Work around your knee pain and keep making progress in your lower body muscle development by avoiding exercises that put a lot of pressure on your knees. Instead, use low-impact leg exercises and movements that target the muscles in the back your legs, like the glutes and hamstrings instead.
Working Around Knee Pain
Exercises that are very quad-dominant, like single-leg squats, can make your knee problems worse. They involve a lot of movement at the knee which increases pressure at the joint.
Instead, focus on exercises that use more of your posterior chain muscles. These are the muscles in the back of your legs like the glutes, hamstrings and calves. When you use these muscles in an exercise, such as a deadlift, they take pressure off of your knees.
It's also important to avoid jarring activities like jumping and running. They put a lot of pressure on the knees from the sudden impact of landing and can make your knees hurt.
Low-Impact Leg Workout
Your hamstrings will be on fire after this workout, but your knees will be thanking you for the relief. Each exercise works the backs of your legs, rather than the fronts where you'd experience more pressure on your knees.
Stand tall with your feet together. Take a big step back with one foot and plant your toes. Bend your back knee and go down until you're an inch above the ground. Step back up to the start position and then step back with the opposite foot. Keep switching feet until you've done eight reps on each side.
Take a kettlebell and set it 2 feet in front of you. Squat down and lean forward to grab the handle. Set your feet wide. Swing the bell back between your legs, keeping your chest up and back flat. Stand up straight and snap your hips forward to swing the bell up. Once it reaches shoulder-height, stop the swing and pull it back down between your legs, pushing your butt back. Do 15 swings.
Sliding Hamstring Curl
Put two sliders down on the ground -- use towels if you have hardwood floors or another smooth surface. Lie down on your back with the sliders under your heels and legs straight. Pull your heels in towards your butt, bending your knees. As you pull in, lift your butt into the air and do a glute bridge. The rep ends when your heels are under your knees and your butt is in the air. Slide back down and then repeat for 10 reps.
Start standing, holding a dumbbell down between your legs. Step out wide with your left foot. Stick your butt back and lean to the left, straightening your right knee. Touch the bottom of the dumbbell to your left heel, then stand tall with both knees straight before leaning to the right side. Repeat for eight reps on each leg.
Stand on one leg, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Kick the leg in the air straight back as you lean forward, keeping your back flat. Slightly bend the bottom knee as you go down. Stop when your hands are around mid-shin, and stand back up. Try to do eight reps on each side without touching the moving leg to the floor.
Low-Impact Functional Workout
These exercises help you with everyday leg strength and give you the strength to move heavy objects without hurting your knees.
Start with a barbell on the ground. Stand in the center of the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and shins almost touching the bar. Stick your butt back, sink down, and lean over to grab the bar with both hands. Make sure your arms are outside your knees. Flatten out your back, stick your chest up, drive through your heels and pick the bar up. Thrust your hips through at the top to finish standing tall, then slowly lower the weight back down. Repeat eight times.
Sit next to a bench or chair with your upper back against the edge and butt on the ground. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the ground. Lean back and thrust your hips up, driving through your heels. Go as high as you can with your hips, then lower back down until you're an inch off of the ground. Do 12 reps.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell vertically between your palms at chest-height. Squat down, keeping your weight on your heels and butt back. Try not to let your knees come forward too much. Squat as low as you can and then stand back up. Do 10 reps.
Hold a heavy weight in either hand; use either a dumbbell or weight plate. Stand tall and walk slowly for as long as possible. The added weight stresses your leg muscles as well as your shoulders and forearms.
Climb a set of stairs, either without weight or holding a dumbbell. You can also use a stair climber machine at a gym. Try to walk continuously for 10 minutes. Stair climbing is easy on the knees because you don't get a jarring impact every step. It also works the leg muscles more than normal walking.
- Pain Science: What can a runner with knee pain do at the gym?
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
- Rush University: 5 Tips for Preventing Knee Pain
- Australian Journal of Physiotherapy: Females with patellofemoral pain syndrome have weak hip muscles: a systematic review