Cardio exercises for people with knee pain when exercising

by Johnny Jacks

Experiencing knee pain during gym workouts can be uncomfortable and discouraging, especially for newcomers. It’s a common issue that can hinder your daily activities and exercise routines. However, there are cardio exercises that can help alleviate knee pain while working out, as discussed in our article on

What Causes Knee Pain?

Knee pain during exercise may stem from chronic arthritis, knee inflammation, or gym-related injuries like sprains, ligament tears, or overtraining. To pinpoint the cause, consult a doctor for a diagnosis and recommended treatment. Exercise can be a beneficial component of your recovery plan.

Cardio Exercises to Alleviate Knee Pain

Once your doctor identifies the underlying cause of knee pain, you can initiate an exercise regimen. Cardio exercises are particularly effective for strengthening the lower body, boosting heart health, and aiding weight loss. If you’re able to access a gym, consider the following options:

Upper Body Ergometer

The upper body ergometer resembles a bicycle for your arms. Seated in front of the machine, you use your hands to pedal and elevate your heart rate. Importantly, this exercise exerts minimal pressure on the knees, making it an excellent choice for individuals with severe knee injuries or those recovering from knee surgery.

Ergometer Exercise Machine for the Hands

Ergometer Exercise Machine for the Hands.


If you experience knee pain during exercise but still wish to run or walk, a treadmill can be a suitable option. The machine’s moving belt offers a cushioned surface, allowing you to walk without subjecting your knee joints to excessive strain. My recommendation is to wear appropriate footwear for this activity.

Leg Press Machine

The leg press machine presents another valuable alternative to consider. This exercise’s motion provides positive benefits for the muscles and hamstrings, contributing to the development of stronger knees.

Nevertheless, it does exert some pressure on the knees. It’s advisable to perform this exercise at a moderate difficulty level and for a brief duration initially to assess your body’s response. If you experience knee joint discomfort, it’s prudent to discontinue this exercise.

Horizontal Leg Press Machine

Horizontal Leg Press Machine.

Home-Based Cardio Exercises for Sensitive Knee Joints

If you prefer not to visit the gym or if other options aren’t suitable, you can still explore cardio workouts that can be done at home with minimal equipment.

The following exercises feature low-impact cardio routines that benefit your cardiovascular health without placing undue stress on your knees and other joints.

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Important Note: Always consult your physician before attempting any exercise routine, and avoid movements that induce pain or discomfort.

Equipment Needed: Elastic band, 2-4kg medicine ball, and an exercise ball.

Exercise Guidelines:

  1. Begin with a light cardio warm-up, such as briskly walking in place or around your home for a minimum of 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can use the initial exercise to warm up and prepare your muscles.
  2. After completing the warm-up, focus on stretching tight muscles in your lower body, including the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
  3. Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds, taking brief rests as needed, before transitioning to the next movement.
  4. Aim for a moderate exercise intensity. If you desire a more challenging workout, increase your pace, incorporate additional movements, introduce low-impact jumping, or use heavier resistance.
  5. Create a circuit for a quick, 15-minute workout, or repeat the exercise sequence as many times as desired.
  6. Conclude your workout with a cool-down exercise and ensure you stretch your lower body thoroughly.

Let’s start with the first exercise: Step and Touch

The exercise starts with a simple movement and increases in intensity as you continue to practice.

The exercise starts with a simple movement and increases in intensity as you continue to practice.

Step and Touch

  • Start by stepping out to the right while extending your arms to the sides or in front of your chest (as demonstrated).
  • Bring your left foot in, touching the floor next to your right foot, and promptly step your left foot to the left, maintaining relatively straight legs.
  • Continue stepping to the right and left, gradually widening your steps and enlarging your arm movements for a warm-up.
  • Repeat for 60 seconds.


    • Perform the step and touch movement while moving around the room, and try doing it in reverse.
    • Increase the exercise’s intensity by rotating your arms over your head.
    • Instead of stepping and touching, keep your right foot stationary and step your left foot out and touch, repeating for 30 seconds. Repeat the same with your left leg.

Low Impact Jump

  • If you experience joint pain at the gym but still want to work out, consider the low-impact jump, which is slightly more intense than the previous exercise.
  • Step your right foot to the right and simultaneously turn your left foot toward the left side of the room while raising your right arm.
  • Step back and pivot your right leg to the right while raising your right arm.
  • Alternate sides for 60 seconds.


    • Rotate both arms instead of just one.
    • Add a jump if your knees permit.
    • If foot rotation affects your knees, keep your body facing forward.

Balanced Walking with an Exercise Ball

  • If knee pain is a concern during exercise, grab an exercise ball and try this routine.
  • Hold the ball with both hands straight above your head.
  • Lift your right knee as you lower the exercise ball beneath it. Then, raise the ball, lower your right foot, and perform the same movement with your left foot.
  • Continue for 60 seconds.


    • Maintain the ball at chest level while walking steadily.
    • Increase the pace for a more intense workout.

“Around the World” Exercise with an Exercise Ball

  • Hold the exercise ball with both hands. Step one foot outward with a slightly bent knee, move the ball to the right, and then rotate it over your head and around to the left.
  • Keep circling the ball toward the center, repeating for 30 seconds in one direction and 30 seconds in the opposite direction.
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    • To intensify the exercise, make larger movements.
    • For an easier version, keep the ball closer to your body as you circle it.
Exercise: "Around the World" with Exercise Balls

Exercise: “Around the World” with Exercise Balls.

