What Exercises are Hard on the Knees? 5 Best Alternatives and More Tips

What Exercises are Hard on the Knees?

Your knees should be one of the joints you always want to protect whenever you are doing any physical activity. Having bad knees can quickly wear down any person and can hamper his or her mobility because of how the knees carry a lot of your weight. That is why it is important to choose exercises that won’t harm your knees if you want to keep them protected and healthy. So, what exercises are hard on the knees?

Technically, there are no exercises that are bad for your knees. However, some exercises may cause knee strain or injury if you are not doing them correctly, like when you cave your knees when squatting. Other than that, existing injuries and knee pains are the only reasons why some exercises will hurt your knee.

Workouts have come a long way, such that fitness experts now know how to teach proper execution of exercises such that they will not harm your knees or any of your other joints as long as you are doing them the right way. Some exercises can still end up becoming hard on your knees if you already have pre-existing knee issues or injuries. Let’s talk more about them and what you can do to ease the pain.

What exercises are hard on the knees?

While some workouts may look like they are bad for your knees, the truth is that there is no particular exercise that generally is hard on your knees. That’s because when you are working out, it is not on your knees that are taking the load. Instead, if you are executing your workouts correctly, you will be distributing the load all over your body and not just focusing it on your knees.

In that sense, keeping your knees out of danger while exercising is all about proper execution and form – it is very important when you workout. If you are not doing your form correctly, here are some of the exercises that will actually be hard on your knees:

1. Squats

Squats are arguably the most popular exercise of all time because of how this compound movement uses many different muscles that all work together to help you develop those strong and muscular legs.  However, the problem with the squat is that many people often commit mistakes whenever they are doing it.

This is where knee pain begins to develop, and that is why the squat is often labeled as one of the workouts that are bad for your knees. The most common mistake the people make whenever they are squatting is bending forward towards their knees instead of bending backward towards their hips.

When you are squatting, you are supposed to sit down while putting a lot of pressure on your hips, which are much stronger than your knees.  There should be minimal forward bending on the part of your knees, and you are safe as long as your knees don’t bend too forward past your toes.

If you bend forward too much towards your knees, your knees will take up a lot of weight and end up aching. Meanwhile, even if some people perform the bending part right, they end up caving their knees when they complete the squat. When you are squatting, you have to point your toes out a bit so that your knees have a direction to bend to. 

Make sure that when you are standing up from your squatted position, your knees should still be pointed towards the direction of your toes and should not be caving in, or else you will be putting a lot of pressure on them to work.

2. Squat jumps and other plyometrics

The squat jump is a plyometric exercise that focuses more on improving your athletic performance by training your legs to jump higher. Many athletes can improve their jumping abilities by incorporating the squat jump into their routine. However, it can also lead to bad knees if not done correctly.

Squat jumps are essentially the same as your regular squat except for the fact that you have to explode into a jump after you reach the bottom part of your squat. That means that if you don’t want your knees to end up aching, you have to follow the proper form used whenever you are doing the squat. 

But the tricky part here is the landing because not many people realize how important it is for you to land the right way so that you won’t end up putting a lot of the impact on your knees.  When landing from a jump squat or any other jump, you have to make sure that you don’t put a lot of pressure on your knees.

The best way for you to do so is to distribute the impact all over your other leg muscles and joints.  For example, you have to land on the balls of your feet first instead of on your heels so that you will have an initial way to cushion your landing before your heels touch the ground. 

Meanwhile, when your feet are flat on the floor, the movement shouldn’t stop there because you have to bend your knees back to transfer some of the impacts to your hips.

3. Lunges

When you are lunging as you step one leg forward in front of the other, the key is to widen your stance a bit so that you will be able to balance yourself. As you bend after your front foot lands on the floor, you have to bend directly downwards instead of forward to reduce the pressure on the knees of your front leg.

Meanwhile, caving also becomes an issue for those who don’t do lunges correctly. Like the squat, you have to keep your front toe pointed towards the outside a bit so that your knees should bend in that direction.  As you rise from your bent position, you have to ensure that your knee is still pointed towards where your toes are pointing to prevent it from caving.

