What isometric exercises can I do without putting pressure on my knees?

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Question

I need knee replacement in 3 months and am overweight but would like to strengthen my thighs and calves before surgery to help in my recovery. What isometric exercises can I do without putting pressure on my knees? They are bone on bone.

Jacque Keen

Answer

Hi Jacque, isometric exercise to strengthen the thighs and calves with no pressure on the knees is a tough call – at least for the thighs.

Calf Exercises

For the calves, calf raises are a perfect solution. All the work is done with the calf muscles – you keep your knees locked out, legs straight. To perform a calf raise you just need to stand with your feet quite close together and then stand up on tip-toe and then lower again.


If you are comfortable with this you can increase the range of motion by standing with your toes on a low step so that your heels start lower than your toes. Then lift in the same way. Carrying a dumbbell in each hand will allow you to add resistance, although if you have not trained your calves in a long time then bodyweight exercises will help a lot to start with.

Thigh Exercises

The most effective thigh exercises (lunges) require knee movement. Unfortunately, you are not going to be able to do lunges, even static ones, with a serious knee condition. However, there are several exercises that can be performed which will help as they do not require you to activate the knee joints:

  • Thigh Clenches – Sit on a chair or bed, or lie down, and then clench / contract your thighs and hold them as tight as possible for a count of 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 to 20 times. With this exercises there is no joint movement at all. You can do these several times a day.
  • Straight Leg Raises – Lie on a bed or floor. Bend one knee – this is the supporting knee. The other leg is left straight. Lift the straight up and hold for a few seconds, consciously tensing the thigh muscles too for extra impact, then lower and relax. Perform around 10 on the first leg and then swap.
  • Seated Marching – This exercise works the quads (thigh muscles) in a more dynamic way. Sit upright on a chair and then lift one knee / thigh up (maintain the same knee angle, i.e. no movement of the knee) and then when you lower the first leg raise the other, as if you are marching. Perform slow and controlled movements to ensure no strain is placed on the knees. You can do these exercises for a couple of minutes at a time and then repeat throughout the day.

Ideally your knee surgeon will also be able to provide you with some exercise advice – it is probably worthwhile calling them and asking.

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