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Cross Training For Runners

Your Complete Guide To High Knees – The Benefits & The Technique

5 Mins read

Looking for an exercise that gets your heart through the roof and improves your running? Look no further than high knees.

Though it’s a simple movement, high knees is one of the best cardiovascular exercises.

Performing this simple exercise gets your body moving and your heart racing while also activating your core and leg muscles like nothing else.

But how do high knees help your running form, and how can they perform them correctly? That’s where today’s post comes in handy.

In this guide to high knees, I’ll cover everything you need to know to add high knees to your training plan.

These include:

  • What are high knees
  • What muscles do high knees target
  • The benefits of high knees
  • The proper technique for high knees
  • Common high knees mistake to avoid
  • High knees workouts
  • And so much more

What Are High Knees?

High knees are an excellent cardiovascular exercise used in various sports and disciplines.

High knees is a classic running drill considered a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise. This works well for burning calories and building strength, power, and endurance.

The movement consists of a mix of running in place with exaggerated knee lifts. You basically run, or sprint, in place or a forward direction while driving the knees as high as you can, arms moving up and down beside you – simulating running.

Although high knees may look easy, it’s still challenging and hits about every muscle below your waist, including your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.

In addition, high knees work well for priming your body for activity thanks to the full body burn and cardio boost. This is why high knees are great exercises for any warm-up routine.

What’s more?

The high knees exercises are also a plyometric movement that improves neuromuscular efficiency, which helps improve your agility, acceleration, explosiveness, and overall speed!

But what I like the most about high knees is that you can do them pretty much anywhere. In your bedroom. Or In the kitchen. Or In the garage. Or At the gym. Or In the office. Or In the park. Or… you choose.

As long as you have enough space, you’re free to “high knee.”

What Muscles Do High Knees Work?

The high knee is a weight-bearing exercise; therefore, it will drastically impact your core and upper and lower body muscles.

More specifically, the exercise mostly targets the muscles of the lower body, and that includes:

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Hip flexors

The exercise also requires using the core and abdominals to assist with proper form. You can also get some pump in your biceps and triceps if you contract your arms properly.

Additional resource – Single leg bridge technique

How Many Calories Do High Knees Burn?

This is one of the most common questions people have about high knees.

I hate to break it to you, but I don’t know the exact answer, as it hinges on the individual.

Like any other exercise, it’s not easy to tell the exact amount of calories to burn when you perform this particular exercise since it all depends on variables such as weight, fitness level, age, training intensity, etc.

But overall, high knees will burn around 100 calories every 10 minutes at mild to intense effort. You can burn off more than roughly 60 calories in just five minutes if you up the intensity to the max.

This is one reason high knees are often highly recommended for weight loss and often incorporated into most fitness programs.

To make the most out of it, keep intensity to the max. At the end of the day, the harder you work, the more calories you burn.

Additional Guide – A leg workout for runners

How To Perform High Knees The Right Way

Now that you know a thing or two about high knees let’s look at how you can do them.

What I like the most about high knees is that it is too easy to perform. Plus, you won’t need any equipment or a great deal of technique to master the basic movements.

All you have to do is follow the following guidelines.

Proper Form

Begin by standing straight, feet shoulder-width apart, arms by your side, and weight centered over the ball of the feet.

Drive your right knee and foot back toward the floor as you raise your left knee as high as possible, then bring the left heel toward your glutes. Keep running on the spot while lifting your knees to at least hip height, back straight and landing on the balls of your feet.

Make sure to pump your arms the same way you do while running—or sprinting. This helps generate enough momentum to keep your knees high, even after you get drenched in sweat.

Remember to breathe deeply and as naturally as possible, with a steady and smooth rhythm.

Repeat the movement for 30 seconds, slowly extending the time you perform the exercise.

Additional Resource- Here’s the full guide to RPE in running.

High Knees For Beginners

In case the standard high knees exercise is too challenging, whether you’re in bad shape or have a chronic injury, I’d recommend performing high knees by marching in place. This version has less impact and is beginner friendly.

During this exercise, you’re keeping one foot in touch with the ground at all times.

Additional Resource – Running after knee replacement

Advanced High Knees

Once you’ve mastered the proper high knees technique, it’s time to do more challenging moves.

One version is the weighted high knees. During this exercise, wear a weighted vest or put on light ankle weights and start “high kneeing” as fast and hard as possible.

Additional Resource – How Many Calories Should a Runner Eat

High Knee Sprinting

Bored of running in place? Then make things more interesting by doing the high knee sprinting.

Here’s how.

Start by doing the same high knees movement but move forward on each knee drive.

Make sure to drive your elbows back vigorously while landing on the balls of your feet. Then, quickly drive the next leg up.

You can also try this agility ladder drills routine.

10 minutes Bodyweight-Only Cardio Challenge

As I’ve stated, the high knees exercise is a great warm-up move.

In fact, by simply performing high knees for a prolonged period, you can get a complete cardio workout like nothing else. Of course, this is as long as you don’t mind running in place for an extended period.

But you can also incorporate the exercise into other workout routines to mix them up.

Try the following routine, and remember to start with a 10-minute dynamic warm-up to get your system ready for the intensity.

Circuit training is a fun way to work out and get your endurance and strength in at the same time.

Perform the exercises for one minute, recover for 15 seconds, then move to the next exercise. Move from one exercise to the next with little to no breaks. Rest for one minute at the end, then repeat the circuit.

  • High knees
  • Jumping jack
  • Lateral jumps
  • Push-ups
  • Bear crawls

Repeat the circuit five times. Finish off with a cool-down stretch.

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