Workout of the Week: Knee Prehab Routine

Nobody wants to deal with knee pain. Here’s a 12-minute prehab program that will keep you training pain-free.

Woman doing single-leg lateral hops over an agility ladder
Photo: Shutterstock.com/David Pereiras

Maybe you’ve had knee niggles in the past, or maybe they’ve never been a source of pain for you. Whatever your history, you may still be worried. Do you feel a twinge during training? Do your knees sometimes feel a little achy after you exercise? Let’s go over how you can get your knees healthier without derailing your training or causing a flare-up. 

Particularly for endurance athletes, we’re going through the same movement patterns over and over again in training. It doesn’t make sense to suddenly throw completely different movements at your body for the sake of being “balanced;” the goal here is to keep your body ready to tackle new challenges but still build strength and skills that will ultimately help you perform. 

With countless “you shoulds” that can surround your training goals (e.g., “You should foam roll more!” “You should strengthen everything!”) but only limited training time in the day, what movements count? How can you keep your knees healthy with the minimal amount of time and added must-dos?

The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy published a best-evidence, updated review for this in early 2024. Follow these distilled tips from the review and get the most bang for your buck. [1]

RELATED: Knee Stability Exercises for Cyclists

This knee health routine takes 12-15 minutes and is designed to do two to three times a week. You can do this routine in lieu of your gym warm-up, or you can plug it in instead of your running warm-up. It’s not meant to be your only tool in the toolbox, but it’s comprehensive enough that your entire body should be ready to train afterward.

Workout of the Week: Knee Prehab Routine

Warm-up

3-4 min dynamic stretching:

  • Walking quadriceps stretch
  • Forward leg swings
  • Side shuffle
  • Skipping
  • Backward jogging

Main set

Side Plank

  1. Lie on your side, place your elbow under your shoulder with your forearm flat on the ground.
  2. Straighten your legs, lifting your hips and torso off the ground and keeping your hips stacked.
  3. Hold 20-40 sec. each side, depending on strength.

Walking Lunges with Forward Trunk Lean

  1. Step one foot in front of you, sink deep into the lunge, and lean your torso forward. Your knee can go beyond your toes as you bend if it’s pain-free.
  2. Bring your back foot to meet your front foot and stand up straight.
  3. Continue stepping forward, alternating legs and always leaning in at the bottom of the movement.
  4. Perform 2 × 15 steps each leg.

Tempo Deep Squats

  1. Place your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with the toes facing out at an angle.
  2. Squat down slowly, as low as you can, keeping your torso upright. The goal is to bend your knees as much as possible while staying pain-free. Stand up quickly. Think 3 seconds down, 1 second up.
  3. Perform 15 deep squats.

Having trouble with deep squatting? Find a post or, as a home alternative, use your kitchen sink and lean back and down.

Nordic Curls

  1. Secure your ankles below something that can take your weight or find a friend to hold them.
  2. Keeping your knees, hips, and shoulders in a straight line, try to slowly “fall” forward with control. For beginners, set up so you have a bench to catch yourself if you feel you can’t control the movement.
  3. Perform 6-10 reps.

No device or person to hold your legs? You can do this home alternative on a smooth surface: Lie on your back with two paper plates under your heels. Curl your hamstrings by sliding the paper plates toward your glutes.

Single-Leg Lateral Hops

  1. Actively balance on one leg, bending at the knee and leaning slightly forward.
  2. Jump to your left 3 times, catching your balance at each step before continuing. Jump back to your right 3 times. 
  3. Perform 3 sets of out-and-backs on each leg. If you’d like, you can add small hurdles or markers to jump over.

Cooldown

Jog 2-4 min., or you can get started on your training session–those knees are ready!

References

  1. Preventing Knee Injuries: Exercises to Keep You From Getting Sidelined. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2023;53(2):105. doi:10.2519/jospt.2023.0503