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15 Leg Exercises for Bad Knees

Published February 12, 2019 (Revised: March 28, 2020) Read Time: 11 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

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<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"http://schema.org", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "https://www.warriormade.com", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2020/03/leg-exercises-for-bad-knees.jpg" } }, "headline":"15 Leg Exercises for Bad Knees", "datePublished":"2019-02-12", "dateModified": "2020-03-28", "description":"1 in 4 Americans deal with knee pain. You might think exercise will make the pain worse, but it can actually help a lot. Here are 15 leg exercises for bad knees.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2020/03/leg-exercises-for-bad-knees.jpg" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What causes bad knees?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Bad knees are often the result of wear and tear on the tissues surrounding the joint: old sports injuries, arthritis, obesity, and osteoporosis, among other things. As previously mentioned, 1 in 4 people have bad knees that limit them in some capacity." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How do I strengthen my legs with bad knees?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Resistance training, flexibility training, and cardio exercises are all good for strengthening your legs even with knee pain. A good place to start is by working out two or three times a week. You can strengthen your legs at home without weights using the exercises in the next section." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What Causes Bad Knees?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">How Diet May Affect Your Knee Pain?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How Do I Strengthen My Legs With Bad Knees?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">What Are The Best Exercises For Bad Knees? (15 Movements)</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Leg Exercises For Bad Knees: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Approximately 25 percent of adults deal with knee pain in some form or another. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408027/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>And this is a big deal, because having bad knees limits a person's overall function and mobility, and can even diminish your quality of life as you age. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11156538" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <p>But there's good news: <i>exercise is a proven way to treat your knee pain.</i> <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334683/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup></p> <p>It might seem like exercise is off-limits if your knees bother you, but there are many workouts you can do to actually improve your pain.</p> <p>In fact, the 15 leg exercises in this article are a great place to start. </p> <p>But first, let's look at what causes bad knees, how your diet might affect your knee pain, and how to strengthen the joint properly.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What causes bad knees?</h2> <p>Bad knees are often the result of wear and tear on the tissues surrounding the joint: old sports injuries, arthritis, obesity, and osteoporosis, among other things. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4041260/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></p> <p>As previously mentioned, 1 in 4 people have bad knees that limit them in some capacity.</p> <p>And even though the symptoms people with knee pain experience vary, none of them are ideal.</p> <h3>What are the symptoms of bad knees?</h3> <ul> <li>Swelling</li> <li>Weakness or instability</li> <li>An inability to fully straighten or bend the knee without pain</li> <li>Stiffness, especially in the morning <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5638628/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup></li> <li>An inability to perform certain exercises or activities <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4766069/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup></li> <li>Pain when performing resistance exercises (especially flexion of the knee, such as when you squat)</li> </ul> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>How diet may affect your knee pain</h2> <p>While the food you eat doesn't play a direct role in knee pain, it can exacerbate your symptoms. Consider:</p> <ul> <li>Eating lots of sugary, processed foods increases inflammation throughout the body, which may cause pre-existing joint pain to intensity and generally make you feel less than your best.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4672013/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup> Alternatively, eating a balanced diet (especially one full of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/krill-oil/free/" rel="noreferrer">omega-3 fatty acids</a>) may help reduce joint pain. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142028/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></li> <li>You're more likely to have knee pain if you're overweight.