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Exercising with bad knees


Shadow of a man kneeling.

I had knee problems for a while and, while it didn’t slow down my workouts, I would be in a great deal of pain after.

Then I discovered pre-workout squats and everything changed.

What worked for me may not necessarily work for everyone though.


It’s easy to come up with excuses when you don’t want to exercise. “I have bad knees” is one of many.

However, reducing your activity level may weaken your muscles and make the problem worse.

Don’t let knee problems get in the way of your health; there are plenty of exercises that put very little strain on your knees.

Managing your knee health with exercises such as stretching, and physical therapy is required to avoiding costly surgeries or pain medications overuse.

Here are a few stretching exercises you can try at home, regardless of the cause of your knee pain.

Remember to warm up your muscles gently before stretching.

Quadriceps stretch

Your quadriceps (quads) are a group of muscles located on the front of your thighs. One of their functions is to extend your knee joint.

Stand facing a wall. Place your left fingertips on the wall for balance.

Bend your right knee and reach back for your right ankle with your free hand.

Gently pull your foot towards your buttocks until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.

If this is too challenging, wrap a belt or a tie around your ankle and grab the belt with your free hand for more slack.


Hamstring stretch

Your hamstrings are located on the backs of your thighs and knees. They flex your knee joint.

If you sit down for much of the day, you probably have tight hamstrings.

Lie on your back. Bend your left knee and place the foot on the floor. Raise your right leg.

Take a strap (a belt, or a tie) and loop it around the ball of your foot. Grab the strap with your hands and pull your foot towards your face.

Stop when you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Keep just a slight bend in the right knee as you do this. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.

Only certain knee workouts are safe and effective for bad knees.

Your capabilities will depend on your injury, but the following knee exercises can often be done with ease, even with bad knees.

Check with your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any “bad-knee” workout.



Works: Gluteus, hamstrings, quads.

How to:

* Stand in front of a staircase, place one foot flat on the bottom step. (You also can use a step bench.)

* Make sure your entire foot is on the step and your knee is directly above your ankle.

* Putting your weight on the heel of your elevated foot, step onto the foot, lift the opposite foot and tap the step and the floor.

* Switch when you’ve completed at least 10 reps.

* To make this bad-knee workout even more effective, do curls with light weights each time you step up.


Partial squats

Works: Knees, quads

Although full squats are among the worst bad-knee exercises (though they work for me), partial squats are actually one of the best.

* Position your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward.

* Flex your abs while lowering your upper body as low as comfort will allow.

Your knees should remain behind your toes throughout the exercise.

* Find a good knee support product before attempting this exercise, and never workout alone.

Calf raises

Works: Lower-leg muscles.

*Stand up straight with the front of your feet on a flat surface.

* Keep your ankles, hips and shoulders in perfect alignment, toes pointed forward.

* Lift your heels very slowly, then lower them at the same speed.

*The slower you raise and lower your body, the better the workout. Start with 25 reps.

Works: Upper, mid and lower body muscles.

Swimming is one of the best exercises for people with bad knees. It’s low-impact and versatile, and it burns calories fast.

Proper form is crucial, especially in kicking.

The knees should not be tensed. Techniques that put stress on the knees (e.g., the frog kick) should be avoided. Also, avoid the traditional pre-lap push off the wall.

Speed walking

Works: Upper, mid and lower body muscles.

Running and jogging put stress on bad knees, but speed walking is low-impact and great exercise for the whole body.

Beginners should stick to flat, smooth surfaces.

After your walking muscles are strengthened, you may even be able to take low-impact hikes.

Cardio exercise for bad knees doesn’t have to cause even more knee pain.

Low-impact cardio ideas

While cardio is important to achieve your fitness goals, it can be hard on your body.

Over time, high-impact cardio, like running, can give way to muscle and joint injuries.

To minimize the risk of injuring yourself, try different methods of low-impact cardio.

Here are five low-impact cardio activities that will give you the results you want, while taking it easy on your body.

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