Achy knees, the top structural complaint people have, second to low back pain. However, is the problem actually the knees or could it possibly be something else.

Snap, crackle, pop

The general public has a tendency to scapegoat ‘knees’ as the main reason they avoid squatting or lunging or just exercise as a whole. Either that or years of running and sports has ruined abused their knees and the thought of exercising without pain is now a distant memory.


What they don’t know is the longer they go without doing any lower body exercise, the more their knees will suffer.

There is always a solution!

What’s fun about knee pain, at least it should be for trainers, is figuring out the root of the problem.

Whether its weakness, mechanics, hypertonicity or “tightness,” or injury history, the goal is to find exercises that will help lead to more pain free movement.

This article isn’t about why knee pain occurs. There are many reasons as to how or why pain develops at the knee.

What will be examined is how to go about building strength for the muscles around the knee. Muscles like the quads, hamstrings, calves, and to a certain extent the glutes.

Let me tell you a story

Back when I used to run…a lot, like I’m talking half and full marathons, my knees would generally ache once I hit a certain threshold. Attempting to back squat was out of the question. Even my own doctor said “you likely have arthritis.”

Seriously, at 25, arthritis. So what’s a guy, that loves exercising to do.

We go to work

Firstly, start with checking mobility. Issues with the knee can stem from a lack of mobility in the joints above and below the joint, specifically the hips and ankles.

The body is incredibly resourceful in getting what it needs and adapting to stress, no matter the cost. That unfortunately means creating movement in an area that is not meant to move or defensively tightening to protect an area.


Simple movements on creating dorsi and plantar flexion through the ankle are important.


Especially if you sit a good portion of the day, the hips tighten and develop a lack of mobility. When we run, there is a good deal of stress placed on the hip flexors.

The solution?

Muscles like TFL run down the leg and past the knee. When such muscles are trained all day to maintain a shortened position, it can cause excess pressure on the knee when you attempt to use the muscles normally.

Foam roll

Back to my personal case study, implementing a fair amount of rolling to my program was key. Quads, glutes, TFL, Hamstrings, and even calves.

This helped ease some of the tension I would feel in my legs daily and allow better movement.


Additionally I would stretch, but not arbitrarily picking muscles at random. Areas like the glutes and piriformis would ease tension on my legs.

achy knees_2Crush that posterior chain

Does anyone train the back of their body anymore? We live in a quad dominant world, whereas glutes and hamstrings need more attention in order to bring balance back.

If you have knee pain and are not currently doing any of these, start.


Both similar in that they are hip hinges, which will build strength in your glutes and hamstrings.

Most people have very dominant quadriceps, especially women. Including heavy movements like deadlifts or their slightly related cousin, RDL’s, in your training will help to undue that imbalance.

Hamstring curls

Isolated hamstring work is amazing for several reasons, and there are various ways to accomplish this no matter what your strength level. Still, in terms of altering a quad/hamstring imbalance, isolated work is going to help a great deal.

Glute bridge/Hip thrust

Focused glute work is fantastic for making your butt strong, and also help you look great in jeans. Double bonus.

Isolate the quads

TKE, also known as Terminal Knee Extension, this is a “rehab” type exercise meant to force you to contract the quads. This can be performed with a band tied around a post, then looped behind the knee.

The knee is then slightly flexed and then fully extended by contracting the quads against the bands resistance.

Leg lifts

Similar to a TKE in terms of Quad activation, perform this seated on the floor with your back to a wall. Then with your leg straight, lift off the ground. Sounds simple? It is, however it is a challenge to perform properly.

Groove that squat

Patriot Squats and Box Squats: How many times have you heard “squatting is bad for the knees.”

Well that’s simply untrue.

Squats with poor technique are bad for the knees. Learning to correctly squat will make your knees strong and healthy, which in turn makes you healthy and strong. A patriot squat regression can progress to a box squat as your body becomes adjusted to the movement and master it.

achy knees_3Lastly, if your technique sucks on anything above, find someone to help you. Seriously! When it comes to exercise in general, it pays to have an extra set of professional eyes.


Healthy knees are all about having the right amount of movement in the lower body, as well as a necessary level of muscular strength. Without both, you may be suffering from knee pain.

Now knee pain is not a life sentence. Believe me. I was there. I used to not be able to squat at all without pain. I took the time to work on some of the exercises above, and now I have no pain when it comes to movement.

Connect with Expert Chris Cooper

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