How To Improve Knee Strength And Stability

Knee injuries are among the most common complaints of individuals involved in sports and fitness activities. This is not surprising, since the knee is a weight-bearing joint that must withstand large forces—sometimes, as in running and jumping, double and quadruple an individual’s body weight. Other factors that may fall into poor knee strength and stability is the development of osteoarthritis, which is very common in many of us as we grow older, have had previous knee injuries, overweight and unfortunately, mostly within women.

Whether you're an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or just a regular gym goer, knee injuries can take you out of action and put you on the bench. A good stability training program for your knees and surrounding muscles, will help prevent injury and optimize your knee function and performance. A balance of strength and flexibility is key to stable, healthy knee joints.

So what actually stabilises the knee joint?

The knee joint functions as a stabiliser for the lower extremity during weight bearing and allows large range of motion for various functional activities. The two primary articulations of the knee joint are the tibiofemoral joint and the patellofemoral joint.

The tibiofemoral joint moves in the sagittal plane to flex and extend, and in the transverse plane to rotate when the knee is bent.

The patellofemoral joint slides superiorly (up) when the knee extends and inferiorly (down) when the knee flexes. A slight amount of medial and lateral deviation, as well as tilting, takes place during normal movement.

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Muscles

The two main muscle groups of the knee knee joint are the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Both play a vital role, both moving and stabilizing the knee joint.

The quadriceps muscle group is made up of four different individual muscles which join together forming the quadriceps tendon. This thick tendon connects the muscle to the patella which in turn connects to the tibia via the patella tendonContraction of the quadriceps pulls the patella upwards and extends the knee. The quadriceps muscles consist of the biceps femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and vastus lateralis muscles. 

The hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh function in flexing or bending the knee as well as providing stability on either side of the joint line. The hamstring muscles consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. 

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Below are a selection of exercises which help to strengthen surrounding muscles from the knee joint, and stabilising exercises to improved joint mobility.

Wall sit- start with your feet hip width apart, and lean your body weight against a flat wall. Slowly bending through the knees, lower down into a position where you can hold for around 15-30 seconds. Repeat this 4 times. This focuses around strengthening the quadriceps under low impact and helps you to focus on the alignment of the knees.

Seated leg extension- seated on a bench or a chair, keeping the knees in line slowly extend the leg up contracting the quadriceps and hold for 30 seconds.  

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Seated resistance band ankle flexion - seated on a bench or chair, attach a resistance band around the ball of the foot. Starting with the ankle flexed, resist against the band, pulling slightly away. Slowly release the foot, extending the toe down towards the ground. Repeat this 15-20 times x 3 on each leg. This helps to strengthen both anterior and posterior muscles in the lower leg, and increase ankle stability and strength which will also help to stabilise the knee joints

Standing hamstring curl - with you feet together, slowly curl the ankle up towards the glutes, making sure the ankle stays flexed. During this phase is when the hamstring contracts. Hold this position for 30 seconds and lower back down to the starting position, allowing the hamstring to relax. Add a resistance band to increase further strength.

Calf raises - standing with the feet together, slowly raise the heels off the floor so that your weight transfers into the ball of the foot. As the heels lift off the floor the calves will contract and relax as the heels lower to the ground.

Single leg raised step ups- Find a raised surface or a block before performing this exercise. Facing side ways place one food on the raised platform. Transfer the weight into the chosen foot and slowly lift yourself onto the block, hold for a few seconds and return to the starting position. This exercise helps to strengthen the quadriceps, glutes to help stabilise the knee during movement.

Glute strength is also very important for knee stability. Follow this link to one of our recent blogs to seek further information on improving glute strength


It is very important to seek advice from a professional before performing any exercises that may be any harm to yourself. If you have suffered from an injury or severe pain always refer to a GP or Physio before performing any exercise.

Rachel Nichols