If you like to work out, you've probably already done a lunge or two. Lunges can feel hard on your knees, but if you're doing them right, they can actually help strengthen this area. Lunges are one of the best exercises for building the muscle groups in the leg that support the knee joint, especially the quads and hamstrings.
Lunges work lots of different muscle groups in the thighs and hips, especially the quads, glutes, and the muscles that make up the hamstrings. A lunge with a long step works the hamstrings more, while a shorter step works the quads more. Both methods strengthen the glutes. The quads, hamstrings and other muscles of the thigh connect directly to the knee, so strengthening them is vital to optimal knee function. Lunges also improve balance, which can help to prevent knee injuries.
Stand straight, with feet about shoulder-width apart and abdominal muscles engaged. Step forward with one leg. Inhale and bend your knees until your back knee nearly touches the ground, keeping your spine straight. The front knee should be directly over the heel and the thigh should be nearly parallel with the ground. Exhale and push up with your front heel, then return your legs to the starting position. Continue on the same leg for a number of repetitions, then switch legs and repeat.
The lunge is a simple exercise, but there are still a few details to keep in mind for the greatest benefit. Perform lunges slowly and with control. Keep the back straight and abdominal muscles engaged throughout the exercise. The legs must be properly aligned, with feet and knees pointing forward and bending the correct amount. Don't lunge below a 90 degree angle on the front leg, which could cause strain to the knee, and don't allow the front knee to come forward over the toes.
Many variations of the basic lunge are possible, and some can be practiced as a change of pace from the basic lunge. For example, you can hold weights while lunging for more resistance. The lunge can also be adapted by stepping to the side rather than forward while keeping the second leg straight, which works different muscle groups in the thighs. Other lunge variations create greater intensity and should be practiced once the basic lunge is mastered, such as lunging onto a bench or on an incline rather than on a flat surface. All of these variations further strengthen the thigh muscles, which are the key to strong knees.
Laura Gee has a B.A. in history and anthropology, but now spends more time blogging and producing web content. She has worked and/or trained as an illustrator, crafter, caterer, yoga teacher, child-care provider and massage therapist, and she loves to travel when she gets a chance.