Knee exercises for runners - NHS

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Knee exercises for runners - Exercise

These knee strengthening exercises will help with your running, strengthen the muscles around the knee and prevent knee pain.

The exercises strengthen all the muscles supporting the knee and stretch out the iliotibial band, known as the ITB, which runs down the outside of the thigh.

They can be done as part of your warm-up before a run or as a cool-down routine after a run, outside or indoors, or whenever is most convenient.

Typically, you should start to see some benefits after 2 weeks of doing these knee exercises every day.

You should not feel any pain when doing these exercises. If you do, stop immediately and seek medical advice. These exercises are not suitable for people with an existing knee injury.

Knee bends – 3 sets of 10 repetitions (reps)

Knee bends starting position
Stand a foot away from a wall with your knees hip-width apart and your feet pointing slightly outwards
Knee bends lowered position
Slide your back down the wall by slowly bending your knees. Don't let your knees go past your toes. Let the knees point in the same direction as your toes. As you come up, focus on tensing the muscle above your knee and your buttocks.

Tip: place a Swiss ball between your back and the wall for smooth movement

Thigh contraction – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg

Thigh contraction starting position
Sit up straight on a chair. Slowly straighten and raise your right leg until straight with your foot pointing slightly outwards.
Thigh contraction leg raised
Squeeze your right thigh muscles and hold this position for 15 seconds. For the exercise to be effective, you should keep tensing the muscle above your knee.  Repeat with the other leg.

Tip: for more of a challenge, perform with an ankle weight

Straight leg raises – 3 sets of 10 reps with each leg

Straight leg raises starting position
Sit up straight on a chair. Straighten and raise your left leg until horizontal, with your foot pointing slightly outwards.
Straight leg raises fully raised leg position
Keeping your leg raised, move your leg up and down 10 times while maintaining the contraction in the muscle above the knee. While doing this exercise, do not let your raised foot touch the floor. Repeat with the other leg.

Tip: for more of a challenge, perform with an ankle weight

Hamstring stretch with thigh contraction – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg

Hamstring stretch starting position
Sit on the edge of a chair. Keep your right leg bent and straighten your left leg, placing the left heel on the ground with your foot pointing slightly outwards.
Hamstring stretch leaning position
Bend towards your left leg to stretch your hamstring while tensing the muscle above your knee at the same time. Repeat with other leg.

Tip: keep your back straight and bend from the hips – you can do the move looking straight ahead or looking straight down

ITB (iliotibial band) – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg

Iliotibial band stretch
To stretch your right ITB, cross your right leg behind your left leg.
iliotibial band stretch side view
Keeping both feet on the ground, lean to your left side and push your right hip outwards.

Tip: don't bend forwards or stick your buttocks out. You should feel the stretch along your outer right thigh and hip.

Squats – 3 sets of 10 reps

Squats starting position
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet pointing slightly outwards and your hands down by your sides or stretched out in front for extra balance.
Squats lowered position
Lower yourself by bending your knees to no more than a right angle. Keep your back straight and don't let your knees go past your toes.

Single leg squat – 3 sets of 5 reps with each leg

Single leg squat starting position
Stand with both feet pointing forwards, hip-width apart. Lift your left foot off the ground and balance on your right foot.
Single leg squat side view
Now bend your right leg and slowly lower yourself, making sure your knee doesn't go past your foot or lean inwards. Push back up slowly to your starting position.

Tip: if you can perform these confidently, you can progress on to the wide stance single leg squat

Wide stance single leg squat – 3 sets of 5 reps with each leg

Wide stance single leg squat starting position
Stand with your feet pointing slightly outwards. Shift your weight onto your right leg and lift your left foot off the ground.
Wide stance single leg squat side view
Now bend your right leg and slowly lower yourself, making sure your right knee points in the same direction as your right foot. Push back up slowly to your starting position, keeping your thigh and buttock muscles tight.

Tip: don't let your knees extend over your toes.

Lunges – 3 sets of 5 reps with each leg

Lunge starting position
Stand in a split stance with your right leg forward and left leg back.
Lunge lowered position
Slowly bend the knees, lowering into a lunge until the right leg is nearly at a right angle. Keeping the weight on your heels, push back up to the starting position. Keep your back straight and don't let your knees extend over your toes.

Tip: for more of a challenge, perform these lunges while walking

Couch to 5K running plan

New to running? Couch to 5K gets you off the sofa and running in just nine weeks.

The One You Couch to 5K app gives you a choice of running coaches and helps you track your progress.

As well as Laura who features on the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts, you can also be coached by celebrities Jo Whiley, Sarah Millican, Sanjeev Kohli or Michael Johnson.

Page last reviewed: 22 November 2017
Next review due: 22 November 2020