Three Exercises for Knee Pain

By July 6, 2016Exercise

Imagine there’s a hierarchy of protection your body enacts for injury. The worst case scenario would be something akin to severing an artery. The best case scenario? A minor muscle tear. Somewhere in the middle, you get the knee pain, bad patellar tracking, or torn knee ligaments. If I were to make a list of them in order of best case to worst case scenarios it would look something like this:

  1. Minor muscle tear
  2. Broken Bone
  3. Compound Fracture
  4. Torn Connective tissue
  5. Severed Artery

Think of this order as layers of protection for your body. Strong muscle tissue is, therefore, your first line of defense against a host of other fuckups that can happen to you. With that said, you must work them out often and well.

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Knee Pain

Suffice it to say, women are more prone to torn ligaments than men. So be sure to pay close attention here. If you’ve never had a fucked up knee, you know someone who has. And while a regular squat is good for training knee extension, there are better ways to stress the joint itself to offer you more protection down the line.

Here are three such exercises:

1. Peterson Step-up

The very first exercise in the video, but it’s pretty brutal if you do them a lot. Take a look again for a few key points:

  • The working leg is on the cinder block pointing straight ahead.
  • You’re starting on the ball of your foot and pushing down.
  • Dorsiflex the nonworking foot (the top surface of your foot pointing up).
  • The stance is kind of staggered so that your nonworking foot is about half the distance ahead of your working foot.
  • Don’t use the nonworking leg for assistance.
  • Hold onto a rail if your balance sucks

If you do it right, you’ll feel this right in your vastus medialis obliquus (VMO). This is that sweet looking tear drop muscle in your quadriceps. If you are at a stage where your knee fucking hurts and you want to strengthen it, use a shorter step. You can get by with as low as five centimeters if you can’t handle too much knee stress. As you get stronger, increase the step height. Alternatively, increase the weight, but err on the side of caution.

2. Step-down

I don’t see a lot of people do these, but they’re pretty rad. As you can tell from the video, you are stepping down from an elevation. Like the Peterson Step-up, the elevation depends on the amount of stress you can handle, but a normal step from a flight of stairs is a good start. A few key points:

  • Don’t jam your nonworking leg into the ground; lower with control.
  • Knee and foot are in line pointing straight ahead.
  • Start your progressive overloading with elevation before adding weight.

Like the Peterson Step-up, you can scale the heights of your step depending on what you can handle and it also works the VMO. But don’t go bouncing up and down with reckless abandon. Take it nice and easy.

3. Sissy Squats

Despite the name, they are not for sissies. They’re allegedly named after Sisyphus, that guy who pushes that rock up the hill to have it roll down again. But aside from that, every rendering of sisyphus shows him as having ripped quads. Sweet, right?

This particular exercise is the easiest to scale, modify, and load. The variation I do has the torso upright for the whole movement. Keep the shoulders placed above the feet, squat down, and come up on the balls of your feet.

To scale it you have a few options:

  • Hold a weight goblet squat style, and keep your torso upright.
  • Hold a kettlebell behind your back and keep your torso upright.
  • Keep your torso inline with your thighs. This is the most intense variation and it’s all quads. Tread with care. Here is what it looks like:

Peter Baker doing a sissy squat to help prevent knee pain

To get to this level of quad use, you can also use bands to assist you so that you keep your balance. Tread with caution on this. If you become more bad ass, you can add weight to it.


These exercises aren’t the only things you can do for stronger knees, but they are a good start. By strengthening your VMO, you are helping to keep your patella on track, for starters. As a secondary benefit, it will add some aesthetic to your quads. In addition to helping your knees, they also help with your proprioception by way of working on your balance. And whether you play sports or not, better balance is something we can all live with, along with strong joints, and a lack of knee pain.

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About Peter Baker

In addition to being a fan of music and heavy metal, I am an avid player of table top RPGs, and I am a personal trainer in Tampa, FL as well as a graduate of the prestigious University of South Florida. Formerly, I was a prefect for House Slytherin.

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