Another issue here is that some people tend to touch the floor in the full bend of their lunge. You could end up irritating the fluids that are building up inside your knee cap and end up bruising and hurting your knee in the process as it hits the ground.  As such, try to keep your knees level with your ankles as much as possible when you are lunging.

4. Duck walks

The duck walk is somewhat of a useless workout because it doesn’t really accomplish much except giving you aching legs. Duck walks look tough, and they are. But they don’t burn a lot of calories or even develop your leg muscles due to how your leg muscles won’t be doing a lot of full movements.

Instead, the duck walk would just end up giving you painful joints because of the twisting and turning you will be doing with this exercise. As such, your knees may end up getting hurt in the process. So, it might be best for you to avoid doing duck walks.

5 best exercises for bad knees

Knee pain when you are doing exercises is much more of a function of how you execute the workout than it is about the actual exercise itself. However, some people might end up with aching knees even when they are executing their exercises correctly. 

This is because of how the wear and tear of constant movements (especially for athletes), age, and injuries have ended up giving them bad knees. So, for those who have bad knees, here are five alternative workouts for you to do:

1. Calf raises

Calf raises are leg muscles that primarily work the calves and are safe for your knees because you are not moving your knees when you are doing this exercise.  Instead, the joints that are primarily moving are your ankles.

You can do calf raises anywhere and at any given time by extending while raising your heels from the floor up to when your toes are the only ones holding you down on the ground.  See how this is performed correctly in the video below:

Hold the position for a while, then slightly lower your feet down flat on the ground.

2. Resistance band side steps

Using resistance bands, loop them above your knees and below your knees as you step to your side while slightly bending both your hips and your knees. The key here is to make side steps towards one side while working against the resistance of the bands to strengthen your leg muscles.

While resistance band side steps do involve a bit of knee bend, the pressure and impact on your knees are minimized because of how you are extending them outward and how most of the work are done by your thighs. See how this is performed correctly in the video below:

3. Clamshell

The clamshell is another low-impact leg workout that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on any of your joints. Lie down on your side with your knees slightly bent and together at the starting position.  From there, open your legs by raising the top leg without your feet separating.

If you want to increase the resistance of this workout, you can do so by using resistance bands that are placed above and below your knees. See how this is performed correctly in the video below:

4. Standing hamstring curls

Standing hamstring curls are great at working those hamstrings without putting a lot of strain on your delicate knees. They help keep the posterior part of your legs toned while also allowing your knees to move to get those fluids going. You can do your standing hamstring curls by simply standing up with both of your feet about shoulder length apart from one another.

From there, bend one of your legs backward at the knee while putting pressure on your hamstrings.  Alternate between your legs per rep and make sure you are hitting both sides equally. See how this is performed correctly in the video below:

5. Wall squats

The wall squat is the best squat that those with bad knees can do because it reduces the pressure felt by your knees since you are resting most of your weight on the wall instead of allowing your legs to carry your entire body for you. Lean on the wall with your back against it while keeping about two feet of distance between your feet and the wall.

From there, allow your body to go down to a squatting position while keeping your weight leaned on the wall.  Do not go down too low, and make sure that your knees don’t go past your toes if you want to reduce the pressure on them. See how this is performed correctly in the video below:

How to exercise with bad knees to lose weight

If you have bad knees and you still want to exercise to lose weight, here are some ideas that will help you lose weight without jeopardizing the health of your knees:

1. Biking

Biking is a low-impact workout that can be high-intensity depending on how you want to do it. The great thing about biking is that it minimizes the impact felt by your knees instead of when you are running or jogging while also allowing you to work out on a high intensity to really burn those calories and work those leg muscles to the max.

When you are biking, you can do so using a regular bike on the road or do so at home using a stationary bike. Either way, you will end up burning calories while you are working those leg muscles well enough for you to lose weight as well.

2. Elliptical trainer

The elliptical trainer is a lot similar to using a stationary bike because you minimize the impact felt by your knees when you are using this machine. 

But the difference is that the movement involved when you are using an elliptical trainer is a lot more similar to when you are running or jogging. This makes it a more natural cardio workout for you to do but without the strain and the pressure felt by your knees.

3. Swimming

If there is the best workout at keeping your joints safe from any impact, it is swimming. Not many people realize how great swimming is at working your muscles while keeping your joints safe from any damage or injuries. 

