Cardio Exercises for Bad Knees

By Emily Kolar, PT, DPT

Cardio Exercise for Bad Knees

Everyone needs cardio! Cardiovascular exercise is vital for health and wellness.  But how do you get cardio exercise if you have bad knees?  Well, there are plenty of options to allow you to get your heart pumping without pounding those bad knees.  If you have knee arthritis, knee pain, or any other knee problems, you need to read this list of options to help you find the right cardio exercise for you and your bad knees.

Low impact exercise allows cardio fitness without the compression on the knees

Cardio Exercise for Bad Knees


What Are Low Impact Cardio Exercises for Bad Knees?

The quick answer is low impact cardio exercises are exercises that get you moving with less force on the knees.  We have laid out some of the best options so that you can get moving and get healthy.


Swimming is a low impact exercise on the knees but great for a cardio workout.

Image of Swimmer

Swimming is a great form of exercise that does  not cause a lot of impact on the knees.  But even if you can’t swim laps, there are other options for exercise in the pool. Pool exercises are a form of cardiovascular exercise that utilizes buoyancy and is less compressive on the joints in the body.

  • Aquatic classes at your local health club or fitness center
  • Water aerobics; routines, movements, weights
  • Different swimming strokes; freestyle, backstroke, butterfly
  • Walking
  • Stepping forward/backwards/sideways
  • Marching
  • Bringing knees to chest
  • Aquatic Rehabilitation / Aquatic Physical Therapy


Cycling is a great cardio workout with low impact force on the knee.

Bicycling for cardio

Cycling is a continuous revolution of pedaling in a circular motion.  This limits the compressive forces on the knee because there is not a quick load of body weight.

  • Stationary bike; recumbent or upright;
  • Pedaling forward/backwards
  • Pedaling 1/2 revolutions if full revolution is painful
  • Outdoor bicycle;


Stationary moveable pedals contain only the pedals and not the seat.

  • Can be used for legs and arms
  • Forward/backwards pedaling


Upright machine that resembles a bike with legs going in an elliptical motion without a seat.

  • legs forward/backwards pedaling
  • arms handles

Upper Extremity Ergometer

Bicycle or pedals for arms that resistance can be added

  • Forward/backward pedaling

Rowing machine

Upper extremity rowing and lower extremity muscle recruitment.


  • Walking
  • Incline / Decline

Walking on the treadmill is low impact in that it does not load the knee as much as running.  But it does still provide some compressive forces and may not be appropriate for those with severe knee issues.

Is Walking One of Easy Cardio Exercises for Bad Knees?

Osteoarthritis of the Knee can cause pain and limit cardiovascular exercise. Low impact exercise is still important.

Osteoarthritis in the Knees

Walking causes forces of approximately 1.5 – 3 times your body weight to the knee joint, and for every additional pound gained it will then multiply the forces 2 -3 times the force. On the other hand, every additional pound loss it will decrease the amount force transmitted through the knee joint. Walking is good if the knee problems are not too severe.  For severe knee problems, other low impact exercises listed above may be a better option.

Start with lower impact activities and progress to higher impact activities with time and training as tolerated.

If you would like to learn more about the knee, watch this video on the Anatomy of the Knee.

What if My Knees Hurt with Low Impact Cardio Exercises?

Cardio exercises are important.  If you have knee pain that limits you from doing even low impact cardio exercise, it’s time to get help!  The Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute offers the area’s largest and most comprehensive care to help with your bad knees.  If your knees are keeping you from healthy exercise, let us help you.

To schedule an appointment with a JOI Orthopedic Knee Doctor, call JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician

Image of Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician

Skip to content