January 07, 2022 8 min read

High knees can serve as a warmup, as an effective cardio burst between resistance training exercises, or even as part of a high intensity interval training workout (HIIT).

High knees might seem like quite a simple exercise, but try doing several sets of this high energy move to get your heart pumping, activate your lower body and core muscles, and bring about a quick sweat. In this article, we'll describe how to do them, their benefits, the muscles used, a few variations, and when to do high knees.

What Are High Knees? 

Rounds of high knees are generally popular in elementary or middle school PE class. But many beginners might have never learned how to do the steps for the high knees exercise properly. Before you get started, make sure you are wearing a comfortable and supportive pair of shoes. You should try to do this full body workout on a supportive gym floor or other soft area, especially if you have any knee or ankle injuries.

Standard High Knees Exercise

High knees should look like exaggerated running when you see someone else doing it. It makes a great warmup exercise, part of a circuit training workout, or as a component of high intensity interval training (HIIT).

  1. Start with your feet slightly apart, with your weight centered over the balls of your feet. 
  2. Lift your left knee as high as comfortably possible and bring your heel toward your glutes. 
  3. Drive your left knee and foot back toward the ground as you lift your right knee as high as possible and bring the right heel toward your glutes. 
  4. Drive your right knee back toward the ground as you lift your left knee as described in step 3. 
  5. Be sure to pump your arms in normal running form. This will help you gather enough momentum to keep your knees high, even after you start getting winded. 
  6. Repeat the action for 10 seconds, slowly extending the time you do the exercise.

The goal of high knees is to lift your knees as high as possible as quickly as possible. You may only move forward a few inches, or not at all. Your footfalls should be light and quick. Focus on your landings rather than your knees to build more speed. Arm motions help build speed, too, and activate the upper body. Move your arms as though you were running. 

Benefits of High Knees

The high knees exercise is an excellent weight-bearing, full-body movement that increases your heart rate, warms the muscles in your lower and upper body, and prepares you for more complex exercises and activities. When you do high knees, you increase your heart rate and burn a lot of calories. High knees are considered a cardiovascular exercise. Within a few seconds of beginning the move, you will notice an increase in your heart rate and breathing.

As you continue alternating knees and arms, you will also burn calories. High knees are considered a calisthenic exercise when listed on most calorie charts. When they are performed vigorously, calisthenic exercises like high knees can burn seven or eight calories a minute. Even if you do the exercise at a moderate pace, you can expect to burn about five calories every minute. 

Muscle Groups Worked

High knees really target your lower body by activating your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and hip flexors, helping improve muscular endurance, balance, and coordination in these muscles. When done at a high intensity and with bounding or explosive knee drives, they can also improve power in your lower body. 

The high knees exercise uses your core muscles to improve your cardiovascular endurance, burn calories, boost your lower-body endurance and strength, improve your coordination, and strengthen your abdominal muscles. High knees require assistance from your core or abdominal muscles. Not only does this make the move more effective, but activating the core muscles can also help improve your posture.

High knees can also really improve your core stability, mobility, and strength. Your abdominals, obliques, and deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis are very important when it comes to ab exercises. Your core has been considered by some to be the underlying basis for all of your weightlifting strength.

When you do any high knees exercises, you will use all of your lower body muscles, core, and even some upper-body muscles. The lower body muscles include the quadriceps, the glutes, the hamstrings, the calves, and your hip flexors. With any movement, your abdominal or core muscles can assist with form and function. During high knees, you use your transverse abdominis and obliques to properly execute the moves and keep your lower back safe. 

Always work on contracting your biceps and triceps while you pump your arms. As mentioned above, high knees work the lower body muscles, such as the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. You will also be using your abdominal muscles for stabilization. 

High Knees Variations

The traditional high knee exercise is effective and easy to include in a variety of fitness routines. Plus, it requires no equipment. Nevertheless, trying a variation of this old-school move can help reduce your boredom, increase the challenge, or in some cases, decrease the intensity to make the move more accessible. Here are some variations of high knees. 

High Knees with a Twist 

 

Also known as the steam engine, this is a variation that allows you to make your hip flexors and abdominals work even harder than they would during other traditional high knee exercises you may have already been doing. 

  1. Start with your feet slightly apart and hands behind your head with fingers interlocked. 
  2. Lift your left knee. While keeping your hands behind your head, twist to bring your right elbow toward your left knee. 
  3. Drive your left knee and foot back toward the ground. 
  4. Lift your right knee as you twist to bring the left elbow toward the right knee. Drive your right knee and foot back toward the ground. That is one rep. 
  5. Repeat this action for as many times as you like.

Think about how many times you want to alternate your movements in each set. For example, one knee lift on either side can be one rep, or two lifts can be one rep, and so on. This is an advanced version of high knees. Only attempt steam engines after you are comfortable with the standard high knee exercise. 

