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Strengthening knees
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Cory Mull
(eldon519) - F
Strengthening knees on 10/26/2009 22:41:33 MDT Print View

I wasn't sure where to put this, but I was hoping to get some advice on strengthening my knees somehow.

I am a fairly inexperienced hiker, but in the last three months, I've gone on three hikes, a 10 mile 2-day in the NC mountains, a 20 mile 3-day in the Chisos mountains of Big Bend, and most recently 40 miles over 3.5 days down the Buckskin Gulch/Paria river.

On every hike, my knees have been absolutely killing me. While I have had some tendinitis in the past, it has never been anything like this. I do fine without a pack, but I think the added weight is the problem. Most trips have had 40-50lbs total pack weight including food, water, and clothes. Is there any way to build up my knees to get used to the weight? Should I just start going on regular walks around the neighborhood with my pack loaded up? I'd really like to do some longer trips, but I'm afraid to undertake much more distance with the pain I've been experiencing.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Strengthening knees on 10/26/2009 22:54:26 MDT Print View

This will be interesting. On a lightweight forum, you're going to get more responses saying that reducing you pack weight to a reasonable weight will cure your knees.

My knees used to hurt going downhill. Running up bleachers and walking down seems to have cured that.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
no band aids on 10/26/2009 23:17:10 MDT Print View

Lowering your pack weight will certainly help this issue, and give you other benefits besides. Especially with slow, rough, sandy terrain like Buckskin/Paria.

By strengthen your knees, you most likely mean strengthen the muscles that stabilize and let your knees work. Most beginner hikers have weak legs, and their knees end up taking too much of the load when muscles get tired. I presume this is the case with you.

So you need stronger legs. Hiking on rough terrain is the most enjoyable way to do this, and also the most effective. Hiker regularly, build up to big miles, and so on.

Besides that, balance/strength work will ease things along faster. Get a balance board, balance ball, or slackline. Spend 30 minutes on it every day. I had IT band problems in the past due to weak hamstrings, and do core work (front levers mainly) and standing leg rows around the clock everyday to prevent that from ever happening again.

A little patience will have long term rewards.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Strengthening knees on 10/26/2009 23:55:29 MDT Print View

do you use trekking poles?

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Strengthening knees on 10/27/2009 00:32:53 MDT Print View


Edited by skopeo on 04/27/2015 16:55:21 MDT.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Strengthening knees on 10/27/2009 00:58:35 MDT Print View

Something I do multiple times a day is stand on one foot. I can actually feel it strengthening my knees. I do it at random times. Like waiting for the light to change at a cross walk, or waiting in line, or talking to someone. I just lift one foot off the ground a *tiny* bit and boom, I'm strengthening my knee.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Knee strengthening on 10/27/2009 04:31:53 MDT Print View

A combination of problems led me to pain in the knees.I have a trick knee that just goes out every few years. A case of degenerative disc disease indicated that all my cartilage was drying up. Also, I weighed 245 pounds on a 5' 10" frame. Every step pounded hard against my weak link. I had to stop running because of it.

I lost 100 pounds, mostly by walking 12 miles per day. I cut my pack weight from a then 35 pounds to six plus food and water. I also started to use trekking poles. On downhills, I walked much more slowly -- no bouncing or running or bounding. Take it easy. I used the trekking poles in front of me to cushion the blow of the leg against the ground. All the walking strengthened the muscles around my knee, taking the pressure off the joint and cartilage.

The combo worked for me. The trekking poles took the weight off the knee, especially downhill. The loss of personal and pack weight did the same. Obviously, the loss of personal weight was far more important than a few pounds off my back.

I know I'm just repeating advice that others have given here, but I'd just like to say that it's a combination of factors. Most of all, keep walking. The first few dozen trips will be agony. But just like those first blisters eventually lead to blessed calluses, so too does the walking lead to all kinds of strength, not just in the knee.

Be gentle with yourself at first. Walk around your neighborhood or some local park for a couple of hours a day for a few months until the muscles around your knees gain strength and take some of the pressure off the joints and cartilage. Slowly, work yourself back up BPing.

Oh, yes, also see a physician, JIC. I wouldn't have known about my more serious condition if I hadn't been so concerned about the joint pain.


