Great Cardio For Bad Knees?

A man sitting on a rowing machine
The dilemma of many: you have weak knees but want a good workout.

Exercising with bad knees can be a painful experience. A bad knee can cause immense amounts of pain and greatly hinder the freedom of movement.

Celebrate great health! LIKE on Facebook!

Performing cardiovascular exercises can therefore be very hard to accomplish, and can even cause significant amounts of damage in the long run.

What are the best knee-friendly exercises?

Got a Gym Membership?


Not only does swimming burn an incredible amount of calories (close to what you’d burn on a run), but it offers a wide variety of options to get your heart pumping in the water. As an alternative to your usual laps, try putting a buoy between your legs (squeeze it tight!) to get more of an upper-body workout, or hold on to a kickboard in front of you to work just your lower half.

Upper-Body Ergometer

This is that piece of equipment in the cardio area at your gym that looks like a bike for hands. Treat it like any other piece of cardio equipment—go for a long forty-five-minute stint or pound out a shorter and harder interval session. Warning: this will be extremely hard for just about everyone at first, since most people aren’t used to using only their upper body for cardio.

Rowing Machine

Just about every gym has a rowing machine or two, and they’re often some of the most underutilized pieces of cardio equipment. Rowing is mostly upper-body work (great for toning up your arms and shoulders), but your legs provide low-impact support by pushing against the machine with each stroke.


The elliptical is a low-impact form of cardio that mimics running; it can work for a lot of people with knee or ankle issues (but check with your doc first, just to be safe). The motion that we make while powering through an elliptical workout uses a combination of both arms and legs for power, but it won’t strain your lower joints.

Breaking a Sweat, Gym-Free


If you’re lucky enough to live by an ocean or a lake, there are probably kayaks for rent somewhere nearby. This kick-butt workout burns nearly four hundred calories an hour and requires absolutely no stress or pressure on the ankles and knees.

Pilates and Yoga

Who says these workouts are just for relaxing? Some of the Pilates and yoga DVDs out there will help you work up just as much of a sweat as circuit training or a cardio machine will. Look for power yoga or Ashtanga yoga workouts, and intermediate to advanced Pilates routines—they’ll keep your heart pumping and your body moving, and they’ll improve your flexibility to boot.


Biking is an ideal form of both indoor and outdoor exercise; either way, it’s a challenging workout that doesn’t put much strain on the knees or ankles.

Play It Safe

Of course, it’s always crucial to talk to a doctor about your particular ankle or knee issues and make sure the specific exercises you’re interested in are smart choices. Personal trainers can be great resources too.  Don’t let your knees stop you from good cardio! Get out there!