10 Best Leg Exercises For Bad Knees (Gentle & Effective)

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // March 22, 2024

These leg exercises for bad knees are expertly designed to help you strengthen and tone your legs with little to no strain on your knee joints. Take it from a personal trainer, you can get a killer workout while keeping pain and injuries at bay!

Think about all of the movements you do in a single day. Many of them have your knees to thank! Movements at the knee joint are essential to everyday activities — and suffering from bad knees can severely impact your daily routine and overall wellness.

The key to knee strength is strengthening the muscle groups that surround and protect the knee joint, namely the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors (inner thighs) — and these ten lower-body strengthening exercises are designed to do just that. I’ve included a mix of exercises, some that require just your bodyweight, while others use equipment such as a resistance band or medicine ball.

You can do a few or all of my knee-strengthening exercises. Use them regularly for the best results!

Leg Exercise Workout Instructions:

  • Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds between exercises.
  • Repeat the entire circuit of the ten lower-body exercises twice for a 20-minute lower-body workout to combat knee pain.
  • Don’t forget your warm up! You can do a march in place, leg swings, a heel-to-toe walk, or butt kicks.

Note: Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have pre-existing knee conditions or concerns.


Enter your email & get this article sent to your inbox.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    1. Supine Straight Leg Lifts

    The supine straight leg lift is a great exercise to strengthen your core muscles, improve your hip flexor flexibility, and enhance overall stability.

    How to Perform 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. Complete ten repetitions and switch legs.

    2. Banded Leg Extension

    I love banded leg extensions because they are a great move to target your quadriceps and lower body strength while promoting knee stability.

    How to Perform Banded Leg Extensions:

    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 your foot down very slowly. Repeat ten times and switch legs.

    3. Inner Thigh Squeeze

    The inner thigh squeeze exercise strengthens your adductor muscles while toning your inner thighs.

    How to Perform an 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.

    4. Body Bar Inner Thigh Lift

    This body bar inner thigh lift is a great way to engage your adductor muscles, which promotes inner thigh strength, stability, and toning.

    How to Perform a 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.

    5. Leg Press-Ups

    The leg press-up exercise targets your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. It helps with building lower body strength and muscle definition.

    How to Perform 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 on the heel of the right foot. The left foot should come off the ground.
    4. Lower with control, keeping weight on the right foot. Repeat ten times. Switch feet.

    6. Side Step-Ups

    The side step-up exercise targets the muscles in your outer thighs, hips, and glutes while promoting strength, stability, and balance.

    *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.

    How to Perform Side Step-Ups:

    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.

    7. Kneeling Dumbbell Glute Lift

    The kneeling dumbbell glute lift is a great exercise to target and strengthen, you guessed it, your glute muscles! It helps improve hip extension and posture too!

    How to Perform Kneeling Dumbbell Glute Lifts:

    1. Kneel on all fours and place a light dumbbell behind your right knee.
    2. Keep your back flat and abs very tight, and do not arch your lower 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.

    8. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

    This stiff-legged deadlift exercise targets your hamstrings, lower back and glutes. It also helps with posterior chain strength and overall stability.

    How to Perform a 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 your hamstrings, glutes, and abs as you slowly pull weights back up your legs to a standing position. Repeat ten times.

    9. Single-Leg Hamstring Bridge Lifts

    The single-leg hamstring bridge lift exercise has loads of benefits like targeting your hamstrings and glutes, strengthening your posterior chain, and improving hip stability.

    How to Perform a Single-Leg Hamstring Bridge Lift:

    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.

    10. Stability Ball Hamstring Roll-In

    The stability ball hamstring roll-in exercise targets your hamstrings and core muscles. It improves your stability, strength, and overall coordination!

    How to Perform the 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 the 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.

    Watch the Full Leg Exercises for Bad Knees Workout

    Follow along as I personally take you through the full list of best leg exercises for bad knees.

    [adthrive-in-post-video-player video-id=”wnYiz37U” upload-date=”2021-03-04T04:44:45.000Z” name=”10 Best Exercises For Knee Pain” description=”These 10 lower-body strengthening exercises are designed to keep your knees healthy. Begin to incorporate these 10 lower body exercises into your regular workout routine to help combat knee pain. ” player-type=”static”]

    Common Causes of Knee Pain

    Some of the most notable reasons you may be experiencing knee pain include:

    • Osteoarthritis: A degenerative joint disease that can cause knee pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.
    • Tendonitis: Overuse of a tendon during certain activities like running, jumping, or cycling can cause inflammation.
    • Meniscus tear: The meniscus is the tough, rubbery cartilage between the shinbone and thighbone that serves as a shock absorber. It can be torn if you suddenly twist your knee while putting weight on it.
    • Knee bursitis: Inflammation in the bursae, the small sacs of fluid that cushion the outside of your knee joint, can cause significant knee pain. You can also get bursitis in your hips. Check out my full guide on the best exercises for hip bursitis.
    • Fractures: Knee bones, including the kneecap (patella), can be broken during falls or auto accidents. Osteoporosis can also cause weakness that leads to a knee fracture simply by stepping wrong.
    • Ligament injuries: Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL) can cause knee pain and limited mobility.
    • Patellofemoral pain syndrome: Also known as runner’s knee, this condition causes pain around the kneecap and can worsen with high-impact activities.

    Lifestyle Tips for Stronger Knees

    While a leg workout is a great way to improve knee strength, there are other lifestyle factors to take into consideration as well:

    • Maintain 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. These are my favorite ways to lose weight without dieting.
    • Keep a foam roller handy: If your quadriceps or hamstring muscles get too tight, they will pull on the knee cap where they insert and create pain. Routine foam rolling or massages can help!
    • Listen to your doctor’s medical advice: If you are recovering from an injury or surgery, be sure to follow doctors’ orders or complete physical therapy exercises before graduating to the exercises listed above.

    Why These Leg Exercises Work

    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! Here are the reasons I chose these particular exercises:

    • There is no jumping, squats, or lunges — just you, your home gym 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.
    • The above workout can be used 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 the above ten exercises to your training routine at least two times a week.

    These leg exercises, designed to be compatible with bad knees, can effectively strengthen your legs without compromising knee health. Consistency is key! Make sure to incorporate these exercises into your regular workout routine and you’ll enjoy the benefits.

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

    Printed from GetHealthyU.com


    on Reply

    I’ve been doing exercises with Chris & the girls for a couple of years!!! Love them!👏

    on Reply

    thanks for sharing this valuable information with us, nice content

    on Reply

    The exercise selection is great! I appreciate your help! I'll share on my Connections

    on Reply

    Hi Chris, Thanks for the great knee exercise tips. It would be awesome if you could make one of those 10-15 min. videos on your website. Thank you

    on Reply

    These are good to maintain your muscles around your knee, but not so good when you r knee are already injured. It's discouraging because these are advanced. I was looking for exercises to help with my injured knee, some of these could be done, but at a more basic level. The title is a little deceptive and even dangerous for someone with an injured knee.

      on Reply

      Hi Rosie - thanks for the feedback and sorry to hear this wasn't helpful for you. Every person and every injury is different so we definitely encourage everyone to advocate for themselves and do what is best for them.

    on Reply

    When doing straight leg raises, bending the other knee with foot on the floor will reduce stress on your lumbar spine.

    on Reply

    I love Chris Freytag.. She's my inspiration day in and day out!!!

    on Reply

    Nice selection of exercises!! Thank you! I'll be sharing on my Pinterest!!

    on Reply

    Thanks, Very Nice.

    on Reply

    Body bar inner thigh lift endangers the medial collateral cartilage.

    (This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
    Skip to content