Excellent exercises to develop knee stability and knee mobility. Important for performance and to keep your knees safe.
Knee injuries and knee problems are some of the most common joint related problems you hear about. Almost everyone is always asking "is this bad for knees?".
In many sports where you need to be agile and swiftly move from one place to another, your knees are often placed under heavy stress. To maximize your performance and longevity in fitness, your knees need to be properly strengthened.
These exercises will challenge the stability of your knee joint. The more stable you can keep your joints, the safer they will be and the more power you will be able to produce.
All of these exercises are single leg exercises because in the single leg exercises the stabilization element is the most prevalent.
If these single leg squats are too difficult, then you need to focus more on bilateral squats and other basics. Your form with the basics needs to be excellent before you go and try these harder exercises.
The key is to keep the knee stable and immovable like a rock. Balancing is not enough, you need to be stable. Mind-muscle connection matters and you should deliberately focus on the stability of the knee.
With many variations your knee wants to cave in or cave out - you need to use many of the inner thigh, quadricep and gluteus muscles to prevent this from happening.
In addition to the knee stability, your knee mobility is also developed. These exercises can be intense for many leg muscles but you can also expect very nice strength and size gains in these areas.
These exercises focus on knee extension and lateral stability. To fully train the knee joint and your legs in general, you also need exercises such as the knee flexion from Movement 20XX.
The exercises are from easy to difficult. Pick the easiest variation and master it first. The better you master the easier progression, the better progress you will make in the long term.
Knee stability and mobility can be done as a part of your lower body workout. 5 sets and 5 to 15 repetitions per set scheme often works well.
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squat is a perfect single leg exercise to start with. Place the rear leg on a bench and primarily focus on the front leg.
The easiest variation is to use the rear leg for balance, stability and assistance.
In the bottoms up bulgarian split squat your rear leg is providing less assistance and stability because the bottom of the feet is pointing upwards.
Bulgarian split squat will work the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps. Ankle and knee stability are both nicely developed.
Using a Balance Pad
Using a balance pad (this blue pad) or a bosu ball will tremendously increase the difficulty of any exercise and make it MUCH harder to stabilize.
Well equipped gyms should have balance pads, but you can also get them from here.
In the beginning using a balance pad will be very challenging and you may have problems with both ankle and knee stability.
Remember: balancing is not enough, your body should be stable. You will shake like a madman in the beginning but you will grow more stable after every workout.
Some people make fun of balance pads and bosu balls, but for developing stability it is one of the best tools you can use. There is a reason why top level athletes and their coaches LOVE them.
2. Single Leg Squat
Once the bulgarian split squat becomes easy, you can eliminate the support from the rear leg altogether and do single leg squats.
One phenomenal progressions of the single leg squat is to stop half way up in the repetition and do isometric single leg squats. Just balancing and keeping the leg stable will develop your strength and ability to stabilize.
It's good to build sufficient levels of strength and stability first with the isometric single leg squat and then progress to the actual single leg squat.
When doing the single leg squat, it's extremely important to have control over the entire range of motion.
It's EASY to quickly lower yourself to the bottom and then explode up. This can be good for explosive strength, but it's not good for developing stability or mobility!
Let's take the single leg squat to the next level: use a balance pad.
Balance pad will make the single leg squat one of the most intense knee stabilization exercises you can do.
Start with the isometric single leg squat on a balance pad: this alone will challenge your knee and ankle stability like crazy. It's normal to feel your quads and glutes burn since stability is strength.
Once you have the isometric single leg squat under control, you can start doing full repetitions. Just keep in mind that the repetitions need to be as controlled as possible.
You will shake a lot, but the purpose is to develop control every time you do the exercise. The repetitions alone won't do anything unless you specifically work hard to stabilize the body with every repetition.
3. Toe Split Squat
Toe split squat is mechanically very different to the bulgarian split squat or the lunge. You will be working more the quads and calves than any other muscles (bulgarian split squat develops hamstrings and glutes in addition to quads).
Toe split squat is a fantastic exercise to develop ankle stability (calves) and to strengthen the knees (quads).
You are also standing on your toes which means your entire posture is significantly less stable and thus requires more stabilization.
In the beginning it's fine to use support from a wall to develop the necessary strength in the quads and calves, but this won't develop stability so well.
The support simply provides too much stability - you want to provide the stability and support with your muscles and for this reason you ideally want to do the exercise without assistance.
Leaning Toe Split Squat
Leaning toe split squat is a special variation which places even more stress and pressure on the quadriceps.
All of these toe split squats are advanced exercises and should not be attempted until the basics are mastered and the bulgarian split squat form is perfect.
Take your time and don't rush it. Mobility and building a good foundation should be the priority before you engage in advanced stability training.
Excellent article and points to study. How would you compare the single leg squat to the pistol squat?
Pistol squat is a great lower body exercise and it will train the knee stability but not as much as the single leg squat here. This is mostly due to the center of gravity. Pistol squat will require more ankle stability & mobility though.
Thank you, I can feel as much after pistols, so I might give these a try in place for the next few weeks.