Sore knees while hiking??  6 exercises that help!

Sore knees while hiking is probably one of the most common issues I hear from hikers or want to be hikers.  This is generally the older hiker who perhaps has a little arthritis creeping in, has some muscle imbalances around the hips and glutes (butt muscles) and is not as fit as they once were.  Sore knees are generally worse when descending.  This is not surprising when you think of the added gravity of going down. As a younger person I can attest to the fact that getting up going for a long day hike was something I could do without any injury or pain but as an older person muscle tone must be maintained, improved upon, and imbalances addressed to maintain the reality of hiking being an enjoyable and enriching experience.  No-one enjoys being in pain so here are 6 exercises that will help you maintain strength and muscle tone, so you’ll reduce and even alleviate sore knees while hiking. Being stronger is you best weapon to alleviate sore knees while hiking – or doing any other physical activity.


Exercise 1 – Sit to stand – reduce sore knees with strong thigh muscles

With a chair behind you sit and stand, control the down – no plonking.  This will build up your thigh strength – feet are shoulder width apart.  Do 10-15, build this to 25 and then add a light backpack.

Exercise 2 – Step ups /step downs – reduce sore knees by moving with control and balance

Using a set of stairs stand side on, left foot on the stair, and step up and down 10-15 times by bending the left knees, turn around and repeat with the right foot on the step.  No plonking – do this with control and maintain your balance, hips level.  This exercise strengthens glutes, thighs, and hip flexors and if you can do this with control, you’ll be amazed at the reduction of knee pain.  You can repeat this exercise facing forward, that is stepping back (with control and balance).  Here’s a video on this

Exercise 3 – Thrusters – reduce sore knees with strong glutes!

Lie on your back, bend your knees, heels as close to your butt as you sore knees will allow.  Lift and lower your glutes so that your butt muscles squeeze and contract.  Once again lift and lower with control – no plonking!! Do 10 – 25 – building up as your strength improves

Other ways to support your sore knees

Sore knees may need to be supported in other ways too so using hiking poles can help you maintain balance and keep your knees aligned as you descend or go over uneven ground.  Uneven ground can create subtle twists to the knee capsule that bring on joint soreness so consider hiking poles if you are heading out into more remote places.   Additionally, you might consider a knee brace, but I would only do this if you have improved your muscle strength first otherwise you may be weakening all the little supporting muscles that keep your joints stable.

Exercise 4 – improving your balance improves hiking fitness and ability

Probably the most functional and relevant and functional way to improve your hiking fitness is to address balance.  I’ve mentioned plonking – avoid plonking as this really aggravates joints.  You can improve your balance both statically and dynamically.  An example of improving your static balance would be to stand on one leg.  Practise this daily, for up to 30 seconds each leg.  Hiking is a dynamic though meaning you need to find balance in movement so very slow march on the spot is a great place to start.  Keep your hips level and try not to sway from side to side as you shift from left to right – draw your lower abs in to assist with stability.  Lift you knee to hip height over a count of 5 and keep marching at this slow and steady pace.  This is harder to do that it sounds but being able to control when you switch legs is the very foundation of safe hiking, or indeed walking generally!  Do this for a minute or 2.

Exercise 5 – lunging – an important functional movement that may aggravate sore knees

Lunging is needed for hiking up and down hills but it can aggravate sore knees because bending both the front and back knee is required.  When I have clients who find lunging particularly painful we minimise the movement in the gym setting by simply doing this – walk with long strides and add mini ‘bounces’ or knee bends as you go.  Keep shoulders above hips, and feet shoulder width apart, step long and bend both front and rear knees.  Go as low as your knees can tolerate.  6-15 reps each leg.

Exercise 6 – calf exercises – get your calves strong for hiking

This topic is worthy of an article of its own!  Say it with me “don’t neglect your calves”.  In my opinion calf strength is one of the most neglected areas of preparation for hiking fitness.    I have already written an article titled Focusing on Calf Strength for Hiking – go here for this article.

 If your knees have just started to become sore get them checked out by a physio to ensure you are clear about what the problem is. 

 If you’d like to download my free hiking fitness resources you’ll find them here

or my free handout on suitable hiking food?  Go here


Jo Cordell-Cooper operates the award winning business Jo CC Holistic PT, offers personal training, stress management strategies, preparation for hiking workouts, and adventure travel to multi-day hikes, locally and overseas.  Jo’s personal training private gym is in Geilston Bay, just east of Hobart, but you can work with her online too.  Join us on Facebook in my free group Holistic Personal Training for more healthy lifestyle tips and tricks.