Painfull and achy joints (like hips and knees) don’t have to be a common part of aging. Age pain-free with these 5 lower body mobility exercises.
Coach E here, kinesiologist and founder of Precision Movement. Today, I’m going to help you with your lower body – your hips, your knees, your ankles. To give you some exercises and a short routine that you can do at home on a regular basis, anywhere from three days a week to every day to keep your lower body moving and get you some hip and knee pain relief.
The hips and knees are the most common joints to become painful and achy as we age. Some reasons why this happens is because of weak or tight muscles, poor alignment, poor posture, and poor movement patterns.
All of these problems increase wear and tear on our joints, and today we’re going to go through an efficient routine that you can do at home to keep yourself moving freely and without pain.
Why Are These Exercises Effective?
Today, we’re going to go through some simple exercises for the lower body and just give a really quick background as to why these exercises are effective. It’s because of adaptations and compensations that our body gets painful as we age.
Our body adapts to our sedentary lifestyle –we sit ALOT! Obviously when we are sitting, our hips are flexed all of the time, and as a result we don’t have to use our deep core stabilizers or our hip stabilizers. Those muscles get weaker. The muscles around our hips get shorter in this range of motion. The hip flexors and our bodies adapt. Because “the knee bone is attached to the hip bone”, more cascades of adaptations and compensations happen.
You also adapt to your lifestyle. What you do on a daily basis, if you play a sport like tennis, you’ll have greater external rotation and lower internal rotation of the shoulder. That’s another imbalance that could result in further adaptation to compensations along the kinetic chain leading to wear and tear in your elbow or wrist.
The bottom line is we need to make sure that everything is working correctly to keep our bodies healthy and pain-free.
Our approach centers around four pillars:
- Tissue quality
- Activation of muscles
- Alignment of joints – both statically and dynamically
- Active range of motion
Ensuring that we have the right muscles on and we have the range of motion we need to do the movements that we need to do on an everyday basis.
5 Lower Body Mobility Exercises
Today, I’m going to walk you through five exercises that are based on that approach to keep you moving freely and without pain.
If you want to follow along with a video, click here to watch 5 Exercise Lower Body Routine for Pain-Free Movement as You Age on YouTube.
Exercise 1: ASMR Quads, ITB
The first two exercises we’re going to do require a foam roller.
It’s active self-myofascial release of the quads and the IT band. So it’s slightly different than just rolling around on it. We’re going to start with the roller just above the knee. We’re Roll for going to gofor about a minute on each side.
As we roll down, we’re going to bend the foot towards the butt. So flex the knee and then reset. Go nice and slow, hitting different areas in the muscle, actively contracting the hamstrings as we roll the roller up the muscles. This helps to release the quads.
Getting a little bit of activation in the hamstrings and the glutes will be more effective than just rolling around.
- Laying prone, using your elbows for support, position the roller just above the knee on the quad
- Push your body backwards so the roller moves up toward your hip
- Simultaneously, use your hamstrings to pull your heel toward your butt
- Reset & repeat
- Switch sides after 1-2 minutes
Do 1-2 minutes per side.
Breathe naturally throughout and go back to the quads.
Here‘s we’re working on tissue quality, and tissue pliability, ensuring that our muscles and our fascia can lengthen fully so we have full range of motion.
Roll on the different angles of the quads, right along the middle and the outside. Do the groin area and the rectus femoris (top of your quad.)
Go nice and slow. Remember to do your IT band, too (which runs along the outside of your thigh.)
Exercise 2: Extended Knee Ankle Fl-Ex
Now that we’ve improved the tissue quality, it’s time to learn how to reduce pain in the knee with knee/ankle movements. We’re going to activate the quadriceps. We’re going to focus on the VMO and keeping the rectus femoris right along the middle, relaxed as possible.
So we start with the roller just under the middle of the thigh, resting on the hamstring.
- Ramp up activation of the quads, tap that VMO to get it on
- Extend the knee, keeping that activation of the quads
- Plantar flex at the ankle (point the toe, but keep the toes relaxed)
- Push the bottom of the foot down for 5 seconds
- Dorsiflex the ankle, think of pulling the foot up, not necessarily the toes, keep the knee extended the whole time
- Go to neutral with the quads still on strong
- Keep the quads on all the way down, then relax.
We’re going to do 3 reps on each side with 5 second activations.
When you’re ramping up the quads, try to keep the rectus femoris off. Just push down into the roller a little bit, and that activates the glutes, shuts off the rec fem.
Don’t let the knee bend as you go through the ankle movements, firing up the calves here. Then dorsiflexing, firing up the tibialis anterior. Really try to pull that foot up, keeping the quads on the whole time.
When you ramp up the quads, make sure that VMO is on. You can tap it to wake it up. That’s really important for knee health. Then extend the knee. Having this full range of knee extension is extremely important for knee health. Keep the quads on as you point the toe and plantar flex at the ankle.
That’s the Extended Ankle Fl-Ex exercise. It’s great for activating the quads, working that terminal knee extension, ankle range of motion, and working ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion.
Exercise 3: Supine Hip PNF
Next up is the Supine Hip PNF. We’re going to do two reps in each direction.
It’s important to maintain even left-right pressure under your butt as you’re doing this exercise. You’re going to do a big circle with your leg with some thigh rotation at different points of the circle.
