What Muscles Do High Knees Work?

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High knees involve a variety of movements that engage different body parts. Find out what muscles this works and whether it is enough for results.

The main muscles you work with high knees include your hip flexors (front hips), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), calves, and quadriceps (front thighs).

If you really swing your arms back and forth, you will also work your deltoids (shoulders), biceps (front upper arms), latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), and triceps a decent amount.

One important thing to note is that the high knees exercise is typically not challenging enough to cause muscle growth. For this, you want to turn to resistance training exercises.

On the other hand, engaging the muscles above can still be helpful for making/keeping them healthier.

Primary muscles worked with high knees

There are a lot of joints moving and a lot going on during the high knees exercise. In turn, this requires a variety of muscles to work to some extent.

At the same time, not all of these will have to exert equal amounts of effort. Only a few of them are responsible for the main movements.

More specifically, the main muscles worked with high knees are your hip flexors (front hips), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), calves, and quadriceps (front thighs).

One of the potential benefits of high knees is that you can also really engage your upper body while doing them. You do this by really swinging your arms back and forth.

This would also work your deltoids (shoulders), biceps (front upper arms), latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), and triceps a decent amount.

Secondary muscles worked with high knees

On top of the ones above, there are also a few muscles that have to work to keep your body in the right position.

Some of these secondary muscles worked with high knees are your hip abductors (outer thighs), hip adductors (inner thighs), and core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae.

Do high knees work abs and other core muscles?

While doing high knees, you work core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae to a very small extent.

These muscles are responsible for keeping your upper body upright. Without them, your ribcage could fall to all sides.

However, because these core muscles just have to keep you upright and not have to work against heavy resistance, you should not really expect too much engagement either.

Especially not to the extent of muscle growth.

Hip abductors and adductors (outer and inner thighs)

Your hip abductors and adductors are the muscles in your outer and inner thighs.

These muscles are responsible for moving your thighs outward and to the center.

While doing high knees, your outer and inner thigh muscles have to work to a small extent to keep your thighs at the right angles.

This will again typically not be enough for a lot of muscle-related improvements.

Do high knees build muscle?

You may wonder if engaging all these muscles will actually help you grow and strengthen them.

To build muscles, you have to challenge them with enough pressure, repetitions, and sets. How strong your muscles are plays a big role in what “enough” means.

That being said, unfortunately, high knees will mainly be cardio for most people.

In simpler words, high knees do typically not build muscle because they are not challenging enough for these.

If you can do more than 50 repetitions per leg without your muscles fatiguing (so not getting out of breath), you should not expect a lot, if any, muscle growth from high knees.

In theory, you could consider holding some type of weight like dumbbells in your hands, wearing light ankle weights, or looping a resistance band around your legs.

That being said, even if you do this, high knees would still be relatively bad for building muscle compared to many exercise alternatives.

At the same time, it is worth mentioning that engaging your muscles can still be a good thing. This can help make the muscles healthier, improve endurance, and slow down degradation.

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Do high knees work abs?

High knees work your abs to a very small extent but typically not enough to see any growth or even muscle endurance improvements.

Are high knees a core exercise?

No, high knees are not a core exercise. First of all, they are mostly a cardiovascular exercise. That aside, this movement will focus more on your hip flexors and to some extent glutes.

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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.