10 exercises you can do even with knee pain

No one likes leg day, but it is literally a nightmare for people who suffer from knee pain. However, the results of these workouts are worth it. That’s why we decided to write an article on how to exercise when your knees hurt.

First of all, we would like to warn you that knee pain during exercise is not uncommon. There are many reasons that cause them, such as cartilage or ligaments damage and many others. Knee pain can also be caused by poor exercise technique or improper engagement of muscles of the knee joint. You may also be surprised by an unpleasant crackling and snapping sound in the knees, which may not immediately mean the worst.

Therefore, do not believe in the myth that if you have knee pain you cannot exercise. However, be careful, you can exercise only if you have visited the doctor and you know that your knees are fine. If you feel severe pain or swelling when you move, consult your doctor before performing the following exercises or any other workout plan.   

Engage hips and glutes

How to exercise if your knees hurt

Knees are complex joints in the body and only the doctor can judge if you are well and ready for training. If so, you should begin to strengthen the knees for better endurance and flexibility. If you feel pain, listen to your body and slow down your workout. We also recommend changing your cardio workouts.

If your knees hurt, replace the exercises and sports that aggravate the knee joints with exercises that do not exert too much pressure on your knees. In practice, this means replacing zumba, aerobics, jumping and running for a cycling, swimming or fast walking. We will also take a look at a strength exercises that you can try if your knees hurt. But first, we are going to tell you some tips that you should remember before exercising. [1] [2]

1. Warm up before your workout

Five minutes on a stationary bike, 2 minutes of fast walking or 20 push-ups in combination with dumbbell taps will help warm you up and protect you from injury. Never forget to do the warm-up before workout to warm up your muscles and prevent pain. At the same time, leave 10 minutes at the end of the workout for stretching. [3]


Warm up before your workout

2. Engage hips and glutes

In most cases, knee pain is due to unbalanced workouts and excessive quadriceps load. Athletes often neglect the exercises for the hamstrings and glutes. It is necessary to focus on exercises which work with thighs, buttocks and hamstrings. This means that it is better to train the quadriceps using exercises that engage hips, glutes, and hamstrings. These include, for example, a deadlift, which is a much better exercise for knee pain. [4]

These exercises are also a good way to train your legs if you can’t do squats and lunges. Of course, there is something different for everyone. Some people can easily perform squats and lunges with weight for years, and they are lucky not to suffer from knee pain. However, those who feel pain when squatting, you should do exercises that do not exert excessive strain on the knees. [4]

If you are afraid that you will not be able to sufficiently engage your quadriceps, remember that persistence is most important. This means that your main goal should be your health, rather then exercising at any cost through pain. [4]

Engage hips and glutes

3. Try using resistance bands

Resistance bands can be very useful in exercises that safely build quadriceps without unnecessary pressure on the knees. You can use them, for example, in single-leg exercises such as skater squats on one leg. [4]

The resistance band will pull you back. This will load the hip area and remove the knee pressure. In addition, when returning to the starting position, you transfer the weight from the hips to the quadriceps, allowing you to strengthen the vastus medialis. You can do the usual exercises with resistance band in order to create a more acceptable version for your knees. [4]

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You can also use it to perform Bulgarian squats. Also, always make sure that the knees do not fall inwards. [4]

Try using resistance bands

4. Knee joint stability

Knee is an important stabilizing joint and for some people it may be preferable to train legs separately. If you have knee problems, the best you can do is choose exercises that require separate work with each leg. [5]

Many people think that single-leg exercise must be avoided because it will put more strain on the knee. Instead, however, you must realize that the human body is symmetrical in appearance and strength. Performing a single-leg exercise allows you to maintain a better technique and do the exercise correctly. [5]

Another advantage is that all muscles are dynamically engaged in this way. These exercises affect the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. We warn you, maybe you will feel discomfort, but the result will be worthy. [5]

10 exercises for people with knee pain

Generally, in the case of knee pain, you should not perform exercises in which your knee gets in front of the toes. Therefore, in the following lines, we will tell you about exercises you can perform even with knee pain.

1. Dumbbell Step Ups

The first exercise is dumbell step ups. You only need dumbbells and step platform. How to do it? Place one foot on the step platform and step up engaging glutes. Hold the other leg at a 90-degree angle. Then return to the starting position and switch your legs. Do 4 sets of 15 reps for each leg. [5]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Dumbbell Step Ups

2. Bulgarian Split Squat

To perform the Bulgarian Squat properly, place one foot on the step platform behind you and let it rest. The second leg is at the front and goes down to a 90-degree angle. If you want, you can exercise with a barbell or dumbbell.

