Combining balance and strength exercises with flexibility and resistive cardio can help you strengthen your knees and ankles. From the athlete to the weekend warrior, having a solid base of strength can prevent injury, increase speed and even help you prevent falls. Many exercises you can do at home, outdoors or in the gym.
One of the best ways to strengthen the ankles and knees is to work on your balance. By doing this, you not only engage your larger muscles, but many of the smaller accessory muscles that don't get as much attention with everyday movement. Start by just balancing on one foot until you can hold for 30 seconds. Next, move on to toe touches by balancing on one foot, bending down and reaching your hand toward your foot. Repeat five to 10 reps. As you get better, try standing on a balance board or exercise ball with one or two feet, or grab a partner, stand on one foot and toss a light ball back and forth.
Strengthening your quads, hamstrings and calves will give you good support for your knees and ankles. One of the most versatile exercises for these muscles is a squat. If you have any ankle or knee issues, start by simply sitting down on a chair, focusing on pushing your hips back as you sit and stand. After this gets easy, use the couch. As you advance, try squats with a stability ball against the wall, or back squats with a barbell over your shoulders. To incorporate strength and balance, try a single leg deadlift. Start by standing on one foot, with a dumbbell in either hand. Keeping your back flat, bend your knee slightly and reach the weights toward the floor.
Limber legs will indirectly assist in keeping your knees and ankles strong. When your muscles surrounding your joints are tight, you are more prone to injury and pulls. To stretch your quads and ankles, lie on your stomach, bend your legs and try to grab your feet or your ankles, stretching the front of your legs. Point and flex your toes to stretch the ankles. To stretch the hamstrings and inner thighs, front a standing position with knees slightly bent, press your hips back and press your hands forward as if pressing against a wall.
While doing cardio, work on an incline or with higher resistance to target strengthening the knees and ankles. If you like to be on your feet, try incline walking on the treadmill, outdoor hiking or running hills. You can also cycle with heavier resistance on the recumbent or upright bike, or seek out hills outside. Lateral exercises, such as hopping from side to side on an aerobic step or doing side shuffles is a great way to strengthen the knees and ankles, especially if you play sports. Change up your routine to keep your body guessing and progressing each week.
- Stewart Cohen/Lifesize/Getty Images