re about to squat. 

3. Step your right leg out, keeping your knees bent. You’ll feel your knees, outer legs, and glutes working.

4. Maintaining the position level, bring your left leg in next to your right. 

5. Repeat these side step quats along the room as far as you can, about 10 steps.

6. Now reverse it. In the semi-squat position, step your left leg out and bring your right leg in to match it. Repeat until you get back to where you started, side-stepping about 10 times.

7. Rest after the full set. Repeat up to 3 times if desired.

9. Clamshell (advanced)

The clamshell is a tougher exercise that works the glutes, hip flexors, inner & outer thighs, and knees. If you have shoulder or neck problems, ask your doctor before trying this exercise, or get a fitness guide to help you through it.

1. Lay on your side with your legs at a 45-degree angle, one leg stacked over the other. Your head should be resting on the arm you are laying on. Feel free to put your arm up along your head laying it on the floor, or bent under your head for added support.

2. Engage your core to support your balance. Keeping your right foot attached to your left, steadily lift your right knee up toward the ceiling as far as you can. You’ll feel your legs working and your hip open slightly. When your leg opens it resembles a “clamshell”.

3. Keeping your hips and feet secure, lower your right knee back down to touch the other. 

4. Repeat the exercise 8-10 times. Then switch to the other side.

5. Repeat each side for up to 3 sets.

10. Leg press (advanced)

If you are already working on a diligent exercise program and you need a new challenge, you can try a leg press*. This boosts leg and knee strength. 

This is recommended only for older adults with a more advanced fitness level, as it can require some extra strain on the knee. Ask your healthcare provider before trying any new strenuous exercise!

* This exercise requires a leg press machine. 

1. Set your preferred weight of the machine. Make sure it’s not too heavy. You don’t want to injure yourself. Start at a lower weight then slowly work up.

2. Sit on the leg press machine with your back against the seat for support. Adjust the machine if you need to and get comfortable with good posture– you don’t want to be tense before performing this exercise, to prevent strain.

3. Place your feet flat against the metal plate before you. Your knees will be bent in this starting position. 

4. Slowly extend your legs straight to push the plate out in front of you. Breathe. Return slowly to the starting position.

5. Repeat 5-10 times, remembering to breathe. If any part of your body feels a sharp pain, stop the exercise immediately, as it’s probably too much.

A group of seniors warming up in a park.
Warming up prior to exercise is essential for protecting the knee joint.

How To Protect Your Knees During Exercise

Ask your doctor: Before you start a new exercise plan to strengthen your knees, get approval from your doctor or fitness trainer. Not all of the exercises mentioned above are suitable for every individual. Having a professional who knows your medical history advise your exercises can help save you any risk of a knee injury. 

Always warm up first: Don’t rush into difficult exercises right away. Make sure you warm up with some walking, light moving around the room, or stretches. You want to loosen your body up to get ready to exercise.

Be consistent: It’s okay to start small and then work your way up to bigger, more skilled exercises. As long as you stick with a plan and move your body regularly, you’ll likely see results and feel the benefits over time.

Start slowly when working out: You have to start somewhere when pursuing exercises for your knees. Don’t expect to automatically need to run or do leg presses that feel too difficult. Begin with side steps, step-ups, leg flexions and calf raises. These will give you a decent workout until you feel ready to move on to more strenuous exercises. Track your progress and be proud of the abilities you already have.

Use proper form: Remember, there is an optimal way to carry out each movement to protect your body from harm. Learn the proper form to get the most out of each exercise. 

Listen to your body: If you notice any pain, popping, extreme tightness, or discomfort, that particular exercise is probably not the best for you right now. Do something gentler on the body until you resolve whatever is affecting your mobility, or get assistance from a professional. 

Seek low-impact movement: Aside from strengthening, your body will thrive off of low-impact movement every day. Walking, swimming, gentle yoga, and stretching are all great ways to stay healthy and agile while aging. Plus, movement helps your brain function and stabilizes your mood, so try to get movement in for your overall well-being.

Benefits of Knee Exercises Over Time

If you do the right knee strengthening exercises with good form and consistency, you can expect to see results over time. Listen to your body, remember to stretch often, and get moving! Keep in mind, healthy habits make a more resilient body.

Make your workouts fun and seek the professional advice that applies to you and any condition you may have. With stronger knees, you’ll be able to withstand all the occasions in life for years to come.

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