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4966641/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup> Because diet plays a crucial role in weight loss (even more important than exercise, though you'll get the best results with both), <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-101/" rel="noreferrer">eating healthy</a> can help alleviate joint pain by reducing the amount of strain and stress being placed on your knees.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4508090/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3406229/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>So if you're experiencing knee pain, a good diet along with the right fitness regimen can go a long way.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>How do I strengthen my legs with bad knees?</h2> <p>Resistance training, flexibility training, and cardio exercises are all good for strengthening your legs even with knee pain.</p> <p>A good place to start is by working out two or three times a week. You can strengthen your legs at home without weights using the exercises in the next section.</p> <p>But first, here are two things to keep in mind*: </p> <ul> <li>If you've had knee pain for a long time and haven't been exercising, start slow. Don't be afraid to modify the exercises, or do half the reps that the workouts listed call for. Doing <i>anything</i> is absolutely better than doing nothing, so be proud of yourself for <i>any</i> workout you do for your legs and knees.</li> <li>Second, give your body time to adjust to these exercises. Don't do too much too fast. Two to three workouts per week along with a healthy diet are more than enough to get results (with knee pain <i>and</i> <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/full-body-workout-for-weight-loss/" rel="noreferrer">weight loss</a>).</li> </ul> <p><i>*Remember, these are guidelines you can follow. You should always consult a doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.</i></p> <p>With that in mind, let's get to the exercises!</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>What are the best exercises for bad knees? (15 movements)</h2> <p>Below are 15 lower body strength and cardio exercises you can do at home even with bad knees. They're split into two groups:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Exercise 1-8</strong>: strength exercises you can do at home</li> <li><strong>Exercises 9-15</strong>: full-body exercises for endurance and weight loss</li> </ul> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/supported-sit-to-stand-1-0076.jpg" alt="supported sit to stand"> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/supported-sit-to-stand-2-0076.jpg" alt="supported sit to stand"> </div> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/supported-sit-to-stand-3-0076.jpg" alt="supported sit to stand"> </div> </div> <h3>1. Supported sit to stands</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Stand in front of your couch or a chair. Position your feet so they're shoulder-width apart.</li> <li>Put your bodyweight in your heels; kick your butt back toward the chair, and allow your hips to bend. Your knees will follow.</li> <li>Touch the couch or chair with your buttocks*. </li> <li>Pressing through your heels, sit back up to a stand.</li> <li>Repeat.</li> </ul> <p><i>*If the chair is too low, add cushions to adjust the range of motion. Even a half-squat is great to start!</i></p> <p>Eventually you can work your way up to regular <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-sit-to-stand/" rel="noreferrer">sit to stands</a>.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 6 supported sit to stands. Rest 1 minute between sets.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/wall-sits-bad-knees-0076.jpg" alt="wall sits"> <h3>2. Wall sits</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Start about 2 feet from a wall with your back facing it; feet shoulder-width apart, bodyweight in your heels.</li> <li>Bend at the hips and knees to bring your back to the wall.</li> <li>Slowly bring your buttocks towards the floor.</li> <li>Slowly bring your buttock to the floor—the goal someday is to get to "parallel", or where your thigh is parallel to the ground. But for now, go as low as you can comfortably.</li> <li>Hold.</li> </ul> <p>When you finish your set, slowly come back up the wall and push away. You can put a chair next to you for support!</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 30 second wall sits.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/single-leg-stand-0076.jpg" alt="single leg stand"> <h3>3. Single leg stand</h3> <p>Practicing standing on one leg is a great way to train balance in the lower leg. That's good news, because balance training can improve knee pain. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4755980/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup></p> <p>Simply bring one foot off the ground and balance. Keep the standing leg straight. An unlocked knee forces the stabilizer muscles around the joint to work harder, which puts less pressure on your joints. </p> <p>Position yourself next to a door or table so you can grab hold if necessary.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 20 to 30 seconds of single leg stands on each side.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/single-leg-glute-bridge-0076.jpg" alt="single leg glute bridge"> <h3>4. (Single leg) glute bridges</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels flat on the floor, at least a foot away from your buttocks; place the arms on the floor, palms facing the ceiling.