Cycling is a great exercise to improve your overall strength and fitness.
But just like any other activity, you can definitely experience some aches and pains after a rough day of riding.
One of the most common pains to plague cyclists is knee pain.
Whether it’s in the front, side, or everywhere, knee pain is something that will affect most cyclists over their riding career.
Luckily – there has been plenty of research into the issue’s cyclists experience with their knees and therapists have found many ways to repair and strengthen the knee muscles.
If you’re wanting to alleviate any existing knee pain – or even just looking to add some preventive measures to your current workout, here is a list of the 14 best knee strengthening exercises for cyclists.
- Glute Bridge
- Resistance Band Side-Step
- Straight Leg Raises
- Standing Hamstring Curls
- Glute Squeeze
- Reverse Lunge on a Bosu
- Donkey Kick
- Chair Dips
- Wall Squats
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Bird Dog
- Fire Hydrant
Types of Knee Pain Cyclists Experience
- Anterior knee pain – pain at the front of the knee
One of the most common areas cyclist experience pain, is in the front of their knees. While this can be attributed to things like damaged cartilage or an incorrect saddle position, it is more frequently associated with your Quad muscles and the IT band along your outer leg.
- Posterior knee pain – pain at the back of the knee
Anterior knee pain – pain at the front of the knee
If you’re experiencing pain in the back of your knee, it is very likely that your saddle height is too high. Posterior knee pain is often associated with over-extension and has more to do with your Hamstring, Calves and Glutes.
- Lateral and medial knee pain – pain at the side of the knee
Lateral and Medial knee pain refers to pain you experience on the inside or outside of your knee. Going back to the points above, this type of knee pain is commonly associated with the Quads and IT band, but can also be cause by the other types of knee pain or even a bad cleat position.
- Knee pain as a result of weakness in the core
Just like most other exercises, your core plays a vital role in cycling. Surprisingly, a weak core can cause knee pain when riding. Since your legs work from the core, it is important to strengthen your lower back, abs, glutes and hip flexors
- Spring Knee Pain – Over-extension
Not necessarily related to anything wrong with your muscles, Spring Knee pain is really just Overload on the knees. If you take a break from riding during the Winter and start back at your normal pace and distance, you may experience some post-ride knee pain-just from the stress of going 0-100. Make sure you gradually build strength and endurance to mitigate any pain or injury.
When to see a Fitter or Therapist
There are instances where knee strengthening exercises still don’t fix the problem, or where you may feel more comfortable seeking the advice of a professional. Since there is only so much you can learn on your own, we definitely recommend seeing a physiotherapist or medical professional when possible.
You can rest assured that they will have the best information for you and your body.
As well, it is always recommended to see a bike fitter – even if you’re not having any issues.
Not only can a bike fitter make sure you avoid unnecessary injury, they can also make sure your getting the most from your body without causing it damage.
Is cycling good for strengthening your knees?
You may be surprised to find that cycling is a great exercise for strengthening the knees.
Depending on where and how you ride, you can really improve the strength and flexibility of your knees.
In fact, cycling is a recommended exercise for people suffering from certain kinds of arthritis and joint issues.
This is because cycling puts minimal stress on your joints and muscles, while still allowing you to experience exercise and range of motion.
Though biking is considered low impact, you are still using your largest muscle group, and allowing your knees to go through their full range of motion.
But just because cycling is a good knee strengthening exercise, doesn’t mean that you can’t still experience the aches and pains that come with any other activity.
Just as we mentioned before, knee pain is actually really common among cyclists, and the best way to mitigate these issues is to introduce some knee strengthening exercises into your routine, aside from just biking alone.
How do I stop my knees from hurting when cycling?
No matter how fit you are, or how often you ride, you may still find yourself nursing a sore knee from time to time.
Whether it hits you halfway through the ride, or after a full day of riding when you’re finally cooled down, it can be a scary symptom to experience.
But don’t worry too much. Unless you have a pre-existing issue with your joints or knees, there is a high chance you just need to make a few minor adjustments.
Like we mentioned earlier when we explained the types of knee pain you can get from cycling, there are a few reasons your knees may be hurting after a ride; weak muscles, bad positioning on the bike, or overtraining.
Luckily, knee pain is something you can prevent and possibly heal for good. Taking the great advice of Bicycling.com, here are 6 ways you can stop your knees from hurting when cycling:
- Warm-up –
Just like most exercises, it is recommended that you get a in a solid warmup before cycling. A good warmup helps get your blood circulating and prepares your muscles for the ride.
This is great for getting the most out of your body, but vital for preventing injury. If you are particularly worried about knee pain, make sure you start out riding with a casual cadence, this allows your knees to warmup and prepare for a longer or faster ride.
- Perfect Pedaling –
Having trouble pinpointing the cause of your knee pain? When’s the last time you focused on your pedaling? Surprisingly, the way you pedal can play a major role in how hard cycling is on your knees. This is why you will see cyclists pedaling at such a fast cadence.
