Knee Strengthening Exercises

by PhysioAdvisor Staff

Exercises > Strength (Joints) > Knee Strengthening Exercises

The following knee strengthening exercises are designed to improve strength of the muscles of the knee. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Begin with the basic knee strengthening exercises. Once these are too easy, they can be replaced with the intermediate knee strengthening exercises and eventually, the advanced knee strengthening exercises. Once the advanced exercises are too easy, progress to the knee strengthening exercises at the gym for optimal gains in knee function, strength and conditioning.


Knee Strengthening – Basic Exercises

To begin with, the following basic knee strengthening exercises should be performed approximately 10 times, 3 times daily. As your knee strength improves, the exercises can be progressed by gradually increasing the repetitions and strength of contraction provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Static Inner Quadriceps Contraction

Tighten the muscle at the front of your thigh (quadriceps) by pushing your knee down into a towel (figure 1). Put your fingers on your inner quadriceps (VMO – vastus medialis obliquus) to feel the muscle tighten during contraction. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times as hard as possible pain free.

Basic Knee Strengthening Exercises - Static Inner Quadriceps Contraction

Figure 1 – Static Inner Quadriceps Contraction

Quads Over Fulcrum

Begin this exercise lying on your back with a rolled towel or foam roll under your knee and your knee relaxed (figure 2). Slowly straighten your knee as far as possible tightening the front of your thigh (quadriceps). Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times as hard as possible pain free.

Basic Knee Strengthening Exercises - Quads Over Fulcrum

Figure 2 – Quads Over Fulcrum

Static Hamstring Contraction

Begin this exercise in sitting with your knee bent to about 45 degrees (figure 3). Press your heel into the floor tightening the back of your thigh (hamstrings). Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times as hard as possible pain free.

Basic Knee Strengthening Exercises - Static Hamstring Contraction

Figure 3 – Static Hamstring Contraction


Intermediate Knee Strengthening Exercises

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Advanced Knee Strengthening Exercises

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Knee Strengthening Exercises at the Gym

The following knee strengthening exercises at the gym are designed to improve the strength of the major muscles of the knee using machine weights and free weights. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain.

Untrained individuals should begin by performing one or two sets of only a few of these knee strengthening exercises with light resistance. Once this is too easy, gradually increase the number of exercises, resistance and sets over a number of sessions provided there are no signs of injury.

For beginners, it is generally advisable to begin with light weights that allow you to perform 20 – 30 repetitions of each exercise with good control, posture and form. Allow approximately 1 minute rest and recovery between exercise sets.

As your endurance and strength improves, aim to gradually increase the number of sets of each knee strengthening exercise over a number of sessions until you are eventually performing 3 – 4 sets of each exercise provided the exercises are pain free. These exercises can then be progressed by gradually increasing the weights used so that fatigue is achieved by 8 – 12 repetitions and by progressing to other unaccustomed exercises provided they are pain free.

Specific requirements may vary between individuals depending on their functional goals. Your physiotherapist can advise on the most appropriate resistance, repetitions and sets to meet your needs.

Ensure you always perform an appropriate warm up before beginning any knee strengthening exercises at the gym, an appropriate cool down after and ensure you balance recovery periods from training to prevent injury. Generally, it is advisable to perform a selection of the following exercises 1 – 2 times per week, aiming to perform 1 – 3 exercises for each muscle group provided they do not cause or increase pain. Allow approximately 4 – 7 recovery days before performing exercises that strengthen the same muscle group to allow muscle recovery.

Leg Press

Major Muscles Used: Gluteals, Quadriceps, Hamstrings.

Begin this knee strengthening exercise sitting in optimal posture with your back and neck straight as demonstrated (figure 13). Your feet should be hip width apart and point upwards (or slightly outwards) with your knees in line with your second or third toe. Ensure your knees are not too close to your chest so your lower back can be maintained in a slight arch. Slowly straighten your legs, tightening your quadriceps and gluteals, then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 1 – 4 sets of 8 – 30 repetitions provided the exercise is pain free.

Knee Strengthening Exercises at the Gym - Leg Press

Figure 13 – Leg Press

Incline Leg Press

Major Muscles Used: Gluteals, Quadriceps, Hamstrings.

Begin this knee strengthening exercise sitting in optimal posture with your back and neck straight as demonstrated (figure 14). Your feet should be hip width apart and point upwards (or slightly outwards) with your knees in line with your second or third toe. Ensure your knees are not too close to your chest so your lower back can be maintained in a slight arch. Slowly straighten your legs tightening your quadriceps and gluteals, then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 1 – 4 sets of 8 – 30 repetitions provided the exercise is pain free. This exercise can also be progressed by performing it on each leg individually (figure 15).

Knee Strengthening Exercises at the Gym - Incline Leg Press

Figure 14 – Incline Leg Press

Knee Strengthening Exercises at the Gym - Incline Leg Press (Single Leg)

Figure 15 – Incline Leg Press (Single Leg)

Smith Machine Squat

Major Muscles Used: Gluteals, Quadriceps, Hamstrings.

Begin this knee strengthening exercise standing in optimal posture with your back and neck straight, a bar with light weights resting along your shoulders and holding the bar as demonstrated (figure 16). Your feet should be hip width apart and facing forwards (or turned slightly outwards) with your knees in line with your second or third toe. Maintain optimal posture throughout this exercise. Slowly bend your knees, sticking your bottom out as though you were going to sit in a chair until you are at an approximate 90 degree angle at the hips and knees, then slowly return to the starting position tightening your gluteals and quadriceps. Ensure your feet are positioned so your knees do not move excessively forwards past your toes. Perform 1 – 4 sets of 8 – 30 repetitions provided the exercise is pain free.

Knee Strengthening Exercises at the Gym - Smith Machine Squats

Figure 16 – Smith Machine Squat


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