Most staple leg exercises are pretty knee-heavy. Squats, lunges, deadlifts (and even going for a run) can aggravate existing knee injuries or introduce problems if performed incorrectly or without adequate rest between workouts. Whether you’re trying to avoid straining your knees whilst you recover from an injury, or are just trying to be kinder to your joints, these three exercises let you focus on your legs without limiting the amount of weight you can handle. Need this? Then read on for 3 Exercises that Build Your Legs WITHOUT Bending Your Knees!
1. Romanian Deadlifts
Unlike the conventional deadlift, this exercise is performed with stiff legs. There’s some debate about whether this is a compound or isolation movement because although the hips and knees are involved, there’s never complete flexion at either joint.
As the movement recruits the posterior chain as well as the back, it allows for heavier lifts in the 8-10 rep range. It’s a great way to kick off a knee-free leg workout when you still want to move some serious weight.
Alternatively, you can take advantage of the fact the rep starts at the top of the movement to perform reps in quick succession. Lighter weights can still give you a great burn if sets are performed at the upper end of the hypertrophy rep range, which is around 20 reps.
If that’s not enough, perform them at a deficit to increase the range of motion: stand on a platform and lower the weight down past your toes.
To protect your back, breathe in and brace your core before each rep, keeping the bar close to your legs. If you’re using a heavier weight, consider using straps: there’s no dropping the bar between reps so RDLs can really challenge your grip strength.
2. Cable Pull-Throughs
Easy to set up and adjust, cable pull-throughs suit lifters of any ability. Some choose to perform this move by deeply bending the legs and effectively squatting the weight up. But by keeping your legs straight and concentrating on tilting your torso, you can ‘thrust’ the weight forward using your glutes. Peachy and pain-free.
Being such a low-risk, isolated exercise, these are great for drop-sets. Perform a full set at a challenging weight, then immediately follow it with 10-15 more reps a few kilograms lighter.
You can perform these at home by attaching a resistance band to something near ground level. If you find these too easy, try them as a superset to RDLs and perform them to failure!
3. Dumbbell or Band Lateral Leg Raises
Leg raises – whether lying or standing – are a safe, easy way to target the glutes whilst improving core stability and balance. But you can up the ante by resting a dumbbell on your leg or use a band for resistance.
Stand upright with the left hand on a waist-height surface for support. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and rest it on the outside of the right leg. Lift your leg up as high as you can whilst keeping your back straight. Gently lower to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 reps.
You should feel your left glute working to counter the motion. Switch straight to the other side and repeat.
Use a mini-band or resistance band around the thighs for an easier alternative. (Or, wear the band AND use the dumbbell if you’re feeling hardcore.)