Good Exercise for Bad Knees

Are your knees stopping you from exercising?

In my younger days, and by that I mean anywhere from birth until about 55 years old, I didn’t have any physical limitations stopping me from getting exercise, from playing the sports I liked, or from working out regularly.  I used to be a jogger.  I’d say I was a runner, but runners have speed.  I was slow, so I was a jogger.

I logged a lot of miles.  I liked to jog about 3 miles a day.  That was my comfort level.  I’d learned that after 20 minutes of exercise then you start to benefit from what you are doing.  So my first 20 minutes of jogging was gettimg me warmed up for the next 10 minutes of gain.

Maybe I should clarify.  I usually didn’t go for distance, I ran for time.  30 minutes was comfortable.

Sometimes when I was trying to improve my cardio or increase weight loss, I’d run longer.  I didn’t run a set distance, like three miles or 5 miles, unless I was training for a 10K or some other run.  I did run a couple of 10Ks in my jogging “career,” but not too many.

Mostly I ran for me.  I enjoyed it.

It ruined my knees.

Gradually the cartilage in my knees wore out because of the impact involved in running.  It started as a sharp pain on the side of my left knee when I started my run, but if I ignored it it usually went away after a while.

I did that for a couple of years, until the pain didn’t go away.  I finally got checked out by my doctor and ended up with a knee replacement.  Eventually two knee replacements.  I now set off metal detectors far and wide.

So what to do now for fitness?

We all want to be fit, don’t we?  After my knee replacements, and I had total replacements on both knees, about 3 years apart, I wasn’t going back to jogging.  The doctors discouraged it anyway.  What exercise could i do that would give me a good cardio workout without the jarring impact of running?

I’m going to tell you what I think is the best cardio exercise for bad knees.

Walking is good exercise.  In fact, the knee doctors told me to walk as much as I can.  Walking is like jogging only way slower, and much lower impact.  I like to walk, but if didn’t feel like I was getting much cardio.  Walking is not the BEST exercise.  Good, but not the best.

To me, the absolute best cardio exercise for bad knees is cycling.

Here’s a short You Tube video that you might like.

There is a freedom I feel in riding my bicycle, and I can vary speed, coast when I want, push hard up a hill or go fast downhill, all the time out in the world and the fresh air.

I don’t ride a mountain bike.  I used to ride one on the roads and streets around where I live, but it was heavy and the gearing wasn’t set up for road riding.

A mountain bike is for hills and dirt trails.  We have great trails here in Western Colorado.  We’re known for our great trails.

But I’m too old for riding the trails.  They’re for the younger riders.  I’m 65.  I’m not a younger anything.  If you’re my age and still like riding the trails, my hat’s off to you.  Keep it up.

A mountain bike is usually more stable than a road bike.  The handlebars are wider and the tires are bigger.  If you like the stability, you can put street tires on a mountain bike and do just fine, especially starting out.

Cycling allows me to get my cardio, and exercise my legs, even with 2 knee replacements.  Before I had my second knee done, I had pain when I walked, but was pain free when I rode.  No impact on the knee joints, which causes the pain.  After the replacements, I still ride pain free.

Ellipticals and stationary bikes are good for exercise with knee pain also, and I have used them.  Usually people join a gym for that, and in the cold winter months it’s a good idea, unless you have purchased a machine for your home.

The trade-off is cost.  You can probably get a lot of months in a good gym for the cost of having an elliptical or stationary bike in your bedroom.  I have a stationary, but it sits unused from early spring till late fall because I’m out on my bike.

Another trade-off to think about:  if you join a gym and then never go, your money’s wasted.  If you have that exercise machine in your bedroom you can jump on whenever you want, and don’t have to travel to the gym to ride.  That’s just something to think about.

Get a great deal on cycling gear, both summer and winter.

Build up your time and your distance at your own  pace

When I first started riding regularly (recently I mean, because i rode a lot in my younger days) my first ride was 5 miles, and it was hard.  Now I’m riding at least 30 miles a day, every weekday that I can.  I leave my weekends open for other things.

Start slow and build up.  Enjoy yourself.  Make sure you have a comfortable seat.

Ride with a friend, or several.  I have a ride buddy, and we enjoy our rides together.  When Jim can’t ride with me and I ride alone, it’s still fun but not as much.

Check with your doctor before you start, to make sure you’re up for it.

Important rules and tips for riding

Always wear a helmet.  I see people riding without bike helmets all the time.  All it takes is a split second to wind up on the street, and a broken helmet is way better than a broken head.  Every serious rider wears a helmet.

I wear fingerless cycling gloves.  You look cool and protect your hands in case of that crash, and your sweaty hands don’t get slick on the handlebars.

Wear appropriate clothing.  I’ve crashed because a shoelace got tangled in a pedal.  I’ve had my pants leg get caught in the chain.  Be comfortable but smart.  Colorful clothing is easier for drivers to notice.  Cycling shorts or bibs are designed for comfort in the saddle.  They have extra padding where your butt meets the saddle.  You can ride in regular shorts or pants, but if you are going to add miles, proper cycling shorts will become your best friend.

Ride a bike that fits you.  You should be able to stand and have the crosstube just below your crotch area.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you should be able to reach the ground while in the seat.  If you set yourself up that way, your pedal stroke will be off.  If you ride one without a crosstube, or with a downward angled tube, make sure the distance from the seat to the pedals is right.  You should have the leg almost fully extended on a full downstroke, but the knee should still be slightly bent.

For recreational riding a cruiser is a good choice.  Those are the Schwinn type bikes we rode when we were kids, back in the day.  Their popularity is back.  They usually have one speed and coaster brakes.

If you have no balance, or don’t feel comfortable or safe on a two-wheeler, check out a trike.  Adult trikes are available anywhere.  Recumbents are fun too, and are available as bikes or trikes.

If you’re purchasing a bike, put some thought into it, and do your research.  Take some test rides.  Your local bike shops will let you do that.  Big stores like Walmart don’t, i think.  You can buy from them, but realize that their bikes are lower end for higher sales.

I purchased my latest bike online, without a test ride, but I did my research.  The fit is great, and I love the ride.  Online prices are usually lower than bike shop prices, and the bike I wanted wasn’t offered locally.

If you want to ride, get started today.  No sense waiting.

If you would like to get some great looking riding gear at awesome prices, click HERE.

I’d like to know what you thought of my post.  Please leave a comment below.  Thanks.

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  1. Helen Doyle

    Grant, when I started riding a bike they were generally one speed only. That didn’t matter as they made good horses in the Cowboys and Indian games and good cars in the Cops and Robbers. And as we always lived in mining camps in the bush these bikes were robust.

    I started travelling and on one visit back to Canada I tried my brother’s 10 speed. Well my brain, hands and legs were all doing different things so that ride didn’t last long.

    Now our rough terrain is also very steeply up and down so I have a good exercise bike. Not one of those flimsy ones where the centre of gravity means the bike tips over backwards. Why would anyone make such a dangerously designed bike.

    I have gotten out of the habit of getting one it, but reading the benefits for the knees I am going to set it up again and start getting on it.

    Good article and I hope to visit soon and read some more.


    1. admin

      I have a stationary bike too, mostly for the cold winter months. It’s not as much fun as being outside on the roads. We’re really flat here so hills aren’t much of a problem.

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