It’s frustrating to start working out, only to have your body protest and your knees scream in pain. You’re trying to do something good for yourself, and all it does is hurt and cause discomfort. Your knee joints oten take a beating from high impact movements such as running, jumping, or pressing heavy weight and it can easily keep you from moving your body, but it doesn’t have to.
We’ve compiled a list of simple exercises that will challenge your lower body. These are easier on the knees than the traditional squats and lunges that are often incorporated into a leg routine but are known to put strain and pressure on your knee joints.
As always, make sure to consult with your physician prior to working out or if you have any questions or concerns with knee pain or injuries.
Start with foam rolling and a good warm up
It is so easy to jump straight into a workout instead of taking the necessary steps to prepare your body. Getting your blood flowing and your ligaments and tendons warmed up can make a huge difference in whether your knees start to ache and hurt, causing you to quit early. Take some time to stretch and foam roll, and if you’re planning on working with heavy weight, start with a light weight and work up to the heavy weight. This will allow your ligaments and tendons to adjust and stretch without injury. A proper warm up session will often be the difference between a good workout and a bad one.
Seated Leg Extensions
These are most often done in a gym using a leg extension machine, but you can do them at home as well by sitting on a chair with your back straight and extending one leg at a time to where your leg is parallel with the floor.
When doing these in a gym, choose a weight that allows resistance but doesn’t cause pain. Slowly increase the weight as your knees start to warm up. I use these prior to every leg workout that I do, simply to make sure my knees are good and ready for the work ahead of them.
Banded Glute Bridge or Hip Thrusts
Glute bridges are performed by laying on the floor and putting a resistance band around your legs right above your knees. With both legs bent and feet flat on the floor, keep resistance on the band by pushing your knees apart. Slowly raise your torso and butt off of the floor, pushing through your quads. Squeeze your butt at the top to get a good contraction and then slowly lower your body back down.
Hip thrusts are similar, but instead of lying on the floor, sit on the floor in front of a bench. Place your back on the bench right at your shoulder blade line. Your feet should be flat on the floor and shoulder width apart. Raise your body off the ground, thrusting your torso and glutes up. Your legs should now be at a 90 degree angle. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the rep and slowly lower back down. You can either add a band around your legs to add some resistance, or place a barbell across your hips for added weight.
Stability Ball Roll Ins
Lay on the floor face up and place your calves and ankles on the stability ball. Begin by raising your butt off the floor, and slowly bring the ball into your glutes using your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top of the rep. Slowly lower back down to the floor. Be sure to engage your core throughout the exercise.
Standing in front of a box or bench and holding a set of dumbbells, simply place your left foot on the box or bench and push your body up. Pause, then slowly lower your body back down. Make sure to keep your chest up and shoulders back throughout the exercise. Repeat the movement several times and then switch legs.
This exercise seems so simple and it’s often overlooked, but it packs a big punch. For some people it can put too much strain on the knees, but if you can perform it without pain it is a tremendous exercise to add to your routine as it will help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knees and hopefully decrease pain.
Stand with your feet flat on the floor with good posture and spinal alignment. Slowly raise up on your tiptoes until you feel a strong contraction in your calf muscles. Hold for 2 seconds and slowly lower back down.
If you are performing these in a gym, there are several different types of calf machines that vary in style. Some are performed seated while others are performed standing. Regardless of style, calf raises should not put too much pressure on your knees but will help strengthen your surrounding muscles.
Stiff Leg Deadlift
Stiff leg deadlifts are a phenomenal exercise to help strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. Start by holding either a dumbbell in each hand or barbell, palms facing your body. Your feet should be no more than hip width apart and your knees slightly bent. Keeping the weight close to your body, bend at the hips and lower the weight in front of you, keeping a straight (neutral) back. Push your glutes back as you lower the weight, maintaining control throughout the movement. You should feel tension in your hamstrings and calves. Slowly rise back to an upright position.
Don’t Give Up!
Any type of pain is frustrating when you’re trying to workout, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Almost any exercise can be modified or substituted for one that will keep you pain free. And often, once your body starts to get stronger and grow used to the new movement patterns, you’ll notice the aches and pains you once had are gone! Resistance training has the power to give you your life back if you don’t give up before giving your body a chance!