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How To Exercise With Bad Knees To Lose Weight 2023: 8 Workouts To Try

Lakshmi Vemuri

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

how to exercise with bad knees to lose weight

If you have knee injuries or suffer from knee osteoarthritis, your doctor might ask you to lose excess weight. But with the persisting knee pain, you will have a tough time doing that. Moreover, excess body weight adds fuel to the fire. Extra weight can add pressure on joints causing stress and knee pain. According to the CDC[1], 54 million people have arthritis in America. And 24 million adults reported limited activity due to arthritis. We know how grueling the knee pain is. So, various forms of physical exercise are ideal for people with knee pain. 

If you hit the gym regularly and your exercises give you knee pain, you might have to try different workout methods. Remember, exercises should never hurt you or make your pain worse. If you are experiencing any form of pain in your joints or muscles, you should see a physical therapist. Read further to know about the best and worst exercises for knee injuries and knee pain along with some weight loss tips.

8 Exercises For Weight Loss That Won’t Impact The Knees

  1. Strength Training Exercises
  2. Water Aerobics
  3. Yoga
  4. Tai Chi
  5. Cycling
  6. Physical Therapy Exercises
  7. Elliptical Training
  8. Swimming

8 Exercises For Overweight People With Knee Pain

As per the guidelines[2] by the U.S Department of health and human services, adults with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, who are able, must do at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Exercising brings a significant improvement in knee function, quality of life, and overall physical and mental health. A good amount of exercise can increase blood flow to cartilage and carry essential nutrients that can heal a knee injury. Physical therapy can also strengthen muscles and reduce wear and tear. Being overweight can put stress on your knees and cause joint pain which could otherwise be avoided with daily workouts and weight loss. The following exercises can help you achieve your fitness goals without any knee pain.

Strength training exercises

Strength Training Exercises

If you have bad knees, start with basic knee strengthening exercises such as ‘Straight leg raises’ that activate muscles like the quadriceps. Doing it 15 times and 3 reps work great for knee osteoarthritis. Studies show a decrease in muscle mass[3] as you get old, as the muscles burn more calories than fat. Through strength training, you can burn more calories and lose excess fat. Moreover, developing muscles increases the ability of shock absorption to joints, which can benefit those with knee osteoarthritis. Best exercises like strength training which includes weights, resistance band exercises, and weight machines at the gym can help you in losing weight.

Water aerobics 

Water Aerobics

Fitness experts say water helps unload weight from your joints and allows you to move freely without having the stress of hard ground surfaces on the joints. Water has higher resistance than air. By this, it means walking in water requires more effort. Moreover, resistance to movements helps you strengthen muscles, improve the flexibility of joints[4] and burn more calories. Thus, it helps in losing weight. Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy which is done in hot water under the supervision of a physical therapist. Moreover, hot water can be soothing for bad knees. Your physical therapist may advise you on exercises like water walking, side-stepping, forward lunges, hip kickers, and lap swimming after proper assessment from a doctor.

Yoga 

Yoga

This age-old exercise method has solutions for pretty much everybody’s fitness problems. Yoga isn’t just about stretching exercises. Yoga helps you lose weight, reduce stress hormone levels, and decrease inflammation in your knee joints. This study revealed[5] that people who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers such as Interleukin 6 in their blood. Interleukin 6 is a significant predictor of osteoarthritis. Inflammation plays a major role in worsening knee function and making it stiff and swollen. Yoga improves muscle strength, flexibility, stability, and activity of joints. Yoga asanas like hero’s pose, mountain pose, and triangle pose can help people with knee pain.

Tai chi

Tai Chi

This ancient Chinese form of exercise has incredible effects on improving the balance and flexibility of joints. Tai chi is a slow-paced, gentle, and non-competitive form of exercise[6]. Tai chi is both a mind and body workout, as its effects on the body go beyond weight loss. It helps your bad knees by improving range of motion, flexibility, balance motions, strengthening, self-efficacy, and depression associated with knee injuries and knee osteoarthritis. Most importantly, it reduces chronic pain. Furthermore, you can achieve mental discipline through Tai chi. It is one of the most effective forms of physical therapy, which provides the right form of low impact on bad knees. Tai chi is gentle on the knees which makes it ideal for people with knee osteoarthritis.

Cycling

Cycling

Cycling is a low-impact workout and is great for people with bad knees. And Cycling limits the impact of stress on weight-bearing joints, like knees, hips, and feet. Physical therapists suggest cycling for 30 minutes 5 days a week. It also helps in improving the range of motion in the knees, ankles, and hips which are the most affected by arthritis.

Cycling movements lubricate the joints, which reduces the stiffness and pain in knee osteoarthritis. A Study shows[7] that low-intensity cycling is equally effective as high-intensity cycling in improving knee function, gait, pain reduction, and increasing aerobic capacity. Lastly, aerobic exercises like cycling increase blood flow. Pedaling stimulates the blood circulation to the legs and activates your muscles to burn fat and lose weight. Make sure to keep the resistance mild to moderate.

