We all have experienced some knee pain or injury at one point in our life or are experiencing arthritis are our knees.
Did you know that your knees absorb a huge amount of pressure and weight with every step, which is typically one-and-a-half times your body weight? Wow, your knees are the biggest and strongest joints in your body.
Our knees are the one body part that doesn’t get any love (let’s face they are not pretty) and the one we abuse the most even with our daily routines like walking, going upstairs, carrying heavy items….then throw in overuse, running/jogging, lifting heavy, doing HIIT with jumping, and not strengthen muscles around nor working on flexibility moves.
Let’s talk more about the many options of low-impact knee-friendly cardiovascular exercises to keep you active.
Many people suffering from knee pain may not be exercising properly or not exercising at all.
When you have a knee injury or arthritis, many people have an assumption that doing knee-friendly low-impact exercises will not give them a fat-burning or a high-intensity cardio workout. This way of thinking discourages people from working out altogether and is likely to cause further injury.
The truth of the matter is you can find a number of ways to get a good cardio workout without causing additional pain or damage to your knees. This will keep you active and healthy and help you keep reaching your goals.
- Walking. Walking is an easy and free form of aerobic exercise you can perform daily. Just walking for 20-30 minutes a day can offer numerous health benefits to people of all ages and fitness levels. If you wish to advance your walking, try walking a little fast and pumping your hands back and forth. Always make sure that you wear shoes that give you good support and that are not expired past their mileage. Also, do not forget to stretch before beginning your walk and after. Want to read more about all the great benefits of just walking? Read more on my blog, Walking into Surprising Benefits
- Recumbent Bike Using a recumbent bike is nicer on the knees since it takes weight load off as you are sitting and at a better angle for petaling than a regular bike or spin bike. These bikes are more stable and comfortable, so they’re a better option for people with balance or mobility issues. They also strengthen the muscles without strain on your knee.
- Swimming or Pool Exercises like Water Aerobics. Swimming is actually one of the best forms of exercise for people with knee problems. You can burn a lot of calories quickly and work all of your muscles at once as well. Just be sure to avoid kicks that place stress on your knees, and don’t push off from the wall. Try also walking in the water, freestyle or the backstroke, or water aerobic class.
- Elliptical Machine. When you are at the gym, go for the Ellipticals. You can burn the same amount of calories on an elliptical machine as if jogging but with far less impact. Since your feet remain on the pedals, you’re far less likely to injure yourself. You’ll also get your heart rate up, making you work up a sweat! (1)
What to AVOID: running, jogging, jumping, stair climbing, walking up on high inclines, kickboxing, and high-impact aerobics.
As you can see, you do have options to get in a good cardio workout and work up in that fat-burning zone. Knee pain is challenging for anyone to endure, but with modifications, you can tailor workouts to your body’s needs.
What cardio exercises do you perform when you have knee pain?
Knee-Friendly Strength Training
We talked about knee-friendly cardio exercises, now, let’s talk about a few knee-friendly strength exercises you can do in your weekly routine.
Why should I strength train if I have knee pain or arthritis? I know that is what you are thinking, but strength training can enhance your quality of life and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Strength training can also protect your joints from injury and build the muscles around your knee for support. Building muscle also can contribute to better balance and may reduce your risk of falls. This can help you maintain independence as you age.
AND girls, the more muscle you gain, the more calories you burn at rest….not to mention it transforms your body in a good way.
I know you are worried that working out could cause more knee damage or pain, right? As long as you get the clearance from your doctor, then you are good to go. Besides, the best thing you can do is to strengthen the muscles that support your knee and keep them lubricated and flexible.
Just make sure you start slowly and build up over time. Try starting bodyweight first and always stop if you feel uncomfortable or in pain.
Below are exercises you can start trying in lieu of squats or lunges.
Always warm-up 1st for 3min. This can be walking, cycling, or doing dynamic stretches like leg swings, arm hugs, windmills, etc.
Below are a few lower body exercises that will help you work the all-important knee-supporting muscles in a low-impact way.
- Wall Sit. Start with your back against a wall with your feet shoulder-width and about 2 feet from the wall. Make sure to engage your abs and slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground or you feel comfortable. You do not have to go down too far. Do make sure your knees are not going over your toes. Hold for 10, 20, or 30 secs.
- Dumbell, Mini Band, or Bodyweight Deadlift. Stand and hold two dumbbells with palms facing in. Keep your back straight and knees softened, not locked; hip hinge bending your body at your waist and lower down to the floor with weights in front of you. If down bodyweight, place your hand in front and touch the floor or put your hands lightly behind your head. Then straighten up while still holding the dumbbells at arm’s length. Make sure you are not doing a squat (keep legs straight with a soft bend). *You can also use a mini-band by the one end under your feet and grab the other end with your hands coming up and back.
- Mini Band Moster Walk. Start by placing mini bands around your calves or above ankles on both feet. Soften your knees, and step one foot out to the side, then slowly step your opposite foot in the same direction. Keep an upright posture and try to avoid dragging your feet. And Repeat on the other side.
- Glute Bridge. Lie on your back. 2) Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off the floor as high as you can go. Keep your tummy tight throughout and then slowly lower. To focus more on the glutes, then your toes off the floor and have only heels on the floor. You can also advance this move by doing single-leg going up at a time.
- Glute Kickbacks standing. Stand up and grab the wall or chair for support and keep your body and back straight Slowly kick one leg back out, keeping your glute engaged, and then slowly lower your leg back at starting position. Try not to lean back or forward. To advance this move, add a mini band above your ankles.
- Lying leg raise. Get on the floor, lying down on a mat with your back flat on the ground and your legs extended in front of you. Keep your core engaged, especially when you’re lifting your feet up off the floor but also while they’re returning and getting close to the ground again. Place your hands on your sides with your palms down. As you keep your legs extended, straight as possible, raise your legs until they make a 90-degree angle with the floor. Exhale as you perform this portion of the movement and hold the contraction at the top for a second. As you inhale, slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position. You can also do this single leg instead of both.
- Lying Hip Abduction. Lay down on your side with your elbow supporting your head and your feet out straight. Then slowly raise the top leg- foot up towards the ceiling, without rocking your body forwards or backward, and then come back down.
- Dumbell or Bodyweight Calf Raises. Stand up straight with a soft bend in the knees, then push through the balls of your feet and raise your heel until you are standing on your toes. Then lower slowly back to the start. You can do this off the floor or from the bottom of the stairs.
- Dumbell Farmers Walk. Stand upright, holding dumbbells with your arms straight by your sides. Then walk forward as far as you can while holding the dumbbell for a given distance, typically 50-100 feet, as fast as possible and then back to starting position.
- Foam Roller Or Pillow Leg Extension. Lay down on the floor with a foam roller, firm pillow, or rolled-up towel placed under your knee. Then lift your leg up and lower back down. Make sure that your leg from knee to hip is not moving, only your leg from your knee to ankles is moving up. It is s slight movement.
And of course, you can perform a large variety of upper body exercises standing or sitting, and core exercises with no problem.
What to AVOID with knee injuries, pain, or arthritis: squats (especially weighted), lunges, machine leg extensions, and any jumping HIIT exercise.
*Make sure always to stretch afterward AND incorporate a day just as a stretching day.
*As always, it is important to get clearance from your doctor or physical therapist for any kind of physical activity
Looking to knock out knee pain and gain mobility? Sign up for my 21-Day Knee Pain Solution program!