Fitness & Excercise

Best Exercises for Runner’s Knee Pain

Runner’s knee can derail the most dedicated running routines. It’s a common term for pain around the kneecap—a result of soft tissue irritation. Too much running (overuse) is often the culprit. Poor running mechanics also play a role, due in part to our culture of spending long hours at a desk and behind a steering wheel, which tightens our hips and hamstrings, and places undue stress on our knees, especially when we run.

That’s why the best exercises for runner’s knee are those that open the hips and hamstrings and enable them to move properly, taking undue stress off the knees. By opening the hips, loosening the hamstrings, and encouraging proper running mechanics, you’ll go a long way to relieve runner’s knee and keep it from returning. Here are the best exercises to do just that.

1. Glute Bridges

Tight glutes lead to stiff hips, poor movement patterns, and—ultimately—runner’s knee. Lie faceup on the ground with knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes and bridge your hips to the ceiling. Only your shoulders and hips should remain on the ground. Hold for two seconds, then lower your hips toward the ground without touching. This move activates your glutes, which deactivate from sitting all day.

Perform 2 x 10 reps  

2. Lateral Lunges

Running is a repetitive forward motion that can create overuse injuries without proper cross training. The lateral lunge hits the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, all of which are key to sound running mechanics. By strengthening these muscles, it can take pressure off the knees. Step out to the right, keeping toes pointed straight ahead and feet flat, lowering until your knee is bent at 90 degrees. Squat down as low as possible, keeping the left leg straight. Hold for two seconds. Drive through right heel to return to the starting position. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.

Perform 2 x 10 reps each side

3. Wall Sits

This simple but challenging move strengthens the quads, which in turn will take the pressure off your knees. Stand a foot in front of a wall and sit down, back flat, as if you were sitting in an invisible chair.

Perform 2 x 30-second holds (or as long as possible) with 30 seconds rest between 

4. Standing Calf Raises

The calves and ankles play a big role in proper running mechanics. This move improves ankle flexibility and calf strength, taking the burden away from the knee. Stand on a stair with your heels hanging over the edge, holding onto a railing. Slowly lower your heels while keeping your knees straight. Extend your ankles forcefully to perform the raise (go as high as your ankle flexibility will allow).

Perform 2 x 10 reps each side

5. Inchworms

This move not only lengthens your hamstrings but also builds stability in your core and flexibility in the ankles. Start with legs straight and hands on the floor. Keeping the legs straight, walk your hands out. Then walk your feet back up to your hands—again, keeping your legs straight. Take baby steps using only the ankles. Avoid using the hips, knees, and quads.

Perform 2 x 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between

6. Fire Hydrants

This opens the groin and glutes, providing flexibility that will take the pressure off the knees. From all fours, raise your right hip until it’s parallel to the ground, mimicking a dog’s movements. Raise your leg so it’s as parallel to the ground as possible, opening up the groin.

Perform 2 x 10 reps each side

7. Side Planks

This provides the core and hip stability essential to proper running form. Lie on one side with your forearm on the ground and elbow directly under the shoulder. Your body should be in a straight line with toes pulled toward your shins. Push up off your elbow, creating a straight line from ankle to shoulder. Only the edge of your bottom foot and your elbow should be in contact with the ground.

Perform 2 x 30-second holds (or as long as possible) with 30 seconds rest between 

Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author and co-author of several books on performance and training.

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