Yes, running and jumping can be hard on your knees — but so can everyday movements like walking, squatting and even sitting. If you've got sore knees, try strengthening them by targeting the surrounding muscles (glutes, hamstrings, core and lower back) with low-impact Pilates moves for knee pain.
"Most knee pain originates from somewhere else," says Tracy Green, a certified Pilates and barre instructor at Louisville's Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center.
"Muscle imbalances and weakness, especially in the hips and core, can cause poor biomechanics that put unnecessary stress on the knees," she says.
Whether walking your dog around the block or bending down to pick up groceries, continuing to perform these repetitive movements with poor biomechanics can make your knees feel like you spent hours pounding the pavement or sprinting up and down a basketball court.
Not only are the best Pilates moves for knee pain low impact and easy on your joints, but they all use your body weight (no expensive gym equipment or membership needed).
Green says you should consult a medication professional if you're experiencing ongoing knee pain or discomfort when exercising. Otherwise, she recommends performing this 10-minute, beginner-friendly sequence two to three times per week to increase mobility, overall body strength — and maybe even your chances at making the leaderboard in your next spin class.
1. Shoulder Bridge
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, hips-width apart, heels in line with the bony part of your pelvis that you sit on and hands palm-down by your sides.
- Exhale as you draw your belly button toward your spine, then curl your pelvis so your tailbone tips off the mat. Lift your lower, middle and upper back sequentially.
- Inhale at the top, lifting your torso but drawing your ribs in so you’re in a straight line from shoulders to knees, pressing your knees away from your hips.
- Exhale as you roll down one vertebra at a time, reversing direction so your upper back, middle back and lower back touch the mat before repeating the exercise for a total of 10 times.
Move slowly and with control, paying attention to the articulation of your spine.
2. Single-Leg Kick
- Lie face down on your mat with your legs straight, together and pointed while resting your forehead on your hands. For greater difficulty, lift onto your forearms.
- Inhale, bend one leg and quickly kick that heel twice toward the same glute.
- Exhale to lower the leg.
- Inhale and repeat on the other side, alternating for a total of 10 times per leg.
Press into the hands to engage the core and keep the belly button pulled into the spine to support the lower back.
3. Quad Stretch
- Lie on your stomach, legs extended and knees together. Bend your left arm and rest your forehead on your left hand or forearm.
- Bend your right knee to bring your right foot toward your bottom. With your right hand, grab the top of your right foot or your right ankle for a gentle stretch, holding for 10 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Can't reach your ankle? Use a strap or towel for assistance, or perform this exercise while standing.
4. Heel Beats
- Lie facedown on the mat, with your forehead resting on your hands and your legs together, extended straight behind you.
- Keep your head down and lift both legs off the mat, keeping your heels together and toes pointed away from each other while keeping your abdominals slightly raised off the mat.
- Open and close your heels quickly 10 times, keeping the core engaged.
- Lower your legs and press back into a child's pose.
Keep the thighs lifted off the mat for increased difficulty.
5. Side Kick Series
- Lie on your left side, resting your head on your bicep or in your left hand.
- Bring both legs forward at a 45-degree angle.
- Inhale and lift your left leg to hip height and kick it forward twice, keeping it parallel to the floor.
- Exhale and kick your left leg back with two quick pulses, repeating five times in each direction.
- Externally rotate the left leg so the heels are together, and the left knee is pointed toward the ceiling as you inhale and lift your left leg.
- Exhale and lower your left leg, flexing through your foot and pushing through your heel.
- Repeat the lower and lift 5 times.
- Lift your left leg hip height and parallel, then point your left toes and draw a small circle in one direction five times.
- Reverse the circle 5 times.
- Flip to the other side and repeat the steps above.
Increase the difficulty by lifting the lower leg off the mat while performing these exercises or adding ankle weights.
- Lie on your left side, resting your head on your bicep or in your hand.
- Bend both knees toward your chest at a 45-degree angle.
- Keep your feet glued together and lift your left knee as high as possible, then lower back down.
- Repeat 10 times, then do the same number of repetitions on the other side.
Add a resistance band around the top of your thighs to increase the burn.
7. Leg Pull (Reverse Plank)
- Sit with both legs extended straight in front of you and your hands on the floor, fingers pointed away from your sides.
- Press your feet and hands onto the floor to lift your pelvis off the mat until your body is straight from the ankles to the shoulders.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, repeating 5 times.
Want an additional full-body challenge? From the starting position above, raise one leg off the mat, pointing your toes toward the ceiling. Lower your leg and repeat 5 times on each side.
8. Standing Balance Sequence
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart (about two fists apart).
- Hold your ribcage with your hands to keep your torso stable, then shift your weight onto your left leg.
- Inhale and lift your right leg up and forward, bending at the knee.
- Exhale and lower the leg back to the ground.
- Repeat 5 times on each side.
Place your hand on a wall or chair for added stability.