10 Top ACL Rehab Exercise TIPS – How to Build Your Knee Strength and Fitness After Injury

ACL Rehab exercises - knee squats

Accelerate your ACL rehab with 10 simple exercise tips!

Your ACL rehab exercises will vary at different stages of your recovery and it’s important that you are prepared for exercises to be incredibly difficult at first. Even though before the injury they were very easy.

Your Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL, is the key knee stabilizing ligament making it incredibly important for sudden changes in direction and pivoting.

It can be terrifying just trying to do the most elementary of ACL rehab exercises due to knee pain and swelling.

However, you might be surprised by your rate of progress, especially in the early phases of your recovery.

There are no two ways about it, your recovery can feel like it is lasting forever.  Normally you are looking at 9 to 12 months after surgery before a return to full participation in sports is possible.

Important to note

You need to gradually build up the intensity of your ACL rehabilitation exercises over a period of many months.

Consistent application of your exercises after ACL surgery is key to restoring knee functionality and returning to normal activity such as playing sport.

Top 10 ACL Rehab Exercise Tips

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 1: Plan your exercise program

Seek the instruction of your physical therapist and surgeon to help set out your goals, rehabilitation exercises, and workouts.

As the old saying goes “failing to plan is planning to fail”.  So you and your physical therapist need to plan your exercises in a way that gradually progresses your knee back to recovery. 

Specifically list the exercises, repetitions, sets and frequency. 

Planning your exercise program will help keep you motivated and moving forward in the right direction.

So try to stick to the workout plans where possible.

Post surgery, your rehab is a 9 to 12 month process. Engaging in a rehab planning process will also help build your knowledge and understanding of the road ahead.

Important to note

As guidance, at any point in time, you should have a plan which details your specific ACL rehab exercises that are designed to improve stability and functionality. 

More specifically write down your weekly and daily exercises 4 to 6 weeks in advance so each morning when you wake up you can recall exactly what exercises need to be done on the day.  

When it comes to ACL rehab, no one’s recovery is the same and everyone recovers at different speeds.

Allow for some flexibility in terms of the types of exercises and intensity you undertake in your exercises program. 

Don’t be disheartened if your knee recovery is taking longer than you expected to respond to the surgery.  Everyone recovers at a different pace. It is important to maintain your training. 

Any specific concerns with your rehabilitation should be discussed with your physical therapist. 

Click here to grab your free ACL recovery checklist.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 2: Start your workouts with a warm up

ACL-rehab-exercise-bikeAs you advance through your rehabilitation, the first thing to do in any workout session is a solid warm up to get your blood flowing!

Try some light jogging, but at a careful pace, warming up with the help of bike machines or treadmills.

Focusing on elements like balance, agility, mobility, and engaging in dynamic exercises which also help to warm up the knees.

Remember, even just a warm up of 10 minutes will be better than not doing a warm up at all.

As you progress through your ACL tear recovery you can begin your workouts with more substantial and tailored warm ups.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 3: Focus on the lower body

ACL rehab exercises

Overall really looking to concentrate on the lower body and legs, in order to improve knee strength and flexibility.

Recovering from ACL surgery is a long journey.  Your workouts should be specifically targeted to your legs to restore knee strength and functionality.

Working out your upper body is not going to help restore strength into your lower body leg muscles.

If you are time restricted due to work and personal commitments then focus your workouts exclusively on ACL rehab exercises of the lower body.  Rather than spending time working out your upper body.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 4: Build your strength at a consistent and steady pace

Engage in routines that build resistance and mobility, but be careful to do at a consistent and steady pace.

Be guided by the level of pain and swelling in your knee. It is not a race.

Keep to your daily and weekly exercise plan to reap the rewards of a successful recovery.

Following a structured ACL recovery timeline plan is very important.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 5: Focus your rehab on 4 critical muscle groups

The next step when it comes to ACL rehab exercises is to strengthen four critical muscle groups: quads, calves, hamstrings and glutes.

These muscles play an important role in support your knee and the overall recovery process.

One of the key objectives is to build a support system to stay strong and gain flexibility for minimizing the amount of work your ACL has to do.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 6: Strengthen your glutes as a high priority!

Glutes should be high on your priority workout list, due to the fact that they are the engine to powering the lower body.

Exercises like clamshells, bridges and pelvic dips will develop your glutes.

Lie on a side, keeping your feet together and trying to pull your knees apart, while having a resistance band around your upper thighs.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 7: Crank out your exercises in your sleep!

For months and months, you should prepare yourself for restoring full range of motion through knee extension and flexion, returning your balance, and maximizing your glute, hip, quadriceps, and hamstring strength.

Squats, quad control, deadlifts, calf raises are all sure ways of developing strong lower body leg muscles.

You should be doing so many of these lower body ACL rehab exercises, that you could almost crank them out in your sleep (not literally of course).

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 8: Start pedaling

Start pedaling, because another helpful workout routine that will engage your lower-body and is amazing for ACL rehab is cycling.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 9: Keep it going!

It would be great if your rehab was easy, however it does require a sustained effort over many months of training.

Often people waiver with their motivation throughout the recovery process.

Typically this can be as early as 3 months after surgery. But at this stage, your knee functionality is not yet restored to pre-injury levels.

Each phase throughout your ACL recovery timeline builds on the previous phase and adds to your knee strength, stability and functionality bit by bit.

