Build Muscle even with a Bad Knee – BoomerMuscle
February 28, 2018

Build Muscle even with a Bad Knee

glute kicks

Building muscle when you’re over 60 is tough enough. It gets even harder when age-related issues like arthritis get in the way. I got some bad news recently. I’m going to need a knee replacement surgery. I’ve had a bad knee, bone-on-bone, for nearly 40 years. Arthritis finally got the better of it. Muscle building has had to take a backseat to pain for the past month.

Previously, the knee has “gone out” on me a few times every year but usually came back after a few weeks rest. Not this time, it’s not coming back and has left me limping around in constant pain.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve barely worked out at all. That is really making me crazy! So, I spent some time researching lower body exercises for people with bad knees. I’m going to do those on Leg Day instead of my usual routine.

The rest of my workout I can still manage as usual, at least until surgery time. But here’s my new Leg Day routine. No weights or machines, just gentle body weight. And as with any exercise, don’t do it if it hurts. Either modify and limit the motion, or drop the exercise and try another. No Pain!

I believe this type of “gentler” approach could be adapted for any other area of the body: Shoulders, Arms, Back, etc. If there’s interest at looking at other alternative workouts, I’ll follow-up on those next time. Let me know.

Bad Knee Workout

Quadriceps (front of thigh)Here, I normally do seated leg extensions on the stack machine. Those are out for now. Instead:  

Lying One Leg Raises

  • Lie on your back on the floor
  • Bend one knee and keep that foot flat on the floor
  • Keeping the other leg straight, raise it so the knee is at the same height as the bent leg.

ALTERNATE 1: If that is too painful for your bad knee:

  • Place a foam roller or rolled up towel under one knee
  • Straighten the leg and hold the contraction for a few seconds, repeat 10 times
  • Do 3 – 5 sets of either of the above

Alternate 2: Wall Squats

Wall Squats

A regular squat under a load of weight is a tough movement. This is designed to be more of an isometric move. Only move up and down as you are comfortable. My doctor recommended this for me, but suggested I do it stationary and feel the burn from the isometrics.

  • Place your back firmly against a wall
  • If you are able, you can move but only as far down as you are comfortable
  • You can instead remain stationary and feel the Quad muscles tensing.

Hamstrings (back of thigh)

Lying Leg Curls

I normally do these on the weight stack machine while standing up. Not for now though.

  • Lie on your stomach
  • Keeping your feet together, bring your heels up toward your butt
  • Slowly lower and repeat
  • 3 – Sets 10 – 15 Reps

ALTERNATE: If the above position is uncomfortable:

Standing Leg Curls

  • Stand while holding the back of a chair for support
  • Slow raise one heel toward your butt, lower and repeat
  • 3 – 5 Sets of 10 -15 reps

You can add ankle weights or use resistance bands if the movements are too easy and your knees can take it.

Glutes (butt): I normally do Glute Kickbacks while standing using the weight machine for resistance. It’s one of my favorite exercises, but it’s out for a while. You can mix the following in any combination that feels good to you.

Lying Leg Raises

  • Lie on your stomach
  • Focus on your butt and back thigh muscles
  • Raise one leg up, tighten those muscles, hold for a few seconds
  • Lower and repeat for 12 or more reps
  • Switch legs. Repeat for 3 – 5 sets for each side.

ALTERNATE 1: If you can handle getting on your hands and knees

Glute Kickbacks

  • Assume the doggy-style position (sorry, it was the fastest way to describe)
  • Gently kick on leg back until straight (or as far as you can comfortably)
  • Feel the tension in your butt muscles
  • Lower and repeat for 12 or more reps
  • Switch legs. Repeat for 3 – 5 sets for each side.

ALTERNATE 2: Lying on your side

Side Leg Raises

  • Lie on one side with your legs stacked.
  • Bend the bottom leg for support.
  • Straighten the top leg and raise it as high as you can comfortably can.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, lower and relax briefly, then repeat 10-15 times.
  • Switch sides and start over. 3 – 5 Sets each side

ALTERNATE 3: Lying on your back

Glute Bridge Raises

  • Lying flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Raise your butt up as high as you comfortably can, lower and repeat 10 – 15 times
  • 3 – 5 Sets

ALTERNATE 4: Lying on your stomach

Glute Flutter Kicks

  • Lying on your back or your stomach, raise your legs up slightly and flutter kick as if you were swimming.
  • Focus on the feeling in your butt muscles.
  • Continue the motion until you feel “failure”
  • Rest and repeat 3 – 5 sets

Calves: I normally do calf raises while using the leg sled with lots of weight on it. I could maybe manage that even now with the bad knee since this move is very limited. But, I’d rather be safe than sorry. So, I’m trying this…

Calf Raises

You can do these simply standing straight up, or using the back of a chair for support — or standing on a stair and using the banister for support. If you can handle more weight, grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your side as you raise up.

  • Slowly raise up on your heels as high as you comfortably can, hold then lower back down
  • Focus on feeling the calf muscles contract
  • 3 -5 Sets of as many reps as you can to “failure”

Please share your thoughts below, or drop me a line:

Brian Patterson

I've been resistance training for nearly 50 years. As a younger man, I used to believe in using ever-increasing amounts of weight. Until one day in my mid-50's, my aching joints could not take the punishment any more. I had to develop a new way of working out that was effective, but free of pain. I found it. It works great. I'd like to share it with you.