Cardio for bad knees

The best cardio for bad knees

cardio for bad knees featured image

What is the best cardio for bad knees and why do people have this problem in the first place?

It appears that having bad knees and knee pain, in general, has become a common issue over the past years.

When that is the case, finding proper means of doing cardio becomes a difficult task.

Well, if you are one of those people who are not so old but feel like a grandpa/grandma, this article is for you.

Besides traditional forms of cardio like running, there are many other options that are especially possible for people with bad knees.

Before we move on to those however, let us get familiar with the knee and what is actually causing your knee pain.

Knee Anatomy

anatomy of knee muscles, joints, cartilage, bone with labels

The knee is one of the most complex joints of the human skeletal-muscular apparatus, as it is the link between two big bones: The femur and the tibia (upper and lower bones of the leg).

There is also a smaller bone that runs next to the tibia, also known as the “Fibula”.

Along with the kneecap (patella), those two are the other components of the knee joint.

Last but not least the knee tendons connect it to the muscles of the legs, and we also have ligaments that provide the knees with stability.

Those ligaments are the following:


The “Anterior Cruciate Ligament” prevents backward-sliding motions of the femur on the tibia.

ACL Tear is perhaps one of the most common knee injury in football players, as it can get torn during rapid and repetitive twisting, turning and change in directions.


The “Posterior Cruciate Ligament” prevents the tibia from sliding backwards on the femur.

This ligament is most commonly damaged upon hyperextension of the knee.


The medial and lateral collateral ligaments are located on the inner and outer sides of the knee.

Their main function is preventing the femur from sliding side to side.

These are commonly injured when excessive force is applied to the outside of the knee.

Besides the ligaments we just explained above, there are two C-Shaped pieces of cartilage. Those are the “Medial and lateral menisci” and they act as shock absorbers, between the upper and lower leg bones.
Furthermore, there are numerous fluid-filled sacs in the knee that help it move smoothly.

Kneecap (patella)

Last but not least, the kneecap (patella) is the last component of the knee area. It is an independent bone, located at the front of the knee joints. The patella is attached to the quadriceps tendon, as well as the tibia.

Understanding your knee pain

Now, you know how complex the knee is as a joint.

That complexity produces a variety of possible conditions that can cause pain.

However, we wouldn’t want to instil fear in you and will instead advise:

Please consult with your therapist, as online diagnosis are often flat out wrong.

If needed, go through physical therapy.

What we will mention is this:

The modern-day sedentary lifestyle is by far the most common cause of knee joint pain.

Many people think there is something inherently wrong with their knee joint, whether that is a torn ligament, a leaky fluid sac or something else.

Well, in reality, most of those people may have never engaged in activities that would lead to such serious injuries and more often than not, the cause is lack of movement and bad posture.

Think about it, if you sit on your butt all day, the glute muscles, the hamstrings and the quads will atrophy (weaken).

Atrophied lower body musculature simply means more stress going to the knee, and you know where this goes.

Resolving knee pain

Damaging the knee joint’s ligaments or tendons can result in incomplete range of motion and that might be unpleasant.

However, if you have consulted with your physiotherapist and he found nothing inherently wrong with your knee joints, then there are a couple of things you can do to get rid of the annoying knee pain:

Engage in low-impact cardio activities

Trivial forms of aerobic and HIIT cardio are considered to be high-impact exercises, especially when done on artificial surfaces.

Such are:

  • Running in the park directly on the asphalt (with running, left foot strikes separately from the right foot and the impact is greater)
  • Engaging in extensive treadmill workouts

There are, however, less-impactful forms of cardio, which can reduce the stress on the knee joint to practically zero, while also giving your heart rate a good challenge.

Not only will these exercises give you a solid cardio workout, but they may also help the joints move more through a natural pattern of movement.

Posture and resistance training

As we mentioned, the more you sit, the more your butt and legs atrophy.

On top of that weakening of the muscles down there, 95% of sedentary people are completely unaware of their posture.

Ever caught yourself in a super awkward, yet comfortable position just a few minutes after you sit on your laptop or PC?

Yeah… Though comfortable, these unnatural positions are bad for you.

Here’s what you can do to resolve those:

  • Include resistance training (hip thrusts, bodyweight squats and lunges, calf raises, resistance band exercises)
  • Practice good posture and awareness of it

These are integral parts of the knee, hip, and ankle health; as weak muscles and bad posture can result in more stress on the joints, as already mentioned.

Now let’s move on to the main topic: Cardio for bad knees.

Low-Impact Cardio Exercises

#1 Swimming

man swimming butterfly stroke in the swimming pool

You may already know from personal experience how swimming is without a doubt, one of the least impactful forms of cardio.

On top of that, it feels amazing as the whole body is engaged.

If you aren’t looking to develop a bulky physique but a rather athletic one, such water aerobics are your go-to choice.

There really aren’t any other best exercises that can develop the musculature as well as swimming does.

Wide shoulders, a wide rib cage and overall, a well-toned physique are the end results of regular swimming.

And that’s just the visual part. With swimming, you will not only spare your joints but will also improve cardio endurance and lung capacity.

We consider this to be the number one form of low-impact cardio when the task at hand is sparing the knees and developing the body and its properties.

#2 Boxing

Weightlifting is good, but it’s cardio activities like swimming and boxing can help you develop other qualities of the body towards the end of a knee injury.

