5 of the Best Knee Stretches to Keep You Feeling Flexible
Stretching is vital for improving flexibility and range of motion — and, let’s be honest, it just feel good. But while the hamstrings, hips, and back tend to get most of the stretching attention, it’s just as important to spend time on knee stretches.
“When your knee gets tight from working out, you can lose flexibility and range of motion,” says Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center. “This can cause additional stress on the knee, which can lead to biomechanical problems as you age.” Stretching exercises that target the knees can help prevent some of that extra stress, Conrad adds.
Here are five of the best knee stretches to keep you feeling flexible.
Standing Knee Stretch
The standing knee stretch helps to improve flexibility in the quadriceps — the major muscle group in the front and side of your thigh. “This is an easy stretch because you can do it standing, which means you are more likely to do it during the day,” explains Conrad.
- Stand next to a chair, with your left leg closest to the chair and your left hand resting on the back of the chair for balance.
- Bend your right knee, drawing your right heel toward the back of your thigh. Grasp your right ankle with your right hand.
- Hold pose for 15-20 seconds. You should feel a light stretch in your quadriceps.
- Release ankle, then repeat on the opposite side. Stretch each side up to 8 to 10 times.
Clamshells with Band
This move adds resistance to strengthen your hips as you stretch, which can benefit your knees. “The muscles surrounding the hip provide the stable foundation for the knee,” explains Alexa Rohach, DPT, ATC, physical therapist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, CA.
- Lie on your right side with a resistance loop around your knees.
- Bend your hips and knees to approximately 90 degrees (so your body forms a “Z” shape).
- With your heels pressed together, lift your left knee towards the ceiling, then slowly lower back down to starting position. “This activates hip abductors, which are responsible for preventing inward knee dive during daily activities,” Rohach says. Keep your hips stacked throughout the movement— don’t let your top hip open as you lift your knee.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times, then switch legs.
“I like foam rolling the outside of the knee if I feel some tightness and soreness after squats or running,” says Dr. Kurt Escobar, an assistant professor of Exercise Physiology at California State University, Long Beach, co-director of the Physiology of EXercise and Sport (PEXS) Laboratory, and owner at Biology. Beards. And Barbells.
He recommends the following stretch to target the iliotibial (IT) band. (Don’t have a foam roller? Use a tennis ball instead.)
- Lay on your right side with your legs stacked atop each other and your upper body propped up on your right elbow and forearm (like the starting position for a side plank hip lift) or on your right hand (like you would in a side plank reach).
- Place the foam roller under the outside of your right leg, just above the knee, so you’re resting your body weight on the foam roller.
- Use your arms to roll your leg up and down the foam roller (to about mid-thigh and back).
- If you need to adjust the pressure, either shift your weight to your right arm, or bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the ground in front of your right leg.
- Repeat for 30 seconds (or up to 2 minutes).
- Switch legs.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
When your hamstrings are tight, Rohach says, “We may alter the way we walk, run, or lift to compensate for these restrictions.” This can lead to knee pain — so add this hamstring stretch to your routine to improve flexibility.
- Sit on the edge of a chair. Extend one leg straight out in front of you, with your heel resting on the floor. Bend your other leg, with your foot flat on the floor.
- Keep your back flat and aligned with your head and neck. Leading with the chest, slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
- Hold for 30 to 40 seconds and repeat on the other side.
This knee stretch from Lara Heimann, licensed physical therapist and owner of Movement By Lara, uses two different motions to lengthen the muscles around the knee. “These actions will stretch the muscles and fascia that cross over the knee joint and are often restricted,” says Heimann.
- From a standing position, step back with your right leg and lower your right knee to the floor. Bring your left foot forward so your left knee is above your left ankle and the left knee, left hip, and left ankle all form 90-degree angles.
- Place your hands on your hips, or rest them on top of your left thigh, and lift your chest upright. You should feel a slight stretch in your thighs and hips.
- Hold this position or 30 seconds.
- Bring your hands on the floor on either side of your left foot, or prop them up on yoga blocks. Flex your right foot, and with your toes on the ground, lift your right knee off the floor, straightening your leg actively by engaging the thigh muscles and glute muscles.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite leg.