knee strengthening exercises seniors

4 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises For Seniors

If you are looking for the best knee strengthening exercises for seniors, I hope the exercises in this post will prove beneficial for you.

You might have noticed that your knees don’t feel as strong and secure as they used to in your youth. You might even be suffering from acute or chronic knee pain when walking or doing activities.

The good news is that you can do a lot to improve the strength of the muscles and ligaments around your knee joint.

The bad news is that any kind of knee pain can be a symptom of something else than simple muscle weakness, so you definitely need to get a diagnosis before starting a knee strengthening routine is you have any kind of significant knee pain.

Otherwise, you run the risk of making things worse, increasing inflammation and pain in your knees. So always consult a medical professional as the first step to improve your knee health.

Weak Knees Or Something Else?

Knees are something most of us don’t really think about until we start to have issues with them.

Since the knee joint is one of the large joints of the lower body alongside the hip joint and the ankle joint, it has to handle enormous amounts of stress and forces.

Our legs are a marvel of nature when you think about what they are capable of. The positions they can reach, the force they can produce and the endurance they can sustain when trekking long distances.

All that comes with a price. Since the muscles around the knee and hip joints are the strongest muscles in the human body, the joints have to handle huge amounts of stress.

Just like a mechanical joint, there is also a need for lubrication, otherwise, friction will lead to reduced performance and wear. And just like the mechanical joint in a machine, rust and debris can build up, causing the joint to malfunction.

These are simple metaphors of several ailments of the knee that can cause pain, lack of mobility, and severely reduced performance.

These include injuries like ruptured ligaments and torn cartilage and medical conditions like arthritis, gout, and even infections. There are many things that can go wrong within the joint, some more serious than others.

The common thing with many of these ailments is that they might not respond well to strengthening the muscles and ligaments around the knee joint. This is why it’s very important to get a proper diagnosis before trying to treat knee pain on your own.

If you on the other hand just feel like your knees cannot support your weight when squatting to tie your shoes or getting up from a chair, a simple strength training routine can do wonders. Let’s look at the muscles and exercises that affect the knees.

Muscles Affecting The Knee

There are two major muscle groups (and their ligaments) that affect the strength and stability of the knee joint. The quadriceps and the hamstrings. The calf muscles also affect the knee joint slightly.

The quadriceps muscles are the muscles in the front of your thigh. They are responsible for extending (straightening) the knee joint. They are one of the strongest muscle groups in the human body and you use them any time you walk, squat, jump or do pretty much anything with your legs.

Many seniors have tight and relatively weak quadriceps. The quads will affect the stability, mobility, and strength of the knee joint significantly.

The other significant muscle group affecting the knees are the hamstrings. Hamstrings are the muscles that run along the back of your thigh. They are responsible for both knee flexion and hip extension.

Hamstrings are something that are typically very weak and very tight in seniors and to be honest most people that aren’t athletes, do a lot of strength training, yoga, or manual work.

Finally, the calve muscles can affect the knee. They don’t directly affect the knee joint, but the strong ligaments originate from around the knee joint. Especially if they are very tight, they can cause pain behind the knee and even reduce knee flexion.

Mobility And Strength

Not only is it important to have strength in these muscles but it’s also important that the strength between the muscle groups is balanced.

Another important consideration is mobility because tight muscles and ligaments are weaker and more prone to rupture. On the other hand, overly mobile ligaments can cause you to lose stability in the joint, but this is usually an issue only with some genetic disorders that affect the elasticity of your connective tissues.

If you do know you have hypermobile joints, it’s more important to focus on improving strength and stability over mobility to create a more stable.

In the case of significant hypermobility, this is something that should be done in the supervision of a qualified physiotherapist.

Mobility dictates your ability to produce active strength over the full range of motion of the joint. For example, if you have very tight quads and hamstrings, they can prevent you from going into a full squat.  If you do manage to get down after a bit of stretching,  your muscles will not likely be able to produce enough force to lift you back up.

It’s also important to realize that muscles always work together. When your bend or straighten your knee during activities like walking, your quads, and hamstrings both are active and support the knee.

This means that you should aim to strengthen your legs as a whole, doing exercises that mimic real-world movements. Strength is very movement specific after all and building functional strength is very important for fall prevention and balance for example.

So how do you know if you have tight or weak quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles? My recommendation is to presume all of them are tight and weak unless you are very active and regularly perform

In reality, this means that you would have to be doing some form of strength training like yoga, gymnastics, etc. so it’s unlikely since you are reading this article. If you for reason squat a lot, doing yard work, for example, it’s possible your mobility is good.

But for the vast majority of seniors both mobility and strength will be an issue. That’s why I recommend you do both mobility work and a full range of motion strength training.

Let’s look at some of the best exercises to strengthen and stabilize the knee joint.

Exercise 1: Leg Extension

The first exercise I recommend is the leg extension. It a simple exercise that focuses on building strength in the quadriceps.

It’s performed sitting down, either in a leg extension machine or in a high enough chair with bodyweight. You can also use ankle weights to add resistance at home.

The exercise is great for strengthening the quads alone in an isolated manner if you have trouble performing squats for example.

It’s important to realize that the leg extension is great for building initial strength, but should not be done as the only exercise to strengthen the knee joint.

Two sets on a weight you can perform comfortably for 15 to 20 reps is a good start. Focus on a full range of motion and controlled steady movement.

Exercise 2: Leg Curls

The leg curl is the exact opposite of the leg extension. It’s performed either seated or lying on your stomach on a leg curl device.

