Like I said earlier, SUMMER! Oh, and ballet.
A common way that you can hurt your knees is by forcing turnout from your knees and feet, causing strain to those joints. You can tell this is happening if someones knees jut out forward when they plié, as well as their feet may roll towards their arch. Instead, think of all rotation initiating from your hips, using your inner thighs, focus on your knees always being directly above your toes, and lifting your arches.
Lunges, leg lifts (in parallel too), and leg curls are all great strengthening exercises for this muscle. There is one that will really do the trick, and by really, I mean burning. You need an exercise ball, and simply on your back, with lower calves on the ball, and use your hands for stability at your side. Raise your butt about a half foot of the ground staying in parallel, bring your heels toward you, (the fun part) then push them out again. Do about two sets of twenty, or wherever you feel like you need to be. Enjoy.
Many people (including me) have tight hamstrings. The best way to stretch, and although painful, is putting your legs straight in front of you while seated with flexed feet, and lean forward. Arching your back in downward dog, sticking one leg out in front of you while on one knee, laying on your back and pulling one leg as close as you can to your face while slowly flexing and pointing, also all work.
Strengthening wise, if you are pulling up your knee caps, it probably means you are engaging them (which will make them stronger). You want to aim for long, lean quads, rather than more bulky ones. Look here for exercises if you need that extra strengthening, but I feel that you will work them the right amount in an ordinary classes. And for stretching, there are two that I prefer. The first one is sitting on your knees, and slowly walking your hands back, aiming to keeps your legs on the floor. The other one is putting one leg in a right angle lunge position, and the other bent against the floor, then pushing your hips down... it's a good one.
*the stretches under gluteus are good for loosing up your hip, as well.
I don't know of many people looking to strengthen their hips, considering it's mostly bone, so I'm going straight to stretches, which will give you much more range of motion. Going into a grande plié in second position, then pushing your knees outward with your hands is simple and one of favorites. The "frog" and "butterfly" are basically a position in between a plié and grande plié, either laying on your stomach (frog) or back (butterfly),also loosen this joint up.
|Frog stretch. Credits to: f.tqn.com|
|Second position stretch|
Gluteus (turnout muscles):
First and foremost, turnout. This is the muscle that should initiate it, with the help of your inner thigh, and will probably get extremely sore if you use it all the time. During class, just keep thinking about your heel going forward / up, and your knee to the side. An exercise that is good for this is laying on your side, with your hips stacked directly on top of each other, and lifting the top leg about two feet then back down. Then you can do knee drops, turning in then out back to retiré, and développés and envelopés.
Stretching this muscle is the kind of stretches that "hurt so good" because they get deep down. Doing a pigeon pose with your front foot in a right angle, pushing down your knees in butterfly and leaning forward, crossing one leg over the other bent one and twisting, placing one knee on top of the other with your feet going outwards (placing your knee on your other foot, and your foot on your other knee does the same trick as this one, but less intense) are all of my favorites. Refer to the pictures if my terrible explanation doesn't help!
|Less intense stretch of one below (knee on knee)|
One leg cross twist stretch
|Pushing knees and leaning forward in butterfly|
|Pigeon stretch (ignore arrows). Credits to: massagetherapy-brighton.co.uk|
Never give up! You can do it! Set goals! I know you want those lean, but strong muscles! Just thought I'd throw out some motivation... I know I need it.