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30-Minute Leg Workout for Bad Knees

Sculpt and strengthen the entire lower body while protecting the knee joints with this 30-minute leg workout for bad knees! These are the best, knee-friendly leg exercises to target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and thighs without causing knee pain or irritation. This low impact strength workout doesn’t include any lunges or jumping.

Strong, healthy knees are something I won’t ever take for granted – especially following my own meniscus tear and following knee surgery.

We receive emails and DMs every day from people struggling with knee pain during lunges. The lunge requires a combination of strength, stability and flexion. Things like improper form, muscle imbalances, limited ankle mobility and limited hip mobility can all lead to pain around the knee joint.

These are the knee friendly leg exercises I started programming into my own workouts while recovering from a knee injury.

Each exercise is designed to strengthen both the larger lower body muscles (such as the quads, glutes and hamstrings) as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles surrounding the ankle, knee and hip joints.

This is also a great workout if lunges or jumping aggravate your knee pain – the entire workout is low-impact and lunge-free.

two women performing glute bridges as part of leg workout for bad knees

30-Minute Leg Workout for Bad Knees

Build strength and stability in the lower body while protecting your joints with this leg workout for bad knees.

Add this lower body strength workout to your weekly workout routine 1-2 times a week to increase muscle tone and definition.

Workout Equipment:

Medium dumbbells. We’re using 15-20 lbs here. Option to add a mini loop resistance band (discount code: NML). Option to perform each exercise with just your body weight.

Workout Instructions:

Follow along with the guided Knee Friendly Workout Video on YouTube, led by certified personal trainer Lindsey Bomgren. 

Your Workout Looks Like This:

  • 8 Knee Friendly Leg Exercises
  • Timed Intervals (45 seconds of work, 15 seconds of rest. Perform as many reps as possible with good form within the timed interval.)
  • Strict Sets (repeat each exercise x2 sets, back-to-back)
two women performing a staggered deadlift as part of leg workouts for bad knees

Prefer to Watch On YouTube?

youtube icon Knee-Friendly Legs

Workout Outline

  1. Good Morning And Calf Raise
  2. Squats
  3. Staggered Deadlift
  4. Dumbbell Swing
  5. Banded Lateral Walk
  6. Wall Sit with Band
  7. Fire Hydrant Lift and Kick
  8. Glute Bridge and Abduction

4 Best Knee Friendly Leg Exercises

Good Morning and Calf Raise

Targets: Legs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, erector spinae, lower back, calves and core.

The calf raise is one of the best calf exercises you can do to protect your knees.

two women performing a good morning and calf raise exercise as part of a knee strengthening routine

How To Do Good Mornings and Calf Raises

  1. Start in a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart, core engaged. Option to hold one dumbbell horizontally at your chest.
  2. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge forward at the hips until your torso is parallel to the ground. Core engaged and spine neutral (back flat). You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings (back of the legs) at the bottom of the movement.
  3. Reverse the movement, driving through your heels to stand tall, returning to starting position (torso upright).
  4. Then, slowly and with control, lift yourself up onto the balls of your feet, heels rising above the ground. Lift your heels until you feel a stretch along the back of your legs, balancing on your toes.
  5. Then, slowly lower your heels back to the ground, returning to starting position.

Staggered Deadlift

Targets: Legs, glutes, hamstrings, hips, lower back and core.

A more stable version of a single leg deadlift, the staggered deadlift is a hip-hinge movement that strengthens the lower body without putting stress on the knee joint.

two women performing a staggered deadlift as part of a leg workout for bad knees

How To Do Staggered Deadlifts

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold dumbbells in each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing in towards your body.
  2. Stagger your feet, so your right leg is slightly in front of your left foot. Kickstand your back left foot, left heel floating off the ground. Keep 80% of your weight in your front foot, 20% in your back left toe.
  3. Maintain a staggered stance as you hinge at the hips. Push your hips back towards the wall behind you as you glide the dumbbells down the front of your legs. Range of motion will look different for everyone.
  4. Drive through your front right heel to push your hips forward, pulling the dumbbells back up towards your hip as you stand tall.

Banded Lateral Walk

Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings and hip abductors.

The outer glutes work to stabilize the hips and pelvic floor, which can result in less instability in the knees.

two women performing a banded lateral walk as example of knee friendly leg exercises

How To Do Banded Lateral Walks

  1. Option to place a resistance around your thighs, approximately six inches above your knees. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips to create tension across the band (activating your glutes).
  2. Bend your knees to lower down into a loaded squat position. Weight in heels, chest up.
  3. Hold this loaded squat position as you take two lateral steps to your right; stretching the band as far as you can.
  4. Tap your left foot in, bringing it towards your right foot, maintaining a low squat position.
  5. Then, step out with your left leg, maintaining tension across the band before bringing your right leg to the left to meet your outside foot.

Glute Bridge and Abduction

Targets: Hip abductors (outer glutes and thighs), gluteus medius and gluteus minimus (upper and side glutes).

Glute bridges are a great exercise to improve squat and deadlift performance, build bigger and stronger glutes and alleviate knee pain and lower back pain. 

two women performing a glute bridge with an abduction

How To Do Glute Bridges and Abductions

  1. Lie flat on the floor on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, feet hip width apart. Option to place a resistance band six inches above your knees.
  2. Press through the heels to lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. This is a glute bridge. Keep your abs drawn in, belly button pulled towards the spine, so you don’t overextend your back.
  3. Hold your hips high at the top and press your knees away from each other, stretching the band open.
  4. With control, pull your knees back in, stacking them over your ankles. Then lower your hips back to the ground, returning to the starting position.

Leg Workout for Bad Knees FAQs

How Do I Work My Legs with Bad Knees?

Lower body isometric exercises (or holds) are also a great way to build lower body strength without causing knee pain.

How Can You Do Squats If You Have Bad Knees?

Try reducing your range of motion, lowering down only as far as you feel comfortable rather than finding full 90 degree bends in both knees. Alternatively, sub hip thrusts or glute bridges for squats until you build up more lower body strength and stability.

Are Lunges Bad For Knees?

The lunge is one of the best lower body exercises for strengthening the quads, glutes, hamstrings and thighs. However, lunges may cause unnecessary strain on the knee joint when performed incorrectly. Common errors include finding too narrow of a stance, uneven weight distribution, and limited hip/ankle mobility. Reverse lunges tend to be gentler on the knees than forward lunges.

Pin This Workout: 30-Minute Knee Friendly Workout

woman performing glute bridge to strengthen knees

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