Lower Body Workouts For Bad Knees: Fitness Without the Pain!

Written by: Holly Smith, M.D.,

B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Written by: Holly Smith, M.D.,

B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

lower body workouts for bad knees

Is working out too painful for you? Does your body not seem to let you do what the mind tells it to do? Looking for some lower body workouts for bad knees?

As a busy mom, there’s nothing worse than nagging knee pain coming between you and a lower body workout.

Unfortunately, no matter how great your fitness level is, the occasional aches and pain will creep in at one point or another.

Understanding what causes knee pain will help you figure out the best exercises to help minimize knee pain while still getting awesome fitness results.

Finally get fitness without pain with the following lower body workouts for bad knees!

These tips and tricks will help you achieve joint pain relief as naturally as possible!

Common Causes of Knee Pain

Knee pain is one of the most common joint complaints in women.

Common causes of knee pain include:


The normal aging process increases the chances for women to develop osteoarthritis in the knees.

This is due to degeneration of the joint surfaces.

Even if you are in great shape and at a normal weight you can still develop knee osteoarthritis.

Being Overweight

Carrying around extra weight puts increased pressure on all joints, especially the knees.

Over time, this causes worsening knee pain and can even be the main cause of knee osteoarthritis.

A 2016 study found that the development of severe obesity in adulthood increases the risk of knee pain by 80 percent and can limit activity by more than 90 percent!

This means maintaining a healthy weight is not only important to avoid knee pain, but also to improve your ability to exercise and perform everyday activities.


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Runner’s Knee/Patellofemoral Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain at the front of your knee and around your kneecap.

It is also known as “runner's knee,” since it is more common in people who participate in sports that involve running and jumping.

The knee pain often increases when you run, walk up or down stairs, sit for long periods, or squat.

Patellofemoral syndrome is far more common in women than in men.

This is because women have a larger pelvis which creates a greater angle between the quad muscle and the kneecap.

This is also known as the Q-angle. A larger Q-angle leads to more stress at the knee joint and increased pain in active women.

IT Band Syndrome

The iliotibial band is a thick band of connective tissue that crosses the hip joint on the outside and extends down the leg to the kneecap, shinbone, and biceps femoris tendon.

Since this band inserts at the knee, the most common symptom is lateral knee pain caused by inflammation where the iliotibial band meets.

IT band syndrome is most often caused by overuse injuries.

This could be from a high volume of activities that include jumping or running, or trying to do too much too quickly in your workouts.

Meniscus Tears

The menisci are C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act like a cushion between your shin bone (tibia) and your thigh bone (femur).

These structures are essential for healthy knee joints.

They also play a role in the progression of knee osteoarthritis. While not all meniscus tears cause symptoms, any clicking or catching in the knee typically means there is damage to the meniscus.

Meniscus tears are common in contact sports, but can also occur when jumping or changing direction suddenly.

The 4 Worst Exercises For Knee Pain

Plyometric Exercises

Whether your knees are in rough shape from injury or repetitive exercising, high impact activities like running and jumping can significantly worsen knee pain.

Doing tons of high-impact jumping exercises can seriously impact your knee health and can even lead to injury if done with improper form.

Most — but not all — lower body workouts for bad knees will exclude plyometrics (more on that later).

Deep Lunges

Performing deep front lunges not only causes knee pain, but it can worsen knee arthritis and increase degeneration over time, as well.

A 2016 study found that the position of the body in relationship to the tibia, or shin bone, has a significant influence on knee strain during a lunge.

This can lead to increased pressure on the knee joint.

Another issue with lunges is that the front knee buckles inward when the knee is bent.

This can cause wear and tear to the ligaments and meniscus that support your knee joint.

Keep lunges out of your lower body workouts for bad knees!

Single-Leg Squats

Single leg squats, also known as pistol squats can cause a tremendous amount of knee strain, especially when done with poor form.

If the knee bows or dips inward this leads to increased stress on the medial meniscus, ACL, and knee cap.

Deep Squats

Deep squats put excessive strain on your knees, similar to the manner that occurs with deep lunges.

Over time, this can lead to osteoarthritis and damage to the connective tissue in and around your knee joints.

Keep most — but not all — squats out of your lower body workouts for bad knees (more on that later as well).

The 4 Best Lower Body Workouts For Bad Knees

Modified Plyometrics

Yes, we said plyometrics are bad for your knees.

However, you can alter your technique to perform a variation of high-intensity exercises.

This means you can still get all the health benefits that come with plyometrics, without knee pain.

Moves like box jumps are a great way to build explosive power, however, you will need to use a lower platform and make sure you’re landing lightly on top of the box.

Then, instead of jumping back down, step down so that you don’t put a lot of pressure on your knees.

However, if any type of jumping or running hurts, don't push it!

Instead, try exercising on an elliptical or running in a pool to protect your joints while performing lower body workouts for bad knees.

Glute Bridges

Glute bridges are a great lower body workout for bad knees to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes while avoiding putting pressure on your knees.

To begin, lie on the ground with your feet flat against the floor, and your knees bent.

Keep your arms close to your sides, point your toes towards the ceiling, and push down through your heels to raise your hips away from the ground.

Then slowly return to the starting position.

Build strength in your glutes and hamstrings with the glute bridge!

Bulgarian Split Squats

You can still isolate your leg muscles without risking injury by doing Bulgarian split squats instead of single-leg squats.

To do these, elevate and support your back leg on a bench or box while you squat down with your front leg.

You can do these with your bodyweight only, or hold a pair of dumbbells for an extra challenge.

Box Squats

Since squats are an excellent lower body workout for bad knees to strengthen glutes, hamstrings, and quads, you can try this variation to decrease the risk of knee pain.

Instead of squatting all the way down, start by squatting to a seated position on top of a seat, or box.

This will ensure that your knees stay in proper alignment and that you don’t put too much pressure or strain on your joints.

Box squats force you to lead with your hips and keep your knees exactly where they should be during the entire movement.

This leg workout includes 5 joint-friendly exercises!

Stretches To Help Ease Knee Pain

In addition to using alternative exercises, there are also some stretches you can add to your exercise routine to help alleviate knee discomfort.

Knees to Chest

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your left knee bent or extend it straight out along the floor.
  • Draw your right knee into your chest, clasping your hands behind your thigh or at the top of your shinbone.
  • Lengthen your spine all the way down to your tailbone and avoid lifting your hips.
  • Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Hamstring and Calf Stretch

  • Stand about one foot from a wall and place your hands on the wall at shoulder height.
  • Take a step back with one leg while pushing into the wall.
  • Keep your back straight and press your heels into the floor.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Step forward and repeat with the other leg.
  • Repeat the exercise three times on each side.

Standing Quad Stretch

  • Stand upright and hold onto a door or chair for support.
  • Grab your left foot with your left hand and pull your heel up towards your butt.
  • Hold for 15-20 seconds, then switch sides.

Does stretching burn calories and help you lose weight? Learn the truth about stretching and weight loss.

Relieve Your Knee Pain and Maintain Your Active Lifestyle

Joint aches and pains are inevitable for active women.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce your risk of further worsening your back and knee pain by avoiding certain activities and choosing more joint-friendly exercises.

There are also different stretches that you can perform before and after workouts, and even throughout the day.

And don’t forget a proper warm-up and cool down will help prevent injuries in general.

So don’t let knee pain derail your fitness goals or keep you from getting a killer lower body workout.

With these lower body workouts for bad knees, you can get strong, defined legs and improve your overall strength and fitness.

Holly Smith, M.D.
B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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