You can also perform it laying down on your stomach on the bed for example if you want to do it with bodyweight at home. You can add ankle weights to add resistance for home training.

Just like with the leg extensions, the leg curls are great for building initial strength to the hamstrings but they should never be used as the only exercise to strengthen the legs.

Two sets of 15 to 20 reps is a good start for this exercise as well. Focus on full range of motion and flexing the thigh as far as possible.

Exercise 3: Assisted Squat

Once you have built initial strength and mobility on the quads and hamstrings, it’s time to start building functional strength.

Assisted squats are one of the most effective movements to build overall leg strength if you are not strong and stable enough to perform regular bodyweight squats safely.

The idea is to use a sturdy piece of furniture like the kitchen sink or a door frame as support and perform bodyweight squats that you can assist with your upper body.

You can learn more about this exercise in my article Weak Legs On Seniors.

With squats, you should always focus on depth and control over repetitions or weight.

Exercise 4: Romanian Deadlift

The final exercise is the Romanian deadlift. I know the name is a bit funny but it’s actually one of the most functional movements you can perform.

While the squat is a great movement for learning to lift properly with your legs, the Romanian deadlift is great for learning how to use your hips and hamstrings effectively.

For your knees, the benefit comes from the superior hamstring activation. The hips and the knees work in tandem so it is important to build strength and mobility in both.

The Romanian deadlift can be performed with simply using bodyweight but it’s best done with either a kettlebell or dumbells.

Focus on bringing the hips back and getting a good stretch on the hamstrings before

Conclusion

I hope you found this post about strengthening the knees useful. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through the comments section below and I’ll get back to you!

Strengthening the muscles around the knees is possible and something everyone should aim to do. The best way to achieve this is by performing a simple strength training routine consistently.

Remember that strength training is a process that builds strength over a longer period of time. You need to perform just enough exercise to cause the need for your muscles to adapt.

Then you rest until the muscles have fully recovered and performed a bit more exercise. Over time this stress-recovery-adaptation cycle leads to significantly stronger muscles and ligaments.

With the knees, it’s important to remember that seniors can have other issues with the join that aren’t caused by weak muscles. It’s important to rule out any underlying medical conditions before starting a strength training routine so you don’t make things worse.

If you found this post useful, feel free to share it on social media to support my work!

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

8 comments

  1. Hello,

    I have to admit, as I’m getting older, my knees are not what they used to be. I have to consciously exercise them in order for them not to hurt. I also can’t do the normal things I used to do like running. Running used to be one of my favorite activities when I was in my young 30’s, but for some reason, when I tried to pick it back up in my 40’s, my knees and ankles said, “Nope, not today. Not ever.” I had never felt such pain as I did this summer. So, running was out of the question apparently and fast walking was the new “In”.

    Thanks for the great exercises the knees! I’ll use some of these for sure!

    Katrina

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Katrina and I’m sorry to hear about your knee pain. But you can rest assured you are not alone. Running is one of the most straining activities you can do to your knees. So much so that many professional runners actually end up ruining their knees by wearing them out. In your 40’s you have already significantly reduced ability to recover from straneuous exercise and if you have not been doing strength training or other exercise recently, your bones are likely already weaker than they used as aging tends to lead to loss of bone mass as well. The good new is that you don’t need to run to stay fit and healthy! Active lifestyle in outdoors, plenty of walking and doing a bit of strength training is more than enough. You might also notice that after a while you can run without pain.

  2. Thanks for the exercises. I exercise daily and have a different routine for each day of the week. So I can squeeze these in somewhere (pun intended 🙂
    As far as medical advice is concerned. We can’t even make an appointment with the doctor at the moment!! They say it’s because of COVID and if we have symptons or have an emergency we can go to the hospital. But it’s a very strange rule in my eyes.
    So we’ll stick to a healthy lifestyle and hope for the best 🙂

    1. Glad you found them useful Hannie! It’s a good idea to add some leg execrises to your routine at least couple of times a weak. If you can squat, that’s pretty much all you need. But if you have any knee issues, I still recommend you get them checked out with a doctor. I know the COVID situation makes everything harder and a little knee pain is not at the top of the priority list of most medical establishments right now. Let’s hope for a better tomorrow soon!

  3. Unfortunately, almost any age can encounter weak knees at some point, so I find this article useful pretty much for everyone, not only elderly.
    I still do not count myself in the category, but I do have problems with my knees for some time already. I suspect my few years of being overweight did not help, either. I managed to get rid of the weight, but the knee pain somehow stayed. So, all these advices and exercises might actually do a lot of good for me, as well.
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Very tru Kerryanne, knee problems can affect us at any age, and the younger you start strengthening the legs, the better. The secret is in consistency. You need to do a bit more each week to improve over time and then maintain the strength and mobility by performing a routine as old as you possibly can. The day you give up, the downhill begins rapidly. Glad to hear you managed to lose excess weight, it’s one of the best ways to improve your overall health and your knees will surely thank you for it! Now it’s time to make them strong and mobile again.

  4. Since my knees make noise when I squat now, I am going to try these movements for a couple of weeks to see if it makes any difference in the sound.
    I will check back with you then.
    John

    1. If your knees make a lot of noise, it might be a sign of an underlying problem, especially if there is pain so I’d recommend you to consult a doctor before starting. That said, cracking sound from the knees is actually pretty normal and nothing to worry about. Stregthening the knees might help a bit with the noise but if there is no pain, it shouldn’t be an issue. It’s still always a good idea to strengthen your legs!

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