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8 Safe And Effective Lower Body Exercises For People With Bad Knees

It seems like every popular workout expects you to squat, lunge, run, and jump with the best of them. What do you do if your knees refuse to cooperate? If you can practically hear your joints screaming at you in defiance, no way am I doing that again, you can move away from jumping rope or relying on a squat rack. Here are a host of workouts you can do on lower body day that don’t put unnecessary pressure on your knees…

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Glute Bridges

This exercise targets the glutes and hamstrings, and you don’t even have to be upright.

Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, close to your glutes. Keep your arms at your sides, palms down. Push through your heels, clench your glutes and abs, and raise your hips up. Your stomach should be tight, and you should be able to draw a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Your body shape should resemble a table with two legs removed so it sits at a slant. Lower back down with control.

If this is too easy, try using a barbell or other weight on your lap, or use resistance bands to really activate those glutes.

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Knee-Tuck Crunches

You can do these ab killers two different ways. You can sit on the floor with your hands behind you for support. Extending your legs so they’re at a 45-degree angle over the floor. Simply pull your knees to your chest, using your stomach muscles, and then extend the legs back to 45 degrees.

You can use an exercise ball for a little extra challenge. Get into a plank position with your shins on the ball. Pull your knees to your chest and then push back into your starting position without breaking the plank. Make sure to always keep your back straight and your core engaged.

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High-Knee Pulldowns

Begin in a standing position with your arms over your head, as if you’re reaching for something. Simultaneously bring your arms down while lifting one knee above the belly button. Pretend like you’re pulling something down while kneeing it. Always keep the core engaged and the standing leg strong.

Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

This exercise works your glutes and hamstrings, without putting pressure on the knees. You’ll need some kind of weight, so bust out the kettlebells, dumbbells, or even gallon jugs of water. Hold a weight in each hand. Stand on one leg, with the other just behind you.

Hinge forward at the hips to bring your upper body parallel to the ground. Your arms should dangle straight down. Use your hip, glute, and hamstring muscles to return to a standing position, and then do it again on the other side.

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Standing Dumbbell Calf Raises

There are many variations to this simple exercise, but none involve the knees. Grab some dumbbells, a barbell, or a kettlebell, and begin with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly and steadily rise onto the balls of your feet, lifting your heels off the ground.

Then, with control, lower back down. You should feel the burn in your calf muscles. For variation, stand on a barbell plate with your heel hanging over the edge or increase the amount of weight you hold.

Photo: Artem Varnitsin/Shutterstock


Traditional squats are everyone’s favorite glute-building exercise. The problem is that many people have improper form, which can put pressure on the knee joints. This occurs when the squat goes too deep, and you’re forced to engage your knees to escape the position.

You can alleviate this by using a box (a gym box, not an Amazon Prime box). Squat normally, leading with your hips, and sit on the box instead of dropping straight down. Then use your glutes and quads to lift yourself back into a standing position.

Try it first with only your body weight. Once you figure out how to properly activate your lower body muscles, make it tougher by adding a barbell on your shoulders.

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Standing Knee-To-Elbows

Start this one by standing straight, feet a little more than shoulder-width apart. Put your left hand on your left hip to help you stabilize. Raise your right arm straight in the air. Contracting your side abdominals, bring your right knee up. At the same time, bring your right elbow down to meet it.

Your knee should reach higher than your belly button. Do this on both sides, always making sure your standing leg is contracted, so you don’t lose your balance.

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Frog Press

This one will fire up your glutes and abs, as well as improve stability in your hips and back. Lay on your back with your feet together and your knees relaxed to the sides. You should look a little like a frog with your knees at 90-degree angles.


Then, contract your abs and crunch up, lifting your head and shoulders off the ground. While holding yourself up, straighten your legs at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Return to the starting position, making sure your abdominal muscles stay contracted as you lower your torso and legs.

You don’t have to let bad knees hold you back from developing great fitness. There are plenty of exercises to work the lower body without putting strain on the knees.