Yoga for knee strength: six moves to try

Yoga for knee strength: what to try at home to improve joint mobility and stay supple.

Yoga for knee strength: Image shows woman on back in garden stretching back
(Image credit: Getty)

Sure, we all know that yoga is great for flexibility, body conditioning and relaxation – but have you ever considered yoga for knee strength? 

“There is no truer saying than ‘move it or lose it’ when it comes to muscle and bone strength,” says yoga instructor Jessica Green, from London studio East of Eden (opens in new tab). “Yoga is an important practice to consider for seniors, in particular, as this type of gentle movement is a great way to improve circulation, ensuring healthier joints and muscles.”

A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (opens in new tab) study found that yoga was very effective at maintaining strength in older adults. 

“The focus of the mind on synchronizing movements with breathing, to bring one’s awareness into the present moment, can also help to regulate the nervous system. This helps tackle anxiety, insomnia and stress,” says Green.

“The breath work involved in many yoga poses can encourage fuller breaths, and better absorption of oxygen into the blood. This improves circulation and muscle strength, enhancing support to joints like shoulders, wrists, hips and knees.” 

New to yoga? Check out our guide to the best yoga mats (opens in new tab) or have a go at some gentle anti-aging yoga moves (opens in new tab). Or read on to try Green’s six yoga for knee strength exercises. These can be done lying down, standing at a wall, behind a chair or seated. 

“Please consult your doctor before exercising and also take care not to do more that feels comfortable, and avoid strain or any other unpleasant sensations,” advises Green.

If you're looking for something even gentler than the below, try out our seated yoga flow (opens in new tab), or read up on how to do yoga with bad knees (opens in new tab).

Jessica Green
Jessica Green

As a yoga teacher of nine years, Jessica Green’s purpose is to share the practices that help her, with people and places that do not have easy access to yoga. 

Knee lifts

Woman performing knee lifts on stool

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Sit on the edge of your chair with a tall spine, or lie on your back. Set your feet hip width apart, or as wide as you need to feel steady. 

Step 2: Press your left foot down and then inhale to lift the right knee. Exhale and extend the leg to straight, inhale and bend the knee, then exhale and lower the knee. Repeat up to four times on both legs.

This pose is to warm up the knee, without putting too much strain on the joint. The pumping of the leg draws circulation to the muscles. You might feel a little tingling or aching as you warm up this part of the body.

Pedaling the legs

Woman sat on chair pedaling her legs

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Start in a tall seat, steadying yourself by holding the edge of the chair and pressing your left foot to the floor.

Step 2: As you inhale, extend your right leg to straight, then as you exhale slide the right foot towards you, bending and then lifting the knee high. 

Step 3: Keep the knee lifted, inhale, then extend the leg to straight again keeping it lifted. Lower your foot to the ground to start again, making a peddling action by repeating the above up to four times.

To challenge yourself and also work your hips a little, too, repeat the action but keep your leg lifted for the whole cycle. Repeat up to four times and change legs. Now come up to standing using a wall, worktop or chair to steady yourself. 

This pose is good for knee strength because it works all the muscles and joints of the leg without weight bearing in the knees.

Heel lifts (standing knee bends)

Woman performing yoga standing knee bends

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Stand tall, lengthening to the crown of your head, then bring your legs as close as you can, with your toes together and knees as close as possible. Imagine you are holding a piece of paper between the knees.

Step 2: Step the right foot back to rest tiptoes. Keep squeezing your thighs and knees together. Lift your heel towards your bum. Repeat four times, watching to ensure the rest of the leg (especially your hip) stays still. 

Step 3: Then do this again but lowering to a count of four, resisting the pull of gravity. Repeat on the left, walking on the spot in between.

This action is great at strengthening the muscles around the knee, which are key to supporting the joint and keeping you steady on your feet.

Lunge and back knee bends

Woman performing knee bends against wall

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Standing at a wall or at the back of a chair, use your hands to steady yourself. Step your left foot back and bend your right knee. 

Step 2: Keep your weight in your right foot and lean forward into the chair or wall. Inhale as you straighten your leg and exhale as you bend the knee towards the floor. The lower you dip your back knee towards the floor, the more challenge you create. Repeat up to four times, moving on the breath, on both sides.

This is a great way to improve mobility in the knee joint and lengthen muscles at the back of the knee.

Lunge and front knee bends

Woman performing backward lunges against wall

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Standing at a wall or at the back of a chair, use your hands to steady yourself. 

Step 2: Step your left foot back and bend your right knee. This time straighten the front leg as you inhale, and exhale as you bend. 

This is a very good pose for building strength in the muscles and multiple ligaments around the knee. The slower you go, the more therapeutic this can be. A little trembling in the leg is normal and a sign your muscles are working. 

Chair pose (Utkatasana)

Woman squatting down in yoga chair pose

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Stand with your feet at least hip width apart for this pose. You can have your hands on the wall, a chair or on your hips.

Step 2: Inhale, stand tall, exhale, and start to bend your knees and hinge at your hips.  Stick your bum out, as if you are going to sit down. Look at your knees and feet - stop bending when your knees start to roll towards each other. Then inhale and stand up. 

Repeat up to four times. Inhale to stand up, and exhale to bend your knees. On the next exhale, bend your knees and pause for up to four breaths. Repeat if desired.

This is great practice for managing your body weight and using this is a way to build strength in all the muscles of the legs and hip, ankle and knee joints.

A couple of options to finish:

1. Self-soothing massage. 

Sit down and take both hands to one knee, rub them on either side up and down, using circular motions over the knee cap and then either side front and back. Give your hard-working knees some love!

2. Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani).

Lie on your back, either beside a chair or with your bum as near to the wall as is comfortable. Bend your knees into your chest and then rest the back of your legs on the seat of a chair or up against the wall. This is especially good relief for aching knees, legs or even the lower back as you are completely removing all weight and impact.