While this seems like it would be exhausting, it is actually better practice to pedal in a lower gear, as the stress on your joints is significantly reduced. As well, it is important that you pedal in a circular motion, balancing between the right and left leg. Most beginners pedal with more of an ovular motion in mind, and this can create an imbalance of stress that you put on each leg.
- Build Endurance Gradually –
Whether you’re a Mountain Biker or Road Biker, cyclists tend to take a break from riding during the Winter months. Similarly, a lot of us make the mistake of thinking we can start back at our normal pace.
While it’s possible to vary your riding widely without consequence, going from 0-100 is a great way to invite injury and extra stress on your knees. It is always recommended to build your mileage gradually to reduce or eliminate knee pain from cycling.
- Be Aware of and Adapt to Changes –
It’s no secret that the body prefers a routine. Whether you’re adjusting to a new sleep schedule or introducing a HIIT exercise in your workout, the body takes some time to adjust to changes. This is especially true for Cyclists.
Even a change as simple as shoes or pedals can cause knee pain. Make sure the changes you make are good for your body, and also give your body some time to adjust to those changes.
- Get Fitted –
Even in the modern age of dropper seat posts and tubeless tires, the best investment for you and your bike is a Bike Fitting. The staff at your LBS are pro’s when it comes to fitting people to their bike, and this is a vital step if you want to get the most out of your new hobby.
While this may seem unnecessary for the average rider, bike fit can have a huge affect on the quality of your ride and a bad fit can cause damage to your body. Since your knees can be relatively sensitive the stresses of cycling, make sure you get fitted to your bike to stop knee pain for good.
- Knee Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists! –
Unless you have an issue with your joints or knees, exercises geared towards cyclists that strengthen the knees, is the best way to stop knee pain for good. Exercises that strengthen the knee make sure it can stand the stresses of cycling, but also make sure the knee is in the correct alignment to pedal properly.
Key Guidelines on Knee Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists
Focus on Form – This makes sure you get the most out if the exercise and helps you avoid injury
Rest between Reps – Allow your body to adjust to each exercise
Try 2-3 workouts per week – There’s no reason to overdo it, especially if you’re in pain
Stretch! – The flexibility and range of your motion can be limited if you don’t stretch before and after each exercise.
14 Knee Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists
The exercises that strengthen the knees really focus on the muscles surrounding the knee, as they are what ultimately support strong and fluid motion.
Believe it or not, your Quads, Glutes, Hip Flexor and Core all play vital roles in the overall strength of your knees. With that being said, here is a list of the 14 Best Knee Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists.
Lie on your side with your legs stacked and bent at a 45-degree angle.
Keeping your feet together and hips stable, lift your top knee as high as you can comfortably. Pause for a moment in this position before dropping your knee and starting over again. The movement should mimic the opening and closing of a Clamshell.
Complete 15-20 reps per side for the best results. This is a relatively easy knee strengthening exercise for cyclists and is recommended at least 2-3 times per week.
You can also try this exercise with or without a Resistance Band.
2. Glute Bridge
This is another knee strengthening exercise that you can performing at varying degrees.
Lie down on the floor or a Yoga Mat as if you were about to do a sit-up. Bend your knees so you can keep both feet flat on the floor and keep your hands at your sides palms down.
Use your Glutes to raise your hips to the point where your shoulders, hips, and knees are all in a straight diagonal line. Make sure you keep your Glutes and abs firm to protect your back. Hold this “bridge” position for a few seconds before easing back down.
Aim for 10-15 reps if possible. You can add varying levels of difficulty by adding a Resistance Band or lifting one leg during the reps.
3. Resistance Band Side Step
Involving a Resistance Band, this knee strengthening exercise for cyclists allows varying degrees of resistance.
Loop your Resistance Band around your legs, either above or below your knees. The lower you have it on your legs, the more the resistance there will be.
Start with your knees slightly bent and with your feet hip-width apart, this will be your original stance. Step to the side until you feel resistance on the band, then slide your other foot over until you’re back in your original stance. Try to complete 10-15 steps to each side and feel free to raise your Resistance band to lower the resistance.
Like the other exercises on the list, you will have the best results if you complete this 2-3 times per week.
4. Straight Leg Raises/Leg Lifts
This is another exercise where you’ll be lying on your back, so you may be more comfortable using a yoga mat.
Lie down with your legs and back flat against the floor. Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee to bring your leg closer to your body.
With your toes pointed up, raise your left leg no higher than your right knee and hold for 5 seconds before slowly lowering back down. Shoot for 2-3 reps for each leg.
5. Standing Hamstring Curls
This is a standing exercise, but you can use a chair or table to help balance and brace yourself.
Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent and 1-2 inches apart. Keeping your thighs in line, bend one knee back, pulling your heel up until you form a 90-degree angle with your leg.
Hold this position for 5 seconds before slowly lowering your foot back to the floor.
