Best 7 exercises to actually do with a bad knee

Being active is one of the healthiest and best things you can do for yourself. But during these activities and workouts, injuries can happen. Or maybe you’ve got an old knee injury that may flare up every now and then and cause pain during or after a workout.

Your knee is one of the most complex joints in the body. During a workout we use it for stabilisation, for example during back squats or leg presses.

First, if it’s not getting better and you don’t know where the pain is coming from, see a GP and make sure that the issue isn't too serious!

Otherwise we’ve got some weightlifting exercises for you that may help you go through your workout with less or no knee pain at all, and will grow your muscles despite a bad knee.

Warm up and stretch

It’s really important for you to warm up properly. A proper warm up will increase your body temperature, which reduces the potential of muscle or connective tissue injuries. Plus, it will decrease your muscle viscosity.

Furthermore, it enhances the suppleness of your muscles. Most effective when you want to stretch your legs is a foam roller. It won’t feel very comfortable, but it definitely works. The pain while rolling gets better with time, so keep going.

Pay special attention to your quads, inner thighs and hips. When you’re stretched, your knees won’t be pulled as far out of position and maintain proper tracking.

Now you’re ready for some weightlifting exercises.

Leg extension

Don’t go too heavy with your first exercise. It will warm up your quads and take some of the affliction from your knee.

Focus on high reps (12+ for each set). Most people start with their legs too far back which places most of the torque on their knees before they even engage the quads.

Starting with the knees at a 100 degree angle forces your quads to engage immediately and takes the stain off your knees.


Do 3 sets á 12 reps. Rest between the sets should be around 2 minutes or less. You don't have to recover from the sets for too long, since they are just warm up sets with less weight and volume.

Box Squats

If you are like me, you love a good heavy squat. With a bad knee back squats may get quite hard. Try box squats instead.

Set up a box or a bench in your squat rack, thats low enough, so that your hips are parallel when you’re sitting on it. Now approach the bar and position yourself in a wide stance.

Set the bar in the groove of your upper back, take a deep breath, so your midsection is nice tight and strong, your lower back is stabilised, and lift it. Push your hips as far as possible to descent.

While doing that, screw your feet into the floor and force your knees out. Go down until you sit fully on the bench, pause for a second and stand up again.

Due to the way you can go down on a box squat, your knees will feel less tension and more work is put on the quads.


Go heavier on this one (as long as your knee feels good!)

Do 5 sets á 4-6 reps. Rest time should be around 2-3 minutes.

Reverse lunges

Let’s do some lunges! Lunging forward can cause unwanted stress on your knees. Therefore, we'll try reverse lunges.

Just step backwards with your right leg and lower your upper body down. Your torso has to stay upright to maintain the balance.

Push up and go back to your starting position and repeat this with your left leg. You can do the reverse lunge with dumbbells, kettle bells or with the barbell on your back (barbell would be better if you have balance issues).

This exercise will kill you glutes and quad muscles.


Do 5 sets á 8-12 reps. Don't go too heavy, because you have to stabilise more than with a squat.

Stiff-legged barbell deadlift

Nope, not done yet! To get everything out of your leg-day workout, we want to smash different muscles with different exercises.

The stiff-legged barbell deadlift is perfect for your hamstrings. The difference to the normal deadlift is that the stiff-legged deadlift requires straighter legs and therefore works the hamstrings more, rather than the lower back.

Start by placing the barbell in front of your feet on the ground and grab it with a grip a little bit wider than your shoulders.

Lift the bar straight up. Now that you’re standing, the barbell should rest on your hips. Lower the bar down to the floor with a slight — really just a slight!- bend on your knees and a straight back, while pushing the hips back for stability.

Now return to standing. You should really feel this exercise in your hamstrings. If you don’t feel anything, check your form or put some weight on, because you really have to get heavy on this exercise. Experiment with the barbell position when you go down, some people feel it better when the barbell is moved very tightly along the legs, some have to keep it a little bit further away towards the feet.


As I said, you need to go heavy on this exercise in order to feel it in your hamstrings.

Aim for 5 sets á 4-8 reps, with a rest of 2 minutes.

Hip Thrust

Almost! Just the barbell hip thrusts are left. For me, this is one of the hardest exercises. But if it doesn’t suck, it’s not worth doing it.

You sit down on the ground with a bench directly behind you. Place the barbell over your legs — directly above your hips.

You’ll probably need a pad or a towel on the bar to feel more comfortable. Lean back against the bench with your shoulder blades on it. Begin extending your hips vertically through the bar — as far as possible. Then reverse the motion and return to your starting position.


Go heavy! Your gluteus can handle volume and will thank you!

Do 5 sets á 3-7 reps, with 2 minutes rest.


Now we’re done! That was a great leg day, wasn’t it?

I know, having a knee injury feels like it’s impossible to get great muscular legs, but it actually isn't.

The aforementioned exercises are just a few ideas. While they are easier on the knee, every knee (injury) is different. Some people can squat but have pain on the leg press. Some can do leg extensions but no leg curls.

Try a few different things out, to see which exercises work for you.

You can also use knee straps, especially for squats, to further stabilise your knee. Depending on your problems, try bandages or straps. In general bandages are better for your joints, but if you have bone problems, straps are better. But make sure to wrap them very tight, to get an effect!

I hope that these tips help you, to get over your injury/pain/problems and get some nice, well developed legs!

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