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Knee Extension Exercises for Healthier and Stronger Knees

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Knee Extension Exercises for Healthier and Stronger Knees

Keeping your knee joints and knee muscles healthy and strong is an incredibly important aspect when it comes to maintaining mobility.

Weight training, running, sports, and athletic pursuits all place strain upon your knees. Even everyday activities and tasks can place high levels of strain on your knees over time. As we age, these strains can lead to knee injuries, and in the worst-case scenarios, knee surgery.

Knee extension exercises can help to improve the strength of your knee muscles while keeping your knee joints much healthier. Incorporating knee extensions into your regular exercise schedules can help to prevent injury while keeping you mobile.

In this article, we take a detailed look at what knee extension exercises are and how you can use knee extensions in your workouts. 

What is knee extension?

The term 'knee extension' is one that we'll be using throughout this article. Really, it describes two separate things. It's the name of the important exercise that we'll be explaining in detail shortly, and it's also the name that describes the specific movement performed by your knee when doing this exercise.

The easiest way to understand knee extension is to stand on one leg. While standing, move your raised leg behind you by extending your leg backward. This is what we call knee extension, or simply, the ability to extend your leg while keeping your knee straight.

What is knee flexion?

Knee flexion is the term used to measure the degree of movement that your knee joint is capable of making when you bend it (flexing, is opposed to extending your knee). Simply put, knee flexion is how far you can bend your knee and leg. To imagine this movement, lie on the floor and bend your knee to raise your leg towards your backside.

Common knee injuries often result in damage to the joints or ligaments, which then hinders the degree to which your knee can be bent. This then limits your knee flexion.

What is terminal knee extension?

Knee flexion requires you to have knee extension, and this movement then is often measured in degrees. Terminal knee extension is the term used to describe the end knee range of motion, or how far you can physically extend your knee.

If you have a healthy, mobile knee joint, with strong knee muscles and ligaments, then you should be able to lock your knee. This is the optimal range for a terminal knee extension. If you can already do this, then the goal of knee extension exercises is to maintain this range of motion in your knees, to keep them strong, and to keep them healthy, and to avoid injury in the first instance.

If you suffer a knee injury or have just undergone knee surgery, your terminal knee extension will likely be limited. This means that you will not be able to lock your knee in place. The goal of knee extension exercises in this scenario is to essentially help you to slowly improve, or extend the end range of motion in your knees.

What muscles are involved in knee extension?

Being able to perform an extension of knee requires having adequate strength in several particular muscles. It's these muscles that knee extension exercises aim to target, to help improve the overall strength and mobility of your knee.

The primary muscles need to perform a knee extension are as follows:

  • Quadriceps femoris, which includes the muscles rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medius, and vastus intermedius.
  • Hamstring muscles, including semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris.
  • Hip muscles

Knee extension exercises

Knee extension exercises can help to work the muscle groups laid out above, to help improve the range of motion that your knee can perform.

If you are recovering from a knee injury, then you can perform simple knee extension exercises using just the weight of your own leg and gravity. If you are trying to build strength in your knees and to improve their health to recover further from an injury or to avoid injury in the future, you can use resistance band exercises to increase the resistance of the movements.

Leg extensions can also be performed using weight machines in gyms, or ankle weights at home, if you're looking to build muscles in your legs as well as improve the health and mobility of the knee joints themselves.

#1 Seated knee extension

Gently improve the strength of your knee and the range of your extensions with seated knee extension exercises.

  1. Take a seat with your back against a chair, and your knees bent at right angles in front of you.
  2. Raise your right leg by extending your knee.
  3. Extend your knee until you reach terminal knee extension.
  4. Lower your knee.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions then switch legs.

#2 Seated knee extension with resistance band

Improve the strength of your knees by using a resistance band in your knee extension exercise.

  1. Take a seat with your back against a chair, and your knees bent at right angles in front of you.
  2. Place one end of your resistance band around your right ankle and have the other end securely fastened around the chair leg.
  3. Extend your knee until you reach terminal knee extension.
  4. Lower your knee.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions then switch legs.

#3 Standing terminal knee extensions

Improve the end range of motion in your knees with standing terminal knee extensions.

  1. Stand with your feet loosely apart and one foot slightly ahead of the other.
  2. Place a resistance band around your forward knee and secure it ahead of you, at a comfortable tension.
  3. Slightly bend your knee (flexion), then extend your knee to straighten it.
  4. Bend again, then straighten.
  5. Change legs after 10-15 repetitions.

The last word on knee extension exercises

Strengthening your knee extension muscles will improve the overall health of your knee joints, improve your range of motion in knee, and help you to avoid serious and painful injuries.

Regularly incorporating terminal knee extension exercises into your workout schedule, will help you to keep mobile, and to increase the strength and conditioning of your knee muscles for sports, weightlifting, or even just for simple everyday tasks.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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