7 Cardio Exercises for Bad Knees

7 Cardio Exercises For Bad Knees

Suffering from sore knees, rheumatoid arthritis, or just trying to get over a serious injury that really impacts your knees?

You’re not alone by any stretch of the imagination.

Cardio for bad knees is all about staying low-impact, and putting the strain of cardio on other parts of your body. In fact, these exercises could help out anyone, even if they don’t have bad knees.

You target other areas of your body besides your legs, and you don’t end up in pain after. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

These exercises can help you achieve that.

1. Swimming


Swimming is by far the best sport to achieve a full-body workout. It actually works out core muscles, back muscles, leg muscles, all while having zero impact on your body.

Your knees won’t feel a thing, because they’re being suspended by buoyancy instead of having gravity pushing down on them.

Even if you have a healthy BMI and aren’t putting additional pressure on your knees, they can still suffer from gravity. Swimming handles all of that. Some swimming exercises you can do to get fit regardless of your bad knees are:


It’s literally just aerobics, but in the water. Many aerobic exercises require dynamic movement, and the resistance is coming from your own bodyweight.

That’s okay if you’re practicing calisthenics, but for bad knees, you might be bottlenecked from doing those exercises the way they were meant to be.

Waterobics puts your knees into a pressureless state, so long as you’re in deep enough to force your body to float. No shallow end on this one.

Water Jogging

Yeah, it sounds pretty odd, but when you’re standing up in the pool and the water is just at your shoulder level, you’re mostly relying on buoyancy to stay standing.

Think about how easy it is to just kind of float back and lose your footing, sending you to a floating position on your back. Your body is also in a low-impact state.

Start by walking, because the water resistance against your shins will help train your muscles, while keeping your knees out of the impact zone. Graduate to jogging.


Simply doing laps around the pool, with your stomach floating on the water, and your arms doing most of the work.

Not only is this zero-impact on your knees, but you’re not even using your knees for it. This helps build core, shoulder, arm and back muscles, all while leaving your knees out of the equation.

2. Rowing Machine Reps

Rowing Machine Reps

A rowing machine works out over a dozen key muscle groups, and can be one of the best strength training and cardio combination workouts out there. This is low-impact, but it is not zero-impact like swimming.

Using a rowing machine will admittedly be a series of trials and errors. You can find plenty of proper posture videos for how to row online, and depending on how much you focus on your arms, you can feel little to no pain in your knees while still getting a little bit of a leg workout.

This is a very linear exercise, so there are no different methods to look into. Instead, just remember a few tips and tricks while using a rowing machine to keep the pressure off your knees, while getting a great workout in.

Pull, Don’t Push

Pull the cord and handle with your hands and arms. Put the weight and pressure into your shoulders and biceps. When you use your feet and push off from the bottom, you’re putting pressure on your knees. Avoid that, but understand that it takes practice:

Leaning Back

To help with those arm pulls and to avoid knee pushes, you’re going to want to lean back at the peak of your pull. If you don’t, you’re not engaging your core, and you might rely on your knees for additional strength without even realizing it at first.

Knees Forward

Your knees and legs should not bow out to make an oblong diamond shape: your legs should be fairly close together at all times as you’ll see in rowing machine posture videos and proper form instructions.

This keeps your knees in a series of low-motion movements that reduce knee pain risk.

3. Yoga


Yoga is classified as cardio, though not to be confused with cardio yoga.

This is because it gets the heart pumping and sweat coming out, but because there’s a lot of dynamic movements and stretches involved, you can actually strengthen your knees while keeping tension off of them.

It’s an exercise that takes some getting used to, and requires good form to ensure you aren’t getting hurt.

Mastering this could take some practice, so try doing yoga at home as first before you attend a class. You want to be able to keep up and get the full cardio benefit, just take the baby steps to get there.

4. Cycling

This is a personal favorite of mine, because if you’re cycling outdoors, your scenery is always changing.

It takes some of the mundane elements out of cardio exercises that most people dislike. However, you don’t just have to cycle outdoors to get the benefits of this excellent cardio workout.

When you’re cycling, your knees aren’t undergoing as much stress. They have the weight of your thighs moving to handle, but your body is resting on a seat, which is absorbing a lot of that impact.

If you stand the entire time you cycle, you will feel it on your knees, which is why stationary cycling might actually be a better option depending on your cycling style and knee pain level.

Spin bikes are arguably the best way to cycle indoors, while keeping the impact on your knees to a minimum.

Other types of exercise bikes include more knees movements, such as recumbent bikes, which could end up making your pain worse. When done properly, cycling can actually help strengthen the cartilage in your knees.

5. Leg Raises

Leg Raises

This is a key component to calisthenics, but it doesn’t use a lot of your own bodyweight against you. In fact, leg raises will get you breathing heavy and have you feeling your blood pumping, all without having to run or cycle.

Laying on your back, you hold your hands over your core, and straighten out one leg. Raise it to a 45° angle, and hold it there for a few seconds. Using your own leg’s weight, lower it (don’t just drop it and release your control over your leg), then alternate to your other leg.

This works out your leg muscles while getting a good sweat in, which is great because many of us suffering with bad knees can’t get in good leg workouts. It’s the perfect solution.

6. Underwater Treadmill

Now, this is something you’re only going to be able to find at a speciality fitness club or something along those lines, but it’s a very good piece of equipment that keeps the impact off of your knees.

These are literally treadmills that look like they’re built into high-walled bathtubs.

The tread moves while the container is half-full of water, which usually goes up to about waist level. The levels can be adjusted depending on your height, but the tread has to be underwater.

This does a lot of the same impact-reducing status effects that swimming does. You still have the gravity of your body coming down on top of your thighs and knees, but it’s nowhere near as intense as if you were to go jogging on a standard treadmill.

7. Walking


It’s at the bottom of the list because it’s the least effective, and the least exciting. We know, going for a walk doesn’t seem like much, but it can make a great difference. Long walks work as cardio, just on a low-intensity scale.

While you’re not going to build up as much of a sweat, you are forcing your heart to work more, which is actually the definition of cardio exercise. It’s low risk, but it’s also low reward.

This isn’t going to cut calories and tone leg muscles that way that an underwater treadmill will, and you’re not going to feel the burn like you would while swimming for the same duration of time.

Going on a walk might be all you have available at the moment if you don’t have access to rowing machines or a pool, so utilize what you have at your disposal, and remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.

Cardio Can Help

Some of us have more to deal with just to get to the gym or manage that workout, and pain management is hard. For whatever reason, your knees aren’t doing you any favors during standard workouts.

Use these exercises to help alleviate stress, tension, and pain, while targeting other areas of your body for maximum fat-burning potential.

Rate this post