How to Exercise with Bad Knees to Lose Weight

bad knees

The best way to lose weight is to combine a healthy diet with a sensible exercise routine. Doing both of these things means you a) won’t have to starve yourself and b) won’t have to work out to exhaustion. It’s a case of 2+2=5!

From a nutritional standpoint, almost any diet will work, providing it reduces your calorie intake. Good options include paleo, keto, and intermittent fasting. So long as you can stick with it, it’ll work. That means eating healthily not just for a week or a month, but for as long as it takes you to reach your weight loss goal and want to maintain your ideal weight.

For exercise, cardio and strength training are both effective, and you’ll get even better results if you do both of these things.

But what if you suffer from knee pain?

In this article, we’re going to reveal how to exercise with bad knees.

Working Out and Exercising With Bad Knees

In a lot of cases, losing weight will help alleviate knee pain. Being overweight puts a lot of extra stress on your knees and makes things like walking and climbing stairs much more stressful. But, of course, you need to exercise to lose weight, but exercising can hurt your knees – it’s a vicious cycle.

Thankfully, there are lots of knee-friendly exercises and workouts that can help you lose weight and burn fat without making existing knee pain worse.

Common Causes of Knee Pain

Before we reveal the best exercises and workouts for bad knees, let’s take a quick look at some of the most common causes of knee pain.


One of the most common knee pain causes is traumatic injury. Trips and falls are often culprits, as are sports injuries. Injuries can affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, or cartilage of the knee joint and can range from very minor to much more severe. There’s not much you can do about traumatic knee injury other than giving your knee time to heal and follow any relevant medical advice.

ArthritisArthritis knee

Arthritis is the wear and tear of the articular cartilage that protects the inside of your joints. Normally associated with advancing age, the cartilage becomes worn and rough, leading to joint pain and stiffness.

Intense and prolonged exercise can increase the risk of arthritis, as can being overweight. The good news is that the right kind of workouts can actually stop arthritis from worsening and alleviate the pain and stiffness it causes.


Doing the same movements over and over again can cause overuse injuries such as tendonitis, bursitis, and tendonosis. Other overuse ailments include things like iliotibial band syndrome (runner’s knee) and Osgood Schlatter’s disease (jumper’s knee). Most overuse injuries heal when the damaging stressor is removed, but some may require medical treatment and rehabilitation.

General Aches and Pains

Of course, sometimes knee joints “just hurt” with no apparent cause. Being overweight could be the cause, as could weak muscles or prolonged inactivity. However, while minor aches and pains are normal, intense and prolonged pain is not. If your knees are very painful, you should get them checked out by a medical professional.

How Exercise Can Alleviate Knee Pain

A lot of people with knee pain avoid exercise, which ironically may make knee pain worse. The benefits of exercise for knee pain include:

Increased Synovial Fluid Production

Your joints have no blood supply, and nor do the tendons, ligaments, or articular cartilage. Instead, joints get their nourishment from a substance called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is produced when you move your joints, i.e., exercise.

As well as nourishing your joints, synovial fluid is also a lubricant that helps your joints move more smoothly. That’s why some types of knee pain disappear after a warm-up.

Regular exercise keeps your joints supplied with synovial fluid, keeping them well lubricated and healthy.

Increased Joint Strength and Stability

The knee joint is a strong joint, but making it stronger through exercise can help reduce wear and tear and could prevent injuries. A strong joint is also a stable joint, which means it’s less prone to wobbling and twisting. Any extraneous movement puts unwanted stress on the passive structure of the joint, including the cartilage and ligaments.

Weight Loss

Losing weight means less pressure on your joints. The knees are the main weight-bearing joint of the body, and carrying extra weight all day long can increase wear and tear. Also, compressing the joints squeezes the synovial fluid out and away from the articular surfaces, meaning less lubrication and yet more wear and tear.

Best Exercises and Workouts For Knee Pain to Lose Weight

If your knees hurt, exercise may be the last thing you want to do. However, even if you have recurrent knee pain, there should be at least a few types of exercise you can do to lose weight.

That said, even the most joint-friendly workouts can cause knee pain, so you may need to experiment to find the best option for you.

Swimmingman swimming

Swimming is a non-impact, full-body activity that puts no compressive force through your knees. It’s ideal for overweight exercisers as the water supports your weight. Whether you do short, sharp intervals or swim longer distances more slowly, this workout can help you lose weight.

However, if you have knee pain, you may need to avoid swimming breaststroke, which puts more stress on your knees than freestyle.


Walking is an excellent way to exercise without hammering your joints. Walking is a low-impact workout that you can do almost anywhere and anytime. Reduce joint stress by wearing supportive, cushioned shoes. To lose weight by walking, stride out with purpose, swing your arms, and get yourself slightly out of breath. A slow stroll won’t do it.


Whether you use an exercise bike or head outside, riding a bike is a knee-friendly, low-impact cardio workout that can help you lose weight. Make it as safe for your knees as possible by setting your seat at the right height. Your legs should be almost straight at the bottom of each pedal stroke. If your saddle is too low, you’ll have to bend your knees more, which could cause knee pain.

Elliptical Machines

An elliptical is a cross between a treadmill and a stepper. They’re often called cross-trainers for this reason. Some also involve an arm action. Ellipticals are a low-impact exercise that burns calories and can help you lose weight. Most gyms have ellipticals, and there are also home and light commercial machines that are suitable for home use.

Strength Training

Lifting weights can be a very knee-friendly activity. It goes without saying that upper body exercises like push-ups and lat pulldowns won’t bother your knees, but even some lower body exercises are easy on your knees, such as Romanian and regular deadlifts, kettlebell swings, shallow step-ups, and even leg presses. Turn these strength exercises into a fat-burning workout by doing them as a back-to-back circuit.

Exercises to Avoid

You should avoid any exercises that cause knee pain. Some likely culprits include:

Jogging and Running

When you jog or run, your feet hit the ground with a force roughly equal to eight times your body weight. Much of that force ends up in your knees. Avoid overstressing your knees by not jogging or running.


A lot of workouts involve jumping. While such exercises are fun and effective, if you’ve got bad knees, they may make your existing joint pain worse. Workouts like CrossFit, P90X, and other high-intensity training programs include jumps. If your knees hurt, these workouts are best avoided. Also, take care when jumping rope, and don’t do burpees or box jumps, either.

Squats and Lunges

While you MAY be able to squat and lunge without pain, if you have knee troubles, these exercises could make things worse. Try skipping these exercises for a few weeks and monitor how your knees feel. If they feel better after a break, you should leave them out of your future workouts. Other potentially problematic leg exercises include:

  1. Leg extensions
  2. Leg curls
  3. Smith machine squats
  4. Hack squats
  5. Deep leg presses

In most cases, the heavier the weights, the harder these exercises are on your joints.

When to Seek Help

Knee pain often gets better on its own, especially if it’s caused by being overweight, overuse, or a minor injury. Your body is a fantastic machine and has impressive restorative abilities. A few days or weeks of rest may be all you need for your knees to heal themselves.

However, in some situations, your knees may need some professional help. Speak to a medical expert if you experience any of the following:

  • Significant or sudden swelling
  • The joint feels hot or shows signs of infection, such as reddening
  • You feel feverish
  • The joint locks
  • Any reduction in the range of motion
  • Sharp pain (as opposed to a dull ache)
  • You are unable to walk
  • The joint is noticeably deformed
  • The pain gets worse even after resting

Bottom Line

You might not feel much like exercising with knee pain, but sometimes, it’s actually the best thing to do. Getting up and moving can help lubricate and nourish your joints, and losing weight is almost always good news for your knees.

However, some types of exercise are better than others. For example, if your knees hurt, running and jumping are best avoided, and walking and swimming are much better options.

That said, even the most knee-friendly exercises can still cause knee pain. If your chosen workout makes things worse, you need to seek out an alternative. Also, you may find that your knee pain is worse some days than others. That’s often the case with conditions like arthritis. Be prepared to change your workout plans based on how your knees feel.

Ultimately, do the exercises that cause you the least amount of pain, both while working out and afterward. And remember, when it comes to weight loss, any workout is better than no workout!