High Knees Exercise: How To, Modifications,…

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You can move more in many different ways. Find out how to do the high knees exercise, why you would do so, and what other options you have.

High knees are an exercise where you run in place and raise your knees to about hip height with each step.

This is mainly an exercise to train your cardiovascular health but you can also use high knees to warm up and/or improve endurance in a few different muscles.

It is worth mentioning that the high knees movement can be a bit awkward to do at high speeds. This makes it so certain alternatives could be better for training cardiovascular health.

Similarly, there are likely exercises that will be better than high knees for working the muscles involved in the exercise.

In simpler words, high knees will mostly be useful as a warm-up exercise. However, you can still get nice benefits in other areas from doing them. Even if they are not optimal.

How to do high knees

Take the following steps to do high knees:

  1. Stand up straight with your arms folded at the elbows at more or less a 90-degree angle.
  2. Move up the thigh of one leg until it is about horizontal. Keep the lower leg more or less pointing downward. At the same time, move the arm of the opposite side forward slightly and the arm of the same side back slightly.
  3. Move the elevated leg down and land on the front of your foot. At the same time, move up the other leg similar to the previous leg. Swing your arms so that get in the same position as the previous step but with the opposite side forward.
  4. Alternate between the positions in step 2 and step 3.
How to do high knees

While you could consider other ways of landing too, most people want to do high knees in a way where they land on the front parts of their feet.

Keeping your knees slightly bent is typically a good idea too.

Another thing to note is that you typically want to keep your body more or less upright.

The arm movement described is generally the most convenient but you can do this in a different way adapted to your personal preference.

Exactly how many high knees you should do depends on things like your training goals, personal situation, and preferences.

High knee modifications

You can also make high knee modifications to make the exercise easier, harder, or focus on different fitness components or muscles.

To ease into the intensity and movements of high knees you can do them slowly and without jumping. Basically doing a high knee march in place. This will engage similar muscles, help you get used to the high knee movement, and get your heart beating at least a little faster.

The second modification is simply doing high knees faster. This will allow you to train your cardiovascular system and muscles harder in a shorter amount of time. Do make sure you are familiar and comfortable with the movement before trying this out.

What muscles do high knees target?

Before going into the details about what muscles this exercise targets, it is useful to note that high knees are generally cardio.

This means you should not really expect any growth or strength progress in the muscles below.

That aside, some of the main muscles worked with high knees are your hip flexors, glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), quadriceps (front thighs), and calves.

Additionally, you engage your outer thighs, inner thighs, deltoids (shoulders), and latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back) to some extent.

Core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae keep your upper body upright in high knees although this should not require too much effort.

It is worth mentioning that even though you should not expect growth, working your muscles with high knees can still be useful.

This can improve endurance, slow down degradation, and keep the muscles healthier.

If you like the idea of these effects, you could theoretically wear light ankle weights, wear a weighted vest, and/or hold light weights during high knees. In practice, these things are not that convenient.

Benefits of high knees

While you may not get the biggest muscles in the gym from this exercise, there are still a few valuable benefits of doing high knees:

  • Can improve cardiovascular health: Working your cardiovascular system enough with high knees can lead to strengthening. In turn, you improve your health and reduce your risk of a variety of conditions.
  • Does not require equipment: High knees are a bodyweight exercise that does not require any pricey fitness equipment that takes up a lot of room.
  • Can be done basically anywhere: Part of being a bodyweight exercise is that you can do high knees almost anywhere too. Including at home which can be useful.
  • High knees can help you lose weight: High knees burn extra calories which is helpful in the weight loss process. Keep in mind that you may need other lifestyle changes too.
  • Can improve muscle endurance: Working your muscles somewhat for extended amounts of time can improve endurance and offer all the benefits that come with that.
  • Can improve sleep: Cardiovascular exercises like high knees can improve the quality and duration of your sleep.

You can get these benefits from other exercises too but they could be enough for high knees to deserve a spot in your exercise routine.

Potential risks

It is worth mentioning that some individuals will find high knees uncomfortable on their hip flexors, ankles, knees, hips, and lower backs.

If you feel any aches or pains in these areas, you may need to change your exercise routine or implement better habits in other lifestyle areas.

Additionally, you could be starting your high knee workouts too intensely. Especially older individuals likely want to start at a slow pace to warm up. After that, you can consider speeding up.

High knee alternatives

High knees can still offer the helpful benefits above but they are not ideal for everyone.

If this applies to you, you can also consider one of the high knees alternatives below.

  • Jumping rope
  • Jumping jacks
  • Squats
  • Burpees
  • Running
  • Mountain climbers
  • Cycling

Each of these high knees alternatives has its advantages and disadvantages. You can think about what you want from your exercise routine and decide what options are the best for you.

Are high knees a good exercise?

High knees can be a good exercise for warming up, improving cardiovascular health, and/or improving endurance in a few muscles at home or in almost any other location.

You could also see some improvements in your balance and coordination and a variety of other health areas from doing this exercise.

At the same time, you want to know that there are typically also more exercise alternatives that are more effective for getting the benefits of high knees. Even in the no-equipment exercise category.

It is also worth mentioning that your personal preference matters too. People who like doing high knees and/or don’t like the more effective alternatives can still implement this exercise.


What are high knees good for?

High knees are good for improving cardiovascular health, improving endurance in certain muscles, and warming up at home without any equipment requirements.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.