Exercising with knee pain can be a challenge, especially if you’re an endurance athlete. Fortunately, there are low-impact cardio options and resistance exercises that you can incorporate into your routine even if you are experiencing problems with your knees.
We’ll go over what to do if you’re experiencing knee pain and some exercises that may help.
- Does Riding a Stationary Bike Strengthen Your Knees?
- Is Riding a Stationary Bike Good for Knee Pain?
- Can an Exercise Bike Damage Your Knees?
- What Is the Best Exercise for Bad Knees?
- Things to Keep in Mind
Does Riding a Stationary Bike Strengthen Your Knees?
Stationary bikes can help to strengthen your knees. If your bike is properly set up and you don’t have any underlying conditions that may be exacerbated by cycling, an indoor stationary bike can be a great way to strengthen the muscles around your knees.
In fact, stationary bikes are often used when recovering from an injury because they can increase the overall range of motion and knee joint stability. (Source)
But it doesn’t stop there. Cycling on an indoor stationary bike also increases the muscles around the knee, like the quadriceps and gluteal muscles. If you have a stationary bike with clips or a toe strap, you’ll even get an increased hamstring workout from the pulling motion on the pedals (rather than only being able to push down).
This can be very beneficial because the quadricep muscles and hamstring muscles are the primary muscles that support the knee.
It’s important not to have the resistance on the bike set too high. Having too much resistance can lead to increased knee pain. Instead, focus on a lower resistance or gear and increase your cadence (pedal rotations) in order to get the greatest knee strengthening benefit.
Of course, it’s always important to consult your doctor or physical therapist before embarking on any new exercise. Different knee problems and injuries will require different exercises and you don’t want to make your condition worse.
Is Riding a Stationary Bike Good for Knee Pain?
Riding on a stationary bike can help alleviate knee pain. A 2021 review published in Clinical Rehabilitation found that exercising on a stationary bike improved function and lessened pain for individuals with knee osteoarthritis (Source).
Stationary biking helps to build the supporting muscles around the knees, which can lead to greater stability in the knee joint. It also allows the knee to move in a full range of motion without a lot of impact. This is especially true if you are using pedals that you can clip into or strap your flat shoes into.
Can an Exercise Bike Damage Your Knees?
It is possible that stationary bikes may cause discomfort or pain in your knees. This is often referred to as “cyclist’s knee” (or, more scientifically, Patellofemoral pain syndrome) and is the result of repetitive friction between the knee cap and thigh bone leading to an overuse injury. (Source)
It can also be caused by a lack of hip mobility, which ultimately leads to the knee needing to work overtime. If you’re experiencing general knee pain or discomfort, it is likely a sign that something isn’t right.
Here are a few things you can do to decrease the chances of getting knee pain from a stationary bike:
Adjusting your bike seat can be a simple way to fix potential knee issues. Aim to decrease the amount of knee flexion and work towards doing most of your riding at an easier (lower) gear with a higher revolution (cadence).
Increasing your overall hip mobility can release tension in your knees, resulting in less pain and discomfort. You can incorporate hip specific stretching and strengthening exercises to your weekly or daily routine.
If you’re noticing increased knee pain while cycling, take it as a sign to rest. Pushing through pain – even if it’s relatively mild – can lead to injury. If your pain persists after a few days off, you should book an appointment with your doctor or physical therapist to see if there’s an underlying cause.
What Is the Best Exercise for Bad Knees?
There are a variety of exercises you can incorporate into your routine to strengthen your knees and alleviate pain. Here are a few options from to help get you started (Source):
This move is great to start with because it puts no pressure on your knees. Instead, it helps strengthen your quadriceps, which in turn should help strengthen your knees. Start by lying on your back and bending one knee with your foot flat on the floor. Keep the other leg straight and raise it to match the height of the bent knee. Do this 10-15 times for three sets on each leg.
To start, lie on your stomach with both legs straight. Engage the muscles in your glutes and hamstring on one leg and lift it toward the ceiling, holding for 3-5 seconds before lowering. Repeat this 10-15 times per leg.
Stand and face the wall or something sturdy you can hold onto. Slowly raise your heels as high as you can and then lower. Repeat 10-15 times per leg. Once this feels easier, you can hold one foot slightly off the ground so all of your weight is on the leg performing the exercise.
If you’re looking to work on your cardio, gentler is better. Skip any high-impact activities like running or high intensity aerobics. Instead, try the elliptical machine, a stationary bike, or gentle swimming. It may take some experimenting to see what feels best for your body and your knees.
Always consult your doctor or physical therapist if you are experiencing any knee pain while exercising. The examples listed here are just a guideline and they may not be appropriate for every injury.
You will likely be given specific instructions from your medical provider on which exercises are best for your recovery.
If you’re experiencing general knee discomfort while on a stationary bike, stop and examine what the cause may be. Don’t simply try and push through it and hope it goes away, as this can lead to a worse injury over time.