Your knees are the largest joints in your body and as such, have a significant role to play in your everyday life. With every step you take, your knees bend, twist and pivot to let you move the way you want. Hill walking is particularly hard on your knee joints as you work harder to hike up the incline. Strengthening your knees for hill walking means not only reducing potentially damaging impact, but also building stronger muscles in your thighs and buttocks.
Perform step-up exercises on a staircase or 6-inch aerobics step. Step onto the raised platform with one foot, letting the other dangle freely. Hold for three to five seconds before putting your dangling foot back down. Repeat 10 times on each foot. This exercise strengthens your hips, thighs and glutes. All of these muscles support your knees as you walk, especially on an incline.
Strengthen your quadriceps muscles. Lie on your back with one knee bent and your foot flat on the floor. Keeping your other leg straight with toes pointing toward the sky. Raise that leg up several inches from the ground, and hold the position for up to 10 seconds before relaxing. Complete 10 repetitions with each leg. Strong quads help keep your knee joints straight and absorb impact when you’re walking downhill.
Lie on your side, supporting your weight with one elbow. Lift your top leg up about 12 inches in a scissors-like fashion, keeping it straight. Hold for a second, and return to the original position. Perform 20 to 30 repetitions to strengthen your hip abductors. Much of the climbing motion involved with hill walking comes from your hips. Strong hips support the knees and can prevent injury to the iliotibial band on the outer portion of your knee.
Stretch the IT band to improve stability in the hips and knees and reduce friction. Stand with your feet together. Extend your arms out to your sides to form a T-shape. Reach down toward your back with one arm as far as you can, while keeping your knees straight. Hold for several seconds before repeating the stretch with the other arm.
Choose footwear designed to keep your knees healthy during an uphill walk. Walking shoes or hiking boots that are well padded with significant arch support protect your knees from impact-related injuries. Add insoles to your shoes if you feel your heels slipping when you walk uphill or downhill to prevent painful blistering.
Use a trekking pole or walking stick for hill walking. These long, cane-like devices can reduce damaging impact on the knees by 25 percent, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club.