Knee pain is among the most common complaints that bring training runners in to visit the doctor. As a high impact and repetitive exercise, running can aggravate the many muscles and ligaments in the knee. It's a good idea to strengthen the knees and the major muscle groups around them using runners knee exercises.

While many types of knee injuries can cause pain while running, runner’s knee, or patellofemoral knee pain, is the most common. Despite its name, this injury is usually not caused by actual knee trauma but by deficiencies in the surrounding muscle groups to include the hips, hamstrings and quads. The good news is that simply by improving the conditioning of these muscle groups, athletes can find relief from this pain. The runners knee exercises listed below can help address those deficiencies and strengthen the entire lower body to protect against injury or pain.


man preparing for race at oval track

Image by Serghei Trofimov via Unsplash

Runners knee is characterized by pain just below the kneecap. While quite common, it can have several causes which do not arise from an actual injury to the knee itself.


Pain beneath the kneecap that occurs without swelling is a prime sign of runners knee. The pain will also typically become worse after a longer run when the quad muscles are tired. Athletes suffering from runners knee will often experience more pain when going up or down the stairs or putting weight on just one leg. The irritation should respond to effective stretching and strengthening work at home, however, if there’s no improvement after two weeks, there is probably another issue.


feet of a person lying down the floor

Image by Victor Freitas via Unsplash

While an actual knee injury, such as a cartilage tear, could cause similar pain, runners knee more likely results from issues with the muscles in the hips or quads. The quadriceps group is the most powerful muscle group in the body and it connects directly to the patellar tendon in the knee. Runners knee exercises and stretches can address these quad issues which may be responsible for pain in the knees. Imbalanced muscles in the hips or quads can also create knee issues.

These problems with surrounding muscles often lead to poor form while running, which can strain the knees. Weakness or poorly conditioned hip muscles could also affect form by allowing the pelvis to wobble while running.

Several runners knee exercises address the hip muscles to impact this form issue. Runners without sufficient arch support may over-pronate, or roll their feet inward when running which can also cause pain. It’s a good idea to have a coach observe your running form to determine if poor form is the culprit.


Runners knee exercises come in two primary categories: stretching and strengthening. Stretching the major muscle groups in the lower body helps avoid form problems caused by muscles that lack flexibility. Strengthening exercises reinforce good form and protect the knees from injury when running. An effective routine of runners knee exercises which includes both strengthening and stretching is the best way to prevent runners knee.

If these exercises are being performed when you have an injury, you may wish to modify for pain reasons and only do what you can tolerate. Otherwise, try adding these seven simple runners knee exercises to almost any workout.


You will need a foam roller and room to lie down. Place the foam roller just under your hips and lie face down on the floor. Roll back and forth slowly while allowing the roller to go only as far down as the top of the thighs before returning to the starting position. Repeat this exercise several times to loosen tight muscles.


You will need a small stool and a wall. First, stand 2-3 feet from the wall and place your hands in front of you about at shoulder-height. Extend one leg behind you and press the heel to the floor. Push the other leg forward, knee bent. Turn the back toe inward and lean forward, generating a stretch in the calf. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds while trying to keep shoulders back and chest high. Repeat on the other side.

Next, place one heel on the small stool. While keeping the other leg straight, bend at the hips and lean forward, generating a stretch in the back of your thigh. Keep the chest high and shoulders back to achieve the right stretch.  Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each side. The hamstring stretch is a good exercise to try even shortly after an injury has occurred.


woman stretching her legs on top of the wall

Image by Gesina Kunkel via Unsplash

You will need an elevated surface such as a chair or bench. Spread the legs in a split position, two-to-three-feet apart, with one foot in front of the other. With the back foot, place the instep on the elevated surface. Holding the upper body taught, lower yourself as low as possible, while maintaining your form. Pause at the lowest point, then return to starting position and repeat the exercise on the other side. You will feel this in the quad of the bending leg. Switch legs and repeat for several sets.


With feet spread shoulder-width apart, lace your fingers behind your head. Sink straight down, pushing the hips backwards while bending at the knee. Return to starting position and repeat.


For this exercise, you will need a piece of elastic tubing and a door that closes securely or another sturdy, ankle-height object to secure the tubing to. Tie the tubing around one ankle. Secure the tie or shut it in a door at about ankle height. With your weight on the free leg, bend the knee, keeping the thigh muscles tight. Pull the leg with the tubing straight back behind you, then return to starting position. You should feel resistance in the band. Complete two sets of 15.

Next, rotate 90 degrees, moving the leg with the tubing away from the door. Stretch that away from the body for another two sets of 15. Rotate another 90 degrees so your back is to the door. Move the leg with tubing straight out in front of you. Do two sets of 15.

To complete the exercise, rotate the body 90 degrees again so the leg with the tubing is next to the door. Stretch it across your body in two sets of 15. Repeat the entire circuit with the opposite leg tethered with the elastic tubing. If you have an injury, exercise only the uninjured leg.


You will need a basketball or similar ball. Stand with your back to the wall, shoulders and head aligned but relaxed. While looking straight ahead, slide your feet out approximately three feet from the wall and press the ball into the space behind your back. Slowly squat down, letting the ball roll along your back as you do and stop before your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold that position for 10 seconds and return to starting position. Repeat 10 times and build up repetitions as you become stronger.


person taping a knee

Image via Pixabay

You will need a piece of elastic tubing about four feet long and a door that closes securely. Make a loop with the elastic tubing and close one end in the door at about knee height. Place one leg in the tubing and pull up to the back of the knee. Place all your weight on the knee with the tubing and carefully lift the other leg. Bend the knee 45 degrees and then straighten. Complete two sets of 15 on each side.


While strengthening the muscles of the hips and quads with runners knee exercises can go a long way in protecting the knees from injury, the right equipment can also help. Arch supports, orthotics, shoes designed to impact running form can ease potential problems caused by overpronation. For some athletes, a professional coach may be the answer to retraining the body. For others, simply studying video of themselves running can help quickly correct troublesome form issues that are causing pain.

Finally, runners knee may be an overuse injury, so dynamic rest can help. While you are waiting for the irritation to subside, try staying in shape by engaging in other types of activity such as swimming or biking.


While knee pain is a common sometimes severe complaint for many runners and bikers alike, a knee injury itself may not be to blame. Runners knee exercises can treat deficiencies around the knee to help stabilize and improve form, reducing unnecessary strain on the knee. In such situations, at home exercise, adjustments to form and proper stretching can often resolve the issue. It's important to note, however, that if knee pain doesn’t subside after two months of practicing runners knee exercises, or if swelling is present, seek medical help for the issue.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This