Health & Wellness Pilates Exercises

Keeping Your Knees Healthy

Keeping Your Knees Healthy & Happy

Whether it be Pilates, running, HIIT workouts, or just daily life – your knees are usually a pretty important part of staying active and mobile. They’re also one of the most overused parts of the body and if they’re tight and achey, it can lead to pain and potential injury. Here are some tips and tricks from Master Pilates Trainer and Natural Pilates Founder, Laura Wilson.

​​Typically, tightness in one part of the body is correlated with weakness in another, so it’s necessary to assess the surrounding joints and musculature for instability or weakness. For the knee joint, it is possible that there is weakness in the hip or ankle joint or both. Based on the findings we can recommend stretching and strengthening exercises for the muscles around the knee.  It is important to remember that when we are strengthening one area of the body, the opposing muscles are on the stretch, and vice-versa. In this way, we can increase flexibility in one joint through strength training in the joint or the adjacent joints. 

Rather than stretching the knee, Laura recommends building strength and control in knee movements and addressing flexibility in the hip and ankle. Active stretching within a range of motion that’s comfortable and causes no pain can be a great complement to building strength and control.

Recommended Pilates Exercises:

This exercise activates the hamstrings and glutes while also actively stretching the front of the thighs and tops of the knees.  

Lying on your back, knees bent with feet flat on the mat hip distance apart. Be sure your heels are not too far from your hips. Slowly roll your spine off the mat one vertebra at a time, hold at the top, then slowly roll back down. ​​

3 sets of 10-20 reps, adding pulses at the top for more challenge. Be sure your knees stay aligned with your hips (knees should not touch or open wider than the hips or feet).  

Hip Strengthener

Lying on your side, stack your shoulders and hips (place a pillow under your head or use your arm), bend your knees to a 90 degree angle at your hip and channel your inner Jane Fonda. 

Hip Strengthener Variations:

a) Clams: Keep your heels connected and lift your knee as high as possible, maintaining everything else stable.

b) Hydrants: Lift your hip, knee, and ankle as high as possible, keeping hips stacked.

c) Leg Circles: With a bent or straight knee, draw circles with your thigh bone.

3 sets of 10-20 reps of each (3-5x a week)

Knee Flexion & Extension / Hamstring Stretch

Lying on your back with both knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor or mat. Bring one knee toward your chest, stopping with the knee over the hip joint. Holding the back of your thigh to stabilize your hip joint, extend your leg up to the ceiling for a hamstring stretch. 

This can also be done with a Flex Band around the foot, bending and extending the knee against the band’s resistance. 


In a reduced range of motion and moving to full range of motion as the knee tightness improves.

With feet either hip width apart, hinge the hips back while maintaining a neutral spine and bending the knees forward, Inhale and hold at the bottom, Exhale and squeeze the legs to initiate, come back to standing, squeeze the glutes at the top.

Modification: For single leg squat prep: lift one heel up and continue with the squats, but keep the focus and center of mass over the grounded leg.

3 sets of 10-30 reps depending on fitness level (3-5x a week)

Footwork Exercises on Reformer

Footwork exercises on the Pilates Reformer for muscle activation starting from the ankle all the way to the glutes and hips.

Feet positions on the foot bar can be: Heels Together, Toes Apart; Parallel; Heels on; Heels High (toes on the footbar with lifted heels); Second Position

How To: Inhale to prepare – Exhale and extend the knees and press the carriage up to fully extend the knees, Inhale to return

Modification: Hold a Pilates Ball between the knees to strengthen the inner knee and thighs.

15-20 reps depending on fitness level (3-5x a week)

Staying active and including low-impact workouts that incorporate mobility, flexibility, and strength training (hint: Pilates!) can keep your knees healthy.

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