4 Bad Exercises for Bad Knees

Experts agree: Exercise is good for your knees, especially if you have "bad" ones.

The best way to avoid and recover from knee injury is to keep the muscles and ligaments surrounding your body's largest joint strong and flexible. Some exercises, however, do more harm than good. If you have "bad knees," be careful about the exercises you choose.

Physical therapists and fitness experts offer these knee-safety tips:

  • Never bend your legs in a way that extends your knees past your toes.

  • Keep your knees in a straight line pointing towards your toes.

  • Be aware of your knee position when doing aerobics activities like step-class, dance, or any other type of cardio exercise that involves squats, lunges, twists, and turns.

  • Think about how your leg naturally moves when you walk (the most natural exercise we do). Your knee is well behind your toes at all times. When you squat or lunge, however, your knees try to sneak out in front of your toes. This puts a lot of weight and pressure on your kneecap and causes stress to your ligaments and tendons.

  • When doing yoga or Pilates, be especially careful about how your weight is distributed over your knees during power poses like Warrior 1 and 2. If you feel you're not working hard enough during a lunge like these, move your foot (not your knee) further in front of you.

  • Avoid hard surfaces like cement and pavement. Aim for grass, dirt, tracks, trails, or the treadmill.

  • Always wear the right shoes for your sport.

  • Stretch after exercise to avoid stiffness and muscle injury, but avoid Hurdler's stretch which puts too much stress on knees.

  • Whenever possible, use your back, thigh, abdominal and butt muscles instead of your knees. If you experience any knee pain, back off and let your knees guide you into what are and are not safe exercises for you.

Avoid These Exercises Completely:

1. Full-arc knee extensions with weights. Fully extending your knee to 90-degrees strengthens your quadriceps and hip muscles but can potentially damage your knee joints. Adding weights only increases the wear and tear, especially under the patella.

2. Deep Squats (AKA deep knee bends). Squats may be great for your thigh, butt, and abdominal muscles, but they force your knees to support too much weight, especially as you elevate from below-the-knee squat positions. Even Yoga poses like frog pose can cause serious knee injury, especially if you hold the pose for any length of time. Instead, try easy-squats where your hips always stay well above the knee and don't do squats at all if they cause any knee pain.

3. Deep Lunges. Avoid lunges that extend your front knee beyond your ankle and never let your hip dip below your knee. Gentle lunges that don't go too deep, too fast, or too far may be OK for people with healthy, well-conditioned knees, but avoid placing weight on your back leg or pushing off with your rear foot when elevating. Instead, shift your bodyweight to your front leg. Control your motion, body alignment, and speed and don't do them at all if they cause any pain during or after the lunge.

4. High-impact sports that require sudden starts, stops, or turning, twisting, and jumping. such as basketball, tennis, soccer, and football are off limits until knees are fully healed and ready for hard use.