The Quick Start Guide to Exercising Safely with Troubled Knees

It can feel like a vicious cycle: you need to exercise to keep limber and fit. But, the wrong exercises can lead to discomfort in your joints, especially those in your knees. The key is to craft an exercise routine that is filled with low-impact exercises, with special attention to protecting your knees.

Learning the moves to include and the ones to avoid can help you keep fit and strong without risking knee damage.

Tips for Knee-Friendly Exercise

Avoiding stress and strain on your knees starts with some general good practices when you are exercising. Always start with a few minutes of warm up to get the blood flowing. Proper warm-ups include a few minutes on a stationary bike, brisk walking or a dozen or so standing push-ups and calf-raises.

Avoid performing static stretches before warming up and exercising. Many people are under the impression that they should stretch before they exercise. However, stretching when you are not yet warmed up increases the chance of something going wrong during your work-out. Instead, save the stretching part of your routine for later in a workout session.

When you are adding new exercises to your routine, start slow and easy. Overdoing the intensity can push your body too far and contribute to injury or discomfort.


Exercises That are Easy on Your Knees

These exercises avoid putting excessive strain on your knees, but also strengthen the muscles around them. Over time, having a stronger foundation can help increase your range of movement and your resistance to problems with your knees and other joints.

Here are a few exercises to incorporate into your weekly or daily exercise routine while minimizing risk to your knees: 


Straight Leg Raises

This exercise is performed lying on your back on the floor or another flat surface. Keep one knee bent while putting the other leg straight out in front of you. Raise the straightened leg to knee height. Repeat this 10 times. Try performing two to three sets on each leg, alternating legs every set.

Straight Leg Raise

Wall Squats (or Wall Sits)

Keep your feet on the floor and stand with your back against a wall. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart from each other. Slowly bend your knees, keeping the back of your head, low back, and hips against the wall. Hold this pose for 5-10 seconds before standing again.

Important Tip: make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart and your heels are slightly in front of your knees (i.e., your knees shouldn’t be past or directly above your toes).

As you practice this exercise and it becomes easier to perform, try increasing the duration of the hold.

Wall Sit Calf Raises

Stand facing the back of a wall bar or a sturdy chair. Slowly go up on your toes, lifting your heels as high as you can. Then, slowly lower your feet flat. Do three sets of 10-15 reps.

When you feel like your muscular strength and endurance have improved, try the following progressions:

  • Adjust the tempo of your calf raises (e.g., do them quickly or hold the calf raise for a couple of seconds before lowering your heels back to the ground)
  • Complete more sets or reps(e.g., do 4 sets of 10 reps, or 3 sets of 20 reps)
  • Perform the exercise on a slightly unstable surface (e.g., try an Airex pad, folded towel, or rolled up yoga mat)

Calf Raises

The Best Low-Impact Cardio

It takes a combination of strength, flexibility and cardiovascular exercise to keep fit and healthy. Many cardio activities, such as running, can be very hard on your knees. To avoid hurting your knees, stick to exercises that can get your heart pumping without putting undue stress on your joints.  

Spend some time in the pool

Swimming is well known for its low impact nature. The water acts as a cushion, allowing you to get your heart rate up without adding impact. As a bonus, resistance from the water makes swimming a good strength exercise, as well.

The Elliptical

The elliptical machine is a good option for those who like running or walking, but who don’t like how those exercises make their knees feel. Many elliptical fans describe using the machine as being like running on air or bounding on the moon. Adjust the resistance to simulate the feeling of going up or down hills, without the benefit of decreased impact on your joints.

Rowing Machine

Row machines are another option to consider if you want an excellent aerobic exercise that places minimal stress on your knees. This exercise helps build up core and arm strength, making you more resistant to injury. Our only caveat is that the rowing machine involves more coordination and somewhat complex technique.  Therefore, having a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, or other healthcare professional show you how to perform the movements properly so that you can avoid accidentally straining a muscle.


Movements to Avoid

Most people know that running is not a good exercise for people who are dealing with knee issues. But, there are many other moves you should avoid if you wish to reduce the impact on your knees. Luckily, it is easy to craft an effective and comprehensive workout that still avoids all of these don’ts.

When doing exercises like lunges, make sure that your knee doesn’t go past your toe (much like the wall sit exercise). This can cause greater pressure and tension within the knee joint.

Avoid movements that involve excessive flexion (i.e., bending) and overpressure of the knee.  One example is the hurdler’s stretch.  Instead, try other gentler quad and hamstring stretches.

Do not do deep, unassisted squats. Instead, try using something like the TRX Suspension Trainer, a pillar, or bar to distribute some of your weight to your upper body.  This will allow you to have more control and less strain at the knee.


Remember… Don’t push through the pain; modify when necessary.

No matter what activities you are interested in, there are modifications available to help you do them without putting undue stress on your knees or on other joints.

The most important thing to remember is to keep on moving.

“Use it or lose it” are words to live by when it comes to physical fitness. By choosing the moves that are most likely to preserve strength, flexibility, and range of movement, you can keep fit and active at any age.

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