The Best Low-Impact Exercises for People with Bad Knees


Think you can’t get in a killer cardio or leg workout just because you’ve got bad knees? It’s not “game over” yet – there are plenty of awesome, fat-torching exercises you can do while keeping your knees in tip-top shape.

Keep in mind that knee pain is usually due to your kneecap going out of alignment, which then causes the surrounding muscles and ligaments to weaken and stiff. If you’re dealing with bad knees and still want a good workout, focus on low-impact workouts that strengthen and gently stretch the surrounding muscles, such as Romanian Deadlifts or a good Spin bike workout.

We’ve listed some of the best knee-friendly exercises and workouts below, but you can also check out this vlog, compliments of Studio SWEAT onDemand where founder, Cat Kom, and Trainer Bethany demonstrate some awesome exercises you can do if you have bad knees.

So, there’s no more excuses for skipping leg day. Check out some of the best, low-impact exercises for bad knees.

  1. Step Downs

close up of people working out with steppers in gym

The best way to step up your workouts without wrecking your knees? Try step downs, one of the most deceptively easy leg workouts for bad knees, that’ll target your leg muscles and stretch out your knees nicely. With step downs you:

  • Find a step stool, short bench, platform, or stair step
  • With your legs hip width apart, put your left foot on the stool
  • Keeping your right leg straight, use your left leg to lift up your right leg straight
  • Do 10 reps on each side for 3 cycles
  1. Bench Up and Overs

Group of athletic people exercising step aerobics in a gym.

This variation of the step down is slightly jazzier, but it’s amazing for targeting the quads, hamstrings, and calves—basically, the muscles you also need to strengthen to help bad knees.

With Bench Up and Overs you:

  • Get a platform or a short step stool or bench
  • With the step in front of you, put your left leg on
  • Using your left leg, lift your right leg from behind the step
  • Set your right leg in front of the stool
  • Do 10 reps on each for 3 cycles
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  1. Quad Short Arc

End of a good training

This leg workout for bad knees is as low impact and low-tech as it gets; using a foam roller (or honestly, a rolled-up towel will do), a Quad Short Arc will strengthen and stretch your quads while isolating your knees from tension and pressure. To perform Quad Short Arcs you:

  • Lay down on the ground with your legs ahead of you
  • Place a foam roller under your left leg, right above the back of the knee
  • Tap your foot on the ground
  • Extend your leg out
  • Do 10 reps for each leg
  1. Straight Leg Lunges

woman lunging

Have a bum knee but still want to work out your other leg? You can bump up your workouts while avoiding a total knee blow-out with lunges, which are the simplest leg workouts you can do without equipment. Lunges are great exercises for bad knees because they’re simple, intuitive, and easily customizable. All you have to do is make sure the leg with the wobbly knees are kept straight when you extend your leg behind you. For straight leg lunges you:

  • Step your good leg forward
  • Bend your leg until it’s at a 90° angle
  • Make sure your knees are right above your ankles
  • Extend your leg with the weak knee behind you
  • Keep this leg straight
  • Repeat on the other side, bending only slightly when bending the bad leg
  • Do 10 reps for each leg
  1. Spinning

women in spin class

Before you give us some serious side-eye, physical therapists have recommended Spin workouts as one of the best workouts for bad knees. Honest! Spinning is amazing for strengthening the muscles and ligaments in the legs responsible for knee pain, while being super low impact. And because it gets you to those high heart-rate zones STAT without slamming your joints, a Spinning workout is really the best cardio exercise for people with bad knees!

Want to follow a Total Body onDemand workout that’s packed with exercise just for those that struggle with knee issues? Look no further – Studio SWEAT onDemand has some great options, like AJ’s Knee Friendly Total Body Sculpt Workout.

If you’re still a lil’ bit tender in your knees, it’s super important to make sure you’re properly stretched out and adequately warmed up before you try any of these workouts. But again, the key isn’t to give up on building muscle tone. It’s more about finding a balanced approach that evenly strengthens the muscles around your knees. And if you’re looking for more awesome workouts taught by real, world-class trainers, sign up for Studio SWEAT onDemand’s 7-Day Free Trial. You’ll get access to hundreds of hardcore workouts, custom workouts for people with bad knees and bad backs, and a worldwide community of SWEATers like you!

Want to see what NOT to do if you have knee issues? Watch this hilarious video with Cat & Bethany.