These Lower-Body Exercises Are Perfect for Those Who Suffer From Knee Pain

Of all the reasons people skip over lower-body exercises, knee pain is one of the most common. It makes perfect sense because it’s hard to get an effective workout when you’re hurting too much to perform an adequate number of repetitions. In many cases, the discomfort might even lead to improper form, which could make the problem even worse.

Getting a great workout for your bottom half without searing knee pain starts with a decent warm-up. Because our joints are stiff after we’ve been stagnate for a while, it’s necessary to get things moving and ready for exercise before jumping right into strength training. Check out this easy routine from STACK. You also have to go for some slightly less traditional lower-body exercises to avoid stressing your knee joints too much. Get started with these moves.

1. Glute bridges

Bridge pose is one of several lower-body exercises that won't cause knee pain

Bridge pose is one of several lower-body exercises that won’t cause knee pain. | iStock.com

One of the simplest ways to get started on strengthening your glutes and hamstrings is a standard bridge. Because you perform this exercise lying on the ground, the pressure on your hips and knees is kept to an absolute minimum. This means glute bridges are a great way to get back into the exercise game if you’ve been nursing a knee injury.

To get started, lie on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms close to your sides, palms facing down. Point your toes up toward the ceiling, then push through your heels to bring your hips up off the ground, stopping once your lower body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. You can see the correct form over at Shape Magazine.

As you get stronger, you can adjust the move to make it more challenging. One method is to hold a dumbbell across your hips as you perform the bridge. You can also up your effort by doing the move one leg at a time.

2. Box squats

close-up of a woman's upper body as she performs barbell squats

Try box squats for better form. | iStock.com

Traditional squats are a favorite among gym goers for strengthening quads and glutes, but they’re also notoriously hard on knees. Many people don’t maintain proper form throughout the lift, which adds way too much stress to the knee joints. Fortunately, you can fix this problem by squatting into a seated position on top of a box. Muscle & Fitness explains this forces you to lead with your hips, keeping your knees right where they should be.

Before you get too excited about lifting a loaded barbell, focus on the movement using just your bodyweight and the box. Men’s Health shares a great demo showing the right technique. While you don’t have to keep your arms extended in front of you, it’s a great method to ensure you maintain balance. Once you’re comfortable with the move, you can begin to add weights to the equation.

3. Single-leg standing dumbbell calf raise

close-up of a man's hand as he chooses a dumbbell

Try these weighted calf raises. | iStock.com

The good news about calf raises is they’re one of the few exercises that don’t put your knees at risk. The bad news is there’s often a long wait for both the standing and seated machines at the gym. By grabbing a dumbbell and going one leg at a time, you can effectively target the area without wasting your precious gym time.

To get started, grab a dumbbell. Everyone will need a slightly different amount of weight, but you’re probably safe starting off with a 10- to 15-pound dumbbell. Stand on top of a weight plate with your heel hanging over the edge, then use your free hand to hold yourself steady as you press through the ball of your foot to rise as high as possible. Hold the move briefly, then lower back down to the starting position. After your desired number of repetitions, switch sides. You can see this exercise over at Women’s Health.

4. Landmine reverse lunges

close-up of a man's legs as he lunges

Traditional lunges can be hard on the knees, so try these out. | iStock.com

Like squats, lunges can be bad news for knees. To make this lower-body exercise pain-free, you just have to think about it a little differently. T Nation suggests stepping back into a lunge using a landmine weight. The story explained using this type of load allows you to use it as a counterbalance, meaning you can more easily take a large enough step back without fear of toppling over.

You’ll load up the bar with a manageable amount of weight, then anchor it to the ground using a landmine unit. If you’re doing this move at home, you can also create a makeshift anchor by wrapping the end in a towel and wedging it into the corner of a room. Hold the weighted end just a few inches in front of your left leg with your left hand. Keeping your body erect, step your left leg back to lower yourself into a lunge. Step back to the starting position, repeat for your desired number of repetitions, then switch sides.

5. Single-leg Romanian deadlift

young woman stands in front of a weight rack holding dumbbells

This move targets the back of the legs. | iStock.com

This move is one of the absolute best lower-body exercises because it targets your hamstrings, glutes, and hips. Breaking Muscle explains this boosts functional movement in your hips, which minimizes stress on your knees. Because you’ll be working each leg separately, this move can also help smooth out any muscle imbalances.

You can perform this exercise with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell, so use whatever’s available. To get started, hold a weight in each hand and stand on your left leg with your right just behind your left heel. Hinge forward at your hips to bring your upper body parallel to the ground, and let your arms dangle perpendicular to the ground. Stand back up to the starting position and repeat to complete one set on the same leg, then switch sides. You can see a great diagram by heading to Health. This move will challenge your balance as well, so take your time.

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