man doing squats flickr / CucombreLibre
Don't Know Squat

7 Knee Exercises For Dads Who Need To Build Leg Strength

Fatherhood does a number on your knees. You bend. You carry. You squat for everything from shoe-tying to eye-to-eye scolding. Raising a kid basically puts your knees through the paces of a professional athlete and, if you’re not careful, you’ll be riding the pine while your kid is shooting hoops.

Knee injuries are a common sight for Dr. Bert Mandelbaum. He’s an orthopedic surgeon, Director of the Sports Fellowship Program at Santa Monica Orthopedic And Sports Medicine Group — but best of all he’s been the team doc for 6 men’s Soccer World Cup squads. Here are the 7 exercises he uses to protect those leg hinges and ensure you’re able to still bend them after all the ups and downs of dadding.

Running Mash-Up

For starters, Mandelbaum recommends a simple warm-up that loosens muscles and helps your body move more naturally. The key, per Mandelbaum, is to get your knees up and out instead of turning them in. “This stabilizes your ligaments and is better for the kneecaps,” he says.

How To Do It

Run forward for 15 seconds, then back-pedal for 15 seconds, side shuffle on one side for 15 seconds, then the other for 15 seconds. Do this 5 times total.

Hip In-And-Outs

Achy knees are often the result of weak hips. And, as anyone named Shakira will tell you, the hips don’t lie. “You want to rely on your hips to save your knees — not your glutes,” says Mandelbaum. This next movement helps hip mobility and strength. During it, Mandelbaum “Use the hip to guide the knee and don’t let it rotate in.”

How To Do It

From a standing position, raise your right knee in front of you and rotate it slowly out to the right. Bring your foot down to tap the floor, then raise your knee again and rotate it back to the starting position. Repeat 12 times, then switch sides. Do 3 sets.

Plank 360

A solid core is one of the most important ways to prevent back pain, improve posture, and not keel over when you’re carrying your kid. But it also fortifies your knees. Here’s why: A weak core leads to instability issues and a forward lean of the pelvis. This tilt affects the lower back, which in turn tugs at your knees. Mandelbaum says planks are the essential core exercise and advises you to start slowly, progress slowly, and don’t try to make it a meme — that ship has sailed.

How To Do It

  • Place your forearms on the ground, shoulder-width apart and extend both legs backward.
  • Draw in your navel so you’re bracing with your abdomen. (In order to maintain a slight tuck in your tailbone and really have that core stabilization, squeeze your butt.)
  • Hold this for 15 seconds
  • Now, move into a side right side plank (plank position, except your leaning only on your right arm and your right hip is pointing toward the ground)
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Now, move into a reverse plank (butt towards the ground, heels on the floor, arms propping up your body, head towards the ceiling, core tight)
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Switch to left side plank and hold for another 15 seconds.
  • Perform this sequence 3 times total.

Good Mornings

Your hamstrings work in tandem with your glutes to support the hips. If they’re tripwire tight, then your knees — and body in general — suffers. Good mornings help stretch and strengthen the hamstrings, while also working on general core strength. “Ideally you’ll take the exercise through a full range of motion, going from 0 to 150 degrees,” says Mandelbaum.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent.
  • Hinge forward, moving your weight into your toes, as far as your hamstrings allow.
  • Stand and repeat. Do three sets of 12 reps.

One-Legged Dead Lift To Row

“You need to have equal stability and capability in both legs,” says Mandelbaum. “When one is stronger than the other, there’s a good possibility for injury.” He adds that all one-legged exercises are designed for one thing: “To get you away from cheating and focusing on just your dominant leg.”

How To Do It

  • Stand holding a weight in your right hand in front of you with your arms straight.
  • Slowly hinge forward, raising your right leg straight behind you, keeping your hips level until your back is parallel with the floor, and arms still extended in front of you.
  • Keep your shoulders down and slowly bend your elbow to pull the weight to the right side.
  • Straighten your arm to lower the weight down, and stand to return to start.
  • Do 12 reps and then switch sides. Do 3 sets.

Goblet Squat With Calf Raise

Squats have the bad reputation of being knee-ruiners. But those guys weren’t doing it right. Pay attention to your upper body. Make sure it’s straight, your hips are back, and thighs are never quite parallel to the ground. Mandelbaum says squats help strengthen all the joints and ligaments that keep your knees mobile. This variation, in which you hold the weight at your chest, provides the cues to keep good form.

How To Do It

  • Stand holding a weight at your chest.
  • Squat down, pushing your hips back and going as low as possible with your chest up and your back flat.
  • Push through your heels to stand and rise up onto your toes, then hold for a 3-count.
  • Lower back down to start and repeat.
  • Do 3 sets of 12 reps — or fewer if you’re just starting out.

Moving Tuck Jumps

“This is a kind of plyometric exercise, or ballistic training, that prepares you to play basketball, volleyball, or soccer,” says Mandelbaum. “Any type of cutting, landing, jumping — this facilitates those actions.”

How To Do It

  • Stand with your knees soft and your arms at your sides.
  • Explode up and forward, bringing your knees toward your chest, landing a couple of feet in front of where you started.
  • Reverse the movement, tuck-jumping backward to start.
  • Next, jump to the right, again raising your knees and exploding up and sideways as high as possible.
  • Reverse the movement, jumping to the left, knees high.
  • That’s one rep. Do 2 sets of 12.

Once you incorporate these into your weekly workout routine (assuming your family lets you have one), your knees and overall body are going to be able to better endure the wear and tear of being dad.