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5 Exercises that Won’t Hurt Your Knees

February 02, 2021


Many adults want to work out, but they struggle with joint pain, especially in the knees. If you have knee pain, you might wonder if you’re able to jump around in a Zumba class or go for a jog. Joint wear-and-tear is an inevitable part of aging. But we still need to raise our heart rates with aerobic exercise, maintain a healthy weight and continue to build strong muscles. How can we exercise without risking damage to our muscles and joints?

Just about everyone can do some form of aerobic exercise, which increases your heart rate and burns fat. Hormones and blood sugar can play a role, but the goal over time is to decrease fat and increase lean muscle mass. 

For best results, move at a pace that allows you to burn a lot of calories — but first, find the right exercises for you.

How Common Is Knee Pain? 

Research shows that frequent knee pain affects from 25 percent to 35 percent of American adults and can hinder mobility, function and quality of life. More women than men report knee pain, which increases with age. Studies show that obesity is a major risk factor, which is even more reason to find safe ways to get moving. 

Pain doesn’t have to stop you if you choose your exercises carefully. 

5 Exercises that Are Safe for Your Knees

  1. Walking: Whether outdoors or on a treadmill, walking remains a great way to increase your heart rate and warm up before strength training. You can incorporate cardio walking bursts that are 1- to 3-minutes long into your routine. If you use a treadmill, add a few intervals of speed and incline.

  2. Sit to Stands: This exercise is exactly what it sounds like — sit, then stand. Ideally, you want to use an 18-inch box (the standard height of a chair) but if your knees hurt, you can raise the height of the seat so that you do not have to squat as deeply. Make sure when seated your feet are shoulder-width apart, your knees are not over your toes, with your shoulders back, chest up and abdominal muscles tight. Repeat the exercise 12 to 15 times.

  3. Seated Leg Extensions: Sit tall, with shoulders back and abdominals tight. Have one leg at 90 degrees and one leg stretched out. With a toe pointed up, lift the leg parallel to the floor. Repeat on each side, 12 to 15 times. Sit on a stability ball for added balance and abdominal work.

  4. Hip Bridging: This exercise can help to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes and core. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Push through your heels to lift your hips. Squeeze the glutes, then drop the glutes back down to the floor. Perform 12 to 15 times.

  5. Planking: Similar to a push-up, planks are an isometric exercise, which means the tension is felt when the muscle is contracted. There are several ways to do planks, but the straight arm plank is the easiest. Make sure your hands, elbows and shoulders align, hips are tucked in and core tight (so your body forms a straight line from head to heels). Start off on an 18-inch box; when this gets easier, decrease the height until you can do a straight arm plank on the floor. Try holding the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then add on a few seconds each time. Once you can hold a 2-minute plank, decrease the height of the surface where you place your hands to make the plank more difficult.

These exercises work well as a circuit. Perform one set of 12 to 15 repetitions of each one, then repeat the cycle for 30 to 45 minutes.

Before You Start 

  • Eat something so that you have enough energy to tackle the workout.

  • Start with moderate intensity cardio — such as walking — to increase blood flow and loosen joints, along with a few static stretches for additional flexibility.

  • Make sure to have very little rest between sets, but do so if you feel light-headed or have a hard time catching your breath.

  • Know the difference between muscle soreness (usually a burning sensation) and sharp joint pain, which is an indicator to stop the exercise.

  • At the end of the workout, repeat a few minutes of moderate intensity cardio and static stretching.


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The Orlando Health National Training Center on the campus of Orlando Health South Lake Hospital is a state-of-the-art sports and fitness facility located in Clermont, Florida. The Fitness Center offers community fitness, sports and health memberships and programs for youth and adults.

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