How To Exercise With Bad Knees To Lose Weight – 8 Exercises To Try 2024


Reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN
how to exercise with bad knees to lose weight
Low-impact exercises can help you lose weight with bad knees. Photo: - Yuri A/Shutterstock

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Knee pain is a common obstacle for many individuals trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet is beneficial, but managing limited mobility can make it harder to keep moving and may leave you wondering how to lose weight. This can feel frustrating, but fortunately, you can perform many low-impact exercises that will minimize pain and help you avoid injury.

Depending on your needs, some of these exercises may also improve strength and stabilize your knees. Many individuals turn to diet pills, but it is important to remember that lifestyle choices like diet and exercise can limit results. So, if you are wondering about which exercises for bad knees are best to lose weight, we will discuss some great low-impact routines to get you started.

How To Exercise With Bad Knees To Lose Weight

Knee pain can make it more difficult to find exercises to help you lose weight, but there are some good options to keep you moving. Some examples of low-impact exercises you can perform with bad knees include:

  • Stretching.
  • Yoga.
  • Pilates.
  • Rowing.
  • Swimming.
  • Water aerobics.
  • Cycling.
  • Walking.

8 Exercises To Lose Weight With Bad Knees

how to exercise with bad knees to lose weight
Stretching keeps muscles loose and minimizes the chance of injury. Photo: ViDI Studio/Shutterstock

Everyone’s individual needs are different. If you are seeking weight loss and managing knee osteoarthritis, have a history of knee injury, or have another source of joint pain, it may change how you approach these exercises.[1] 

You may wish to build strength and improve your mobility over time. You may simply wish to lose weight to improve your overall health while minimizing the strain on your knees during the process. Defining your goals is important.

Ultimately, it is best to talk with your doctor or consider working with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist to help you identify the most helpful exercises. 

Many wonder how to exercise with bad knees to lose weight at home. There are several themes to remember to protect your knees: 

  • Minimize high-impact exercises like running and jumping.
  • Add more stretching exercises. 
  • Build strength in the surrounding muscles.
  • Cardio training is important and can be done in ways that minimize the impact on your knees.

Some individuals also find it helpful to use a knee brace for added support to help prevent injury. Anti-inflammatory medications, available both prescribed or over the counter, can also be helpful. It is important to ensure these medications are used safely, and many individuals may prefer to use a topical form like diclofenac gel to minimize the risk of systemic side effects. 

Let’s look at eight specific examples of exercises that can help you implement these themes in your routine. 


Stretching exercises are among the best ways to keep knee muscles loose, which can help prevent injury. Stretches that isolate your quadriceps, hamstring, and calf muscles can also help reduce knee pain, depending on the source. Stretching is important before performing strengthening exercises like straight leg raises to prevent tightness. 

Performing these stretches can improve flexibility and knee function. An example of a stretch that targets your quadriceps, or the muscle at the front of your thighs, includes these steps: 

  1. Stand facing a wall for support with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Bend one knee and hold your ankle with one hand while using the wall for support with your other hand. 
  3. Pull your ankle toward your glutes as far as you can do so comfortably. 
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds. 
  5. Change legs and repeat, alternating sides. 


Losing weight and performing exercises with arthritic knee pain can be difficult, but exercises like hatha yoga allow you to burn calories while combining stretches with strengthening techniques. It is important to work with a good instructor and use aids when recommended. Utilizing bands, pillows, or chairs may be needed to lower your chance of injury – altering the poses may be important depending on your individual needs.


Similar to yoga, pilates offers a workout routine that focuses on stretching and strengthening your muscles, improving flexibility, and lowering the chance of further knee joint injury. There are plenty of exercises to try, like the kneeling thigh stretch or knee flexion and extension. Working with a trainer can help you perform the exercises correctly and strengthen your joints without adding unnecessary strain. 


how to exercise with bad knees to lose weight
Rowing exercises are an excellent way to burn calories. Photo: RossHelen/Shutterstock

Using a rowing machine provides stability and support for your joints while delivering a full-body workout. You are also able to adjust the intensity to your preferences, and there is an opportunity to burn a lot of calories to support your weight loss efforts. Rowing can burn a similar amount of calories to swimming over a 30-minute period.


If you are wondering how long it takes to lose weight and would prefer to lose weight quickly, it is important to remember that this all comes down to creating a caloric deficit. Weight loss is promoted by burning more calories than you consume. Swimming represents an opportunity to burn more calories in a shorter period of time compared with some of the other exercises on this list.

The amount of calories burned can depend on factors like current body weight and the effort you put into it. For a 190-pound individual, 30 minutes of swimming laps burn an estimated 432 calories.[2] For reference, performing water aerobics or stretching exercises like yoga burns fewer than 173 calories in 30 minutes.

Swimming also provides you with an opportunity to use and strengthen a variety of muscles, particularly if you use different swimming strokes.

Water Aerobics

Performing aerobic exercises underwater can help reduce the impact of your body weight on your joints. Classes are often available, and working out with a group can offer an opportunity to meet new people and stay motivated.


