Increase Quadriceps Strength for Healthy Knees

One of the most effective ways to stabilize and protect your knees with yoga is to strengthen your front thigh muscles, the quadricep muscles (aka quads). A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, Greater Quadriceps Strength May Benefit Those with Knee Osteoarthritis, on the link between quadriceps strength and the risk of cartilage loss and knee osteoarthritis, concluded that:

 “Our findings, which also include an association of greater quadriceps strength with less knee pain and physical limitation over follow-up, suggest that greater quadriceps strength has an overall beneficial effect on symptomatic knee osteoarthritis.”

Vastus Medialis: How to Cultivate Inner Quadriceps Strength

In particular, it’s important to strengthen your innermost quadriceps muscles, the vastus medialis muscles. These muscles run down from your upper inner thighs to the top of your kneecaps. When you straighten your legs, they contract, which strengthens them. So practicing yoga’s standing poses with straight legs, such as Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) (below) and Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana) (above), can be particularly helpful, as can straightening your legs fully when moving in and out of bent leg poses in a vinyasa practice.

Since the vastus medialis muscle is activated only with the last bit of leg straightening, in all poses with straight legs, focus on tightening your kneecaps as if you were drawing them up toward the tops of your legs as you fully straighten your legs in these poses.

Triangle Pose or Trikonasana is a yoga pose that is good for quadricep strengthWhat’s the Connection Between the Vastus Medialis and Healthy Knees?

Weakness in the vastus medialis muscles, which is common when we don’t actively work on strengthening it by straightening our legs fully, is considered to be a significant cause of knee pain. This weakness affects how the knee moves, how the kneecaps track when they bend, and how they absorb the forces of movement. All this can create knee instability and especially place excess strain on the inner knees, leading to cartilage loss and eventually to osteoarthritis.

Therefore, strengthening the vastus medialis muscles can help to improve knee stability and function, reduce pain, as well as the risk of cartilage injuries. I’ve experienced this myself.

An Easy Exercise for Inner Quadriceps Strength

Several years ago, I had pain in one of my inner knees that was diagnosed as a tear in my meniscus—the cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone and thighbone. That’s when a fellow yoga teacher taught me this simple exercise to locate and activate the vastus medialis muscles.

I practiced it regularly, and it really helped to bring greater awareness to these muscles (and how weak they were at the time), and to target them so I could work on strengthening them. Over time, not only did my meniscus tear heal—or at least stopped causing me pain—but I also became much more aware of using these muscles in my yoga practice to help prevent future pain from occurring.

Because this issue is so common, it’s an exercise I’ve taught to many students over the years with excellent results. Here’s a short video in which I demonstrate the exercise.


Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Times of Change. YogaforHealthyAgingBlog
Barrie Risman writer, yoga teacher

Barrie Risman is an internationally recognized yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and author of Evolving Your Yoga: Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice. Download the first chapter of her book and learn more about her new livestream workshop series, Yoga for Turbulent Times: Building Strength, Resilience, and Compassion for a Changing World, at

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