October 1, 2023

10 Weight Loss Workouts for Individuals with a Knee Injury

man with a knee injured

Weight Loss Workouts for Individuals with Knee Injuries

I had been struggling with knee injuries in the past. So, I know how frustrating it can be to try to lose weight when you can’t do high-impact exercises.

However, there are still plenty of effective low-impact workouts that can help you burn calories and shed pounds without putting too much stress on your knees.

In this blog post, I’ll share the best weight loss workout routines I’ve discovered for people with knee issues, along with tips on how to modify moves to avoid pain and prevent further injury.


My Knee Injury Story

I first injured my knee about 5 years ago playing recreational soccer. I felt a pop in my right knee when trying to change direction quickly, followed by severe pain and swelling.

An MRI revealed a torn meniscus and some early signs of osteoarthritis. After surgery to repair the meniscus tear, I did physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around my knee.

For a while, I was able to get back to my normal workout routine of running, cycling, and doing cardio classes at the gym. But eventually the pain and stiffness in my knee returned.

Aggressive exercises like running, jumping, and lunges aggravated my knee and caused swelling and soreness that would linger for days. I had to face the fact that my knee just couldn’t handle those high-impact activities anymore.

Frustrated by the limitations of my bum knee, I started gaining weight because I couldn’t do my regular workouts. I experimented with different low-impact exercises over the years and finally discovered a combination that allows me to get in an effective workout while protecting my knee joint.

Now I’ve been able to lose over 25 pounds through diet and these low-impact workouts. Let’s discuss about how I do my workout.

old man holding his knee in pain


Why I Did Low-Impact Workouts

Low-impact workouts are easier on your joints because they don’t involve activities where both feet leave the floor at the same time.

This reduces the amount of force that goes through your knee with each exercise rep. Some key benefits of low-impact workouts include:

  • Reduced pain and inflammation – Keeping one foot on the ground decreases the pounding effect on your knee joint with each move. This leads to less irritation of the soft tissues around the knee.
  • Injury prevention – The lower impact helps protect your knees from further damage by avoiding moves that put excessive strain on the joint.
  • Increased stability – Low-impact moves focus on balance and proprioception, which improves the ability of the muscles surrounding your knee joint to properly support it.
  • Calorie burn – Despite the lower impact, you can still get your heart rate up and burn a significant amount of calories with a well-designed low-impact workout routine.
  • Improved mobility – The controlled motions of low-impact exercises increase your knee’s range of motion, flexibility, and function over time.


My Top 5 Low-Impact Workouts

Over the years I’ve tried every low-impact workout there is in an effort to find the most effective routines. Here are my top 5 go-to workouts for losing weight with a bum knee:


1. Swimming

Swimming has been my #1 form of exercise for knee pain because you get the benefit of a great cardio workout without any impact to the joints. I try to swim at least 3 times a week for 45-60 minutes. Some key benefits:

To get the most out of swimming:

  • Use different strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke)
  • Vary your intensity with sprints and slower intervals
  • Use paddles and kickboards to increase resistance

2. Water Aerobics

Doing aerobics in the pool checks all the boxes – you get cardio, strength training, and no impact on the knees! I take a water aerobics class at my local YMCA twice a week. Some benefits:

  • Burns 400-500 calories per hour
  • Strengthens lower body without joint strain
  • Provides resistance from the water for a challenging workout
  • Low risk of injury compared to land exercises

My water aerobics routine focuses on moves like:

  • Jogging, jumping jacks, and crossover kicks
  • Side steps and grapevines
  • Front and side leg lifts
  • Plie squats and abductions

3. Cycling

Stationary biking and spin classes are another go-to for knee pain since the seated position takes pressure off the joints. I do 45 minutes of cycling twice a week. Some advantages:

Tips for effective cycling workouts:

  • Maintain proper seat height so legs extend fully
  • Vary your speed and resistance
  • Pedal in and out of the saddle
  • Stand up periodically to work glutes and hamstrings

