If your knees hurt when you walk or exercise, you’re not alone. As we age, our knees take some wear and tear, and millions of Americans suffer from knee pain.

When your knees hurt, it can affect not only your mobility, but your balance as well. “If your knees are hurting there might be a muscle imbalance which can greatly impact the way you stand and move and cause you to compensate by using different muscles,” says celebrity fitness trainer Joel Harper.

So what can you do to alleviate the pain and get your knees in better shape? “Strengthen the muscles,” says Harper. “Stretching opens and elongates the muscles, whereas strengthening exercises make your muscles stronger. You should be doing both.”

Before You Start…

“Do not think that you can work through the pain and it will get better,” says Harper. “Does food that is stuck in your teeth go away? No, you have to floss it out. That is the same for pain and tension. The best remedy, if there is no damage to your knees and you haven’t torn anything, is to do stretches and exercises to leave your knees feeling tension-free and completely functional.”

Try these exercises and stretches to help your knees feel better and help you feel energized. This routine is good to do two times a week with three days in between. And always check with your doctor before you start a new exercise routine.

1. Quad Sway

What it does: Strengthens and balances out the muscles around your knees. Stand next to a sturdy chair in case you need to reach out for support.

How to: Stand up straight with your hands pressed together as if you are praying, your thumbs pressing into your chest. Extend your head up, away from your heels. (Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you up.) Lift your right leg off the ground and bring your right knee up, as high as you can with it being comfortable, the highest point being when your knee is aligned with your hip. With your knee staying in the same position, sway your lower leg (as if your ankle is a pendulum moving side to side), keeping your stomach and your chest lifted. Do this swaying motion 25 times, or as many as you can, before switching legs and repeating on your left leg 25 times.

2. Quad Pull

What it does: This will stretch and elongate your quadriceps (muscles in the front of the thighs.)

How to: Stand next to a sturdy chair and rest your left hand on it for support. Lift your right heel off the ground behind you and hold it with your right hand, gently pulling your heel towards your bottom. Hold for 5 deep inhales and then switch sides. Relax into the stretch, don’t force it. If one side is tighter than the other, go back and do the tighter side again to create muscle balance. 

3. Knee Bounces

What it does: Strengthens your entire body, with emphasis on your quadriceps (muscles at the font of the thighs.)

How to: Come onto all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Slightly bend your elbows and imagine a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone. Lift your knees one inch off the ground. Bounce your knees one inch up and down for 25 times, or as many as you can. Think “floating” not “pounding”. Imagine you are on a sheet of glass and you don’t want to break it.

4. Imaginary Chair

What it does: This will strengthen your quadriceps (muscles in the front of the thighs).

How to: Stand against a sturdy wall and slowly walk your feet out, so that your back slides down the wall a few inches and your legs are in right angles with your heels directly underneath your knees. Bring your hands into prayer in front of your chest and stay there for up to 1 minute. For variety wiggle your knees side to side one inch. Make sure your back is pressing flat against the wall and you are not shrugging your shoulders. 

5. Bun Lift

What it does: This will strengthen and tone your hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thigh) and glutes (muscles in your bottom).

How to: Lie flat on your back and bring your knees up. Now your feet are flat on the ground. Cross your hands on your chest and bring your tailbone up as high as you can. Then drop it one inch—this is your highest point. Tap your bottom back on the mat and bring it back up, every time curling your tailbone to squeeze. Do 25 of these.

6. Hamstring Reach

What it does: Stretches your hamstrings (tendons at the back of the knees).

How to: While seated on the floor, stretch your legs straight out in front of you. With your knees slightly soft reach your hands gently towards your toes. Focus on pressing your lower back towards your knees instead of seeing how far you can reach. Make sure your feet are pulled back and flat. Hold for five deep inhales.

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