To return to your normal level of activity and to minimize the risk of ACL retear you need to “keep it going”. 

Sit down and plan your next month of ACL rehab exercises with your physician.  Prepare yourself for consistent and focused workout sessions.

ACL Rehab Exercise Tip 10: Don’t rush back to sports too early!

You cannot rush your ACL rehab exercise program in hope of an early return to sports.

A return to sports is normally only possible from the 9 to 12-month mark post surgery.

It takes about 12 months for the joint to feel normal again.

There are some things you can control willingly such as regaining your knee strength, mobility and fitness.

But you cannot change the rate at which your new ACL heals regardless of how far advanced you are with your rehab program.

Preventing recurring injuries with strength and mobility training

ACL injury prevention through an effective injury recovery program plus ongoing strength & mobility training is an important strategy for reducing the risk of retearing the ACL.

It is the ultimate nightmare for you to twist or crush your knee that ends with hearing the dreaded pop.

A tear of the ACL in the knee can lead to substantial discomfort and difficulty to carry on with day to day activities.

It is also one of the most unpleasant and difficult injuries to treat requiring specific ACL rehab exercises focused on returning strength and mobility to the knee.

ACL knee injuries are problematic to athletes because they are exposed to significantly knee forces and are most at risk of a career-ending sports ACL tear when participating in the sports arena.

Whether or not your ACL tears depends on a number of factors including your anatomy, strength, and the activity that you are engaged in.

The 10 tips outlined above can be applied to help you formulate your injury prevention strategy.

An ACL injury requires a lifetime of dedication and constant work to prevent further recurring injuries

ACL rehab exercises and intensive physical therapy become mandatory as part of the recovery process with the most important recovery period being immediately after the injury.

Increasing mobility and strengthening the supporting knee muscles is paramount to providing the best opportunity of returning your knee back to pre-injury condition.

Or at least as close to the bad legs pre-injury fitness and strength levels as possible.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Once you have restored knee fitness to near pre-injury levels, ongoing training and strength workouts are required to maintain strength and functionality.  With the aim to minimize the risk of further damage.

What are the symptoms of an ACL injury?

There are several signs and ACL tear symptoms that indicate that a person has sustained an ACL injury.

The most important and hard to miss ones being: a popping of the knee, swelling, the incapability to extend the knee to the fullest, lack of stability while walking, and persistent pain.

Whilst initial despair and overwhelming emotion is completely normal, one must remember that this type of injury can be treated initially by a physical therapist.  Depending on the extent of the ACL tear, corrective surgery may be required to replace the damaged graft with a new graft.

With the right physio and training returning an injured ACL knee back to pre-injury levels are possible.

However, without proper care and appropriate ACL rehab exercises, the knee will not recover and the pain will persist.

A durable commitment from the injured person to an intensive recovery program is therefore very important.

ACL rehab exercises from 0 to 2 weeks after surgery


At the very beginning of your ACL recovery, you may initially feel shocked and terrified by the absence of knee function in your operated leg as you battle to control the pain and swelling.

Start your ACL rehab exercises from day 1 following surgery.  This is important to start early!

Begin with basic leg extension and flexion exercises performed many times a day.

Achieving full knee extension after ACL surgery is critical within the first 2 to 3 weeks for ongoing success.

Improving your knee flexion is also important. Start with heel slide repetitions.

It might literally feel like baby steps at the very start but your knee function does improve quickly with time.

Speak to your surgeon about when you can walk after ACL surgery.  Typically, you will start walking with the aid of two crutches however should be aiming to walk without crutches after about 1 to 2 weeks.


You need to be prepared for your ACL rehab exercises to vary and become increasingly more difficult as you gradually build your knee strength and fitness back to targeted levels.

The first time you attempt a new exercise you may find it to very difficult to start with, even though before injury it was very easy.

Plan your weekly and daily exercises.  Setting goals will help keep you on track and facilitate the achievement of your goals.

Tip 1: Plan your exercises in advance and set goals.

Tip 2: As you advance your rehabilitation start your workouts with a solid warm up.  Try jogging at a careful pace, or use a bike machine or treadmill to help.

Tip 3: Focus your rehabiliation workouts on the lower body and legs in order to improve knee strength, fitness, and functionality!

Tip 4: Build knee your strength and functionality at steady pace. It is important to consistently do your rehab sessions each week.

Tip 5: Focus your ACL rehab exercises on the 4 critical muscle groups: quads, calves, hamstrings & glutes.

Tip 6: Strengthen your glutes as a priority. They are the engine room of your lower body.

Tip 7: Prepare your mentality for months of lower body rehab. You should be cranking out your ACL rehab exercises in your sleep!

Tip 8: Start pedalling because one exercise that is just amazing for helping you to engage your lower body and build strength is cycling using an indoor trainer.

Tip 9: Keep it going! After months of performing ACL rehab exercises your motivation may start to waiver.  Often a loss of motivation happens at about 3 months post ACL surgery.  But don’t stop now! Sit down with your physician and plan your next month of rehab workouts.

Tip 10: Don’t rush back to sports. A return to competitive sports is normally only possible at about 9 to 12 months after ACL surgery.

Good Luck With Your ACL Injury Recovery!

Click the link below this video for a copy of your Free ACL recovery checklist or go to:


ACL rehab exercise video summary

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