Do you have (or have you ever experienced) pain in your knees? If so, you’re not alone. Knee pain is a common complaint from people of all ages.

Knees are uniquely designed to help us walk, run, sit, stand, squat, jump, and lunge. Over time, a certain amount of wear and tear is inevitable—but it doesn’t have to negatively impact your health or the way you move. Here is a quick look at the anatomy and function of the knee, as well as nine workouts that will increase your range of motion, protect your knee cartilage, and reduce stress on your knees.

Knee Anatomy & Function

The knee is the largest joint in the body. Composed of bones, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons, this complex, hinge-style joint connects the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone), fibula (calf bone), and patella (kneecap). The ligaments, large fibrous bands of tissue (much like a rope) not only support the sides, front, and back of the knee but also join the aforementioned bones to one another. The cartilage, a tough elastic material, acts as a shock absorber and promotes smooth movement in the joint. Tendons, tough cords of tissue, connect the bones in the knee to the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and glutes—muscles that allow the knee to move.

image of the structure of a knee

Because of its structure, the knee can only move safely in a limited range and pattern of motion, unlike the hip or the shoulder. The two main movements of the knee are flexion and extension.

  • Flexion: The hamstrings (the three muscles in the back of the leg) work together to bend the knee and leg.
  • Extension: The quadriceps (four muscles in the front of the thigh) contract to straighten (or extend) the knee and leg.

When the knee is flexed, a small range of internal and external rotation is also possible.

Knee in motion

Protect Your Knees

When we consider the complicated anatomy of the knee and how often we use our knees to perform simple, everyday movements, it’s clear why the knee is so prone to injury. The good news is that physical activities that strengthen and stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, glutes, calves, and ankles help protect and stabilize the knee and prevent injuries. When these muscles and areas are weak, your risk for knee strain and injury can increase.

Pietra Fitness classes are an effective way to keep these muscles strong and flexible. While all Pietra Fitness classes utilize the legs, here are nine incredible workouts that specifically target the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and glutes.

  1. Lent: Hip-Top Shape

    Focus: Hips

    The stretching and strengthening exercises in this 33-minute Level 1 class are one way to restore joint mobility, keep your hips strong, and relieve hip pain. Get ready for half squats, low lunges, fire hydrants, and more.

  2. Lent: Burns So Good

    Focus: Quadriceps

    Whether you already have muscular glutes and quads or you’re looking to strengthen your legs, this 29-minute Level 2 class will challenge your endurance with mountain climbers and several series of lunges and squats.

  3. Lent: Hip Strengthener

    Focus: Hip Flexors

    Your hip flexors allow you to move (or flex) your knee toward your torso—but these muscles can become tight when you sit for long periods of time. The exercises in this 25-minute Gentle class will loosen up your tight muscles, increase your range of motion, improve your posture, and help prevent injury.

  4. TOB: Glutes and Legs

    Focus: Glutes & Legs

    In this 30-minute Level 1 class, half squats, leg lifts, and lunges will tone your hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. Don’t be surprised if your legs feel a bit wobbly by the time you finish your last rep.

  5. Advent: Hip & Healthy

    Focus: Hips

    Tight hips can not only negatively impact the way you walk but also put unnecessary stress on your back and knees. In this 30-minute Level 1 class, you will flow through three series of lunges and other exercises that will release tension and increase your range of motion.

  6. Advent: Tenacious Legs

    Focus: Legs

    In this Level 1 class, you will squat, lunge, and move your way through a 30-minute lower-body workout that is sure to firm up your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

  7. Hip Mobility & Flexibility

    Focus: Hips

    If you sit for long periods of time or have tight hips, this energizing Level 2 class is for you. The lunges and other dynamic moves in this 35-minute workout will open up and release tension in your hip flexors and hip abductor muscles.

  8. Total Body Boost

    Focus: Legs

    Get your blood flowing through an invigorating combination of floor work, standing exercises, and balance postures. This 60-minute Level 1 class will not only strengthen and tone your legs but also work your entire body.

  9. Sedentary Rx

    Focus: Back & Hips

    This Gentle class is a soothing remedy for tight muscles and tendons in your back and hips. By targeting these tense areas, this 42-minute workout will not only open up your back, neck, shoulders, chest, hips, and inner thighs but also make them stronger.

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