10 Knee Strengthening Exercises For Runners to Stay Strong + Run Long

As runners, we know very well indeed that we need to take extra-special care of our knees. We need to ensure ourselves we don’t run into chronic pain or overuse injuries that may put us on the sidelines from training for a while, as we all know that is a runner’s absolute worst nightmare. 

Even so, strength training exercises tend to get overlooked as often we focus on what we enjoy most, running. We can’t cast gym workouts aside as they are indispensable to leading a happy, healthy running life. 

Today, we will discuss how to strengthen knees, and show you knee strengthening exercises that you can work into your strength training routine. Now, we aren’t actually strengthening the knee joint as we are strengthening the muscles surrounding it, such as the quads, glutes, and hamstrings

I know more time and effort must be put in to keep our knees strong, but believe me, it’s well worth it. You don’t want to be out for weeks or even months on end because you didn’t take the time to strengthen up. 

In this guide, we will look at: 

  • Benefits of Knee Strengthening Exercises For Runners
  • How To Strengthen Knees: 10 Knee Strengthening Exercises For Runners 


Let’s jump in!

A person doing a clamshell knee strengthening exercise.

Benefits of Knee Strengthening Exercises For Runners

There are plenty of benefits to knee exercises, not just for runners but for everyone! Being able to comfortably bend our knees makes day-to-day activities such as bending down and going up and down stairs much more accessible.

Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint eases pressure on the knee, which may, in turn, relieve existing knee pain. It can also reduce the risk of injury and increase knee stability which can help with the impact of running.

Doing knee exercises unilaterally, or working one leg at a time, can also assist in fixing muscle imbalances, so you don’t overload your dominant leg. 

The following 10 knee strengthening exercises we will look at today will work the muscles surrounding your knee to make you strong, stable, and ready to pound the pavement. 

10 Knee Strengthening Exercises For Runners 

#1: Dumbbell Step-Ups With Knee Drive

A person doing a Dumbbell Step-Up With Knee Drive.

You will need a plyo box or step and a pair of dumbbells for this exercise. It targets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. 

  1. Stand with your feet at hip-width apart, facing the box, holding a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. With the dumbbells at your side, step up onto the box with your right foot while driving your left knee upward, reaching 90 degrees. 
  3. Carefully bring your left foot back to the floor and step down with your right foot. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps or amount of time. 
  5. Repeat with the other leg. 

#2: Single-Leg Box Step-Downs

A person doing a single-leg step down.

This exercise must be done in a controlled manner to reap the strengthening benefits. It mainly works your quads and glutes. 

  1. Begin standing tall with your left foot on the box and your right foot on the edge of the box.
  2. Extend your arms out in front of you.
  3. Bend your left knee as you lower your right foot down toward the floor, barely making contact with it. 
  4. Extend your left knee driving yourself back up to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps or amount of time. 
  6. Repeat with the other leg. 

#3: Clamshells With Resistance Band 

A person doing a clamshell with resistance band.

This is a great exercise to work those glutes, doubles as a tremendous hip-strengthening exercise, and works to help stabilize your pelvis. You will need a mini-band to perform this exercise with the appropriate resistance. 

  1. Loop a mini resistance band just above your knees. 
  2. Lie on your right side with your knees stacked one on top of the other, bent at a 45-degree angle. 
  3. Use your right elbow to prop yourself up. 
  4. Engage your core. 
  5. Lift your left knee as high as possible while keeping your feet together, right leg on the floor, and hip stable.
  6. When your left knee reaches its peak high, pause, and then gently lower it back down to its starting position
  7. Repeat for the desired amount of time or reps.
  8. Repeat on the other side.

#4: Split Squats

A person doing split squats with dumbbells.

Split squats are a great exercise to strengthen your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors. They can also help increase flexibility. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Step forward with your left leg and lower into a lunge position with your knee just above the ground.
  3. With control, extend your left knee.
  4. Again, in a controlled manner, flex the left knee and lower the right knee toward the ground
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps or amount of time. 
  6. Repeat on the other leg.

