Best Bodyweight Exercises for Sensitive Knees

Knee pain is a common complaint that affects people of all ages. Whether due to injury, caused by carrying excess body fat, or brought on by 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 your knee pain. 

Best 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 tend to be hard on people with sensitive knees. Luckily, there are myriad other bodyweight exercises that can still give you a great workout but are more low-impact. Here, we recommend nine of those bodyweight exercises that will help you get in shape while still protecting your knees.

Some of our favorite moves will use equipment like resistance bands, while others will incorporate 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. So try one or all of these nine bodyweight exercises for when you want to tone, tighten, and get in shape—without putting pressure on your knees.

Hamstring Roll-Ins on the Stability Ball

  1. Begin lying on back, arms by side and feet on top of a stability ball.
  2. Squeeze glutes and abs and lift the body up so you are in a straight line with only shoulders and head relaxed on the mat.
  3. Pull heels toward 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 place both feet on the band 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. Lay on your back with legs straight in the air above 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 Lifts

  1. Start on all fours with right leg extended long on ​a mat.
  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 Kickers

  1. Kneel on all fours and bring right knee off 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 side with right foot on top of stability ball and left leg extended into the air
  2. Press 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. 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 Blasters

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

Targets: glutes

Fire Hydrants

  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 just 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 and graduate to squats and lunges in the near future.

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