Using a stationary bike can be particularly helpful for individuals with limited mobility who need a low-impact workout, providing improved stability. Cycling can be done both indoors and outdoors, but many prefer the ease and adjustability of using a stationary bike at home or at the gym. 

Indoor cycling using a recumbent bike also allows you to incorporate high-intensity interval training or HIIT into your routine. Definitions can vary, but HIIT is generally defined as intervals of moderate or intense exercise targeting increased heart rate broken up by periods of relative rest. Individuals with heart conditions or who are morbidly obese with bad knees should consult with a doctor prior to performing intense exercise regimens to ensure they are performed safely. 

HIIT has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease[3] and can be an excellent way to burn calories. This may also make these exercises helpful for those aiming to lose stubborn belly fat while managing decreased mobility due to bad knees. 


Particularly if you have osteoarthritis, it is important to keep moving. Inactivity will not help and may actually worsen knee pain, especially if there are concerns with blood flow. The easiest way to keep moving may be to schedule a time for taking walks on a regular basis.

Staying motivated over time can be difficult, and some individuals find it easier to maintain motivation by using a step counter and tracking their progress. It is also important to take the time to find some good supportive shoes to lower the impact on your joints.

Benefits Of Exercise For Bad Knees

Depending on the source of your knee pain, you may be able to strengthen the joint and regain some of your mobility. Carrying extra pounds is also hard on your joints in and of itself, so losing weight can directly help your knees feel better. Weight loss is also beneficial in several other ways.

Patient education combined with exercise[4] therapy produces better results. Patient education without exercise therapy does not produce the same superior results in pain reduction and increased mobility. 

For overweight individuals, losing 5%-10%[5] of baseline body weight has been associated with: 

  • Improved quality of life.
  • A lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduced insulin resistance, improved blood sugar control, and lower rates of diabetes. 
  • Reduced knee pain and improvements in mobility. 

Exercises To Avoid If You Have Knee Pain

If you are unsure whether an exercise will be safe for you to perform, it is best to consult your doctor or a licensed personal trainer or physical therapist. Exercises that place additional strain on your knees and may result in injury or worsening pain include:

  • Running[6] on a regular basis. 
  • Playing sports that involve jumping or quick direction changes, like basketball. 
  • Deep squats and lunges. 
  • Full-arc knee extension (without the guidance of a physical therapist or personal trainer). 


A primary concern when choosing exercises to perform with bad knees is the potential for injury. This highlights the importance of working with a professional to ensure safety. 

Many over-the-counter detox products and supplements are marketed for fat-burning benefits without the need to exercise. It may be tempting to try these products, and there is a potential for benefits, but it is important to remember that these products often contain stimulants. Check with your doctor before starting these supplements to ensure they will be safe to use. 


If you manage limited mobility due to knee pain, finding an exercise to help you lose weight may feel daunting. Low-impact options are available, and they may help you get moving and shed some unwanted pounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best exercise for people with bad knees?

The answer may vary depending on the status of your knees and other factors like heart health. The examples in this article have a lower impact than many alternatives, but it is still best to consult a professional if unsure.

Is riding a bike good for your knees?

Yes, riding a bike can provide a good, low-impact exercise that improves stiffness and strengthens muscles associated with your knees.

Is walking or cycling better for your knees?

Individuals with knee pain can generally do both, but there are factors to consider, such as heart health and your current joint status. Ultimately, it is best to listen to your body and consult your doctor if unsure.

What is the best exercise equipment for bad knees to lose weight?

If you plan on purchasing home equipment or would like to focus on certain machines at your gym, stationary bikes, and rowing machines provide a good starting point.

+ 6 Sources

EHproject has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We work mostly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accurate information. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  1. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. (2016). A Standardized ‘Rescue’ Exercise Program for Symptomatic Flare-up of Knee Osteoarthritis: Description and Safety Considerations | Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. [online] Available at:
  2. CALORIES BURNED PER HOUR. (n.d.). Available at:
  3. Ito, S. (2019). High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases – The key to an efficient exercise protocol. World Journal of Cardiology, [online] 11(7), pp.171–188. doi:
  4. Goff, A.J., Danilo, Merolli, M., Bell, E.C., Crossley, K.M. and Barton, C.J. (2021). Patient education improves pain and function in people with knee osteoarthritis with better effects when combined with exercise therapy: a systematic review. Journal of Physiotherapy. [online] doi:
  5. What is clinically relevant weight loss for your patients and how can it be achieved? A narrative review. (2022). Postgraduate Medicine. [online] doi:
  6. Coburn, S.L., Crossley, K.M., Kemp, J.L., Warden, S.J., West, T., Bruder, A., Mentiplay, B.F. and Culvenor, A.G. (2023). Is running good or bad for your knees? A systematic review and meta-analysis of cartilage morphology and composition changes in the tibiofemoral and patellofemoral joints. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, [online] 31(2), pp.144–157. doi:


Matthew Sommers is a clinical pharmacist with more than 10 years of experience in the pharmacy profession. He has most recently transitioned from a leadership role in a community setting into clinical practice with a focus… See More