Knee Friendly Glute Exercises

Posted on Posted in Asana, Inspiration, Self-Care

How are your knees? At the rife ole’ age of 31, my knees aren’t quite what they used to be.

A little over a year ago I took what I thought was a fairly benign misstep in some 5″ heels. It was date night and I hadn’t worn heels in ages. I thought I would put on my favorite pair for a nice dinner out with my husband, but I didn’t even make it out of the house with them. I took a simple step and felt/heard a mild crunching sensation/noise. It makes me cringe thinking about it even now.

Knee Friendly Glute Exercises | EJL Blog

We still went out to dinner. Needless to say though, I changed back into flats. That night it hurt pretty bad and there was some swelling. The skin also felt hot to the touch on the area that I felt the crunching.

I wore a knee brace that I’ve had since college (also had MCL pain in college, well before yoga) and kept teaching and practicing yoga. I modified my practice, but I was still kicking up into forearm stand and my right leg is my pushing/landing leg. Every time I landed hard I was unknowingly reinjuring the knee. When I finally made it to my chiropractor he had a look/feel and told me he thought I had a slight MCL tear and that I had irritated my meniscus. I was in denial at first, but now I know he was right.

There are a handful of poses that I avoid completely and some other exercise techniques that I can only do in moderation. One of the exercises I don’t do much of is squats – air squats are ok occasionally, but plié squats are totally off the table. Especially the kind done in Barre classes where the knees go out way past the toes. Those caused some patella tendinitis that still flares up if I walk down a steep hill.

So, I have an unhappy knee. I know lots of people have an unhappy knee or knees.

If you’re one of those people that have unhappy knees or just straight up don’t like squats, this post is for you.

I like my glutes to get some work and really, so should everyone. The glute max is one of the most powerful muscles in the body. It’s large and in charge! It helps support your lower back and shrinks dramatically if you sit a lot and don’t work it out. Besides walking up-hill or on a StairMaster, these exercises are a great way to give your glutes some love.

I like to add these on at the beginning of a yoga class to get the students to understand how much we actually use our glute muscles in yoga, or at the end as a nice addition to the full body workout of a vinyasa class.

This whole sequence takes less than 10 minutes! You can do it!!

Donkey Kicks

Knee Friendly Glute Exercises | EJL Blog

There are 2 variations of this particular move. Start with the toe pointed up towards the ceiling, keeping it pointed as you move the leg up and down from the hip.

Key Points:

  • Keep pulling the belly button towards the spine
  • Push the floor away with your hands. Do not allow the chest to sink down into the shoulder girdle towards the floor.
  • Initiate the movement at the hip and keep the low back as still as possible. Do not fling the leg up and down creating excessive movement in the low back and pelvic area.

Knee Friendly Glute Exercises | EJL Blog

Above is the second variation of this action. Push through the heel, keeping the foot flexed (dorsiflexion). Use the same key points as above.

Try each variation for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. Start on whichever side you like (preferably your weaker side) and point through the toe for desired amount of time, then push through the heel for desired amount of time. Switch sides and repeat on second side. 

Back & Out

Knee Friendly Glute Exercises | EJL Blog

Not sure if this particular move has an official name, but when I demo this move in class I instruct the students to just move the leg back and out to the side as shown.

Key Points:

  • Drop the opposite forearm to the ground. This allows for more space as you move from neutral rotation to external rotation.
  • Keep foot flexed.
  • As mentioned above, the motion initiates at the hip. Keep the movement in the low back and pelvic area to a minimum, using control as you move the leg.
  • Keep the belly engaged as you move and press the top of the opposite foot down into the floor for extra balance support.
  • Try to keep the leg parallel to the floor as much as you can.

This one is my favorite! Try for 1 minute per side.

Up & Down

Knee Friendly Glute Exercises | EJL Blog

This one is a natural extension from where we stopped above with the back & out move. Start with your leg extended, horizontal to the floor if you can, and move the leg up and down stopping at hip level.

Key Points:

  • All the same cues for belly engagement and hip/pelvic stability are the same for this move.
  • Keep the opposite forearm down as shown in the picture.
  • Try to get the leg all the way up so it’s parallel to the floor for optimum muscle work.

At this point your glutes should be pretty fatigued! To modify this move, bend at the knee and hinge the leg open and closed. If you can’t do the full minute with these just go for as long as you can! Switch sides and repeat on the second side. 

Things to Remember

It is SUPER important to stretch after doing these. If childs pose is not in your practice because of a knee injury (like me), just take puppy pose and do some gentle flexion at the knee to stretch the glutes.

Other great poses for stretching the glutes is Half Lord of the Fishes with the bottom leg extended straight, or Cow Face Pose, also with the bottom leg extended straight. If your knees can take it, try for double pigeon (Fire Log). That’s one of my faves and I can work with it even with my injury, unlike regular pigeon, which I have not been able to practice in many months on the right side. You can also take pigeon on your back, also known as reclining figure four. (More on that pose & it’s variations soon!)

You will get trigger points in your glutes if you don’t take the time to stretch! If this happens (been there!), grab a tennis ball, or my favorite, a racquet ball, and get in there! Think of a bear scratching is butt on a tree. Place the ball on a free wall and roll around the glute flesh until you find a tender area. Gently or firmly press your bum into the ball, massaging the trigger point. If you aren’t sure if you’re in the right spot, you probably aren’t. You’ll know it once you get there.

That’s all for now! I hope you give these exercises a go and give your glutes some love. If you enjoy these and would like to see more, let me know! Happy Exercising!♥


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