So, my legs are a mess. It started with crippling knee pain in my right knee when I was nine, moved into my left knee when I was in college, and now includes my entire leg and pelvis. I’m not sure why my legs are this way; I do know it has something to do with my grain sensitivity. I have also learned that I carry my stress in my back and it offsets my left pelvis so that it sits higher than my right (don’t worry, I don’t get it either). My school offered free physical therapy so in my junior year, I decided it would be worth trying out.
I had one session a week for the 15-week semester and actually found it extremely helpful. The exercises they gave me calmed the inflammation in my knees and taught me to walk in a way that does not put unnecessary pressure on my kneecap. These are the top five most helpful that they gave me. I’ve ordered them from most helpful to least helpful. Remember: everyone’s body is different so you may not get the same results I did. But this is a good place to start.
I was already doing these in my normal workout but I wasn’t doing them correctly. I was doing them too fast and I wasn’t focusing on tensing my leg and glute muscles so I actually ended up making my knee pain a little worse. Once my PT trainer taught me the right form and what to look for to know I was doing them right, they were immensely helpful.
Before I started PT, my glute bridges looked a lot like the top photo. It hurt my neck, I wasn’t seeing the results I was expecting and it felt kind of useless. To correct my form, my PT trainer pushed my legs in closer to my body to form a 90* angle when I lifted my pelvis, pushed my pelvis down to be more in line with my torso, and had me move slower when I lowered my pelvis back down to the floor.
Now, the main issue that causes my knee pain is the movement of my kneecap. It is supposed to move straight up and down; instead, it moves upwards at a diagonal angle, which causes a slight bow in my legs. There is excessive pressure on my knees because of the angle and I am also carrying the majority of my weight in my torso, which increases the pressure. The purpose of the glute bridges was to begin to train my kneecaps to move straight up and down, as well as strengthening my thigh muscle so it would resist the incorrect movement. This was my favorite exercise; it was simple and easy and I saw almost instant ease in my knee pain from doing it regularly.
If you don’t know what these are, I didn’t either. I was very confused on how these could possibly help me because they look ridiculous. They’re a lot harder than they look though.
Now, this picture includes the band. I have done both. These are pretty easy and it quickly becomes too easy — it stops doing anything. So my PT trainer started me off without the band and after a couple weeks, added one in. It’s up to you how to start. The band offers a little resistance so if you try it out and feel like the exercise isn’t doing much, go ahead and add in a band.
It is also very easy to do these wrong. I would find a mirror and lay on your side in front of it. Pull your hips forward (probably farther forward than you think ) until they are perfectly perpendicular to the floor. You want the top of your hip pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Curl your legs in until they form a 45* angle and slowly lift your top leg until you can’t lift it without twisting your hips. You want to keep your hips completely straight the entire time. I found it helpful to have a friend or my husband watch so they could straighten my hips until I got it down.
You might not be able to lift very high — that’s okay. If you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh, you’re doing it right even if you’re barely a couple of centimeters away from your other leg. Again, everyone is different. Even my legs differ from each other. My right leg can go significantly higher than my left, even after doing these for a year. All you’re looking for is that stretch.
The reason I found these so very helpful is that it stretched out the side of my thigh. This muscle is so tight that I have to carry a small exercise ball with me to periodically massage my leg with to loosen it. The tightness of this muscle is what pulls my kneecap to the side instead of up and down. My PT trainer wasn’t able to tell me why it is so tight but I have a feeling it is another symptom of my food issues. It also strengthened my legs so that I was able to increase my cardio.
I love these. That might be weird. But I love these. I always feel so much stronger after doing them. I see immediate results in how my legs feel, how my knees feel, and in the rest of my workouts. They can be very difficult though. I already had decently strong legs (even with all my issues) and it only took me a little while of doing them regularly to really enjoy them. If your legs are significantly weaker, I would say do these in shorter numbers and keep your leg lower to the ground before pushing yourself to do more. ALSO this is one of those exercises that I always stretch really well before hand. You should be stretching before working out anyway but these especially. On the days I didn’t warm up as well as I should have been, these were really hard and almost painful.
See? Easy. Basic. But so very effective. The reason these are so good is that it works your entire lower body. It teaches you to balance. It works your obliques as well if you lift your leg high enough and tighten your ab muscles (similar to standing oblique crunches) and they are super easy to adapt. When my friends workout with me for the first time, this is what I start them off with. My favorite way to make them harder is to put a band directly above my knees and/or to keep my top leg in the air at all times. So, instead of letting my top leg rest (like the top image), I keep it just an inch above my bottom leg. It works the muscles more and even though it can be strenuous, I find it can be even better than the band to increase resistance.
Banded side lunges
I’ll be honest: I didn’t like these very much. Lunges have always been really hard for me because it places more stress of my knees. However, side lunges are easier and they don’t put as much stress on my knees because I’m not depending on one leg to lift my entire body. Regular lunges increase my knee pain and it’s almost debilitatin. With these, I’m more evenly balanced.
I always use the band when I do these because the whole point is to train my kneecaps inward. Without the band, they slip too far to the side and it hurts. With the band, it forces me to make my sidesteps smaller which helps my kneecap to move the way it should. Don’t be afraid to change the width of your steps. I thought they had to be super wide but if you’re trying to heal something, it’s okay to alter your exercise. Again, didn’t like these much but I included them because I did see some results from them. If your leg or knee pain comes from a different source, these could be amazing for you.
Banded wall sits
And last, we have banded wall sits. I hate these. Hate them. They are so hard and they hurt. But they are still in my top five because I (begrudingly) have to admit that they do something.
I had to alter how I perform this exercise. Bracing my legs at a perfect 90* angle is way too painful and is more detrimental than it is helpful. Instead, I place my feet farther out from the wall and place a band just above my knees. Doing this (1) helps me balance and (2) places less pressure on my knees so I’m able to hold it for longer.
Don’t be afraid to modify any exercise you do. The point is to grow in strength and forcing yourself to do it in a way that your body cannot handle will not help. When it comes to knee pain, it will make it worse. Wall sits do basically the same thing as the rest of these exercises but it mainly focuses on strengthening my muscles.
It took longer for me to see results with this one so if you’re frustrated, be patient. It is doing something, I promise.
And there we have it! My top five knee exercises. All taught to me by my PT trainer *shoutout to you friend!*
Comment below the exercise that has helped you the most! Let’s help everyone help themselves.