How to Exercise with Sore Knees

Active people know that when their knees start to suffer, so do their workouts. Sore knees can become more than a minor inconvenience and if you were on the fast track to losing weight through exercise, this can be a major setback. The reasons for sore knees can be anything from overuse to an actual injury.

Before you decide to continue your regular workout regimen, it is always wise to consult a doctor to make sure you will not be making things worse.

What Causes Sore Knees?

There are many reasons that you may be suffering from sore knees. One of the first places to check is your shoes. There is a reason why shoe makers design shoes specific to an activity. So if you are using tennis shoes to run, for example, your body is not getting the proper support and your knees are working overtime to compensate. You also want to make sure that your shoes are not worn out which can also have a negative effect.

Perhaps you are not getting the proper nutrition. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to weakness in your lower legs. Make sure you are getting the proper amount of calcium each day to keep your bones healthy and strong.

Physical activity is one of the biggest causes of sore knees and not just for beginners. Excessive exercisers often experience knee soreness from the constant jumping and high impact activities that are part of their workouts. Uphill hiking, downhill skiing, running and tennis are just some of the many activities that put a constant burden on the knees.

If you have a chronic condition like arthritis, fibromyalgia or lupus, sore knees are going to be a persistent problem. It is a symptom of the condition that can be managed, but will always be a source of knee problems.

Finally, if you are overweight, you can expect sore knees from all the pressure the added weight causes. Even simple things like walking will be difficult on knees if weight is an issue.

Can You Exercise with Sore Knees?

Yes, but depending on the reasons why your knees are sore will determine whether or not an exercise regimen should begin or continue. If your shoes or improper nutrition are the culprits, those are easy fixes and exercise can most certainly be a part of your life. However, for those with chronic conditions or injuries, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure you will not incur any more damage by exercising.

For those who are overweight, the situation is a bit trickier since the only way to get rid of the excess weight is through exercise. This is sort of a catch twenty-two. But the bottom line is that the only way to alleviate the problem is to get rid of the fat.

What Exercises Can You Do With Sore Knees?

The first thing you need to realize is that your knees are surrounded by a variety of muscles including your quadriceps and hamstrings. By strengthening these muscles, you will give better support to your knees as well as making them healthier and stronger.

Quadriceps: One of the best exercises for sore knees is a squat as it mimics an everyday movement (bending down) and it works all of those knee-supporting muscles. Start out using only your bodyweight and slowly lower your body so your thighs are parallel to the floor, hips square and knees are not going passed your toes. Squeeze your glute and hamstring muscles when you return to a standing position.

Prisoner squats are another effective squatting exercise. Similar to a regular squat, but with a bit more of a challenge as you place your hands behind your head. For an even greater challenge, try a Y-squat with your arms extended straight out on an angle like the letter Y. Remember to focus on keeping your back straight—not rounded. If you want a little less stress on your back, try doing squats against a wall either with or without a stability ball. Place your back against a wall and lower down into a squat and hold it for a set period of time and then slowly come up. The same thing can be done using a stability ball behind you (and makes lowering a little easier).

Hamstrings: To build up the hamstrings, deadlifts, hip extensions and roll-ins are all great exercises. Try a one-legged rear deadlift by standing on one leg and lifting the other off the floor. Slowly bend forward with your one leg slightly bent while extending the other leg as you lean over. Keep your back neutral. Be sure to squeeze your hamstring muscles through both the concentric and eccentric part of the movement. Roll-ins with a stability ball are also effective. Lie down and place your heels on top of a stability ball, elevate your hips and then bring your knees into your chest as the ball rolls towards you and then push it back out. If you prefer to not use the ball, you can simply lie flat on the floor, squeeze your glutes and raise your hips off the floor. To make it more challenging for the hamstrings, raise one leg when you lift your hips up and continue with this alternating legs.

A proper warm-up with some stretching is recommended to loosen up the muscles and get them ready to work. A good stretch for the hamstrings is the inchworm. Stand up and then slowly lower your hands to the floor and then walk them out into a modified push-up position. Slowly walk your feet towards your hands without rounding your back. Once you feel the stretch, walk your hands back out again.






You do not have to let knee soreness derail your active lifestyle. By incorporating exercises to improve lower body strength—specifically the muscles that support your knees—and getting the proper nutrition, you can still reap the benefits of exercise. Most knee pain does manage to work itself out with a little patience and some hard work. The key is to modify your workouts depending on how you are feeling that day which goes for any part of your body that might be experiencing pain.

Just be sure to check with your doctor first to rule out anything that might be serious or that exercise cannot help. Once you have the green light, however, take advantage of the many workouts designed to help you lose fat without stressing your knees—or yourself.

To your success,

Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Creator, Turbulence Training