Best Bodyweight Exercises for Sensitive Knees

Knee pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages. Whether due to injury, excess body fat, or medical conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis, knee pain can sideline you from regular activity and make you feel limited in your daily exercise.

But you don't have to take a break from exercise when you know which moves can give you a great workout without hurting your knees. In fact, it is very important to find ways to move. If you avoid exercise, your legs will become weak—which can further exacerbate knee pain. 

Exercises for Sensitive Knees

Learn how to get a great bodyweight workout in despite knee pain.

While squats and lunges are two of the most popular bodyweight exercises, they can be hard on sensitive knees. Luckily, there are other bodyweight exercises that can still give you a great workout but are more low-impact.

Some of these moves use equipment like resistance bands and a stability ball. Using equipment like this can help take away some of the strain placed on your joints while still helping you reach the full range of motion.

Hamstring Roll-In on the Stability Ball

  1. Begin lying on your back, arms at your sides and feet on top of a stability ball.
  2. Squeeze the glutes and abs and lift the body up so you are in a straight line, with only your shoulders and head on the mat.
  3. Pull the heels toward the glutes, rolling the ball in, then push the ball back out. Continue to pull the ball in and out for the desired number of reps. Slowly lower body back to the mat. If your knees bother you, decrease the range of motion (don't roll the ball in and out as far).

Targets: hamstrings, glutes, back, core

Resistance Band Alternating Glute Squeeze

  1. Hold the band's handles or ends next to the hips, with elbows bent, and stand on the band with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Lift right foot and press the band back at an angle, squeezing your glute. Keep leg straight. Release and switch sides.

Targets: glutes

Resistance Band Tick Tock

  1. Stand on band with feet shoulder-width apart and hold handles next to hip bones.
  2. Keep legs long as you press right leg out to the side, then set right foot down and press left leg out to the side. That is a total of one repetition.
  3. As you alternate pressing legs side to side, be sure to keep your abs tight so your body stays tall and doesn’t tip over to the side.

Targets: legs

Resistance Band Outer Thigh Press

  1. Lie on your back with legs straight in the air above the hips.
  2. Place the center of the band around the bottom of your feet and hold handles together at your chest.
  3. Press the feet wide open until legs are in a straddle position and band is tight. Release slowly.

Targets: legs

Leg Lift

  1. Start on all fours with right leg extended long on ​a mat. If this is uncomfortable for your left knee, pad it with a towel.
  2. Squeeze right glute and hamstring to lift right leg up towards the ceiling. Slowly lower and repeat for ​the desired number of reps. Make sure to keep abs tight and back straight.

Targets: glutes, hamstrings, core

Glute Kicker

  1. Kneel on all fours (padding knees with a towel as needed) and bring right knee off the mat, holding the right heel above ​the knee with foot flexed.
  2. Squeeze right glute and press right leg towards the ceiling. Release slightly down and squeeze up again. Repeat for ​the desired number of reps, then switch sides, keeping abs tight throughout.

Targets: glutes, hamstrings

Stability Ball Single-Leg Lift and Lower

  1. Begin lying on back, arms by your sides with the right foot on top of the stability ball and the left leg extended into the air.
  2. Press your foot on the ball as you lift your body up so you are in a straight line with only shoulders and head relaxed on the mat. The left leg doesn’t move.
  3. Slowly return to ​the floor. Repeat for the desired number of reps and switch feet.

Targets: hamstrings, glutes, core

Resistance Band Butt Blaster

  1. Kneel on the floor and wrap the band under your right foot. Place the hands down under the shoulders, holding the band's handles against the floor.
  2. Lift the right knee off the floor slightly and push the right foot back to extend the leg straight against the band, squeezing your glute.
  3. Release, slowly bringing the knee back into a bent position. Continue for desired reps and switch feet.

Targets: glutes

Fire Hydrant

  1. Begin on all fours.
  2. Using the outer thigh muscles and glutes, lift one knee out and up, keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Lower your leg and repeat on the other side.

Targets: glutes, quads, thighs

Build Healthy Strong Legs

Remember, you don't have to give up on exercise if you have sensitive knees. These exercises will help your lower body get stronger without discomfort.

If your knee issues are a result of lack of strength and joint stability, by doing some of these exercises, you’ll be able to strengthen your knees and surrounding muscles. You'll graduate to squats and lunges in the near future.

By Chris Freytag
Chris Freytag is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. She is also the founder of