Knee injuries suck, especially if you’re an active sportsperson. This article is all about how to avoid them, with a focus on specific exercises to prevent knee injuries. We’re going to cover:
- Exercises to Prevent Knee Injury
- Knee Strengthening Exercises at Home
- How to Prevent Knee Injury (My 2 Extra Essential Tips)
- Frequently Asked Questions About Exercise and Knee Injury
- Next Steps
Let’s jump right in…
Exercises to Prevent Knee Injury
Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent injury, but only if you choose the right exercises and perform them correctly.
I’ve spent the past 7+ years working as a professional strength and conditioning coach helping national and international level athletes run, sprint, jump and rapidly change direction. Here are my exercise recommendations based on that experience.
1) Nordic Curls
The nordic curl is an exercise that builds strength in your hamstrings during the eccentric (lengthening) portion of their movement. It does this whilst your hips are in an extended position, which makes it a very unique and incredibly useful exercise.
Recommended Sets and Repetitions
Since the nordic curl can be challenging, and the eccentric motion can cause high levels of fatigue and soreness the next day, I recommend keeping the reps and sets low.
Typically I’ll have my athletes perform 3 sets of 4-6 reps, using a progression level that they can control with good technique.
2) ‘Neuromuscular Exercises’
This is a fancy way of saying exercises for general athleticism. Things like…
- Throwing and catching a ball
- Hurdle variation
Since many knee injuries happen during sporting events in which athletic movement demands are high, research shows that having better coordination, balance, proprioception (general athleticism) reduces the risk of knee injury.
Set and Rep Scheme Recommendations
Since there are so many exercises you can use to fill this category, my best recommendation is to spend about 10 minutes on this.
Typically, I’ll pick 3 or 4 exercises and have my athletes perform them in a circuit, spending about 30s to 60s per exercise.
A big contributing factor to knee injuries is poor force absorption. Squats can be used to improve your leg muscle’s ability to absorb force, reducing the impact that movements such as running place upon your knee joint.
Personally, I’m a big fan of tempo squats, in which you go slowly down, pause at the bottom, and then come back up normally. I like them as they help to build good technique, plus research has shown that slower movements speeds are less demanding of tendons, making them a great tool to strengthen weaker knees.
Set and Rep Scheme Recommendations
I’ve actually had various athletes tell me they “can’t squat” due to knee pain, only for the tempo squat to be completely pain-free. The trick is to start light, without too much training volume, and build up over time.
I start athletes with 3 sets of 6 reps, often building to 4 sets of 6-8 reps, and increasing the weight used over time.
Knee Strengthening Exercises at Home
The good news is that all of the 3 knee strengthening exercises above can be performed at home:
- Nordic curls can be performed with a partner grabbing your ankles, or by wedging them under a piece of furniture.
- Neuromuscular (general athleticism) just requires you to pick a handful of coordination and balance based exercises. They can all be bodyweight based. For example, single-leg balances, lateral lunges, skips etc.
- Tempo squats can be done with bodyweight and made challenging by really slowing the tempo. I promise, 3 sets of 6 squats with each squat taking 10 seconds on the way down is not easy!
How to Prevent Knee Injury (My 2 Extra Essential Tips)
1) Warm-Up Properly
Research shows that warm-up routines reduce knee injury risk within sport, and experience tells me that they reduce knee injuries within strength training as well.
Before any training session, game or match…
- Raise your heart rate with easy cardio (2 mins rowing/cycling/power walking)
- Go through a sequence of dynamic mobility exercises that move your joints through the full range of motion
- Perform potentiation or ‘switch on’ type exercises (hops, balances, skips etc)
2) Monitor Your Workloads (And Avoid Spikes)
When people ask me how to avoid knee injuries, one of my biggest pieces of advice is to carefully monitor your workloads. For example, if you’re a runner, keep a log of how many miles you run per week. If you want to increase this amount do so slowly over time, rather than by suddenly increasing your training.
If you ran 30 miles in total last week, you should run no more than 33 miles this week.
Or, if you did 5 sets of leg training in the gym last time, you should do no more than 6 this time.
“It’s not cool or sexy, but gradual progress over time is one of the best ways to prevent injury.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Exercise and Knee Injury
How to prevent knee injury from running?
To prevent running knee injuries warm up properly, track your workloads and make sure that you do strength training at least once per week.
What is the best way to prevent knee injuries?
Exactly what we’ve discussed in this article, warm-ups, load management and strength training exercises.
What is the best exercise for knee injury?
There’s no such thing as a ‘best’ exercise to prevent knee injury as it varies per person. I’ve provided 3 suggestions above, and each works well within a given context, but there is still some individual variance.
Are squats good for your knees?
Yes, squats can be used to strengthen the connective tissues around your knees, as well as increase bone density. Just make sure you start light, use good form and build up slowly over time.
How can I improve my knee stability?
Strength training is your number one tool to develop knee stability. Progressively challenge yourself, adding weight and reps over time, and aiming to move through full ranges of motion.
Does stretching prevent knee injury?
There’s not any great evidence that stretching can prevent knee injuries, unless you happen to have a restricted range of motion at your knee, hip or ankle joint that is adversely affecting your movement patterns.
How to fix sore knees from exercise?
The main way to fix sore knees from exercise is to reduce the amount of exercise you’re doing and allow for recovery time. I would especially avoid high impact activities like running and jumping. In the meantime, consider things like swimming, crosstraining and cycling to maintain cardiovascular fitness. You could also use this as an opportunity to prioritise upper body strength training.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Start implementing my 3 recommend exercises to prevent knee injury, as well as tracking your workloads and doing proper warm-ups.
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to improve your sports performance, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.