</li> <li>Press through your left heel; lift your hips off the floor until you feel your glutes activate.</li> <li>Pause the top for one second.</li> <li>Slowly return to the ground, then repeat on the right leg (or do all the reps on one side, then repeat on the other)</li> </ul> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 6 single leg glute bridges.</p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/frog-deadlifts-1-0076.jpg" alt="frog deadlifts"> </div> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/frog-deadlifts-2-0076.jpg" alt="frog deadlifts"> </div> </div> <h3>5. Frog deadlift</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. </li> <ul><li>Point the toes at a 45-degree angle. </li> <li>Make sure your bodyweight is in your heels.</li></ul> <li>Place your arms straight down, tracking the inside of your legs.</li> <li>With a flat back, bend the hips back towards the wall behind you until your hands reach the floor (think about bending over to pick something heavy up with a straight spine).</li> <ul><li>If you can't reach, go down as far as you can with good form.</li></ul> <li>Driving through your heels and maintaining a flat back, return to a standing position.</li> </ul> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 10 frog deadlifts. Go nice and slow your first time trying these!</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/side-lying-hip-circles-0076.jpg" alt="side lying hip circles"> <h3>6. Side lying hip circles</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Lie on your right side with your legs stacked on top of each other.</li> <ul><li>Bend the right knee (the one making contact with the floor). Straighten the one on top*.</li></ul> <li>Gently lift your left, straight leg in the air—6 to 12 inches is good.</li> <li>Initiating from the hip, slowly draw a beach-ball-sized circle with your left leg.</li> </ul> <p><i>*If this is painful for your knee, try putting a small cushion underneath or do these in your bed.</i></p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 15 circles on each side. Rest 1 minute in between sets.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/bird-dog-0076.jpg" alt="bird dog"> <h3>7. Bird dog</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Start on all fours*, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under the hips.</li> <li>Raise your right arm and reach it forward.</li> <li>As you bring this arm forward, kick the left leg back behind you.</li> <li>Straighten the arm; your left knee can stay bent as you kick your heel toward the ceiling.</li> <li>Hold for one second.</li> <li>Slowly (on a 3-count) bring the arm and leg back. Repeat on the other side.</li> <li>Do 6-8 on each side.</li> </ul> <p>*If there is pain in your knees, perform this exercise standing. Lean forward from the hips, extending one leg behind you and one arm in front.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Do 6 to 8 bird dogs (on a 3-second count) on each leg.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/deadbugs-0076.jpg" alt="deadbugs"> <h3>8. Dead bugs</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Lying on your back, bend your knees so your heels touch the floor.</li> <li>Squeeze your abs and tighten your glutes.</li> <li>Raise your bent legs. Position them so your knees are over your hips. Then bring your arms up straight toward the ceiling, in front of you (you should look like a dead bug on its back).</li> <li>Move the left arm behind your head straight. Bring the right leg (opposite) out straight, but don’t touch the floor. Return to the starting position. </li> </ul> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 6 to 8 dead bugs on each side.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/high-chair-burpee-walkout-1-0076.jpg" alt="high chair burpee walkout"> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/high-chair-burpee-walkout-2-0076.jpg" alt="high chair burpee walkout"> </div> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/high-chair-burpee-walkout-3-0076.jpg" alt="high chair burpee walkout"> </div> </div> <h3>9. High chair burpee walkouts</h3> <p>Moving onto cardio exercises!</p> <p>You'll need a chair, or another object that's about waist-height and sturdy for this movement.</p> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the knees slightly bent.</li> <li>Bring your hands to the back of the chair; kick your feet out behind your body (you're doing a regular burpee here, just at a 45-degree angle instead of going to the floor).</li> <li>Do a modified push-up if you can, then jump your feet back to a standing position. Finish where you started.</li> </ul> <p>Eventually, you can work your way up to regular <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-burpee-walkout/" rel="noreferrer">burpee walkouts</a>.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Do 3 sets of 8 high chair burpee walkouts. Rest 45 seconds in between each set.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/marching-in-place-0076.jpg" alt="marching in place"> <h3>10. Marching (even if it’s supported and limited ROM)</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.</li> <li>While swinging your arms, bring your knees up to waist height (think of it as taking exaggerated steps).</li> </ul> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Do 30 marching steps. Don't rush; focus on bringing your knee up to the waist and taking deep breaths. Rest 30 to 45 seconds, then do 2 more sets.