Heel slides help you strengthen and relieve pain in your knees, hip, and back. Here’s how to use this simple exercise to give your body what it needs.

pin to a post about using heel slides for knee + back pain relief

Years ago when I was experimenting and trying to cure my own pain hip and back pain, I discovered the beautiful simplicity of Heel slides.

At the time, I used this fabulous, multi-purpose exercise to help strengthen the stabilizing muscles in my hip and low back.

This helped relieve my pain in my hips and low back. So, I started using this exercise with my clients who were struggling with hip or back pain. They started feeling better, too.

But, it wasn’t until I had a client who was wanting to strengthen his legs and knees post-knee surgery that I realized how beneficial this exercise is for the knees.

The secret to getting what your body needs from each Heel slide is your intention and focus.

Decide which area of your body you’d like to focus on and follow the directions below. If you’d like to work on both strengthening your knees and relieving hip + low back pain, focus on one area at a time.

Just make sure you’re favoring the quality of your work over the quantity.

Related: If you’re searching for simple, effective ways to relieve pain; sign up below to get your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief and learn my #1 trick to help clients relieve pain right now!

So, how do Heel slides relieve knee pain?

Can one silly exercise really help my knees feel better? you might wonder.

Yes, it sure can.

By strengthening and stretching the major muscles around your knee, you restore health and function to your achy joint.

So, as long as your knee pain is from muscular issues, doing Heel slides regularly will help you be able to get back to doing the activities you love.

However, if your knee pain is from structural issues, Heel slides won’t help.

What are structural issues?

Simply put, structural issues mean something inside you other than your muscles is causing your pain.

Some examples of structural issues that would cause knee pain are:

  • torn or reduced cartilage in your knee,
  • hereditary issues that might cause deformity or odd shape to your bones, and
  • torn or damaged tendons and/or ligaments.

Make sure you don’t have any of those issues before you practice Heel slides.

How to Do Heel Slides to Strengthen Your Knees

Sarah Stockett doing heel slides

This is a deceptively easy exercise, so make sure to take your time to set up correctly and pay attention to how your body feels while you move.

The Setup

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. (Your SITs bones are the bones that press into the ground when you’re sitting.)
  2. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
  3. Make sure your spine is in neutral. Your low back should be naturally arched away from the floor. If your abdominals are weak, make a triangle with your hands by connecting your pointer fingers and thumbs. Place this under your tailbone (sacrum) to help keep your pelvis neutral throughout the exercise. Otherwise, let your arms rest by your side.
  4. Take a nice, deep inhale.
  5. Completely exhale. Feel the air leave your abdominal cavity and chest, but don’t let your spine move.

The Heel Slide

  1. Inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips as you use Pilates breathing.
  2. Flex your foot at the ankle. Imagine a rubber band is connected from your heel to your SITs bone.
  3. Use your entire inhale to slide your right leg away from you, keeping your heel in line with your SITs bone. As your leg straightens, feel the tension in your imaginary rubber band increase as the muscles on the top of your leg (quadriceps) contract and work to straighten your leg.
  4. When your leg is completely straight, immediately exhale and start to bend your knee. Feel the tension in the imaginary rubber band decrease as the muscles on the back of your leg (hamstrings) work to bring your heel toward your SITs bone.
  5. Each time your heel slides, feel your leg muscles work to straighten and bend your knee.
  6. Do 5-10 reps.
  7. Switch legs.

Pro tip: Make sure your heel slides to and away from you in a straight line. If it tends to veer away from you or come too close to the midline of your body, it’s a sign that the muscles on the inside (adductors) and outside (TFL + IT band) of your thigh need balancing, too.

How do Heel slides relieve hip + back pain?

When vital stabilizing muscles near your hips and back don’t work correctly, it can cause pain.

Think of electricity in your house. (I know, this sounds unrelated, but hang in there with me.)

picture of a light switch

You’ve got a light switch. It works to turn the lights on or off. There’s no in-between.

picture of a dimmer light switch

Perhaps you also have a dimmer switch. This is a little different from the regular light switch because you turn the lights on and adjust the level of brightness. Of course, you can also turn the lights off, too.

picture of an electrical outlet

Also, you have outlets. Whether you are using them or not, these devices always have a constant, low level of electric current running, just waiting for you to need them.

Believe it or not, this is how your muscles are designed in your body. Some muscles work in that on/off way. Others operate at a low level all the time.

But then, there are the dimmer switch-type muscles. These muscles are often responsible for stabilizing your joints. When they’re working correctly, the kick on and work with just the right amount of effort.

However, when they’re not working correctly, they try to be an on/off muscle. They freak out when they’re asked to work, default to an “off” mode, and that’s when you get injured.

The key is to remind these dimmer switch muscles that they have varying levels. They don’t have to be just on or off, they have a full range in between.

How do you get them working again? you may wonder.

The answer is simple. You intentionally exercise them.

Heel slides are one of many exercises you can do to wake up your stabilizing muscles and relieve pain yourself.

Related: If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself hip + back pain relief that will give you permanent results, check out my course Spinal Rejuvenation. I’ll teach you how to use easy exercises to relieve your pain from the privacy of your own home.

How to Do Heel Slides to Strengthen Your Hips + Back

This is a deceptively easy exercise, so make sure to take your time to set up correctly and pay attention to how your body feels while you move.

The Setup

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. (Your SITs bones are the bones that press into the ground when you’re sitting.)
  2. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
  3. Make sure your spine is in neutral. Your low back should be naturally arched away from the floor. If your abdominals are weak, make a triangle with your hands by connecting your pointer fingers and thumbs. Place this under your tailbone (sacrum) to help keep your pelvis neutral throughout the exercise. Otherwise, let your arms rest by your side.
  4. Take a nice, deep inhale.
  5. Completely exhale. Feel the air leave your abdominal cavity and chest, but don’t let your spine move. Let your organs get heavy and settle toward your spine.
  6. Lightly engage your abdominals to make sure your spine and pelvis stay completely stable as you move your leg.

The Heel Slide

  1. Inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips as you use Pilates breathing.
  2. Flex your foot at the ankle. Imagine a rubber band is connected from your heel to your SITs bone.
  3. Use your entire inhale to slide your right leg away from you, keeping your heel in line with your SITs bone. As your leg straightens, feel the tension in your imaginary rubber band increase.
  4. Take a moment to make sure your pelvis stayed completely in place. There shouldn’t have been any moving as your leg straightened.
  5. When your leg is completely straight, immediately exhale and start to bend your knee. Feel the tension in the imaginary rubber band decrease as you bring your heel toward your SITs bone.
  6. Take a moment to make sure your pelvis stayed completely in place. There shouldn’t have been any moving as your knee bends.
  7. Each time your heel slides, feel your organs settle and your abdominal cavity hollow.
  8. Do 5-10 reps.
  9. Switch legs.

Pro tip: Make sure your heel slides to and away from you in a straight line. If it tends to veer away from you or come too close to the midline of your body, it’s a sign that the muscles on the inside (adductors) and outside (TFL + IT band) of your thigh need balancing, too.

For the Visual Learners…

Sometimes, it’s just easier to watch someone do an exercise and then follow along to their verbal directions.

In this video, I cue for someone using the exercise to relieve hip + back pain. So, if you’re working on relieving your knee pain, just follow along but put emphasis on how your legs feel as you’re moving.

Want to learn more exercises to relieve your hip + back pain?

If you were searching for information about how to use Heel slides to relieve hip + back pain today because you have some pain you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.