If you’re already experiencing pain, stiffness, swelling, or even a lack of mobility due to bad knees, exercise can be daunting.
But, you’re not alone if you’re experiencing such symptoms, as approximately 25% of adults report having knee pain.
The thing is, movement is a notable remedy for knee pain. Though, if you’re already in pain, I’m sure that statement sounds absurd!
However, incorporating lower body exercises to strengthen the muscles above, below, and surrounding your knees can greatly improve both strength and pain.
Listed below are specific exercises that are both suited for those suffering from knee pain and can actually improve existing pain.
1- Wall Sits
As your body will be in a secure position, using the wall for support, wall sits are a great exercise for bad knees. This exercise strengthens your quad and glute muscles.
3 sets, 30 seconds each set
- Stand roughly 2 feet from a flat, sturdy wall (back facing the wall), with your feet shoulder width apart, and your bodyweight in your heels.
- Bend at your hips and knees, bringing your back to the wall.
- Slowly bring your butt towards the floor, going down as low as you can without feeling pain. (keep in mind that the goal is to progress over time until eventually you are able to get your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Slowly come back up to standing, pushing away from the wall. (If you have trouble with balance, keep a chair nearby for assistance.)
2- Single Leg Stand
Single leg stands work on improving balance while strengthening your quads, hamstrings, calves, and more, all of which can reduce knee pain.
3 sets, 30 seconds per leg
- Lift one leg slightly off the floor, and balance.
- Keep your single, standing leg slightly bent (don’t lock your knee).
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Lower your lifted leg back to the floor to a normal standing position.
- Repeat exercise, this time lifting the opposite leg slightly off of the floor.
Be sure to do this exercise next to a chair or table if support is needed. Seek to do the exercise without the use of these supports, only using them when necessary if you lose your balance.
3- Lateral Band Walk
This exercise is done with resistance bands and targets your glutes, hips, and inner and outer thighs.
3 sets, 20 steps each side per set
- With your feet hip width apart, stand on a resistance band with your knees slightly bent.
- Grip each end of the band evenly (You may need to adjust your band for appropriate resistance. If you are using resistance tubes, grab each handle, crossing the band in front of you if more resistance is needed)
- Slightly bend your knees, tighten your core, and take a wide step out to the left side with your left foot.
- Step inward with your right foot so that you are returning to your starting position (hip width spacing).
- The above foot movements constitute as one step. Now, repeat this motion for 20 steps on this side.
- After you’ve done 20 steps leading with your left foot, repeat the above sequence leading with your right foot for 20 steps, stepping wide, then moving your left foot inward to return to a hip width position to complete each step.
4- Lying Leg Lifts
This exercise is both low impact and requires no equipment. It works your obliques, hip flexors, and adductors.
3 sets, 10 times each leg
- Start by lying flat on your back (most comfortably on an exercise mat), with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Imagine pushing your back into the floor, as this position will allow for a fully engaged core.
- Without locking your knee joint, fully extend your right leg, keeping your ankle at a 90 degree angle.
- Now slowly lift your extended right leg just until it reaches the height of your bent left knee, and hold for two counts.
- Slowly lower that leg just until it is 1-2 inches off of the floor. While working this leg, your goal is to never let it touch the floor once engaged.
- Repeat 10 times by again raising your right leg just until it reaches the height of your bent left knee, holding for 2 counts, then lowering until 1-2 inches off of the floor (without letting it fully touch the ground).
- After completing 10 repetitions, switch and repeat the exercise with your other leg.
- Alternate each leg, 10 repetitions each, for 3 whole sets.
5- Banded Glute Bridge
This exercise can target your entire glute, quad, and hip area without any knee impact. And, strengthening these areas can ultimately lead to improvements in knee pain.
3 sets, 20 reps
- Lie on the floor flat on your back with your knees bent, placing your heels flat on the floor, hip width apart, at least 12 inches from your butt.
- Loop a light to medium weight resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees.
- Your arms should be flat on the floor, with your palms facing downward.
- Press your heels to the floor while slowly raising your hips until you’ve created a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Press outward on the band to keep your knees from caving in.
- Pause and squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower your hips returning to the floor.
- Repeat 20 times per set, pausing/resting in between sets.