If your knees hurt, place the front leg as far away from the step platform as possible to maintain the 90-degree angle when doing down and up. Do 2-3 sets of 15 reps. [5]

Bulgarian Split Squat

3. Romanian Deadlift or Stiff-Legged Deadlift

The most important thing about the Romanian deadlift is to use heavy weight. If you are a man and you weight at least 77 kg, you should handle a 130 kg weight. Stand with your feet on the width of your hips, place the dumbbell in front of you. Keep back straight and knees slightly bent. Engage glutes and hamstrings to lift the dumbbell to the waist. Stay in this position for a while and return to the starting position. Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps. [5]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Romanian Deadlift or Stiff-Legged Deadlift

4. Slideboard Reverse Lunges

While classic lunges can be unpleasant if you have bad knee, then you can do slideboard reverse lunges. If you can, take a dumbbell and grasp it with both hands at the front, below the chin level. You can also perform this exercise with dumbbell. [4] [5]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Slideboard Reverse Lunges

5. Reverse Sled Drags

The training sleds can be found in good fitness centers or gyms. Reverse drags pulling is an excellent rehabilitation exercise to build strength. This exercise will certainly not replace the lifting of heavy weights, but you can use it to train muscles even after difficult knee problems. In addition, it is an excellent prevention of muscle loss. [5]

Start by standing behind the sled. It would be perfect, if you have a belt strap gripped around the waist and not just in your hands. However, hold the belt with your hands so that your elbows are pointing down and back. Keep your hands at your body all the time. Engage your muscles and start walking backwards. Select the load on the sled according to knee pain. If your knees do not hurt while exercising, weight is fine. Exercise for at least 3 minutes. [5]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Reverse Sled Drags

6. Single Leg Deadlift

It is a deadlift variation that is focused on stability. This means that everything from your core, through the hips to the hamstrings, must be in balance. Stand up straight, put your feet next to each other. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand. [6]

Transfer the weight to the left leg and hold the left knee slightly bent. Then lift the right leg behind your body so that your core is parallel to the floor. At the end of the movement, your core and right leg should be almost parallel to the floor. Keep the core muscles firm and then return to the starting position. In the starting position, you should feel glutes, hold for a while and repeat the exercise. [6]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Single Leg Deadlift

7. Glute Bridge

A glute bridge is an exercise that activates your buttocks and hips without causing pain in your knees. If you also use resistance band, it will help you to target the gluteal muscles. [6]

Lie on your back, put your hands on the mat next to each other. Bend your knees and keep your feet wide. Place the resistance band around the thighs, just above the knees.Tighten the buttocks, the core and lift the hips a few inches above the floor. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold up for a while and then slowly return down. [6]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Glute Bridge

8. Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing will strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. Place your legs on the shoulder width and hold the kettlebell with both hands. Bend your knees and do a half-squat. Hold the kettlebell between your legs as shown below. Use the hips and perform kettlebell swing to stand upright. In the upper position, tighten glutes and return to the starting position. [6]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Kettlebell Swing

9. Banded Lateral Walk

Banded lateral walk focuses on both the glutes and hip muscles. Begin in a squat position with a resistance band just above your knees. Make a big step right with your right leg and continue walking. Then return back in the opposite direction. [6]

On a similar principle also works the “Monster Walk” exercise. Again, you should start with a squat with a resistance band above the knees. However, during this exercise, you should walk to the front. [6]

10 exercises for people with knee pain, Banded Lateral Walk

10. Wall squats

Stand with your back against the wall and keep your legs wide, about a step away from the wall. Slowly bend the knees into the squat, keeping your back and pelvis against the wall. However, do not bend knees too deep, you should have 90-degree angle in your knees. The knee should not go over toes. Hold for 10 – 15 seconds and return to the starting position. If you feel too much pressure on your knees, change your position. [3]

10 exercises for people with knee pain,  Wall squats

We believe that we have helped you with the selection of exercises for lower body workout with knee pain. Try them and tell us about your leg routine in the comments below. Also share your tips on good joint nutrition. If you liked the article and you think that it was useful, then support us with a repost. Remember, exercise is supposed to bring you joy and not pain. Therefore, follow your doctor’s advice and listen to your body when performing above mentioned exercises. Good luck!


[1] Kren Gordon - Knee pain: we debunk the myths about sore knees and exercise. – https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/fitness/a26828/myths-about-knee-pain-and-exercise/

[2] Shannon Beineke, Vanessa Sofia - The best cardio exercises for bad knees – https://www.gaiam.com/blogs/discover/the-best-cardio-exercises-for-bad-knees

[3] 8 exercises to help your knees – https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/injury-knee-pain-16/slideshow-knee-exercises

[4] Ben Bruno - 9 Training Strategies for Knee Pain – https://www.t-nation.com/training/9-training-strategies-for-knee-pain

[5] Thavius Nelson - 5 Leg Exercises To Combat Knee Pain! – https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/5-leg-exercises-bypass-knee-injury.html

[6] Katie Thompson - 8 Great Lower-Body Exercises for People With Knee Pain – https://www.self.com/gallery/lower-body-exercises-people-with-knee-pain

[7] Linda Melone, CSCS - 11 Workout Tips For Achy Joints – https://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/a20468345/workout-tips-for-joint-pain-from-aging-and-rheumatoid-arthritis/