6 Exercise Options for People with Bad Knees

by | September 12, 2013 | 5 Comments

kneesPeople have bad knees for a variety of reasons. It can be from overuse, under use, past injuries, being overweight, having arthritis or many other disorders that affect the joint. The new thinking on joints is that staying in motion is more beneficial to keeping your mobility than avoiding movement.  For many people, the benefits of exercising are also recognized as doing much more to help your mood and physical health as well. The golden rule to remember is that if you do any of them and your knees hurt, stop.

As you know, it’s always best to check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have health issues, chronic knee issues or a recent injury.  Check with a certified personal trainer as well, because the way you are doing the exercise may be wrong in terms of bad form or too much intensity for your level of fitness. For some, exercise if not beneficial.  You have to know where you stand. 

What you are trying to do

The goal to exercising is to raise your heart rate enough to be able to burn calories and to help your body transform fat to muscle. There is a side benefit to achieving this cardio target rate.  Exercise stimulates your lymphatic system. The lymphatic system doesn’t have a built in pump like the circulatory system has the heart. It is dependent on the contraction and expansion of your muscles to pump through the body. Moving the lymph is important because it helps to clean toxins and wastes from your body, boosting your immune system.  Detoxing and boosting your immune system are important to healing the body and weight loss.  Also, the affect that cardio has on your circulation also helps the body heal.  Here are some workout options for people with bad knees:


Bicycling has a very low impact on the knees and can elevate your heart rate into target ranges quickly. Many people with bad knees avoid cycling because they think it will strain the knee. The proper way of pedaling (seated) uses the knee joint correctly; its role is as a flexion point for the muscles in the calf and thigh. It is one of the best workout options for people with bad knees. Cycling is something you can choose to do at a gym, in a Spinning class, or on your own with a minimal investment.


Rowing is another one that makes the list as a great workout option. Rowing not only raises your heart rate but it is considered a full body exercise. Like bicycling, the knee joint doesn’t have to bear significant weight but is put in motion, which can help bad knees.


Swimming is one of the best overall exercises for people with bad knees, or bad anything. Your body is supported by the water so there is less to no load bearing on the joint. Using good form, your swimming style can work out the whole body with little strain. Even if you know how to swim, it can be a good idea to take a few refresher lessons to check your form and get some help building a varied and interesting lap routine.

Circuit Training

Moving from station to station on the weight machines not only will develop muscle mass but also elevates you into the right cardio target range. Many gyms now have a special area set up for this type of training so you can keep moving quickly enough to get the most benefit.   You don’t have to use machines which put stress on the knees and you can still get a good workout.


The Elliptical machine can be a good choice in workout options for people with bad knees because it is a full body exercising that emulates running, but is specifically designed as low impact to avoid putting weight on the knee. It is considered to be a low impact exercise, but you can achieve a high cardio rate quickly. Many gyms have them installed in groups in front of TV screens so exercising on them becomes more interesting.  To start, go slow in terms of pace.

Pilates, Yoga & Tai Chi

While there are certain moves in each that will prove too much for your knees at first; Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi have much to offer and may be a better way for you to keep a workout schedule. Each involves a great deal of stretching and motion, which is good for maintaining flexibility in your knees. They all can provide a deceptively intense workout as well. Your heart rate can easily reach the maximum range in certain advanced yoga and Pilates classes. Tai Chi is very deceptive. When you see it from a distance it looks slow and easy, but once you learn how to do it properly, you realize why it is considered one of the most difficult martial arts to master. As always, make sure to inform the instructor of your knee issues and your workout goals so they can guide you properly.

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Category: Exercise, Weight Loss Advice, Wellness and Health

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  1. Leslie says:

    I have suffered with my knee for a year now. The ortho doctor said it was overuse. However I have plowed through with that bad knee and have lost 20 pounds. All the above mentioned I have down as apart of my plan and it really has made the difference.

    • Ajima Jackson says:

      Good to hear that.

    • Mj says:

      Thank you Leslie. Your story is very encouraging. My knees are hurting right now. Before coming to this site, I was just wondering what exercise could I do right now?

      The fact that you have implemented these exercises and it is working is very encouraging. I’m going to start off with this stretching tape I purchased.

  2. Debby Davis says:

    I have done most of these exercises as strengthening for my knees under professional instruction. At this point, my knees have deteriorated to the point that “low impact” no longer is the issue. The issue is now the motion causing grinding of bone on bone. So for me, any of the exercises that require weight or high repetition of movement are out.

  3. Laverne Smith says:

    I recently had knee surgery. I have tried a number of things. I still push through the pain and walk for 30 minutes a day. I gained 20 plus pounds from not being mobile, so now I’m starting over a little at a time.

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