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/seated-tabletop-lift-0076.jpg" alt="seated tabletop lift"> <h3>11. Seated table top lifts</h3> <p>You'll need a sturdy chair to perform this exercise.</p> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Sit on the chair with your legs in front of you on the floor, and your hands at your sides, gripping the chair (you can also do these off the side of a bed)</li> <li>Dig the heels into the ground and squeeze your glutes; raise your hips toward the ceiling*.</li> <li>At the top, hold for one second, then slowly lower yourself back down.</li> <li>Repeat.</li> </ul> <p>Eventually you can work your way up to regular <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-table-tops/" rel="noreferrer">table tops</a>.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Do 3 sets of 10 seated table top lifts. Rest 45 seconds, then repeat 2 more times.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/modified-chair-side-plank-0076.jpg" alt="modified chair side plank"> <h3>12. Modified chair side planks</h3> <p>Once more, you'll need a chair or something sturdy for this exercise.</p> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Start with your hands pressing into a chair or sturdy object; position your body so that your hips are stacked sideways (one facing the ground, the other facing the ceiling)</li> <li>Push into the chair and raise your hips to the ceiling at the same time. From the side of your body should be in one straight line—no sagging of the hips.</li> <li>Hold for as long as you can with good form, then repeat on the other side.</li> </ul> <p>And someday, once you're strong enough, give regular <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-side-plank/" rel="noreferrer">side planks</a> a try.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Do 3 sets of 20 seconds of side planks on each side. Rest 45 seconds between seats.</p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-rocks-2-0076.jpg" alt="calf rocks"> </div> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calf-rocks-1-0076.jpg" alt="calf rocks"> </div> </div> <h3>13. Seated calf rocks</h3> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>Start in a seated position.</li> <li>Raise yourself up on your toes; hold for a second.</li> <li>From there, allow your feet to "rock" back onto your heels.</li> <li>From your heels, go back to your toes. Keep this cycle going.</li> </ul> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: 3 sets of 16 seated calf rocks.</p> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/seated-step-jacks-1-0076.jpg" alt="seated step jacks"> </div> <div class="col-md-6"> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/seated-step-jacks-2-0076.jpg" alt="seated step jacks"> </div> </div> <h3>14. (Seated) step jacks</h3> <p>One last exercise with the chair—that thing's getting a workout, too!</p> <p>To perform:</p> <ul> <li>From a chair, place your hands at your side and your feet shoulder-width apart.</li> <li>Step your right foot out laterally (to the side), and bring your hands over head.</li> <ul><li>Focus on maintaining a flat back here—don't allow yourself to slouch.</li></ul> <li>Now step your left foot out laterally, too; from the front your body should look sort of like a star.</li> <li>Return to the starting position, then repeat.</li> </ul> <p>Try these for a few weeks, and you'll be ready for regular <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-step-jacks/" rel="noreferrer">step jacks</a> in no time.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Do 3 sets of 15 seated step jacks. Rest 45 seconds in between sets.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/swimming-leg-exercises-0076.jpg" alt="swimming leg exercises"> <h3>15. Swimming</h3> <p>Aerobic exercise such as swimming has been proven to reduce knee pain and improve range of motion in the joint. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3415190/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></p> <p>Swimming is great because it's low-impact, so you can burn calories and get your heart rate up without risk of further injury. </p> <p>You can also try walking or any other type of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/low-impact-cardio/" rel="noreferrer">low-impact cardio exercise</a> that doesn't bother your knees.</p> <p><strong>Workout for bad knees</strong>: Start with 10 minutes of swimming (or other low-impact cardio) twice a week. Over time, add 1 to 2 minutes and try to build up to 20 or even 30 minutes!</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Leg exercises for bad knees: wrap up</h2> <p>Unfortunately, many adults deal with knee pain, and the causes vary widely. An old sports injury, arthritis, or even being overweight can cause your knees to hurt.</p> <p>Fortunately, though, exercise can go a long way towards reducing your symptoms no matter what's causing the pain. So can following a diet that <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-supplements-to-fight-inflammation/" rel="noreferrer">reduces inflammation</a>.</p> <p>Use these 15 exercises to strengthen the muscles around your joints and alleviate your symptoms. </p> <p>And if you haven't been exercising and have had pain for some time, start slow and give your joints time to adapt. Two to three light workouts a week is plenty, taking that first step is the most important thing. </p> <p>You got this.</p> </section> </article>

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