Bad Knees? Here Are the Best Exercises for You

You only have two knees, so if you’re pushing them further than they can recover, it’s time to hit the brakes and find some alternative exercise! Seriously, if you're feeling pain in your knees after your usual calorie-blasting workouts, take a day to recover and assess, and then you may want to start with some of these easy-on-your knee exercises. They'll help you stay up to date on your fitness regimen while making sure that you don't cause damage permanently.

Let's face it, it's hard to stay in shape without some kind of cardio exercises, but the ones that are the most touted are often painful for bad knees. Fret not, though, there are some workouts that are safe and effective for bad knees, such as these ones suggested by our friends at Gaiam Life.

Important note: if you're suffering from a knee injury, be sure to take it easy on these first rounds. These exercises are very low impact, but consult your physical care provider before you go all out. Sometimes, simple stretching rather than exercise is the way to go!

  1. Step-Ups


Gluteus, hamstrings, quads


Standing 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.

  1. Partial Squats


Knees, quads

Although full squats are among the worst bad-knee exercises, partial squats are actually one of the best.


Start by positioning 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.

  1. Calf Raises


Lower-leg muscles

Also known as "toe raises."


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.

  1. Scissor Kick


Abs, hip flexors, thighs


Lie flat on your back with your legs together and arms by your sides.

With your forearms on the ground, lift your legs six inches and your shoulders one inch.

Holding that position, spread your legs apart, bring them back toward each other, then cross one leg over the other.

This is one rep. Start by doing sets of 50 reps. Don't let your legs or shoulders rest on the floor during the set.

  1. Swimming

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 if your knees are weak.

  1. Speed Walking


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.

Want more knee-strengthening exercises? Try these:

Knees 101

7 Minutes to Save Your Knees

Elements of Standing: Strong Knees

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