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Cardio Ideas for Bad Knees

You Asked: Cardio For Bad Knees?

You're asking and I'm answering . . .

"I have two problematic knees. Right now I'm trying to get in shape and lose some weight, and I know that cardio is necessary to achieve my goals. I signed up for a varied workout class that runs three nights a week: one day of step aerobics, one day of weight sculpting, and one day of Pilates and/or yoga. I really want to stick with this routine, but I'm worried that the step aerobics and some of the weight training is too hard on my knees. Am I doing more harm than good? And if so, can you recommend some knee-friendly cardio I can do instead?"

To read my answer just


Great question and trust me you are not alone here. A lot of us face the issue of exercising with bad knees so I know it's not fun. Fortunately there are a lot of great cardio activities you can do that are safe for your knees and great calorie burners. Such as:

  • Swimming: Swimming is a great low impact activity and you can put a buoy between your legs to make sure you use them to kick. Omit the push-off on the wall to protect your knees. Check out all my great swimming programs.
  • Upper Body Ergometer: It's a piece of equipment that some gyms have that looks kind of like pedals for your hands. Try doing 30 minutes alternating pedaling forward and backward every few minutes.
  • Kranking: Kranking is basically a high energy upper body ergometer group class that is popping up nationwide. Look for it in gyms near you.
  • Kayaking: If you're near a place where it's warm enough to do it, kayaking is a great upper body workout that is easy on the lower body. Even those without bad knees, such as Kirsten Dunst, like to get a good workout from kayaking.
  • Rowing Machine: This is a great option for building up lower body strength (or a good stepping stone to high impact activities). Almost every gym has a rowing machine and they're usually open, so try it out.
  • Stationary Bike: Stationary bikes are very low impact and many people with knee problems love to get their cardio this way — I'd stick with the recumbent bike as it puts the least amount of stress on your legs.
  • Elliptical: The elliptical is a relatively low impact form of cardio (compared to running and step) that a lot of people with bad knees enjoy.
courtney422 courtney422 9 years
I have bad knees too and the elliptical is the best thing!
sparklestar sparklestar 9 years
My knees hurt really badly but I noticed that I wasn't getting fitter on the eliptical like I was on the treadmill. So I persevere and try and avoid stairs. =/
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 9 years
Stationary bike with back support and elliptical machine. Swimming is good, too, but I find that it damages the hair. It's the harsh chemicals in the water. Just my experience.
urban-chic-101 urban-chic-101 9 years
I have a bad knee. I use the arc-trainer at an incline of like 7. Also on the treadmill, I don't walk I hike. Putting the machine at an incline seems to really work. Ellipticals are too bad. The row machine is pretty good sometimes it can be bothersome, but its amazing. Stay away from the Stairmaster if you can!
blondie829 blondie829 9 years
I love the elliptical, but be careful if you tend to hyperextend your knees. Make sure you keep your knees bent on the elliptical or you will damage your knees.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Can't wait to get my bike... :)
Sassette Sassette 9 years
Thanks so much, Fit! The gym in my building has a stationary bike, so I'll give that a try.
Berlin Berlin 9 years
Definitely give spinning a go! It's great on the knees and joints and the best for cardiovascular health and promoting healthy weight loss (body fat)! If your knees are ever hurting from it...then you know you're doing something wrong:) Pop on a flexible knee brace and head over to a class and you'll start to feel the relief on your knees. Any walking, running, step, etc will always be harsh on you knees and joints and spin classes are a great way to avoid that, plus you'll get to your goals much faster too b/c you'll burn more calories in a far shorter time without getting hurt too! And you are surrounded by a big group, in a dark room, great music, and next thing you know, your class is over and you've burned 600+ calories depending on your intensity. I hate the elipticals/treads/stat bikes because they are always just so boring, but spin classes? those i can't wait to get too:) Good luck!
aeschere aeschere 9 years
very good advice! after a while, stationary bikes tend to make my bad knee ache, but the elliptical never does so i'm on that all the time :D
nancita nancita 9 years
Great advice, Fit. I've found the stationary bike is easy on my knees, and though I used to think it was really uncomfortable on my butt, I totally got used to it. Plus it builds my quads, which is good for knee problems. However, I have never heard of kranking...will have to check it if just for the name.
Katikins Katikins 9 years
Elliptical is a great way to go for bad knees, as wel as the stationary bike (or even an outdoor bike in great weather). I woudln't recommend a rowing machine though - like latent I have chondromalacia. I didn't even know I had it until I'd been using the rowing machine at my gym on my cardio day workouts. It could have just been my experience, but once I went thru my weeks of phyiscal therapy I really didn't want to test the rowing machine waters again! Good luck!
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
i have ankle issues (surgery last year, didn't really fix it) but I really want to run. So I'm using the couch potato to 5k program to SLOWLY build up my running. I use the elliptical daily to get that real harcore cardio in, but have been slowly jogging too
tshellyedwards tshellyedwards 9 years
I've had bad knees since I played soccer in high school, and the elliptical has been my choice of workout machine for years! I absolutely love it and have (and continue to :)) get excellent results from it when used regularly! And great tip on kyaking, Fit - I'd love to get my arms more toned and this would be a great way to do it aside from weights once the summer rolls around. Thx! :)
SassyRedhead SassyRedhead 9 years
I have arthritis in my knees, so no treadmill for me. Thankfully, I really enjoy the elliptical anyway.
DeviousMuse DeviousMuse 9 years
When I was having knee issues (as well as other joint problems), I stuck to the elliptical. Now that I'm trying my knees at running again, I alternate days between elliptical and running to keep the pressure down.
latent latent 9 years
Treadmills are DEVILS for knee pain. I was doing HIIT and had NO pain at all. Quite surprising, since it was a sprint/walk combination but...It worked, and I had no swelling or anything. I've got chondromalacia, and even walking through the mall for several hours can make it hurt, but...the HIIT worked.
laurelm laurelm 9 years
I absolutely love Step class, but it did give me way too much pain in my knees, where they ached all the time. I like the elliptical and it does not hurt my knees at all.
cranbarry828 cranbarry828 9 years
Also you can walk on the treadmill at a fast speed.... just crank that incline up and you get a great workout! If you start at an incline of 1 and do intervals up to 12 then back down again you will get a great workout and really feel it in your booty.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
i started using the elliptical when i had foot surgery and a side effect was that it helped my knees so much! i still jog now and then, but a lot of impact hurts my knees and actually makes them a little swollen!
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
i had 3 knee surgeries in the past year as a result of breaking my knee cap in half and i have to say that the elliptical is great for me. i don't feel pain when i'm working out and i think that it's a major factor. when i couldn't work out for over 6 months - i thought that i would die - so at least there's that alternative
legalbeagle legalbeagle 9 years
Thanks for posting this... I have a torn ACL in my right knee- I try running but can only do it for so long before Im in a lot of pain. Back to the pool!!!
melda melda 9 years
and fit.. when will you answer my question then? i am gettin married this summer and really need your help
melda melda 9 years
I have knee problem and I cannot run, so i use my stationary bike and i have seen results with my weight loss,
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