Winter Sports Need Strong Knees

Charlene Hamilton, owner of Women's Fitness Co. in Medford, demonstrates proper form.  Photos by Jim Craven

Knees take a beating during winter sports such as skiing and snow boarding. Twisting and turning, these amazing shock absorbers allow us to gracefully navigate over the most challenging terrain, but knee and ankle joints are especially vulnerable during this kind of punishment.

By working the legs before winter arrives, your ankles, knees and hip joints will be stronger, more flexible and more stable, allowing the joints to remain in alignment during strenuous movements.

Although strengthening all of your leg muscles will improve knee stability, two main muscle groups are key — the quadriceps and hamstrings. Strengthen these, and you are on your way to avoiding the most common, season-ending injuries.

Always begin with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up that includes light cardio and stretching.

Thanks to Women's Fitness Co. in Medford for providing the space and equipment for this photo shoot.


Squats are one of the best lower-body exercises. They engage the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and hip muscles, all of which support knee function.

1. Hold dumbbells at shoulder height, feet about shoulder-width apart.

2. Using thigh muscles, bend knees and lower upper body into a sitting position. Thighs should be parallel to the feet and knees should not extend past the toes. Avoid leaning too far forward; keep back as straight as possible.

3. Using leg muscles, rise to standing position. Keep abs tight to support back muscles. Do two sets of 10 to12 repetitions. Note: Vary foot position — feet together or knees and toes pointed out.

Leg Extensions

The seated leg extension really isolates the quad muscles. The steps below are for an extension machine, but the same movement is effective at home on a sturdy chair. Grasp the sides of the chair, raise and lower one leg at a time. The secret is to concentrate on flexing the muscles you are using. Do the exercise slowly without using momentum. Make it intense.

1. Sit with back fully supported against back pad. Keep abdominal muscles tight and chest up.

2. Using both legs evenly, push the weight up until legs are extended. Tighten quad muscles at the top of the exercise. (At home, hold a dumbbell between your feet.)

3. Control the weight and slowly lower feet back to bent knee position. Do two sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Heel Raises

By working the calf muscles, the ankle and knee joint connection is strengthened. Heel raises engage the lower leg and ankle area to ensure that those joints are strong.

1. Stand with your legs together, and rise up on your toes. You can also do heel raises by hanging your heels off the edge of a step.

2. Gently press down on your heels to help stretch the Achilles tendon, then rise up on the toes. Repeat the exercise 12 to 15 times, two sets.

Walking Lunges

Lunges are very effective because they work glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps at the same time. The walking lunge is the same as a normal lunge, except that you move forward as you do each one. Notice how they engage abdominal, back and core muscles as you maintain your balance.

1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keep back straight, head and chin up. Hold dumbbells at sides.

2. Moving forward in a walking motion, lift right foot to 90-degree angle out in front. Keep knee, hip and ankle aligned as heel lands first.

3. Lower the back knee, almost touching the floor. Maintain alignment as you feel the stretch.

4. Push off using leg muscles and toes to move forward, with opposite leg in lunge position.

5. Keep abs tight and continue forward on alternating legs for 12 to 15 steps. Repeat.

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