For most people, the knees are one of the first body parts to start feeling pain when they work out, especially as they get older. Your knees take a ton of force every day just from general walking around. Add running, lifting or some other impact-heavy exercises on top of that, and it drastically increases your risk of injuring your knees. Knee injuries are painful, difficult to deal with, and hard to recover from. Here are some tips for protecting your knees and keeping them in good shape.

Warm Up

Getting your muscles and joints warmed up before you start exercising is key to preventing an exercise-induced injury. Do dynamic stretches and warm-ups before jumping into your routine. Leg kicks, lunges, high knees and arm circles will get your muscles moving and prepped to work out.

 Cross Train

If you do the same motions over and over again every day, the parts of your body that you work the most will eventually get worn down. Cross training is important for giving those muscles and joints a rest. It will also help you build more strength in other parts of your body, which will help support the muscles you use for your primary workouts and exercises. 

Build Muscle

Strong muscles will help protect the joints and ligaments in your knees by keeping them in proper alignment. Make sure you take the time to build the muscles in your legs. However, it’s not just the leg muscles that work to support the knees. The muscles in your body all work together to support each other. Strong glutes, core muscles and a strong lower back will all help prevent knee pain and injury. 

Practice Good Form

Using proper form when you exercise is key to preventing injuries. For example, when you squat, your knees should face forward and shouldn’t shoot too far past your ankles. If they veer too far in or out, or go over your toes, it puts unnecessary stress on your knees. Strong form when running, squatting or doing any other exercise will safely work your muscles while reducing risk of injury.

Stretch

Having flexible muscles is just as important as strong ones for protecting your knees. Flexible muscles have a greater range of motion, so they can move farther without getting hurt. Stretching after your workouts will help you build and maintain flexibility. If you can, try dedicating at least an hour a week for a long stretching session such as in a yoga or pilates class.

Rest

Even elite athletes take rest days. It’s important to take time off in order for your body and muscles to heal. That’s how you’ll actually get stronger and into better shape. You don’t necessarily have to do nothing on all your rest days, although you should take a full day off sometimes. Even an active rest day with some yoga or a nice walk is beneficial. The more in shape you are, the longer you can go without a rest day. If you’re just starting out, you may need to have a few rest days each week until you get stronger. 

Listen to Your Body

If something in your body doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to ease off. There is a difference between discomfort and pain. You can push through discomfort to get stronger. Trying to push through pain will lead to injuries. Be aware of the sensations in your body and discern what is just normal discomfort from working out and what is real pain.