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updated 2/18/2010 9:56:48 AM ET 2010-02-18T14:56:48

Reader June Schmidt e-mailed: "Squats and lunges hurt my knees. What's a good substitute?"These lower-body toners get a bum rap, but done correctly, they can actually prevent knee pain — not to mention trim your hips and thighs and sculpt your backside! Unless you have an injury or have been diagnosed with a joint disease, like osteoarthritis, form fixes and targeted muscle toners can have you lunging and squatting pain free in no time.
Check your form.Make sure your knees stay in line with your feet, and lower only as far as you can with your knees behind your toes. Watch in a mirror rather than looking down, which shifts weight forward. Finally, go at your own pace. Even if you're following along with a DVD, doing the moves slowly but correctly yields better toning and less pain.Modify your moves.

If the exercises are still painful, a modification can help build strength and balance. For squats, begin seated in a chair, then stand, keeping your weight in your heels to prevent your knees from shifting forward. Sit back down and repeat. Another option: Stand with a stability ball between your back and a wall. Press into the ball as you lower hips.

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To master lunges, start by simply holding the pose.Get into position with back knee on the floor, heel raised. Lift the knee a few inches — use a chair for balance if needed. Hold for up to 30 seconds. When you're ready for moving lunges, reduce knee strain by stepping back into a lunge instead of forward.
Take baby steps. Still hurts? Focus on non-weight-bearing moves to isolate muscles that support the joint, such as seated leg lifts. Go to prevention.com/knees for more exercises.

Chris Freytag is a board member of the American Council on Exercise, the star of many Prevention Fitness Systems DVDs, and author of Prevention's 2-Week Total Body Turnaround (chrisfreytag.com).

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