Note: Ensure your front knee does not collapse towards the middle of your body but stays strong, constantly pulling outward. 

#5: Lateral Lunges With Dumbbells

A person doing lateral lunges with dumbbells.

These lateral lunges work your quads, glutes, hamstring, abductors, and adductors. What else could you want from one of our knee strengthening exercises for runners? This is a complete package exercise! 

  1. Stand tall with your feet together.
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows, bringing them toward your chest, keeping your elbows together. 
  3. Lift your right foot and take a large step toward your right side.
  4. Bend your right knee and sit back as if you were sitting back in a chair.
  5. By pushing off your right foot, return to the starting position. 

#6: Lateral Band Walk With Resistance Band

A person doing lateral walks.

This is one of our knee strengthening exercises that will help with stabilizing our knees. As the resistance band will constantly push our knees inward, we need to ensure they stay in their outward position. No collapsing knees, please! This exercise for runners will work our glutes to the max. 

  1. Begin in a basic squat starting position, standing tall, with a mini resistance band looped just above your ankles. 
  2. Lower into a basic squat and take several steps toward your right side, ensuring your knees remain in position and do not collapse inward. 
  3. Then, take several steps back to your left side. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps or amount of time.

#7: Side Planks With Leg Lifts 

A person doing a side plank with leg lift.

Even though this seems like a core exercise, which it is, the addition of the leg lifts helps strengthen our glutes and hip abductors as well. 

  1. Lie on your right side with your legs stacked one on top of another, propping yourself up on your right elbow.  
  2. Extend your left arm straight into the air, forming a straight line between both arms. 
  3. Lift your top leg (left leg), so it lines up with your hip. 
  4. Hold for the desired amount of time, or pulse up and down for the desired amount of reps. 
  5. Repeat on the other side. 

#8: Slider Reverse Lunges 

A person doing slider reverse lunges.

Let’s put a twist on your run-of-the-mill reverse lunges. This exercise not only strengthens our quads, hamstring, and glutes but also helps to improve our hip mobility and flexibility. You will need sliders for this knee strengthening exercise.

  1. Place sliders under both feet. 
  2. Bend your left leg and, with control, slide it back into a low lunge position, the left knee just about extended and your right knee bent in front of you at 90 degrees. 
  3. Slide your left foot back to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps or amount of time.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

#9: Glute Bridges With Single-Leg Hamstring Curl 

A person doing a glute bridge with hamstring curls.

This is a tough one but a good one! Let’s work those glutes and hamstrings with this glute bridge plus hamstring curl. 

  1. Begin in a single-leg glute bridge position with a slider under your left heel and your right leg extended in the air.
  2. Controlled, slide your left foot out in front of you, extending your leg as far as you can without your bridge position collapsing. 
  3. Using your heel, drag your left foot back to the glute bridge position.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps on one side. 
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

#10: Single-Leg Deadlift

A person doing a single leg deadlift.

This is one of the most classic knee strengthening exercises that will primarily work your hamstrings, glutes, and core and test your stability. For these single-leg deadlifts, you will need two kettlebells. 

  1. Stand tall with your left foot slightly in front of your right, knees slightly bent with a kettlebell in each hand. 
  2. Keeping the slight bend in your left knee, lean forward, hinging at the hips until your torso is parallel to the ground. Your right leg extends straight behind you while simultaneously lowering the kettlebells toward the floor. 
  3. Engage your core, and bring yourself upright to your starting position.

Note: With all deadlifts, you must ensure you do not bend at the waist or lift the weights with your lower back. This exercise should be felt in your hamstrings and never cause lower back pain. If it does, recheck that your back is straight when you hinge forward. 

Ready to get those muscles into shape with our knee strengthening exercises for runners? Look at our guide here if you want to add glute strengthening exercises to your strength training program. 

Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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