Repeat 2-3 reps per leg and focus on perfect form.
6. Glute Squeeze
Being such a simple process, it’s hard to believe the Glute Squeeze is such a good knee strengthening exercise for cyclists. But as you know, the Glutes play a major role in the overall strength of your knees.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, as the name suggests, squeeze your Glutes as tightly as possible for 4 seconds and release. Try to complete 10 to 12 reps each time and feel free to do this 3+ times per week.
7. Reverse Lunge on a Bosu
This exercise uses a Bosu trainer as it can be really helpful in improving balance and stability.
Start standing on the Bosu trainer, with your hands on your hips to help keep yourself stabilized.
Step back with your left leg and start to lower into a lunge. Make sure you move in a smooth motion until your right leg forms a 90-degree angle. Push from your right heel to return yourself to the standing position on the ball.
Aim for 5-10 reps for each leg. Since you’re using your stabilizers, make sure you focus on good form.
8. Donkey Kick
This exercise will have you on your hands and knees, so you may feel more comfortable using a Yoga Mat.
Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips. Your toes should be tucked, and you should also have a flat back during the entire exercise.
Keeping your knee bent at 90-degrees, use your Glutes to pull your leg up to the ceiling and then return to the starting position.
Again, try to shoot for 15 reps and don’t forget to repeat on the other leg.
This can be a great exercise for beginners, but there are many variations of the Donkey Kick, making it one of the best knee strengthening exercises for cyclists.
9. Chair Dips
Sit in a chair with your back straight.
Place your hands at the edge of the chair, just under your hips. Make sure you get a firm grip on the chair, as you will be using it to hold your weight.
Once you’re confident in your grip, slowly walk your feet forward to where you are in front of the chair in the seated position.
Now slowly lower your body to where your elbows are bent no smaller than 90 degrees and raise yourself back up. Try to complete at least one set of 6 to 8 reps.
10. Wall Squats
For this one, you’re going to need a flat wall to lean against.
Start with head, shoulders, back and hips flat against a wall.
Keeping your shoulders and back flat against the wall, slowly walk both feet out until they are about 24 inches away from the wall. Make sure your feet are flat and no wider than hip-width apart.
Slowly slide down the wall until you are just above normal sitting position. Your knees should remain behind your toes during the exercise. Hold this squatting position for 5 seconds and slide back up the wall.
Complete a few reps, making sure you perform slow and smooth movements.
11. Single Leg Deadlifts
The single leg deadlift is a great knee strengthening exercise for cyclists, however, be prepared to balance your weight on one leg.
You can even add a Kettlebell weight for more of a challenge.
Start out standing with a weight or kettlebell in your right hand, make sure you’re aware of your posture.
Slightly bend your knees and prepare to shift your weight to your left leg. Once you feel confident, start to hinge at your hips and slowly lower your chest to the floor. Extend your right leg behind you to keep balance and try to get your upper body parallel with the floor. Remember to keep your back straight and a slight bend in your knees.
Slowly return to the starting position and prepare for another rep. Try to complete 10-15 reps per leg before switching sides.
12. Bird Dog
Similar to the Donkey Kick, this exercise will have you on all fours, so feel free to use a Yoga Mat for comfort.
Start out on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips.
Keeping your back flat, extend your right arm straight in front and your left leg straight behind you until they’re both parallel with the floor. You should be balancing on your left hand and right knee.
Make sure you maintain good form throughout the process as you alternate between each side.
13. Fire Hydrant
REI has a great demonstration here.
This exercise can be completed on all fours or standing up, depending on your balance and fitness level. You can also add a Resistance Band for accelerated improvement.
For beginners, start on all fours on a Yoga Mat with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keeping the 90-degree bend in the knee, slowly lift your right leg away from your body like the door of a DeLorean. Stop when your leg is at a 45-degree angle and return to the starting position.
For advanced cyclists, you may be able to complete this exercise standing up and with a Resistance Band.
Loop the resistance band around your legs, just above your knees and just below your thighs.
Make sure you put a slight bend in your knees when you start to lift your leg away from your body. Remember to keep a 90-degree bend in the knee you’re lifting, and stop after you’re leg is 45-degrees to the side.
Try to complete 3 sets of 10 with each leg, and if you’re using the Resistance Band, you can try holding the 45-degree angle for up to 30 seconds before returning to start.
Rei has another great demonstration here.
This is very similar to the Fire Hydrant, however, you will keep the legs extended and the resistance band lower on the legs.
Knee pain is an issue most cyclists will encounter over their riding career. It can be caused by many things and just takes a little awareness to determine. Luckily, there are plenty of knee strengthening exercises for cyclists. As well, these are knee strengthening exercises for cyclists of all levels of fitness.
Please be aware that these are just recommended exercises from reputable sources, Hobby Biker assumes no responsibility for injury or issues that you may have personally. We also recommend that you see a professional if you have any extra concerns.
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments.