Cardio for Bad Knees: 6 Safe Exercises

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Do you have bad knees? Some cardiovascular exercise, such as running, can be a painful experience for those with bad joints or arthritic pain. But this doesn’t mean that you should stop exercising!

Your knee joint pain is a major inconvenience. Walking up and down too many stairs becomes painful. Running gives you sore knees just thinking about it, and anything with high impact is out of the question.

Whether you have arthritis, knee injury, or any other condition that limits knee function, there are still plenty of effective exercises out there that will help you stay active and healthy. 

Cardio exercises are important for your heart, and low-impact cardio exercise is the way to go if you are worried about your joints. Here I am sharing some of my top recommendations for cardio for bad knees so you can still get a good workout!

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Importance of Cardio Workouts

The general guideline for cardiovascular or aerobic exercises is that adults should engage in 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio activity at least five days per week (150 minutes per week) at least 25 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity at least three days per week (75 minutes per week).

Regular cardio exercise can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and increase cardiovascular health. It can also boost your metabolism, lower your body weight, increase your core strength, and lower your blood pressure.

Plus, research shows moderate to vigorous-intensity cardio has a host of other mental and physical benefits including better sleep quality, stress relief, mood elevation, and more!

Causes of Knee Pain

Knee pain can be caused by a variety of factors, from arthritis to injury. Regardless of the cause, knee pain is often uncomfortable and will quickly reduce your activity level or motivation to exercise at all.

  1. Arthritis: This is the most common cause of knee pain, and it can be caused by wear and tear over time or an injury.
  2. Injury: If you’ve had recent trauma to your knees (such as falling), this could lead to something like patellofemoral syndrome. It’s important that if you have sustained an injury, you get checked out for any potential problems with ligaments, tendons, cartilage, or other injuries before starting physical activity again. You may need physical therapy to avoid further risk of injury.
  3. Poor Knee Alignment: One way in which people might experience knee pain is due to poor alignment over time; the body will adapt to compensate for bad mechanics until eventually there are signs of a problem such as arthritis. Regularly doing preventative exercises like stretches and strengthening can help to maintain good alignment.
  4. Obesity: Those who are obese or overweight may experience knee pain due to the added weight on their joints; it’s important that if you’re in this situation, your doctor will discuss a treatment plan with you which could include exercise modifications such as low impact cardio or strength training.
  5. Inflammation: An inflamed joint is often red, swollen, warm to touch, and painful when moving – all of these things indicate an inflammation whether it be from arthritis or another cause. Anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen) can provide some relief for inflammatory problems while addressing other potential causes at the same time by reducing swelling and pain levels.

No matter your current fitness level, there are some great workout options to get you moving. Here are 6 of our favorite knee-friendly cardio exercises that will help keep your joints safe while pumping up the heart rate:

Best Cardio Exercises for Knee Issues

Warm-Up and Cool Down 

Even a low-impact cardio workout should always include a warm-up and cool-down period. 

This helps prevent injury by gradually increasing blood flow, loosening muscles, and boosting flexibility. It also gets your body ready to work hard so it is prepared for strenuous activity.

Before starting your workout, begin with a warmup for about 3-5 minutes. This could be walking at a moderate pace on a treadmill or flat terrain, doing partial squats to get the blood pumping in your lower body, or doing some dynamic stretches to wake your whole body up.

Of course, when you finish your workout, you should slowly lower your heart rate by doing similar movement – slowing your pace and/or doing some gentle stretches to prevent sore muscles.

Elliptical Machine

An elliptical machine is one of the best ways to get a low-impact workout. Ellipticals are great for working your leg muscles, although most machines also include arm handles that you can push and pull to also workout your upper body.

compact elliptical

With an elliptical machine (also called an elliptical trainer), you’ll feel the exercise in your quads and butt, but not so much that it feels like you’re pumping up muscle. Since your feet remain stationary on the pedals, you’re able to get a good cardio workout without putting strain on your knees.

If walking or running is too painful on your knees nowadays, then try the elliptical – starting with short sessions and slowly increasing in duration as you begin building strength and stamina.

Related: The Best Compact Ellipticals for Your Home


Riding a bike is another good choice for low impact cardio exercises. I have good news for you too – if you aren’t able to ride a bike outdoors, you can easily ride one inside!

recumbent bike

A stationary bike is a good way to get your legs moving while putting less stress on your knees than walking or running. Start with low resistance and be sure to focus on proper form.

A better option may be a recumbent bike, which allows you to sit with your legs extended out in front of you rather than below you as with a traditional stationary bike. No matter which style of bike you choose, you are sure to get a great workout and get your heart pumping.

Related: The Best Recumbent Bikes for Your Home Gym

Swimming or Water Aerobics

Water aerobics is a great low-impact, knee-friendly way to get your cardio exercise in. This activity is the key for people who have bad knees because it helps build endurance and strengthens muscles.

Whether you’re doing the butterfly or backstroke, you will work for all major muscle groups in your body including your glutes, legs, abdominals, and upper body muscles.

However, if swimming laps is not for you then other pool exercises such as water aerobics are another good option.

While you are in the water, make it an even more productive workout by doing some cardiovascular exercises like water jogging or swimming laps as well as resistance training with weights made of buoyant material such as sandbags.

Just be sure to avoid kicks that place stress on your knees and don’t push off forcefully from the wall.

The Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is another low-impact cardio exercise that can be done from the comfort of your home.

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This easy-to-navigate, straightforward piece of equipment has been used by athletes for years as a great way to get in shape and strengthen their entire body while doing so.

It’s also an excellent choice if you have bad knees because it puts less pressure on them than other workouts.

The seat of the rower provides support while also allowing movement and can be adjusted based on preference so no matter what level of knee pain an individual may experience they are sure to find comfort during their workout session.

Rowing not only offers an efficient cardio workout but also does less damage to your joints than other more high-impact exercises like jogging or biking.

If you’re looking for an easy way to get into shape or just want to make sure that bad knees don’t interfere with your workouts then this is one of the best options out there!

Battle Ropes

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If you’ve never tried battle ropes before, you may be surprised by how quickly it will get your heart rate up! By bending your knees slightly and pumping the ropes with your arms, you are able to engage in a full-body workout without even moving your feet.

Always be sure to have good form when doing any exercise, including the battle ropes. If you don’t have a personal trainer to help you, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube with demonstrations and tips.


Pilates is often overlooked as a therapeutic exercise for people with knee problems but it can be highly beneficial when done correctly.

The NHS advises that there are several benefits associated with regular pilates practice such as improved posture, muscle tone, and balance in addition to relief of stress or tension.

yoga myths poster

Exercise caution though if you have pain in your leg during any moves involving balancing because this could exacerbate the condition.

It’s a low-impact, gentle exercise that may also offer many benefits including increased range of motion in the joints and improved flexibility as well as pain relief from whatever might be causing it.

Yoga can reduce stress too which will always help with knee problems!

It’s best to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any new workout regime if you have knee troubles though.

The exercises should not aggravate the condition but rather improve it over time.

There are plenty of yoga poses for people who need more gentle movements so don’t assume it isn’t good enough just because you’re experiencing some discomfort when doing them – we all know how common this problem is!

Finish With Foam Rolling

Some people think of a workout as simply one intense session, but there are many other things you can do to make your workouts more effective.

After each workout, be sure to foam roll and stretch for about 5-10 minutes or so because it will help with recovery time, flexibility problems in the body, and delayed onset muscle soreness.

URBNFit pulse foam roller

This will help ease any pain and pressure in the joints by releasing toxins from your muscles that have been created during exercise.

Foam rolling should be part of everyone’s routine so they stay on track with their fitness goals!

The last thing anyone needs is an injury because they weren’t being safe or prepared.

Foam rolling can also increase circulation which will improve flexibility and aid recovery time if there are sore spots post-workout.

It also helps get rid of lactic acid that may build up as well as clear out aches and pains left behind from a workout.

Wrapping Up: Cardio for Bad Knees

Cardio is important to anyone’s fitness routine. It helps with weight loss, stress relief, and even improved circulation in your body.

But not all types of cardio are created equal – some can be more taxing on your knee joints than others.

If you have any kind of joint pain or injury that prevents you from doing high-intensity workouts like running or jumping rope, there are plenty of low-impact exercises for the heart out there too!

You can do many types of low-impact cardio exercises that will help you stay in shape without putting pressure on your knees.

We recommend trying these 6 Knee-Friendly Cardio Exercises today – safe for both your knees and mind! Which type of exercise was most appealing?

Stay tuned next week for more blog posts with helpful tips about staying healthy from head to toe!

Get more home workouts and fitness tips here!

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