High knees are an exercise that requires an athlete to perform a typical running motion while lifting the knees high into the air. This exaggerated knee motion provides an excellent workout for the legs and hips and can improve lower-body flexibility. It is possible to perform high knees while running or walking or even while running in place.
To perform the high knees exercise, the athlete should start in a standing position on the balls of his or her feet. Starting with either leg, the athlete raises the leg until the knee is at at least a 90 degree angle. Another way to ensure that the knee is high enough is to make sure that the foot of the raised leg is higher than the knee of the stationary leg. The athlete then lowers that leg to the ground and the repeats the process with the other leg.
The key to getting the greatest benefit out of the high knees exercise is to maintain proper form. It is crucial that the athlete remains on the balls of the feet, especially when the foot returns to the ground. Coming down on the heel puts unhealthy strain on the foot and leg. Also, it is important to ensure that the athlete keeps the shin and calf muscles engaged at all times. Doing so will keep the toes pointed forward; if they point down at any time, the athlete is not maintaining correct form.
There are several variations of high knee exercises. Athletes can perform them while running, jogging or running in place. It also is possible to perform high knees while using a jump rope to increase the cardiovascular benefit of the exercise. An athlete also can vary the speed of the exercise, although he or she should not perform the exercise at full-sprint speed, because it can be difficult to maintain proper balance.
There are several benefits to performing the high knee drill. The exercise both strengthens and improves the flexibility of the hip flexors. It also strengthens the psoas, adductor and abductor muscles in the legs, all of which increase the overall stability of the legs. High knees also strengthen the shin, calf and foot muscles and increase the flexibility of the hamstring.
High knee drills benefit the strength and flexibility of the legs and hips, so they are beneficial to any athlete who participates in sports that require running. These exercises are particularly beneficial to track and field athletes as well as basketball players and football players. When an athlete performs them quickly, these drills provide a good cardiovascular workout, so they also can be beneficial to endurance athletes.