Julian Thomas
(jtclicker) - F
Re: Knee strengthening on 10/27/2009 05:35:16 MDT Print View

Thomas, try Pacerpoles ( if you look at the technique they use for descending you'll really save your knees. Since I started using them I've had zero pain

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Buckskin Gulch on 10/27/2009 06:09:40 MDT Print View

Cory I don't want to hijack this thread but I am headed down Buckskin and Paria in a few days and wondered how the conditions in Buckskin were? Did you go after the Sept. 15th flood? Amount of and depth of pools?

I too will suffer from a sore knee. I start walking 3 miles, every other day, 5 weeks before a trip with a progressively heavier pack until the pack weighs 10# more than I expect to carry. When I get to the trail head not only does the pack feel light but my feet, legs, hips and shoulders are ready for the long trip. I also make sure to were the shoes I will hike in because that will affect how your feet and legs adjust too.

I also use poles.

Kevin Babione
(KBabione) - MLife

Locale: Pennsylvania
Knee Pain on 10/27/2009 07:29:11 MDT Print View

I too experienced almost unbearable knee pain in my left knee towards the end of each day. It was interesting in that it didn't hurt at all going uphill or while the terrain was flat, but the instant I started downhill I was limping.

My savior was a simple device from Cho-Pat. Here's the link:

It really made a difference in my comfort while hiking and a hiking partner of mine experienced the same.

For $25.95 it might be worth a try...

Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
One more thing on 10/27/2009 07:52:53 MDT Print View

Devices like the Chopat help out wonderfully. There are a lot of different types of that device out there. Check the all out for weight, material, and comfort!

Having the same issues as the above poster - down hills creating problems, I've come to pay close attention to how each step I take effects my legs, knees, and hips.

A shorter stride is probably the single best thing I took up. has a good list of stretches. Also check out testosterone nation for good stretches too (sounds lame but they have great minds and coaches working for them).


Jack Newton
(figster) - F

Locale: Central Arkansas
Also on 10/27/2009 07:54:18 MDT Print View

That famous "rest step" with no pivoting helps a ton while going up hill.

In fact, if you have knee problems, turn as if you're in a space suit. Never just turn at your knees or hips with weight on your back.

Tom Caldwell
(Coldspring) - F

Locale: Ozarks
Strengthening Knees on 10/27/2009 09:16:56 MDT Print View

Cory, do you take Glucosamine Chondroiton? I started taking it last year, and I really think it has helped my joints. It couldn't hurt. Luckily, I found a local store that carries slightly outdated bottles for about 3% of usual prices!

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Glucosamine Chondroiton on 10/27/2009 09:22:45 MDT Print View

I tried GC, and it had a strange effect on my temperament. It made me nervous and emotional with crying jags, no less. Stopped taking it and I went back to normal.

Good suggestion on the rest step, etc. Your stride makes a big difference in the knee area.


Mark Regalia
(markr) - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz
Lots of good advice here on 10/27/2009 09:42:42 MDT Print View

I might try some these myself. An important thing to remember is that there are so many different problems that you could be suffering from. I would approach any new behaviour cautiously. Start slow and be ready to quit if things get worse.

Personally, I find bicyling on the road to be the best way to strengthen my knees without causing more damage. It helps that I love to bike. I say road biking because mountain biking tends to be more irregular in the amount and type of output.

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
knee pain on 10/27/2009 10:24:08 MDT Print View

I'll throw in my $.02. I've had knee surgery (torn minuscus + patella tendon release) and have been through the physical therapy (too many times to count for different injuries) to get me back in strength.

I think that the Cho-pat straps are good, but they can become a crutch that doesn't correct the underlying cause of the problem. Some people may not ever be able to perform without them, others can use them to give relief while they correct the issue. Correcting tightness and muscle imbalances are what you need to look at to get your self strong and pain-free.

One of the best exercises for the knee is cycling, especially with your foot clipped into the pedal so that you can apply force all the way through the stroke--down, back, up, forward (like pedaling in circles). This will get most of the muscles in the knee.