- Lift the right leg up, bring it across your body internally.
- Rotate the thigh in as far as you can, keeping that even left-right pressure under your butt. Then, with both knees straight, do a big circle with one leg.
- Bring the leg back down toward the bottom of the circle
- On the way up, externally rotate, turning the thigh out, lifting it up and out, flexing the hip all the way to the ground if you can.
- Then sweep it back in
We’re doing two circles in each direction on each leg.
Remember, across the body, internal rotation. Keep both knees straight with even pressure under the butt. Try to keep the ankles relaxed as you rotate the thigh.
Go nice and slow and under control.
It’s one of the ABCs. Alignment, breathing, control. Slow internal rotation, sweeping feet together, and that’s one side, two reps in each direction on that side.
There we have the Supine Hip PNF. We’re working the full range of hip rotation, hip flexion, and hip abduction.
Exercise 4: Hinged Knee Fl-Ex
This exercise is called the Hinged Knee Fl-Ex. It works the hinge movement pattern, but we’re starting off in this standing position with the active arch – that’s the short and skinny foot exercise that we have in the ROM Coach app and other articles.
Start with spreading your toes, and then make your foot short by pulling the forefoot towards the heel. Make it skinny by pulling the ball of your foot together toward the middle. That creates the active arch, which gets those intrinsic foot muscles fired up. That’s really important for long-term lower body health, not just in the feet and the ankle, but the whole lower body.
Start with the short and skinny foot, slight knee bend, activate the pelvic floor and the glutes. (You can activate the pelvic floor by activating the muscles you would use to stop your pee mid-stream.) For your glutes, make sure the pressure is even between the heel and the forefoot. Keep your knees slightly bent.
Hinge over. Think of activating the hip flexors to pull yourself over. Fire up the muscles, and contract the hip flexors to pull yourself over. Try to anteriorly tilt the pelvic. Good alignment. Good posture through the spine.
Once you’re at the end range, you’ll feel your hamstrings are tight. All that activation remains on. Then you’re going to fire up the quads on one side. Fully straighten the knee. Hold for 2 seconds. You’ll feel good hamstring lengthening and return. Then fire up the quads on the other side, and hold for 2 seconds at that end range of motion. Then return.
Then with all those activations, stand back up. That’s one cycle. Do two more cycles. You can relax and then reset.
- Activate active arch, pelvic floor, glutes, and slightly bend the knees
- Hinge slowly, pulling yourself with the hip flexors
- At your end range, fire up the quads to straighten one leg
- Hold for 2 seconds
- Return and straighten the other leg
- Hold for 2 seconds
- Return to standing keeping those activations
- Relax everything
Do 3 cycles with 2-second activations.
That’s the Hinged Knee Fl-Ex. It’s a great exercise for anybody with SI joint issues or activating the quads, lengthening the hamstrings, and integrating the whole lower body into that hinged position so It’s strong and stable.
Exercise 5: Activated Squat
The final exercise we’re doing is the Activated Squat.
For the Activated Squat, we’ve got that active arch again. That’s key. We’re training that so we can use it in these fundamental movement patterns. So fire up the feet, get that active arch going again. The pelvic floor and the glutes. Really ramp up the glutes now and make sure we’ve got a little bit of internal rotation. We’re turning the thighs in very slightly. That gets the hip flexors and the high short adductors fired up.
We’re going for ultimate stability, full activation. Maintain that activation pattern., and then we’re squatting nice and slow. Go as low as you can while maintaining that activation pattern (feet, pelvic floor, glutes, hip adductors, hip flexors) all the way up, and then relax everything.
- Get in the starting position
- Activate active arch, pelvic floor, glutes, hip adductors, hip flexors
- Squat down slowly, no momentum
- When you’re as low as you can go while maintaining stability, slowly rise back up
- Relax and reset
Do 3 slow reps.
That’s the activated squat.
Those five lower body mobility exercises will keep your lower body really healthy, activated, strong, and stable. They’ll help you to stay that way as you get older.
You can do this simple routine 2-3 days a week up to every day.
You could also do multiple sets if you have a little more time. You could go through it in either a circuit style where you just go through all five exercises once and then do it again two or three times total. Or, you could do each exercise for the number of sets and then move on to the next one.
Both methods work great as long as you’re consistent with it and you’re really tuned into your body in the little cues and activation patterns.
We have a couple of other articles that will help with your lower body that pair well with this routine.
How to Improve Hip Internal Rotation (Fix Knee Pain!) – a commonly neglected muscle group in the modern lifestyle.
4 VMO strengthening Exercises for Knee Pain & Mobility – the VMO gets weak in a lot of people and atrophies quickly after injury.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Tests and 4 Exercises for Mobility & Stability – this is a particularly good one if you spent or spend time wearing heels.
If you really want something to help you out, get our ROM Coach app. It’s free. You can get routines like this and much, much more. Plus, there are other tools inside the app to help you make this as easy as possible. So get the app, sign up, and we’ll see you in there!
Thanks for reading. Keep moving.
Then I found your ROM Coach app, hip flexibility & mobility 5 days challenge and learned about your hip control program. I had no doubt to move on to build a strong body!
This article was reviewed and updated on Jyly 24, 2023 by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erin Boynton, MD, FRCS to include new research and information on latest surgical developments. Read more about Dr. B here.