While exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health, there is still a risk of injury—and knee pain is a common exercise complaint. Many physical activities that involve running, jumping, stretching and bending can put a lot of strain on your knee, which in turn can cause pain while you exercise. Remember, if your knee hurts during or after exercising, you’ve done too much!
Here are 4 exercises that may cause knee pain, and tips on how to protect your joints and potentially avoid injury.
Exercise #1: Lunges
While lunges have undeniable health benefits – they can strengthen the glutes (gluteal muscles) and quads (quadriceps), improve core strength and increase the stability of the hips, knees and ankles – many people have come to dread this exercise because of persistent knee pain. Done incorrectly, lunges with poor form can add stress to the joint and lead to irritation of the kneecap.
Unfortunately, the solution is not to keep pushing through the pain. Experts say that pushing through joint pain rarely, if ever, ends well1. If you have a chronic condition or an injury, start by talking to your doctor about how to exercise safely. Then, follow the tips below to finding a pain-free option:
- Keep your front knee in line with, but not extending past, your ankle.
- Your back knee should reach straight down toward the floor, in line with your shoulders and hips.
- Your posture should be upright with gaze forward, shoulders down, and abs flexed.
- Limit lunges to three times per week and 10 to 15 minutes per session, depending on your fitness level.
If traditional lunges are still causing knee pain, you may want to try these expert-recommended modifications to see what works best for your body2.
- Don’t lower as far. Try lowering just a few inches into a lunge; rather than lowering, so the knee touches the ground.
- Keep your feet planted. If forward lunges (stepping forward with each rep) is causing knee pain, try keeping both feet on the floor throughout the entire movement, instead of stepping out, naturally lower and raise your body while maintaining a solid split stance.
- Widen your stance. Try starting your lunges with your back foot farther away from your front foot.
Exercise #2: Yoga
Yoga is known for its healing powers and the ability to transform your body and mind. However, it’s also a physical exercise and often a vigorous one. As such, if done incorrectly, it can also cause knee pain and even significant injury.
According to beYogi, here are some helpful habits to prevent knee pain while practicing yoga:
- Make sure your knees are cushioned. Your resting knee should be properly cushioned – especially if your yoga mat is on a hard surface.
- Keep a micro-bend in the leg. Make sure the knee is not locked, which allows blood-carrying oxygen to flow freely through the whole leg.
- Learn the difference between sensations. If you feel good when you are stretching and sense relief after, that is a healthy sensation. However, if you feel aching, pinching or a sharp pain in your knee, that is your body warning you that it is unsafe.
- Ask the teacher for modifications and cues before class. Approach the yoga teacher before class if you have knee issues and need modifications, or if you have a question about alignment cues of specific poses. That way, you’ll know exactly what to do when the time comes!
Exercise #3: Stairs
Before you decide to conquer the stairs, remember that climbing stairs can put a strain on your knees if you use improper form. While the whole body should be engaged when walking upstairs, it’s a common mistake to allow all your weight to drop into your legs – causing the knees to endure the extra weight, potentially causing injury. You can minimize knee strain on the stairs by practicing proper form:
- First, focus on exercises that strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings and other muscles that support your knees before walking the stairs for exercise. Strong muscles in the front and back of your thigh help your knee joint absorb shock. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends leg lifts, leg dips, hamstring curls and wall squats.
- When climbing stairs, assess your posture and the alignment of your feet and legs. Focus on:
- Aligning your knee over your second toe.
- Don’t lead with your foot, lead with your body. Bend your torso forward, redistributing the force of your weight from the knee to the hamstrings at the back of the thigh.
- Place the heel of your foot on the step before you step up.
- Repeat the steps for each stair you climb.
Exercise #4: High Intensity Interval Training
HIIT – high intensity interval training – exercises improve your overall fitness, reduce belly fat, and build muscle mass. Still, they do require a strict adherence to technique to complete the workout effectively and safely. As such, many specialists are citing HIIT exercise as a common culprit for knee injuries.
HIIT workouts usually come in the form of lower body centric movements, such as sprinting and explosive jumping. So, if you’re someone with bad knees, you’re probably skipping those jump squats. According to the New York Times, here are three sample HIIT workouts that can serve to boost your metabolic performance while sparing your knees in the process:
- Cycling: Set the seat post at a height that allows your knee to remain slightly bent throughout the pedalling motion to avoid undue stress on the knee. You might also try a recumbent bicycle, on which the cyclist is in a reclining position. Cycle all out for a few minutes, then rest for a minute and repeat.
- Swimming: Push yourself to swim full-out for a few lengths. Then catch your breath and start over.
- 10-20-30 Training: Run (or bike or swim or row) lightly for 30 seconds. Run moderately for 20 seconds. Run at top speed for 10 seconds. Repeat the sequence 5 times, then rest for 2 minutes and repeat the sequence 5 times again. This routine takes 12 minutes to complete. If you are already in good shape, add another round of 5 repeating intervals. The next day, try a lighter exercise before attempting 10-20-30 again.
Once you find a pain-free exercise option that’s right for your body, and doesn’t cause knee pain, you can look forward to a strong future while staying fit and healthy!