It goes without saying that everyone should be physically active on a daily basis. The more, the better. It is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves. It makes you healthy and may even help you live longer. However, being active in any form carries with it the risk of injury. For example, a knee injury which may cause you problems in the future, flare up every now and then and become extremely painful during or after a workout.
The knee is one of the most complex joints in your body. When we train we use it mostly for maintaining stability, such as during back squats, lunges, leg presses, etc. If you’re not seeing any signs of improvement for an extended period of time after an injury, the first thing you should do is go see a doctor and make sure that it’s not anything serious.
If there is no serious injury, there are some exercises which can help you go through the workout by experiencing less pain or no pain at all. That way you’ll be able to bypass the condition while continuing to build your muscles.
6 leg exercises for bad knees
1. Warm-up and stretch
A proper warm-up is extremely important. The reason for this is that it will increase the body’s temperature, which drastically decreases the chances of incurring muscle or connective tissue injuries. Additionally, it will also reduce muscle viscosity, as well as enhance the suppleness of the muscles.
Besides warming up properly, it is equally important to regularly stretch your muscles. The most effective way to stretch your legs is to use the foam roller. You won’t find it very comfortable at first, for sure, but as time goes by, you will see that it will give you tremendous benefits. The rolling massages the tense muscle fibers within and will make your pain more durable and eventually disappear. Here are 34 pictures to see which muscle you are stretching.
You should especially pay attention to foam roll your quads, hips and inner thighs. When they’re properly stretched, the knees will not be pulled as far out from their natural position and you’ll be able to maintain proper tracking. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be ready to do some exercises involving weights.
2. Leg extensions
You shouldn’t go too heavy when you start out with your first exercise. The purpose here is to warm up the quads and to make it easier for the knee to take the stress from the exercise. Go for 12 or more reps on each set. The majority of people start with their legs placed too far back which puts most of the torque on the knees even before they engage their quads.
The solution is to start with your knees at a 100-degree angle which will force the quads to engage instantly and will take the burden off the knees.
Perform 3 sets of at least 12 reps. Rest time between sets should be 2 minutes or less. You don’t need to rest between sets too much, considering that these are just warm-up sets done with a small weight and light training volume.
3. Box squats
Heavy squats are one of the pillar exercises for building a strong, muscular body. However, if you have a bad knee they can get quite hard to do. The best alternative to squats in this situation are box squats. They are one of the most effective exercises for bad knees.
Place a box or a bench in the squat rack, with a height that is low enough so that when you sit on it your hips are parallel to the floor. Next, approach the bar and put yourself into a wide-stance position.
Get behind the bar, place it on your upper back muscles, take a deep breath, make sure your core and lower back are tight, strong and stabilized and then lift it. Push the hips as far back as possible to descent easily. While you’re doing that, imagine drilling the feet into the floor and force the knees out. Descend until you are fully seated on the box/bench, pause for one second and then stand up again.
Because of the way you can descend on a box squat, the knees will be less burdened and more work will be done by the quads.
As long as you aren’t feeling any pain in your knee you can go a bit heavier on this exercise. You can do 4 sets of 5-6 reps. The rest time should be no longer than 3 minutes.
4. Reverse Lunges
Lunges, which are by default done by lunging forward can cause a great amount of stress on the knees. That’s why you can try doing them by lunging backward, a movement known as reverse lunges. All you need to do is step backward with one of your legs and lower your torso down. The torso needs to stay rigid and upright all the time to maintain balance.
Then, when your knee touches the floor, push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat the movement with the other leg. To make the movement more challenging you can hold dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand or put a barbell on your back. The latter option would be better if you’re having trouble maintaining balance. Your quads and glutes will be absolutely scorched after finishing the exercise.
Do 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps. Since this movement forces you to stabilize your body a bit more than the squat, you shouldn’t use weights that are too heavy. Go easy at first, and then slowly progress up.
5. Stiff-legged deadlift
The exercises we’ve mentioned so far mostly target the quads. In order to fully stimulate our legs, we want to make sure that we engage all leg muscles with different movements. One such movement is the stiff-legged barbell deadlift which directly targets your hamstrings. As your knees stay straight throughout the movement, this is one of the leg exercises that is good if you have bad knees.
Compared to the conventional deadlift, the stiff-legged version requires your legs to be as straight as possible and therefore trains the hamstrings more, instead of the lower back.
Place the barbell on the floor in front of your feet, then grab it with a grip which is slightly wider than your shoulders. Take a deep breath and with your lower back and torso rigid, lift the barbell up. In a standing position, the bar should rest on your hips. Lower the bar down with the slightest possible bend in your knees, while keeping your back straight and pushing the hips backward to maintain stability.
Go as low as you can and then return to the standing position. When doing this exercise you should really feel it in your hamstrings. If you don’t feel your hamstrings engaged, that’s because either the weight that you used was too light or your execution form was not correct. If you really want to get the full benefits from this exercise you need to go heavy. You can try out different barbell positions when you descend, for example, some people feel the hamstrings better when the bar is moved tightly along the legs, while others have to keep it a bit further away towards their feet.
As previously mentioned, you need to go relatively heavy on this exercise if you want to fully target your hamstrings. Go for 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps, with a rest time of 2 minutes.
6. Hip Thrusts
The last entry on our list of exercises is the barbell hip thrusts. For some people, this can be the hardest and most uncomfortable exercises to do. However, if it were easy it wouldn’t be worth doing it.
The way you do this exercise is by sitting down on the ground with a bench placed right behind you. Get a barbell, put some weights on it and get underneath it by rolling it directly above the hips. You will most probably need some kind of a pad or a towel wrapped around the barbell so that it feels more comfortable.
Next, lean back on the bench with your upper back on it. Start pushing with your hips upwards and raise the bar with them as far as you possibly can. Then when you get to the top, reverse the movement and return to the starting point on the floor.
You can go heavy on this movement. Your gluteus muscles can handle a lot of training volume and will eventually thank you for this. Do 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps with 2-minute rest time.
At first, it may seem that sustaining a knee injury can derail your goals of building big muscular legs for the rest of your life, however that is simply not the case. The leg exercises listed in this article are just a few proposals that serve as a solution for working around bad knees. So even though they may be easier on the knee, each knee injury is different.
Some people can squat with no problem at all, but experience pain on the leg press. Others can perform leg extensions, but can’t perform leg curls. So you through trial and error you should be able to discern very quickly which exercises will be best suited to you.
To further secure and stabilize the knee you can use straps for your knees, especially when doing squats. Depending on the type of injury, try either straps or bandages. Generally, bandages are better for the joints, however, if you have problems with your bones, straps are a better option. To get the full benefit from them, make sure that you wrap them around very tight.
We hope these tips can help you to get over any injuries, pain or any type of issues you may be facing and build some well-sculpted, muscular legs.