Women are more likely to experience knee pain than men, but research shows that keeping the right balance of leg strength and flexibility can help you avoid many types of knee problems.
When you think about leg strength, remember that your leg essentially hangs off your hip, so great hip control forms the foundation for building knee strength. Working hard on your glutes and core lets you strengthen your leg muscles to support your knees.
The most common type of knee pain we see in women is around the kneecap (patellofemoral pain). Because women have wider hips, the quad muscles often pull the kneecap outwards too much, causing rubbing and inflammation. This is made worse if your glutes aren’t doing their job because they let your knee roll inwards past your big toe when doing exercises like squats and lunges. This rolling in also increases your risk of sports injuries like the dreaded ACL rupture. Keeping your glutes and thigh muscles strong helps avoid this issue.
When doing strength exercises, think about training movement, not muscles. Our bodies are designed to work as a system, with muscles all working together to produce strong and balanced movement. You’re better off using functional leg training moves – generally when one or both feet are on the ground taking weight and controlling movement – rather than isolated muscle training like weighted knee extensions.
1. Crab walk: Loop a resistance band around your knees (easier) or feet (harder). Keep your feet wider than your hips, drop into a half-squat, then keep tension in the band as you side-step 10m and then back the other way.
2. Squat with a band: Loop a resistance band around your knees and do a squat, but make sure you don’t let the band pull your knees inwards.
3. Bridge with band: Lie on your back, knees comfortably bent and feet just wider than your hips. Loop a resistance band around your knees. Squeeze your glutes and slowly raise your hips while keeping your knees apart against the band.
4. Lunge: In a split stance, back heel off the ground, drop your back knee down towards the floor. Make sure your front knee doesn’t roll inwards as you do this.
5. Foam rolling: Use a foam roller regularly to loosen off your quads, hamstrings and calves.
Words by Chris Jackson, an APA Titled Musculoskeletal Physio with 25 years’ experience.