Some of those are the following:

  1. Limb synchronization
  2. Oxygen transportation
  3. Agility
  4. Speed
  5. Orientation

With boxing specifically, not only do we develop limb synchronization and get a good cardio workout, but we also develop agility, speed and reaction time.

On top of that, it is a good exercise to relax and unwind. Once you get into the boxing bag/shadow fight flow state, there really isn’t anything from the past or the expected future that can bother you.

It is just you, in this present moment, indulged in the state of flow.

Boxing is a great exercise to get back into once you’re certain your knees are stronger.

You will be able to tell when you’re able to work lateral movements and run without pain. Patience is key.

#3 Stationary bike

Swimming and boxing might not appeal to everyone.

Sometimes, people just want their conventional cardio.

Well, running, especially on hard surfaces is not the best if you are looking to spare your knees.

A stationary bike, however, will provide a near-flawless motion pattern with little to no stress on the knees.

If you don’t like the idea of a stationary bike in a gym with artificial lighting, you can also get a normal bike and cycle in the park.

That is in fact more recommended, as the relaxing environment, abundant of trees, plants and natural sunlight will without a doubt be better.

If even that doesn’t appeal to you, then try the elliptical machine as both of these exercises take you through your full range of motion.

slow cycling during sunset

#4 Rope jumping

This next form of low-impact cardio is one of the primary tools for boxers and anyone looking to do cardio with recovered knees.

Now, it can be high-impact if done incorrectly, but the fact of the matter here is that you have to jump just an inch off the ground and land on the toes, rather than the heel.

In doing so, you will allow the calves to absorb most of the tension, meaning that the knees will take little to no stress.

Rope jumping is without a doubt one of the best conditioning exercises, which also allows you to synchronize the work of the upper and lower body limbs.

It is also a form of cardio where you can advance really quickly and become efficient just days after starting.

Such quick progress will give you a burst of motivation and at one point, you might even feel addicted to it.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing the boxer’s dance, cross jumps and side jumps.

#5 Rowing

If you are looking for something that’ll give you a good aerobic workout but still engage your upper body musculature, this is it.

Rowing machines are one of the stepping stones to the success of many CrossFit groups and gym-goers.

This is the perfect way to target the arms and back, while also engaging the core musculature.

It is also a viable way to not only burn calories but also measure your power output, given that the rowing machine has a display with this option.

In case you are looking for something more dynamic, that is low-impact on your knees, do give rowing a shot.

And again, if you don’t like the idea of doing this in a gym, you can always go kayaking on a calm lake in nature.

#6 Battle ropes

Whether sitting on the ground or standing, battle ropes are a great upper body cardio workout when you have bad knees.

If you are looking for a high-intensity workout that conditions your upper body, battle ropes are your best choice.

The battle ropes will give your musculature and lungs a great deal of work.

Not only will every swing and slam burn a good amount of energy, but you will also tone the arms, shoulders, back, and core.

We recommend doing high-intensity intervals of battle ropes, as they are made just for that.

These high-intensity intervals will trigger the fast-twitch muscle fibres and get you in a mixed anaerobic-aerobic zone of training.

#7 Dense weight training

lady strength training, working her shoulders with a dumbbell overhead press

Bad knees can be trained around.

A weight training workout could also be turned into a mixed anaerobic-aerobic one.

This will not only give you a good sweat but also strengthen your body.

Strength training your leg muscles can even protect your knee as an increase in muscle can protect the joints as they aid in the absorption of impact.

What do Anaerobic and Aerobic mean and how does it apply to dense weight training? 

Anaerobic and Aerobic mean, it is pretty simple. Those are the two energy processes in the body.

Anaerobic energy releasing processes, require no oxygen to release energy.

Those utilise the following energy substances:

  1. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP, main energy molecule)
  2. Creatine Phosphate (CP, secondary energy molecule used to recover ATP)
  3. Muscle Glycogen (end form of carbohydrate metabolism, stored form of glucose)

Aerobic energy releasing processes on the other hand, require oxygen to release energy.

These processes use muscle and liver glycogen, as well as fatty acids and protein if the first 2 are unavailable.

Intense, short burst movement in the ~10-12 rep range are mainly sustained via anaerobic pathways.

However, the more you increase the repetitions and the more we decrease rest times, the more intensity naturally decreases and you go into a mixed anaerobic-aerobic mode of work.

Increased repetitions + decreased rest times = More total volume for less time (density).

If you are looking to burn more total calories in a workout and get more blood flowing to the muscle, this is perhaps the BEST way to do so in a weight workout.

Tip: This is the best approach to training when losing fat and trying to maintain muscle mass, as opposed to the strenuous, intense, muscle-building approach to weight training (~10 heavy reps with ~120 seconds of rest in-between sets).


The problem with bad knees becomes more and more common amongst modern-day, sedentary individuals.

Most people do not have pathological issues with their knee pain and it is rather caused by the lack of movement, bad posture, and atrophy of the lower body musculature.

The upper portion of the legs, as well as the lower leg, may even stabilise most intense movements.

To resolve this common issue, it is enough to do low-impact forms of cardio, such as swimming, skipping and boxing, but also throw in some resistance training, to strengthen the lower body muscles and take away from the stress on the knees.

Now that you have an abundance of cardio for bad knees, feel free to go and crush it!

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