This Pilates Mat Workout Is All About Strengthening Your Knees and Feeling Good
The beauty of Pilates is that you don't have to be free of all joint issues to feel good midworkout. The practice is designed to stabilize and strengthen your knees. So, for people like me — whose sensitive knees dictate their fitness routine — the no-impact sweat is my go-to.
Certified Pilates instructor, the founder of the Movement Culture Collective, and a Glo instructor, Mark Osmundsen, proves this point with his mat workout below. It's centered on strengthening the knees, preventing future knee injuries, and finding proper alignment to better support all functional movements.
"Strong knees are an essential part of Pilates, and any functional workout, because the bulk of our weight depends on proper alignment of the knee joint to stay pain and injury-free during all types of movement — even walking," he says.
When practicing the moves below, Osmundsen stresses that no matter your knee strength, proper alignment (especially ensuring that the hips and ankle joint are in proper positioning!) is most important. And if you're dealing with pain, check in with a medical professional before beginning anything new, or to seek personalized advice.
"Take time to gently warm up the whole body before this workout, possibly with some light cardio or short yoga flow," he says.
Cooling down is important, too. After your session, Osmundsen suggests stretching the thighs, glutes, and hips by taking some figure four stretches, Half Pigeon poses, and a pike stretch — hold each for 20 seconds.
With all that said, don't forget that this session is all about feeling good — enjoy yourself and feel comfortable taking rests as needed!
"The hip bridge is a great way to target the muscles that surround the knee. It's also a great option for anyone looking for a lighter weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen the knees," Osmundsen says.
- Lie on your back facing upward, place the feet hips-distance apart, and align the knees over the ankles.
- Take a moment to focus on pressing the heels down, engaging the back of the thighs, and pressing the hips upward into the air while keeping the shoulders and neck down.
- It's important to press into the heels, but don't peel the toes backward, as it will create extra tension for the back of the knee joint.
- Slowly roll back down to the mat, starting from the upper back.
- Perform three rounds of 10 reps (30 reps for an advanced workout).
- Lie to one side, rest your head on your arm, and place the other hand in front of the body for support. Bend both knees and lengthen the spine to pull in the core and the bottom oblique.
- Keeping the pelvis stable, slowly lift and lower the top bent knee.
- Perform three rounds of 30 slow reps.
Inner Thigh Circles
According to Osmundsen, the inner thighs are an integral part of knee strength, as they provide stability and alignment.
- Lie to one side, propping yourself up on your elbow and resting your head in your hand.
- Bend your top leg to press your foot down to the floor in front of you — your knee should be bent and facing toward the ceiling.
- Extend and lift the bottom leg and perform 10 tiny circles forward and then back.
- Advance by adding 10 slow leg lifts, lifting the leg up, and slowly back down.
- Perform this move once — or 2-3 times for advancement — resting for 15 seconds between sets.
The squat is a dynamic movement that helps strengthen and align the knees, hips, and core, Osmundsen says.
- Stand with your feet hips-distance apart.
- Keeping the back long, hinge at the pelvis and bend the knees.
- Think about engaging the backs of the thighs as you press into the heels and shift the weight back.
- Perform three sets of 10-15 reps, resting 15 seconds in-between.