Chances are you train to get a better butt, fight the belly bulge and shrink that annoying muffin top. Strength training is awesome for all of this -- it burns calories, builds lean muscle and generally makes women look fantastic. One understated benefit of strength training, however, is injury prevention. Unfortunately, women tend to have wider hips and can be slightly knock-kneed, which can lead to aches and pains if your joints are weak. Give your doctor's surgery the miss by crafting knees of steel with a variety of proven exercises.
Most of the leg exercises you perform in the gym are bilateral or two-legged -- think squats, leg presses and deadlifts. These are your first point of call for knee-strengthening exercises as they don't require too much balance and coordination but do train your leg muscles. Start with body-weight squats and light leg presses. Once you've mastered the techniques, add weight to your squats with a barbell, dumbbells or a weighted vest, increase the resistance on the leg press and incorporate deadlifts into your routine.
If you're ready to start stepping things up a notch, move to unilateral exercises. Lunges are the perfect example of a unilateral exercise as both legs move independently of each other. Split squats, jump lunges and single-legged deadlifts all fit the bill here too. Single leg work trains the stabilizing muscles around the knee and strengthens the joint writes corrective exercise specialist Mike Robertson in "Bulletproof Knees." Start with just body-weight moves until you perfect your technique. Don't run before you can walk with these, body-weight can be tricky enough and if you've not tried split squats before, prepare to do your best impression of Bambi on ice.
Good news -- you can now work your butt and get stronger knees at the same time. Women who have weak glutes are far more prone to knee injuries, claims strength and conditioning coach Julia Ladewski in an interview with Eric Cressey. Include exercises like glute bridges, stiff-legged deadlifts and hip extensions in your training.
There's no need to add in a whole session dedicated to strengthening your knees as all your lower body exercises will build the joints and reduce injury risk provided you're using good form. It's worthwhile however adding in one or two specific single-legged and glute exercises into each lower body session. Stick with the same couple of exercises for four weeks straight and aim to add weight or increase the reps in each session, then change exercises and start building up again.
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