In the quest for physical fitness, it's easy for forget about your joints, which are not particularly glamorous. But strong knees can help you avoid painful injuries and maintain a physical fitness routine that will give you a strong, sexy body. Cycling provides an excellent cardiovascular workout and tones your lower body. The knee-strengthening benefits are so strong that many physical therapists and rehabilitation clinics recommend cycling. Cycling can improve knee mobility and may help some people with arthritis.
Adjust the height of your bike seat. A seat that is either too high or too low can put unnecessary strain on your knees and hips. If you find that your hips are rocking back and forth as you cycle, the seat is probably too high. Conversely, if your legs frequently slip off of the pedals, the seat may be too low. An ideal seat height is set such that your foot is at a 5- to 10-degree angle with the ground when the pedal is at its lowest point. If your foot is completely straight, the seat is too high.
Two types of bike seats exist, regardless of the type of bike you're using -- those with bolted saddles and those with quick-release levers. If your bike has a quick-release lever, you'll be able to squeeze or push a button on a lever under the bike seat and then pull the seat up or push it down to adjust the height. If your bike seat is bolted, you'll need to use an Allen wrench -- a small metal tool -- to loosen the bolt then adjust the seat.
Use a recumbent bike -- a stationary bike with the pedals in front of you -- for several weeks to build your knee strength. These bikes place significantly less stress on your anterior cruciate ligament and are particularly helpful if you have knee or other injuries. Focus on pedaling slowly and evenly at a steady pace. If you notice pain at any point during your workout, make a note of the position your knee is in during the pain and consult your doctor before continuing with your cycling routine.
Switch to a traditional, nonstationary bike after you've worked with a recumbent bike for several weeks. Bike at a slow to moderate pace for 20 minutes per day on a flat or nearly flat incline. This gradually builds muscle strength, particularly in your quadriceps, and helps your knees become accustomed to the repetitive motion of cycling. If you're using a gear bike, use a medium gear when cycling on a flat surface.
Begin cycling at a slightly more rapid pace each day. You should feel slight strain in your muscles that indicates they're working hard, but you should not feel pain; the right speed varies from person to person. If you feel knee pain, slow your pace and gradually increase it over several days.
Increase the steepness of the incline at which you cycle. You can do this by biking up progressively steeper hills or by setting the incline to a steeper grade on a stationary bike. Inclines work your entire lower body and can help strengthen your quadriceps, calves and glutes as well as improve your knee coordination and condition. Use a low gear when cycling uphill and a high gear when cycling downhill.
- Cartilage Health: Cycling for Knee Rehabilitation
- The Cyclist's Training Bible; Joe Friel
- Chester Knee Clinic and Cartilage Repair Centre: Rehabilitation
- Higher bicycle gears require riders to use more force when pedaling, while lower gears require riders to pedal more rapidly with less force. If you use a bicycle that has gears, talk to your doctor about how to adjust the gears to gradually build difficulty. For some people, rapid knee movement can exacerbate injuries, while for others, using lots of force is the problem. Your needs will vary with the cause of your knee problems.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.