Knee Pain: Workouts for Relief

"I Need Stronger, Pain-Free Knees!"

One woman, three custom workout solutions from top trainers. Which will she choose?

woman stretching her knees

Image: Thinkstock

Who Jennifer Goldstein, 32
Goal To build muscle so she can climb Mount Rainier in September
Current Regimen Works her legs (squats, lunges, and leg presses) 3 days a week; runs on treadmill 20 minutes twice a week
Obstacles Weakness and occasional pain from surgery last year to re-repair an ACL tear in her knee

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WORKOUT # 1 Stairs & Stretches

Expert Katy Bowman, MS, director of the Restorative Exercise Institute in Ventura, CA

The Plan
Running is not the right kind of cardio for someone with knee problems. Using a stair-climber will put less wear and tear on Jenn's joints, and the vertical action will prep her glutes and quads for her Mount Rainier trek.

Jenn is now working the front of her legs, but she'll get stronger and reduce stress on her knee joints if she targets the back of her legs too. She should do the exercises below whenever she strength-trains.

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Top Toners

1. THE STEPMILL
This moving staircase—available at some gyms—is easy on joints but still a good cardio workout. Do 15 to 30 minutes 2 or 3 times a week.

2. BUTT BUILDER
Hinge forward at hips, hands on wall. Lift left leg back without moving hips. Hold for 1 minute. Switch legs. Do 3 to 5 times with each leg.

3. DOUBLE CALF STRETCH
Place balls of feet on rolled towel or yoga mat. Bend at hips, lift tailbone, and rest hands on chair or thighs. Hold 1 minute. Repeat after each strength move.

Secret Weapon: The BOSU
Strengthen the small connective muscles at your knees by standing barefoot atop a BOSU, which is half of an exercise ball. Put one heel on the rounded side, the other leg lifted a few inches. Hold for 3 minutes per leg; do 3 to 5 times a week.
($100 for BOSU Balance Trainer and 4 DVDs; bosu.com)

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WORKOUT # 2 Walking Wonder

Expert Suzanne Nottingham, fitness trainer and author of Nordic Walking for Total Fitness

The Plan
Swapping running for pole walking will give Jenn a heart-pumping cardio workout while protecting her knees. She can also build more joint stability by trading in her machine-based strength-training regimen for the exercises below, which involve more muscles to execute each move.

Top Toners

1. NORDIC WALKING
Walking with poles takes pressure off knees. Train with poles at least 45 minutes 4 times a week, walking at a moderate to brisk pace. Two months prior to the climb, increase walking sessions to 60 minutes 5 times a week. Three weeks before, add in 2 long treks of 2 hours each.

2. HAMSTRING CURL
Lie on back, legs extended, heels atop stability ball. Press into heels and lift hips off floor. Bend knees and roll ball in until it's under knees. Roll out. Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps 3 times a week.

3. WOBBLE LUNGE
Stand with a cushion, pillow, or pad under right foot, left foot about 3 feet behind you. Bend knees and lower, keeping right knee over heel. Straighten legs. Do 10 lunges, then switch legs and repeat. Do 3 sets on each side 3 times a week.

Secret Weapon: Walking Poles
Because they engage the core and upper body for pushing off, a regular walk becomes a total-body workout.
(Instructor poles by Leki, $150; leki.com)

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WORKOUT # 3 Heavy Lifting

Expert Jay Dawes, MS, CSCS, clinical assistant professor of kinesiology at Texas A&M University

The Plan
Jenn's current workout has all the right moves—squats, lunges, and leg presses—but she needs to do more of them and with more weight. I also recommend that she add the step-up (below) to her present workouts. This move mimics the type of large steps she'll take to climb Mount Rainier, which nothing in her current routine does.

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Top Toners

1. HEAVIER WEIGHTS
To build muscle, choose a weight that you cannot lift for more than 12 reps while maintaining good form. You should really have to push to do the last few reps.

2. MORE SETS
Instead of 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps of each move, do 4 to 6 sets. This will build more strength faster. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

3. STEP-UP
Stand facing a sturdy box or bench that's just below knee height. Hold 5-pound or heavier dumbbells at sides. Step onto top of box with right foot, then left foot. Step back down with right foot, then left. Do 8 to 10 reps. Repeat starting with left foot; that's 1 set. Do 4 to 6 sets.

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Secret Weapon: Chocolate Milk!
The carbs and protein will speed muscle repair, the process that makes you stronger. Sip 8 ounces of the low-fat kind after exercise.

So what did Jenn pick?

Workout #1

Why She Chose It
"Substituting the step machine for the treadmill—genius! And the BOSU improved my agility and balance for my climb."

Need a Workout Makeover? If you'd like to be considered for this column, e-mail workout@prevention.com.

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