Young man cycling in Paris

4. Rowing

Rowing machines have become a staple of my workout routine over the past few years. It provides an intense cardio and strength session without the knee pounding. I row for 30 minutes 3 times per week. Here’s why it works:

  • Burns over 225 calories in 30 minutes
  • Works arms, back, core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads
  • High intensity intervals possible without joint impact
  • Improves posture and full body coordination

For best results, focus on:

  • Leg drive originating from the heels
  • Keeping shoulders and wrists relaxed
  • Engaging your core throughout the movement
  • Taking full strokes from catch to finish

5. Elliptical

When my knee is really bothering me, the elliptical machine is my go-to for low-impact cardio. I like to do 30-45 minutes on the elliptical 2-3 times per week. Benefits include:

  • Burns 270-400 calories depending on program
  • Mimics natural running motion without the impact
  • Targets quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves
  • Very low stress on knee and ankle joints

Elliptical tips:

  • Maintain proper posture – don’t hunch over
  • Lengthen your stride and use full range of motion
  • Push mostly with your glutes and hamstrings
  • Go both forward and reverse to work all muscle groups

Sample Low-Impact Weekly Routine

Here’s an example of how I structure my weekly workout routine around these 5 low-impact exercises:

  • Monday – Swimming – 60 minutes
  • Tuesday – Water Aerobics Class – 45 minutes
  • Wednesday – Cycling Class – 45 minutes
  • Thursday – Elliptical – 30 minutes + upper body strength training
  • Friday – Rowing – 30 minutes
  • Saturday – Rest Day
  • Sunday – Swimming – 45 minutes

I also make sure to get in some core strengthening and upper body exercises like planks, crunches, push-ups, and bicep curls 2-3 days per week to build full body strength.

Modifications for Knee Injury Exercises

While low-impact workouts are ideal for bad knees, you still need to use proper form and be cautious with certain moves. Here are some modifications to make exercises more knee-friendly:

For cardio machines:

  • Keep tension low and work at a moderate pace
  • Adjust seat position so knees are aligned with hips
  • Wear a compression sleeve to keep knee warm


young man doing cardio training to not harm his knee more

For kicks and leg lifts:

  • Keep range of motion small and controlled
  • Focus on moving the lower leg vs. entire leg
  • Avoid locking out knee at full extension

For squats and lunges:

  • Limit range of motion – don’t squat or lunge too low
  • Perform near a wall or sturdy surface for balance
  • Step forward with injured leg for lunges

For plyometrics:

  • Eliminate or greatly reduce jumping/hopping
  • Opt for low-impact modifications without jumps
  • Focus on control vs. explosive moves

The key is listening to your body and avoiding exercises that cause knee pain. Don’t push through discomfort – instead try a modification or different exercise that doesn’t aggravate your injury.



Are there any supplements that can help with knee pain when trying to exercise?

Some find glucosamine and chondroitin may provide mild pain relief though data is mixed. Always check with a doctor before taking.

Will losing weight help reduce knee pain from injury?

Yes, losing even 5-10 lbs can significantly improve knee pain as that’s 5-10 lbs less pressure through the joint with movement.

Can I still do Zumba or dance workouts with a knee injury?

Avoid high impact Zumba. Try seated dance videos instead to get heart rate up without jumping and knee twisting.

Should I stretch before doing low-impact workouts for knee injury?

Light stretching is fine but overstretching fatigued muscles could strain the knee more. Focus on warming up the joint.

How long until I can return to high-impact exercise after a knee injury?

It depends on the severity, but have patience. Take at least 2 months building strength with low-impact workouts before attempting high-impact.

Should I ice my knee after low-impact workouts?

Icing after activities like swimming or water aerobics where the knee is already cold may not be needed. Ice if you notice pain or swelling flare up.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with knee issues doesn’t have to stop you from getting in effective workouts and losing weight. There are plenty of low-impact exercises like swimming, cycling, elliptical training, and rowing that burn calories without harming your knees. Just be diligent about proper form, start slow, and modify moves that cause discomfort. With the right routine, you can get fitter and healthier even with knee limitations. The most important thing is not giving up!