This 20-Minute Lower-Body Workout Is Easy on Your Knees — but Still Builds Major Muscle

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You don't have to sacrifice your knees for a good lower-body workout.
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Do lunges and squats strain your knees? Definitely don't push through the pain, says Joanie Johnson, a certified personal trainer and pre- and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. "Pain is your body telling you something isn't right."

If you're prone to knee pain, you may want to avoid movements that are hard on your joints until you've identified the root of the problem.

"In my experience, the two most common causes for weak or 'bad' knees are poor alignment and not utilizing the glutes properly," Johnson says. "When the glutes are weak, people tend to overload the knee joint when bending, squatting and moving through their day-to-day activities."

That's why it's important to learn how to properly engage your glutes, she says. Firing up your backside is often the fix for eliminating knee discomfort. The good news is that there are plenty of pain-free ways to sculpt and strengthen your lower body.

20-Minute Lower-Body Workout That's Easy on Your Knees

This 20-minute workout designed by Johnson will make your booty burn and build major muscle in your bottom half without straining your knees.

Warm-Up

Move 1: Deep Breathing

  1. Stand tall.
  2. Inhale through your nose, filling your belly and ribs.
  3. Exhale out your nose.
  4. Repeat 5 times.

Tip

Starting with breath awareness is really important for anyone that is prone to holding tension or for people who experience pain anywhere in their body during a workout,” Johnson says.

Move 2: Hip Circles

  1. Start standing.
  2. Circle your hips clockwise for 10 reps.
  3. Then reverse the motion, circling your hips counterclockwise for 10 more reps.

Move 3: Tailbone Tuck

  1. Stand tall.
  2. Gently draw your navel in toward your spine and your sit bones toward your heels.
  3. Return to a neutral spine and repeat 10 times.

Tip

This move is important to increase your range of motion, enhance mobility and engage your glutes during the workout, Johnson says.

Move 4: Lateral Step

  1. Stand tall.
  2. Step to your right, then your left.
  3. Continue alternating for 1 minute at a medium speed to increase blood flow.

Move 5: Stationary March

  1. March in place.
  2. Begin to increase your pace to increase blood flow.
  3. Continue marching at a fast speed for 1 minute.

Circuit #1

Do: 15 to 20 reps of each move. Repeat the entire circuit twice.

Move 1: Second Position Pulses

  1. Start in a wide "dancer's second position" with your toes slightly turned out.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and pulse up and down a few inches (not a full squat).

Move 2: Second Position Relevé

  1. Start in a wide "dancer's second position" with your toes slightly turned out.
  2. Bend your knees slightly, then lift and lower your heels.

Move 3: Calf Raises

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees straight.
  2. Engaging your calves, hamstrings and glutes, raise up onto your toes by lifting your heels as high as you can.
  3. Then lower your heels back down to the floor.

Tip

Use a wall or chair for balance if needed.

Move 4: Wall Squat

  1. Lean your back against a wall.
  2. Keep your chest open and your shoulders above your hips.
  3. Slowly step your feet away from the wall, keeping your weight in your heels (not in the toes).
  4. Slowly inch your way down the wall until you find a squat position you can maintain and hold for 10 seconds.

Move 5: Shallow Squat Relevé

  1. Standing with feet a little wider than hip-width apart, push your hips back, keep your weight in your heels and sit back into a shallow squat.
  2. As you return to standing, lift your heels up to balance on your toes.

Move 6: Parallel Pulses

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Step your right leg behind you and line your feet up as if you are standing on parallel train tracks.
  3. Drive your weight into your left (front heel) as you lift your right (back) leg up and down in small pulses.
  4. Continue for 15 to 20 reps, then switch and repeat on the opposite leg.

Tip

“Adjust your alignment to make sure you feel this in your glutes, not your knees. You may have to pitch your weight forward a bit,” Johnson says.

Circuit #2

Do: 15 to 20 reps for each move, then repeat the entire circuit on the opposite side.

Move 1: Side-Lying Leg Presses

  1. Lie down on your side. Rest yourself on your bottom forearm with your elbow bent and aligned under your shoulder.
  2. Bend your bottom leg under you for support and extend your top leg. Your hips should be stacked.
  3. Engaging your glutes and thighs, lift and lower your top leg, keeping your knee straight and your foot flexed.

Move 2: High-Low Heel Presses

  1. Lie down on your side. Rest yourself on your bottom forearm with your elbow bent and aligned under your shoulder.
  2. Bend your top knee in to 90 degrees, maintaining a flexed foot, then press through your heel and extend the leg out straight to a low position.
  3. Bend the leg back to 90 degrees and, pressing through your heel, extend it straight to a higher position.

Move 3: Clam Shells

  1. Lie on your side so that your hips are comfortably stacked one on top of the other and bend your knees at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Keep your feet together as you raise your top knee as high as you can. Don't let your lower leg leave the floor.
  3. Pause and squeeze your butt at the top of the movement, then slowly lower.

Cooldown

Do: each stretch for 30 to 45 seconds.

Move1: Figure 4 Stretch

  1. Lie on your back and cross you right foot over your left thigh, bending your left knee.
  2. Pull the back of your left leg gently toward your chest.
  3. When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold.
  4. Switch sides and repeat.

Move 2: Extended Leg Stretch

  1. Start in a seated position on the floor.
  2. Stretch both legs straight out in front of you.
  3. Raise your arms above your head, take a breath and bend forward to reach toward your toes.

Move 3: Open Leg Stretch

  1. Start in a seated position on the floor with your legs wide and stretched out to the sides.
  2. Reach toward your right toes and hold.
  3. Repeat on the left leg.

Move 4: Butterfly Stretch

  1. Sit upright with the soles of the feet together, knees out to the side.
  2. Bend forward and hold.

Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.

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