Knee Lift with a Medicine Ball

  • If you experience knee pain during exercise, this exercise utilizing a medicine ball weighing around 2-4kg is a suitable option.
  • Hold the ball with both hands. Lift your right knee and bring the ball to touch your knee.
  • Lower the ball and repeat the movement with your left knee. Alternate between sides for approximately 60 seconds.


  • Maintain the ball at chest level as you perform steady walking motions.
  • Increase the pace of your movements to intensify the workout.
Knee lift using medicine ball

Knee lift using medicine ball.

Straight Leg Kicks with a Medicine Ball

  • Begin by raising the ball straight up while your right foot steps backward, maintaining a slight bend in the front knee.
  • From this position, execute a forward kick with your right foot while lowering the ball toward your foot. Strive to keep your right leg as parallel to the floor as possible.
  • Repeat this sequence for 30 seconds and then switch to the other leg.


  • If bending your knees is uncomfortable, keep your legs fully extended.
  • For a less intense version, hold the ball at chest level.
  • Instead of straightening your legs, raise your knees as you perform the exercise.
Straight Kick with a Medicine Ball

Straight Kick with a Medicine Ball.

Chest Press with Medicine Ball

  • If knee pain hinders your gym workout but you still wish to exercise, consider the chest press exercise using a medicine ball.


  • Stand upright and hold the ball at chest level. Squeeze the ball using the palms of your hands, feeling the contraction of your chest muscles.
  • While continuing to squeeze the ball, slowly push it forward (keeping it at chest level) until your elbows are nearly extended.
  • Bend your elbows and gradually draw the ball back toward your chest, maintaining the squeeze with your hands.
  • Repeat this motion approximately 16 times.


    • If standing is uncomfortable, sit in a chair with a straight back and feet flat on the floor to alleviate leg strain.

Knee Lifts with an Elastic Band

  • If knee pain during workouts is preventing you from performing leg exercises, try the following exercise using an elastic band or a towel if you don’t have one.


  • Fold the elastic band in half and hold one end in each hand. Shift your weight to your left leg and straighten your arms, pulling them apart to engage your upper body.
  • Lift your right knee while simultaneously contracting your waist, bringing your right knee up and to the side while drawing your right elbow toward your knee.
  • Lower your legs and straighten them, then perform the same sequence with the other leg.
  • Continue for 30 seconds, alternating between bending the knee and straightening the opposite leg. Then switch sides.
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    • Perform the movements without using elastic bands to reduce intensity.
    • Add speed to the exercises to increase intensity.

Hamstring Flexion

  • Stand behind a chair with balanced posture. Bend your right knee, bringing your foot backward as if you’re kicking your buttocks. This exercise strengthens your glutes and hamstrings and helps alleviate knee pain associated with gym workouts.
  • Slowly lower your leg to the floor and repeat this motion 10 times. Switch legs and complete 1-3 sets for each leg.


    • To increase intensity, place the elastic band around your ankle.

Side Leg Lifts

  • Stand beside a chair or wall for support. Lift your left leg to the side with your foot flexed, ensuring that your hips, knees, and feet remain straight and aligned.
  • Attempt to raise your leg without leaning to the side.
  • Lower your leg and repeat this movement 10 times. Perform 1-3 sets for each leg.


    • Add an elastic band around your ankle for added resistance.
Side leg lift

Side leg lift.

Knee Lift and Punch

  • Begin by facing the right corner of the room. Step your right foot back while executing a punch with your right hand.
  • Retract your right elbow and simultaneously punch forward with your left hand as you draw your right knee inward. Continue to lift the knee and punch with the alternate leg for 30 seconds, then switch sides.


    • Initially, perform punches with only your right arm to simplify the movement.
    • To intensify the exercise, increase the pace or use very light weights.

Punch – Punch and Knee Lift

    • If you’re a fan of kickboxing and experience knee pain during workouts, this exercise is tailored for you.


  • Extend your feet and raise your right knee while executing a punch around with your left hand.
  • Lower your knee and follow this sequence: right punch, left punch, right punch. For the final punch, lift your left knee. It’s akin to a sequence of punching, punching, punching, and knee lifting. Continue for 60 seconds.

Finishing Touch: Foam Roller

  • Utilize a foam roller for self-massage, with special attention to the calf muscles and areas of tightness.

Swimming – Ideal for Individuals with Knee Pain during Exercise

Swimming emerges as a top choice for those grappling with knee pain during gym sessions. The buoyancy of water alleviates the impact on your body while facilitating an effective cardio workout and strengthening the muscles that provide support to your knees.

Swimming has minimal impact on the knee joint.

Swimming has minimal impact on the knee joint.

The most advantageous swimming strokes include freestyle and backstroke, although other exercises can also be beneficial:

  1. Backward Kick: Embrace a board, roll onto your back, and engage in a kicking motion with your feet. Elevate your knees with each kick, akin to a marching motion.
  2. Water Walking: For those who can manage their knee discomfort, don a flotation device and traverse the pool. The water’s resistance elevates your heart rate without imposing strain on your knees, simultaneously aiding in knee joint reinforcement.
  3. Water Aerobics: Group workouts in the pool offer an enjoyable way to engage in cardio exercises with minimal joint impact. Submerged movements not only reduce joint stress but also mitigate the risk of joint locking.

Workout at Home with the Guidance of a Professional Coach

For individuals seeking comfort and flexibility in their workout routines, exercising at home is a practical solution. However, have you ever considered the possibility of home workouts guided by a professional coach? If you lead a busy life or prefer to exercise anywhere with your chosen coach, our 4.0 solution may be the perfect fit for you.

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