How to strengthen quads to support the knee

Updated May 10, 2017

If you are having any kind of knee problem, an important component to your treatment plan is to strengthen the muscles that surround the knee joint. When your muscles are strong and flexible they can take pressure off of painful joints. If you allow your muscles to weaken, you will place more strain on the joint and hence have more pain. One of the main muscles that supports the knee joint is the quadriceps. Below are some simple exercises you can do to strengthen this muscle and help manage knee problems. All of these exercises can be done with or without weights depending on your level of fitness.

Understand how strength training helps knee pain. Your joints help you to move. When you need to walk, stand up or climb stairs your knee joints need to be able to bend and support your movements. In order for your knee to bend, your muscles must contract and pull on the joint. If your muscles are weak, then too much stress is placed on the tendons and ligaments around the joint when you move. In addition, your knee cap may not track or move correctly and be pulled out of alignment. Both of the above can lead to chronic pain and stiffness. An appropriate strength training program, along with stretching, can help to take this pressure off of the joint and reduce your symptoms.

Try wall slides. The wall slide exercise is similar to a squat, which is one of the best exercises for the lower body. Doing this exercise against a wall can help you to maintain better posture and alignment which is important if you are working with any joint injury. Stand with your back against a wall with your feet about one foot away. You should be leaning against the wall. Place a small ball, hand weight or other object the size of a hand weight between your knees. This is important to help keep the knees in alignment. Keeping your back and shoulder against the wall, slowly slide down as far as you can without knee pain, but do not drop the buttocks lower then the knees. Pause for moment, then slowly slide back up. Do 8 to 12 repetitions. See the picture here from

Perform lunges. Lunges are another very effective exercise to strengthen the quads. You need to make sure you do them properly to avoid aggravating your knees. Stand with the feet wide apart with the right foot forward and the left foot back. The wider your stance, the gentler this exercise is on your knees. Make sure your toes, especially on the back foot, are facing forward. This keeps the knees in alignment. Drop your back knee and let the front knee bend. Only go as low as you can without knee pain. Then push into the front heel to come back up. It is essential that you do not let the front knee bend out past the front toes. When in the lunge, you should be able to look down at your front knee and still see your front toes. This picture from shows proper form.

Do knee extensions. The knee extension exercise specifically targets the quadriceps muscle. There are several ways to do this exercise. You can sit up straight in a chair. Then tighten the quadriceps muscle and slowly straighten your right knee, but do not let it lock. Pause for a moment at the top, then lower slowly down. Do 8 to 12 repetitions on the right, then repeat with the left leg. You can do this exercise with ankle weights or bands for resistance. A much easier version is to lie on the floor and place a pillow under your knees. Repeat the above instructions. See the picture here from

Consider your options. As with any exercise program check with your health care provider to determine if these exercises are appropriate for you. Exercise should make you feel better, not worse. Stop any exercise that increases your symptoms. If you are new to exercise, it is helpful to work with a physical therapist or trainer to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly. If your knee pain is made worse with these exercises, you are probably not using proper form. If your knees are very sensitive, all of these exercises can be one in a pool.


Do all of the above movements slowly and with control. Never bounce when doing strength training exercises. Add weights or bands for more resistance.


Stop any exercise that makes your knee pain worse.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand and ankle weights
  • Small ball
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About the Author

I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.