Physical therapy exercises

Physical Therapy Exercises

Nobody knows better than a physical therapist about the right exercises for your knee pain. Physical therapy[8] is the first-line treatment recommended universally for knee osteoarthritis. Your physical therapist will curate some set of exercises that can be part of a home exercise program. These exercises are going to be your vital tool for treating knee pain. A physical therapist can assess your condition and know the limits of your knees. Plus, they will also have some tips about how to lose weight with knee pain. Here are some of the exercises which are part of knee pain physical therapy. Exercises like Quad sets and straight leg raises short arc quads, lower extremity stretches, balance exercises, and exercises to strengthen your hips.

Elliptical training

Elliptical Training

Workouts on the elliptical machine are sometimes disregarded. Elliptical training can have a low impact on your knees and shouldn’t cause any pain if done correctly. Elliptical machines are also equipped with movable handles for upper body workouts. It works out the chest, arms, and shoulders. This training helps you lose weight in both arms and legs. You can get the best of both worlds. Moreover, you can also pedal in reverse with this machine which helps your calf and hamstring muscles tone up. It strengthens the lower muscles of your legs as well.

The zero-impact movement allows you to intensify your workout without putting pressure on your knees. It’s important to get a demo on how to use this machine from trainers. You can also avoid moving handles in the initial stages. Stationary handles are ideal for beginners. Some machines have wider foot platforms that let you adjust your stance which exerts less pressure and is better on your knees and joints. This is a great way to lose weight without experiencing knee pain when you have any knee issues. 

Swimming 

Swimming

As mentioned earlier, water unholds the weight. Swimming strengthens leg muscles and addresses the range of motion of legs and arms uniformly. Warm water pools can soothe stiff joints. Swimming regularly can build muscles around the knee and help it heal from a knee injury. Furthermore, swimming may also relieve pain. Losing weight is among the top in the list of favors you can do to your body to get rid of bad knees. Swimming is a full-body workout and a full-body workout is essential to losing weight fast. 

Worst Exercises to Avoid if You Have Knee Pain or Knee Osteoarthritis 

While it is essential to know the right type of exercises you should be doing to meet your fitness goals and not have any negative impact on your knees, it is also very important to know the kind of exercises you should be avoiding. If you don’t know what you are doing, you might actually hurt your knees which are probably in a bad shape already. To help yourself, here are a few exercises that induce severe stress and strain on the knees. Make sure that you stay away from such exercises. Avoid running and high-intensity cardio. Exercises like full arc knee extensions, squatting, deep lunging, high-impact sports, plyometrics, and duck walks can take a toll on your bad knees. 

Final Words

Fat loss with a knee injury or knee osteoarthritis requires a lot of weight loss efforts. All of the above-mentioned exercise forms have been proven to help. Remember, you are aiming to recover and it needs professional help in deciding what is right for you. However, if you are overweight, there are many other ways to help you lose weight like healthy eating habits, a proper diet plan, and keeping a count on caloric intake. Adequate rest can prevent further weight gain and help you shed those extra pounds. 


+ 8 sources

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  1. Anon, (2021). Arthritis. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/arthritis.htm
  2. ‌Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary. (n.d.). [online] . Available at: https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/PAG_ExecutiveSummary.pdf.
  3. ‌Volpi, E., Nazemi, R. and Fujita, S. (2004). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, [online] 7(4), pp.405–10. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804956/
  4. ‌Wang, T.-J., Belza, B., Elaine Thompson, F., Whitney, J.D. and Bennett, K. (2007). Effects of aquatic exercise on flexibility, strength and aerobic fitness in adults with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee. Journal of Advanced Nursing, [online] 57(2), pp.141–152. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17214750/
  5. ‌Vijayaraghava, A. (2015). Effect of Yoga Practice on Levels of Inflammatory Markers After Moderate and Strenuous Exercise. JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC RESEARCH. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525504/
  6. ‌Wang, C., Schmid, C.H., Hibberd, P.L., Kalish, R., Roubenoff, R., Rones, R. and McAlindon, T. (2009). Tai Chi is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. Arthritis & Rheumatism, [online] 61(11), pp.1545–1553. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19877092/#:~:text=Conclusion%3A%20Tai%20Chi%20reduces%20pain,of%20life%20for%20knee%20OA.
  7. ‌Mangione, K.K., McCully, K., Gloviak, A., Lefebvre, I., Hofmann, M. and Craik, R. (1999). The Effects of High-Intensity and Low-Intensity Cycle Ergometry in Older Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, [online] 54(4), pp.M184–M190. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10219009/
  8. ‌PAGE, C.J., HINMAN, R.S. and BENNELL, K.L. (2011). Physiotherapy management of knee osteoarthritis. International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, [online] 14(2), pp.145–151. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21518313/
Lakshmi Vemuri

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Lakshmi Vemuri holds a bachelor’s degree in Dentistry. She is also a published author of several Food and Wellness books. Lakshmi has a profound interest in alternative medicines, various forms of physical exercise, mental health, diets, and new inventions in medical sciences. Besides being a dentist, Lakshmi is passionate about gardening and is an environmental enthusiast

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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