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Exercises for Hips and Knees

Build hip and knee stability with a few basic exercises

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Updated May 16, 2014

Young woman is exercising and meditating in the gardens, Singapore.
Felix Hug/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Do you do specific exercises for your hips and knees? Do you work your hip through the entire range of motion and engage the abductors and adductor muscles? If not, maybe you should.

The abductors and adductors are critical for providing integrity of the hip joint and create a strong, balanced link between the lower body and the torso. They also need to be exercised through an entire range of motion. If you work these muscles only in one direction (forward and back) by walking, running or using common cardio machines then you are not building structural integrity of the hip, or the entire lower body.

These muscles, along with the quads and hamstrings, play an important role in allowing the patella (kneecap) to track properly as the knee joint bends. If the abductor and adductor muscles are not strong, flexible, and balanced, knee pain such as patellofemoral syndrome, and injury is more likely.

Strong Muscles Support Joints

Strengthening and balancing the muscles that surround the knee can take the pressure off the joint and decrease the amount of total weight absorbed by the ligaments, meniscus and cartilage in the knee. Because the knee is a hinge joint and only moves in one direction, it's important to maintain both strength and stability.

The hip joint, on the other hand, is a ball and socket joint that works best when it has mobility as well as strength. The hip is a much more complicated joint, and needs to be exercised in a variety of directions, including rotation, in order to increase overall stability. If the muscles that support the hip joint (quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and even the core muscles) are strong and allow appropriate mobility, the amount of pressure and wear and tear on the hip joint, as well as the knee joint, decreases.

Proper Alignment Reduces Pain

The soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.) help maintain proper alignment of the bones during movement. If bones aren't properly aligned when they move through a range of motion, there can be a great deal of friction, a lack of stability, decreased mobility and compromised function. This can set an athlete up for a variety of injuries.

The best way to maintain biomechanical integrity during movement is with the proper balance of strength and flexibility around the joint. Muscles work in pairs (extensors and flexors) and maintaining the proper balance of strength in these muscle pairs can go a long way to prevent joint pain and injury.

Begin with a Functional Warm Up

Consider using the core workout as a warm up before strength training. This routine activates the core stabilizers as it warms up the larger muscles to prepare for more powerful strength training exercises. Also see:

Exercises for Strong Hips and Knees

This list offers some great exercises that athletes from all sports can incorporate into their training routines to help keep the hips and knees properly aligned, strong, flexible and able to withstand the rigors of sports.

Beginner Exercises

  1. Clam Exercise
    A basic glute medius strengthening move.
  2. Bridge Exercise
    A hamstring and glute strengthener.
  3. Plank Exercise
    This basic strengthening exercise can improve overall core biomechanics.
Intermediate Exercises
  1. Side Plank
    This basic hip abductor strengthening exercise can improve alignment.
  2. Lateral Mini Band Walking
    This simple exercise can improve the strength of the glute medius, which helps pelvis and knee stability.
  3. Single Leg Bridge
    A bit more advanced way to build stability.
  4. Lunge with a Twist
    Adding a twist to the lunge improves core stability.
  5. Weighted Step Ups
    This simple and effective exercise improves strength and power without excessive stress on the knees or hips.
  6. Squat
    The basic full squat is the overall best lower body strengthening exercise. Just be sure to do it correctly.

Advanced Exercises

  1. Walking Lunge
    Walking lunges, with or without weights, can improve strength and balance.
  2. Lateral Plyometric Jumps
    Side-to-side moves to improve hip mobility and strength.
  3. Weighted Adductor | Weighted Abductor Exercises
    Deceptively difficult exercises for athletes.
  4. One-Leg Squat and Reach
    This exercise builds strength and stability in both the lower body and core.
  5. Overhead Lunge
    Increase the difficulty of the lunge and add core stability by holding weight overhead.
  6. Plyometrics
    Plyometrics build explosive strength and help reduce the rick of knee ligament injuries when performed correctly.

Real Life Exercises for Hips and Knees

When it comes to preventing injury, using compound or "functional" exercises that use a variety of muscles and simulate real life movements are generally considered the ideal way for athletes to train. Such movements include exercises like squats, lunges and lateral movements. Exercises that isolate a specific muscle (such as a leg extension or biceps curl) do have a place in athletic training, but are often reserved to help isolate and rehab a muscle after an injury or to recover after a surgery. (Read More: Compound vs. Isolation Exercises)

Basic Knee and Hip Exercises

If you are starting from zero or getting over an injury, you can begin to build strength and stability in the hip and knee joints by going back to basics and using these simple exercise routines.

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