If you feel like you have achy old-lady knees, there’s a reason for that: Knees bear about 80 percent of our bodyweight when we’re standing, according to the American Council on Exercise. The complex joint is also highly susceptible to injury, particularly in women. That’s because women have wider hips, which places greater pressure on the inside of the knee, while female hormones such as estrogen can create loose joints that weaken the knees’ stability. And those high heels only add more pressure on your poor knees.
Strengthening the muscles that support your knee reduces stress on your knee joint, helping the joint absorb shock, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), while stretching elongates the muscles around the knee and keeps them flexible.
These six moves from AAOS both stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee to relieve pain and help prevent injury. Just be sure to do a quick 5-minute warm-up, such as a short walk, first.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Rest your hands on the front of your thighs or reach them straight out in front of you. Keep your chest lifted and shoulders down as you slowly lower your hips about 10 inches, as if you were about to sit in a chair. Plant your weight in your heels and hold the squat for 5 seconds. Push through your heels and bring your body back up to standing. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
Stand with your weight evenly distributed over both feet. Hold onto the back of the chair or a wall for balance. Lift your right foot off the floor and slightly behind you, and then raise your left heel off the floor, keeping your weight centered on the ball of the foot. Lower your left heel back to the floor, keeping your right foot in the air. Repeat 10 times. Switch legs. Perform 2 sets on each leg.
3Straight Leg Raises
Lie on the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders to support your upper body and palms down. Keep your right leg straight and bend your left leg so that your left foot is flat on the floor. Tighten the thigh muscle of your right leg and slowly raise it 6 to 10 inches off the floor. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then relax, bringing your leg to the floor. Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
4Prone Leg Raises
Lie on the floor on your stomach with your legs straight. Rest your head on your folded arms. While tightening your glutes (butt) and hamstring muscles, as well as engaging your abs to protect your back, raise the straightened right leg toward the ceiling as high as you comfortably can without straining your back; if you feel tension in your lower back, don’t raise your leg as high. Hold this raised leg position for 5 seconds. Lower your right leg and rest for 2 seconds. Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
Sit up straight on a chair or bench. Slowly straighten and raise your right leg as high as you comfortably can. Squeeze your thigh muscles and hold this position for 5 seconds. Relax and bring your foot to the floor. Repeat 10 times on one leg and then switch. Do 3 sets.
6Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Hold onto the back of a chair or wall for balance. Bend your knee and bring your heel up toward your butt. Grasp your ankle with your hand and gently pull your heel closer to your body. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg. Perform 2-3 reps.