You are burning a lot of calories in swimming because of the many different movements you are doing against the resistance provided by the water. As such, it is an excellent way for those with bad knees to lose weight without jeopardizing the health of their joints.

4. Rowing

You can buy a rowing machine, or you can use one at the gym. Whichever you prefer, there is no arguing against the fact that rowing is a great full-body workout that can help you lose weight fast because of how intense it is without putting a lot of pressure and impact on your knees. 

When you are rowing, you are working your upper body as your row and your legs because you have to use them to push against the rowing machine. You can ramp up the intensity of the workout to increase your body’s ability to burn all of those calories.

If you plan in getting a rowing machine, you can check out some suggestions below.

Image
Concept2 Model D Rower
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor
StairMaster HIIT Rower
StairMaster HIIT Rower
V-fit Tornado Air Rower
V-fit Tornado Air Rower
Dimensions
56 x 22 x 15 inches LxWxH
96 x 26.5 x 43 inches LxWxH
83.46 x 17.32 x 29.13 inches LxWxH
Weight
69 lbs
66 lbs
42.99 lbs
Maximum Load
500 lbs
500 lbs
253 lbs
Resistance Type
Air Resistance
Isokinetic Fan
Air Resistance
Digital Display
Concept2 Model D Rower
Image
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor
Dimensions
56 x 22 x 15 inches LxWxH
Weight
69 lbs
Maximum Load
500 lbs
Resistance Type
Air Resistance
Digital Display
StairMaster HIIT Rower
Image
StairMaster HIIT Rower
Dimensions
96 x 26.5 x 43 inches LxWxH
Weight
66 lbs
Maximum Load
500 lbs
Resistance Type
Isokinetic Fan
Digital Display
V-fit Tornado Air Rower
Image
V-fit Tornado Air Rower
Dimensions
83.46 x 17.32 x 29.13 inches LxWxH
Weight
42.99 lbs
Maximum Load
253 lbs
Resistance Type
Air Resistance
Digital Display

Physiotherapy exercises for knee pain

For those who are suffering from knee pain, here are some physiotherapy exercises that can help alleviate the pain felt in your knees while you are also working your body out to burn calories while toning those muscles:

1. Bridges

Bridges require you to lie flat on your back while both knees are bent. Keep your feet about hip-width apart and make sure that your toes are lifted as your heels should be the ones that are touching the floor.

From there, push your hips upward while keeping your heels and your upper back flat on the floor. This exercise allows your knees to move a bit to keep those fluids moving while working your glutes and hamstrings.

2. Straight leg raise

The straight leg raise works your quads and hips without actually straining your knees. To do this workout, lie flat on your back with one leg straightened and the other bent at the knee.  From there, raise the straightened leg up to the height of your knee until you feel your leg muscles working hard.

3. Step-ups

Step-ups are great at keeping your legs moving well without actually straining your knees or putting a lot of impact on them. Use a box or a step board that is at least six inches high to do this workout.  From there, start with both of your feet on the box as you step backward with one foot while keeping the other on the box. 

Return to your starting position by pushing off against the box using the foot that is still on it as you are stepping the other leg back on the box to work those quads and glutes without putting a lot of weight on your knees.

4. Prone straight leg raises

Prone straight leg raises allow you to work those glutes and hamstrings without involving your knees at all to keep them safe from any damage. To do this workout, you should lie down on the floor with your stomach as you keep your leg straight. 

With your leg muscles and your core tightened, lift one leg in the air without bending it at the knee as you feel your glutes and hamstrings working. Keep the leg up in the air for a few seconds before slowly returning to the starting position.

Repeat the same workout for a few reps before switching over to your other leg. You can also add some resistance to the workout by adding ankle weights to your legs.

Conclusion

There is no particular exercise that is bad for the knees not unless you have a pre-existing knee injury. However, there are some exercises that would strain the knees if they are not done properly such as squats and lunges. If you are in any way experiencing bad knees but you need to continue working out, there are exercises you can do such as calf raises and clamshell.

Leg raise and step-ups would help alleviate any knee pains you may be experiencing. There are also some cardio machines you can consider using when you have bad knees.

The most important thing when you exercise is to make sure you execute the routines properly to avoid injuries or strains.

Last update on 2021-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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