How to Exercise When You Have Bad Knees

If you have knee pain, exercising may be the last thing on your mind, but exercising could be the best thing you can do for your knees… as long as it’s the right kind of exercise.

Pounding your knees with high-impact exercise or overdoing it during workouts could make your pain worse. But it’s easy to avoid problems by following these dos and don’ts for exercising with knee pain.

Do exercise in the water

If you’re worried that exercising will be too hard on your knees, try exercising in water first. Water’s buoyancy will take the load off your knees, allowing you to exercise with less pain.

Don’t participate in high-impact activities

Basketball, tennis, squash and football are hard on the knees because they involve sudden starts, stops, and turns, as well as jumping (and landing). Avoid any exercise that involves jumping if you have knee pain.

Do walk

Moderate walking is great because it’s a low-impact activity. If your joints are painful and stiff, start slowly and work up to 20 minutes of walking per day. Plus, daily walking will help with weight loss — another bonus since carrying extra weight puts stress on the knees.

Don’t exercise on hard surfaces

Walking or running on concrete or tarmac is a bad idea when you suffer from knee pain because these surfaces have no shock absorption. Grass is another good option because it absorbs shock, but it tends to be bumpy and uneven. If grass doesn’t sound appealing, move indoors. Treadmills have the most consistent surfaces and pretty good shock absorption.

Do use knee-friendly exercise equipment

Stationary bikes and elliptical machines allow you to get a good aerobic workout without stressing your knee joints. Seated stationary bikes are even better because you’re not sitting upright while exercising, which takes more weight off the knee joints.

Don’t bend the knees excessively

Avoid doing full squats and leg presses. These strength-training routines often require bending the knees beyond 90 degrees, which puts excessive pressure and strain on the knees. If you want to squat, stick to half squats.

Do strengthen muscles

Like a natural knee brace, stronger muscles will help compensate for weak or injured tendons, ligaments, and joints. The quadriceps and hamstrings are the two main muscle groups that support the knee. Do straight leg raises to strengthen the quadriceps and walk backward to help strengthen the hamstrings.

Don’t overdo it

When muscles are fatigued, they can’t absorb as much shock, which places extra stress on the knees. Make sure to switch your exercises every day to help avoid overuse injuries like such as tendinitis.

Do warm up and stretch

Warm muscles aren’t injured as easily so take a few minutes to stretch the quadriceps and hamstrings before your workout. Start with five minutes of walking before any exercise. This will also get your heart rate and breathing revved up slowly, which is great for overall fitness.


Although knee pain may cause some exercise barriers, a lot of exercises are easy on the joints and will make your knees feel better, not worse.

If you exercise regularly you can help ease knee pain, improve joint function and your overall health. If you aren’t sure what kind of exercises you should do for your specific knee pain, then get in touch and I can prepare a workout plan tailored for you.


Katie Tomkins

Katie Tomkins
Top Local Trainer Author
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