Since you didn't say where your knees hurt, I'm assuming it's either IT band syndrome or patellafemoral syndrome. Check out these video links for some more exercises:

Tim Heckel
(ThinAir) - M

Locale: 6237' - Manitou Springs
Doc on 10/27/2009 10:24:27 MDT Print View

I agree with Thomas about seeing a doctor.
I've had knee issues for years.
One doc sent me to physical therapy (second doc), but the weight training and skiers squats greatly increased my pain and apparently did further damage.
So I saw a third doc who determined with MRI that I have a torn meniscus. Surgery for me in December.
My point is don't do more damage while trying to strengthen.

Cory Mull
(eldon519) - F
Strengthening knees on 10/27/2009 16:48:14 MDT Print View

Thanks to all who have commented. Someone pointed out that I had not mentioned where exactly the pain was. It is mostly patellofemoral syndrome, and I do where the cho-pat style devices. I also have pain on the outside of my left knee which I had never known a name for, but in looking at pictures related to IT band inflammation, that looks to be exactly what I'm experiencing. I have used walking sticks before (actual sticks, not manufactured poles), and they did seem to help as well.

It is primarily aggravated by downhill walking/hiking as someone else mentioned. I am hoping to see a doctor this year to check it out just in case, and given his okay, I plan to try some of the exercises and stretches shown. I think some of the advice about watching how I turn and step is particularly important. I notice I have to start doing this once the pain kicks in, but I really need to make a mental habit of doing that before the pain sets in to hopefully avoid or diminish it.

Alex, I tried to PM you about Paria, but you do not have an e-mail attached for that. Shoot me an e-mail/PM, and I'll be happy to answers your questions. I just did the hike two weeks ago, so it was after the flood.

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
knees on 10/30/2009 12:28:19 MDT Print View

I had knee pain. Doctor diagnosed strained MCL. Went to a physical therapist, who gave me exercises to strengthen the knee. Eventually worked up from exercises to weights. There are some easy to do at home stretches specifically for strengthening knees for hikers.

Other hikers often mention that going downhill is harder on the knees. I found this out in my case. I hurt my knee in February and tried hiking 100 miles on the AT in PA in April. Second day out I was in a lot of pain aggravated by hiking down hill. I actaully called my daughter in DC to come pick me up. Luckily, I had no cell phone reception. I hiked out of the pain and finished my hike. By August it was strong enough and I hiked the JMT without knee pain.
Of course, a couple of weeks after I got home, I threw my back out. Missed getting back on the AT., and have had bad leg (sciatic nerve) pain for several weeks now. Again physical therapy is helping.

Stretch and do specific weight training to strengthen the knees. For example, put your back against one of those big exercise balls with the ball against the wall. Do squats. Hold in the down position for 30 sec. etc. Learn how to do exercises correctly from a therapist, or personal trainer or from a book on "Stregthening the Core"

Edited by rambler on 10/30/2009 12:31:24 MDT.

Josh S.
(Stumphges) - F
Exercises that help, exercises that harm on 10/30/2009 13:45:53 MDT Print View

Decrease pack weight!

As far as exercise, from someone who has had knee pain since the age of 19 and tried every exercise, bodywork, you name it:

Walking is the best, period. Running up hills or up stairs makes you stronger still, especially in the ass (a strong ass is very helpful on the downhill), but only if you're strong enough.

I've reinjured and aggravated my knees countless times trying various gym exercises - squats, lunges, step-ups, etc. Some of those movements are OK, biomechanically, but done repetitiously I think they take more than they give. We evolved to pick up heavy things (squat, deadlift), to make demanding agility movements over variable terrain (lunge, step-ups), sure. But we especially evolved whilst walking and running.

I like to walk until my legs feel springy and I spontaneously have the urge to run. Then I sprint at 80%, but only ever uphill. The feeling I have is that running uphill is like a series of one-legged jumps where I don't really land, and thus don't really have a heavy impact - it's just one jump followed quickly by another, continuously going up, up, and never really thumping down. I used to like to run up a five story building and then take the elevator down to save on the downhill pounding.

When hiking downhill I almost never run, although sometimes I'll go quickly, taking very short steps toe-to-heel, like dancing.

Hiking barefoot or in very simple shoes from time to time or as a habit helps tremendously. Counterintuitively, barefoot reduces impact as you use your entire kinetic chain to reduce impact on the foot, which leads to a looser, liquid gait. A study done a couple of years ago showed reduced loads at the knee, hip and spine when knee osteoarthritis subjects walked barefoot as compared to with their shoes. Agrees with my experience.