High Knee March 

 

The actions involved in the high knee march are high-impact exercises. So, if you have weak knees or foot or ankle injuries, this exercise can actually aggravate those injuries. The high knee march is a low-impact version, that if done correctly, can still give you a good cardio workout and build power. 

  1. Start with your feet slightly apart, with your weight centered over the balls of your feet. 
  2. Lift your left knee as high as is comfortably possible and bring your heel toward your glutes. 
  3. Drive your left knee and foot back toward the ground as you lift your right knee as high as possible and bring the right heel toward your glutes. 
  4. Drive your right knee back toward the ground as you lift your left knee as described in step 3. 
  5. Always pump your arms in normal running form. This will help you gather enough momentum to keep your knees high, even after you start getting winded. 
  6. Repeat for 10 seconds, slowly extending the time you do the exercise.

The difference between this variation and the standard high knee exercise is, instead of bouncing off the ground in a running motion, slow down and march. You will still be exploding with each step, but you will not be putting as much stress on your knees. Make sure to land gently. Pump your arms harder if you would like to have a more challenging workout.

Plyometric Skip 

 

Plyometric skips (which are also known as plyo skips) are a good way to add another level of balance and power to the standard high knees exercise. Here is how to do the plyo skips in the most efficient way.

  1. Start with the feet slightly apart, with the arms at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Press your left foot into the ground and jump while driving your right knee high and right heel toward the glutes. (Use running arm motions to help drive you upward.) 
  3. Land lightly on your left foot and skip. 
  4. Drive the right foot into the ground and (explosively) jump while pulling the left knee high and left foot toward your glutes. 
  5. Land lightly on the right foot and skip. 
  6. Repeat step 2 and continue the movement for up to 20 seconds. 

As you progress, you can work your way up to sixty second sets. Speed and distance are not that important when it comes to plyo skips. The real goal is for you to jump as high as you can on each skip, while you explode off the ground to build up your lower body power. You can even do them while standing in place.

Warming Up Properly

Performing a few minutes of high knees before you start really working out increases your heart rate, warms up your muscles, and gets your body ready for more complex movements. Warming up is a vital part of any workout routine, because it gets your muscles ready to work and it also greatly reduces your risk of injury.

Once you are nicely warmed up, you are ready to get started with your high knees workout routine. If you find doing continuous high knees too challenging of an exercise when you first get started, first try for 30 seconds on and 15 seconds off, and then repeat that procedure for up to three minutes.

Cardio or HIIT Workout Routine 

You can easily add a high knees component to any cardio or high intensity interval (HIIT) routine. If you are interested in building a bodyweight workout, include high knees along with other popular and effective cardio movements such as jumping jacks, high kicks, or squat jumps. 

We suggest you include cardio exercises or high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises in your workout routine several times a week to achieve your fitness goals. A HIIT workout involves doing intervals of short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by even shorter rest periods. You can do either cardiovascular exercises or resistance exercises. We suggest putting together a complete HIIT session that incorporates both types of exercise.

Cardio Bursts during Weight Training 

To keep your heart rate up between strength training exercises, consider circuit training (also known as high intensity circuit training). According to a study that assessed recreationally active college students, HIIT training may improve muscle endurance among moderately fit populations.A circuit training workout might involve a 30-second high knees cardio burst between each set of resistance training exercises. You can still rest before the next set, but instead of a full rest, try to cut the amount of time in half. 

High knees can serve as a warmup movement, cardio burst between strength training exercises, or part of a HIIT workout or aerobic exercise routine. High knees can be included in a cardio circuit, between strength training exercises, or as a warmup before other activities.Adding this move to your overall fitness routine can help boost cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, strengthen your abdominal and lower-body muscles and prepare your body for more complex activities. High kicks can really strengthen the glutes, hip flexors, and quads.

It only takes a few seconds of high kicks to get your muscles working hard. If you have any recurring pain in your ankles, knees, hips, or other joints, it is probably wise to talk to your personal trainer before you start performing any of these exercises. Your trainer can help you decide if high knees are right for you and provide guidance on modifying the movements to keep you as safe as possible.

Adding Supplements to Your Workout Routine

If you are doing a lot of high knees we suspect you might be looking for some weight loss. If one of your main goals is to burn some fat, you may want to try the Whey ISO Shredded Stack Fat Loss supplement with Whey Isolate Protein and Aminos. When combined with proper form, a bunch of ab exercises such as burpees or crunches, and a nutritious diet, a supplement like this will enhance your body’s ability to burn fat.

Another type of supplement you can try are Veg-Pro Sample Packets. Veg-Pro is a Non-GMO Verified Vegan Protein powder that delivers 20 grams of dairy free protein with all of the essential amino acids. Plant-based proteinshave been shown to improve general athletic performance, energy levels, and overall recovery.

In addition to providing the full amino-acid profile needed to build thick and dense muscles, well-crafted plant-based proteins help with weight management because they are lower in calories and fat, but higher in fiber and other nutrients essential for a healthy digestive balance.