10 Best Leg Exercises For Bad Knees

Fitness, Low-Impact Workouts, Pain + Recovery, Training Advice, Workouts, Workouts for Seniors

By: Kim Pieper, CPT // January 11, 2022

Your knees are excellent. Think about all they do for you in a day. Movements at the knee joint are essential to everyday activities. And if you’re someone who suffers from bad knees, you’re not alone!

Leg exercises for bad knees will help heal and strengthen your knees and prevent knee injuries in the future.

Because unfortunately, all of the use we put our knees through leads to a whole lot of injury. Thankfully, these lower-body exercises will help combat knee pain.

Related: How To Deal, Heal, and Workout with Plantar Fasciitis

According to the American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons, in 2010, there were roughly 10.4 million patient visits to doctors’ offices because of common knee injuries such as fractures, dislocations, sprains, and ligament tears.

A knee injury is one of the most common reasons people see their doctors. The AAOS also notes that female athletes are more prone to knee injury than male counterparts.

So what do you do? You want to keep moving and enjoying all the active things in life, but you want your knees to stay healthy for the long haul.

Or, more likely, according to the statistics, you’re recovering from some knee pain and want to get back into a regular workout routine.

These ten lower-body strengthening exercises are designed to keep your knees healthy. Do a few or do all of them, but begin incorporating most of them into a regular workout routine.

As you will see in these moves, the key to knee strength is to strengthen the muscles that surround and protect the knee joint, namely the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors (inner thighs).

Tips Before You Begin Leg Exercises

  • The number-one secret for happy knees? Stay at a healthy weight. Every extra pound you gain puts about four additional pounds of pressure on your knees when you walk or take the stairs!
  • If your quads or hamstring muscles get too tight, they will pull on the knee cap where they insert and create pain. So make sure that foam rolling or using a massage stick is a part of your routine.
  • If you are recovering from an injury or surgery, be sure to follow doctors’ orders or complete physical therapy exercises before graduating to these moves.

Related: 6 Foam Roller Moves To Loosen Tight Muscles

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Expertly Chosen Leg Exercises

As a certified personal trainer for decades, I know from experience what leg exercises will be easy on the knees but still give you a great workout!

  • There is no jumping, squats, or lunges — just you, your equipment, and ten exercises to combat knee pain.
  • These exercises will help work the muscles around the knee to help find stability around the knee area!
  • Use this Leg Exercises For Bad Knees workout as your “leg day workout” or part of your weekly stretching and recovery workouts.
  • If you’re looking to increase strength in the lower body in your at-home workouts, I suggest adding these ten lower body exercises to your training routine at least two times a week.

Workout Instructions For Leg Exercises For Bad Knees 

  • Perform each lower body exercise for 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds between exercises.
  • Repeat the entire circuit of the ten lower body exercises x2 for a 20-minute lower body workout to combat knee pain.

Workouts For Quads If You Have Bad Knees

1. Supine Straight Leg Lifts

  1. Lay on your back with legs out straight and toes pointing up.
  2. Squeeze the right quad and raise the right leg off the ground a few inches. Hold and squeeze for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat ten times and switch legs.

2. Banded Leg Extension

  1. Sit on the ground or in a chair with a small loop band around your ankles.
  2. Step down on the band with your right foot, anchored at that spot.
  3. Flex your left foot and press out, squeezing the quad as you lengthen. Hold briefly and return foot down very slowly. Repeat ten times and switch legs.

Workouts For Adductors If You Have Bad Knees

1. Inner Thigh Squeeze

  1. Sit on the ground or in a chair and place either a small, squishy ball or a rolled-up towel between your knees.
  2. Squeeze your inner thighs and press in on the ball or towel as hard as you can, hold for the count of 3, then gently release but not so far that you drop the towel. Squeeze right away again. Repeat ten times.

2. Body Bar Inner Thigh Lift

  1. Begin by laying on your right side on a mat or carpet with the body bar or weighted bar in front of you.
  2. Bend the knee of the top leg (left leg) and set that foot down in front of the bottom leg, which stays long on the ground.
  3. Place the end of the bar onto the inside of the foot of the bottom leg (right leg) and the other end on the floor in front of you with your hand gently, keeping it still. (If you don’t have a weighted bar, use a small weight that will stay put on the inside of your foot)
  4. Now raise the bottom leg slowly up and down to lift and lower the bar. Perform 10-12 reps and switch sides. If it feels too easy, go to a heavier bar.

Workouts For Glutes If You Have Bad Knees

 1. Leg Press-Ups

  1. Stand behind a bench, stool, low chair, or step. You can hold dumbbells in your hands for an extra challenge.
  2. Place your right foot on top of the bench so the foot is flat. Lean slightly forward.
  3. Press your body up until your right leg is straight, keeping weight in the heel of the right foot. The left foot should come off the ground.
  4. Lower with control, keeping weight in the right foot. Repeat ten times. Switch feet.

2. Side Step-Ups

*Note: This move may seem similar to the step-ups, but the action provided when the muscles and connective tissue surrounding your knee joint pull you up sideways strengthens the tissue surrounding the knee.

  1. Stand alongside a long step or bench, so the step is on your right. You can hold dumbbells in your hands for an extra challenge.
  2. Place right foot on top of the step, follow with left, then step left down and right down. Repeat ten times and switch sides.

3. Kneeling Dumbbell Glute Lift

  1. Kneel on all fours and place a light dumbbell behind your right knee.
  2. Keep back flat, abs very tight, and do not arch your low back at any time.
  3. Squeeze the glute to lift your right leg behind you, keeping the dumbbell snug so it doesn’t fall out. Lift and lower with control. Repeat ten times and switch legs.

Workouts For Hamstrings If You Have Bad Knees

1. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold heavy dumbbells or barbells in your hands in front of your legs.
  2. Soften your knees and slowly lower the weights down your shins keeping your back long and your eyes forward.
  3. Once your back is parallel to the floor, squeeze hamstrings, glutes, and abs as you slowly pull weights back up your legs to a standing position. Repeat ten times.

2. Single-Leg Hamstring Bridge Lifts

  1. Lay on your back and place your feet on a bench or step (the bottom of the staircase is fine.)
  2. Extend your right leg up in the air and tight squeeze your glutes and abs.
  3. Now push through your left heel to raise your hips off the ground. Lower slowly and with control. Repeat this move ten times and switch legs.

3. Stability Ball Hamstring Roll-In

  1. Begin lying on your back, arms by your side, and feet on top of a stability ball.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and abs and lift your body up, so you are in a straight line with only your shoulders and head relaxed on the mat.
  3. Pull heels toward glutes rolling ball in, then push the ball back out. Continue to pull the ball in and out for the desired number of reps. Slowly lower the body back to the mat.

READ THIS NEXT: The Best Core Exercises for Seniors

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