6- Side Lying Hip Circles
*Note: if you experience knee pain by lying on the floor in this position, you can do this exercise in your bed or place a pillow underneath your knee to relieve any pain by creating a softer surface.
3 sets, 15 circles on each side, rest 1 minute in between sets.
- Lie on the floor on your right side with your legs stacked on top of each other.
- Bend the leg making contact with the floor (should be your right leg at this point), and straighten your top leg (left).
- Slowly lift your top leg (left) approximately 6-12 inches into the air.
- Initiating movement from your hip, slowly move your top leg in a beach ball sized circle, 15 times (circles).
- Rest 1 minute, then switch sides, repeating with your right leg on top for 15 circles.
- Alternate in this fashion for 3 complete sets.
7- Split Stance Deadlifts
A no-knee-impact exercise targeting your glutes and hamstrings, split stance deadlifts strengthen these muscles above your knee and can help with lateral knee pain as well.
3 sets, 15 reps each leg
- Holding a dumbbell of an appropriate weight in each hand, your palms facing your thighs, step your right leg forward, knees slightly bent, your left back heel slightly lifted.
- Bend forward from your hips, keeping your core engaged and your spine neutral. Continue bending until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor.
- Briefly pause in this position, then keeping your spine neutral, return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 15 repetitions, then change position, putting your left leg forward for the next 15 reps.
8- Seated Leg Extensions
This exercise strengthens your quads, with no impact on your knees.
**Note: using ankle weights can add intensity to this exercise.
3 sets, 15 reps each leg
- Begin seated in a chair in an upright position, keep your back flat, and begin with both feet flat on the floor.
- Extend your right leg slowly without locking your knee.
- The goal is to get your raised leg parallel with the floor, your ankle flexed towards your knee and your toes pointing towards the ceiling. Pause briefly when you this position, then lower your right leg back to the floor.
- Repeat for 10 repetitions, then switch legs, this time slowly raising your right leg in the same manner for 10 repetitions.
- Repeat this pattern for 3 sets.
9- Seated Calf Rocks
Obviously targeting your calf muscles here, seated calf rocks place no strain or impact on your knees. To intensify this exercise, you can wear ankle weights.
3 sets, 15-20 reps each set
- Begin in a seated position, your back straight, and your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise yourself (your feet) up onto your toes, and hold this position for a second.
- Allow your feet to “rock” back onto your heels, and hold this position for a second.
- From your heels, go back to your toes, repeating this pattern for 15-20 reps. One rep consists of a full rotation from up on your toes, to back on your heels.
This exercise targets your glutes, thighs, and hips, while also working on balance and is low impact as well.
3 sets, 15 reps each leg
- Stand with your legs hip width apart, your knees slightly bent (avoid locking your knees), and your arms bent, your hands fisted near your chin (think boxing or defensive stance).
- Bending from the hip, lean slightly towards the right, shifting your weight to your right leg, and lift your left leg to kick out to the side.
- To kick properly, lift your left knee, and without moving your thigh, straighten your left leg as you kick out to the left side. Imagine you are kicking a target. The outside of your leg, from hip to shoe, should be facing upward.
- Again keeping your hip immobile, bend that left knee again, lowering your left leg back to the floor and returning to a hip width standing position. Repeat for 15 repetitions, then follow the same pattern to kick with your right leg for 15 repetitions.
Swimming may not be dubbed a typical leg exercise, but I can guarantee a killer total body, especially leg, workout can be received in the pool.
Swimming can be difficult as many either don’t know how to swim, or don’t have access to a pool, but if you do (on both accounts), and you have bad knees, swimming is the way to go for a zero impact, intense cardio and resistance workout.
Questioning that resistance?
Consider this: in each stroke, freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, your arms pull your body weight through hundreds of thousands of gallons of water (in a 25 meter 6 lane lap pool), while your legs work in constant motion to propel you through the same amount of water.
Using equipment like a kickboard, you can target only your legs, making them do all of the work to propel you up and down the length of the pool.
Even better, swimming is actually proven to both improve range of motion and reduce pain in your knees.
**Note: When working out with either pain or injury, know that not all exercises may be fitting for your situation. While each exercise listed can strengthen your lower body with little to no impact on your knees, make sure you let your body lead, and if you feel any pain in your knees, stop the movement. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
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