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5 Strength Training Moves That Don’t Stress Your Joints

Bum knees? No problem! These exercises help introduce fitness without stressing your legs.

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Trust me… I know how discouraging it can be when you have a desire to move more and exercise, but your body just won’t cooperate.

As a plus-size fitness expert, I have a philosophy: Don’t wait on your weight—you can live a fabulous life at any size. After spending years as a dancer and creating workout videos on YouTube, I’ve explored all types of exercise and figured out how to make them work for my body. I get emails every day from women who want to get healthy. The number one question: “How can I get fit with bad knees?”

When my body was at a higher weight, I too had sore joints that made certain exercises uncomfortable or impossible. I had to work my way up to completing different workouts and discovered many modifications to avoid joint stress.

Having weak or sore knees might get in the way of our health goals, but I never want anyone to feel discouraged. In my experience, there are adaptations for almost everything! When I modified my workouts, I was still able to get the results I was looking for, and eventually I didn’t need as many changes to avoid joint stress.

Here are simple exercises that you can do at home.

Work It Out:  Combine these exercises for a full-body workout at home. Simply complete the recommended number of reps of each exercise before moving on to the next. When you have finished all five exercises, that’s one set. Complete one to three sets total.

Check out my blog for more body-positive fitness advice and a full download of my workout video: “How to Get Fit With Bad Knees.” Photography by Oliver Baker

I love performing this exercise as a warm-up. Because you are using the full range of motion in your knees, it’s also a great way to see where your mobility and flexibility are at.

donkey kicks

Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands together. Step out to the right side and kick your left foot toward your rear as you open your elbows wide. Step your right foot back to center, bringing your arms together again. Step out to the left and kick back with your right foot, arms opening wide. That’s one rep. Complete 10 to 15 reps.

This isn’t a modification per se, but this low-impact exercise works for people of all levels. The higher you lift your knees, the stronger you become!

knee lifts

Make a half moon in the air with your arms, with your fingers pointed toward the sky. Lift your right knee as high as you can, swinging your arms down with the right fist across the body. Bring it back to center. Repeat on the left. That’s one rep. Complete 10 to 15 reps.

Jacks are a great full-body exercise that you can do anywhere—but the lateral movement and pounding can be tough on joints. Here’s how to work your way up from completely sedentary. Perform jacks for 10 to 30 seconds.

First steps

first steps

Pump your arms as you would with a traditional jumping jack while keeping your legs static.



Step out to the side, alternating each leg, and do regular arms.



March in place, lightly, and do regular arms.



Jog in place, and do regular arms.

A common adjustment is to put your knees on the ground, but that doesn’t work for those of us with sensitive joints. Here’s how to skirt the issue… Complete 10 to 15 reps.



Stand facing a wall at an arm’s distance away. Place your hands flat on the wall. Engage and tighten your abs as you bend your elbows to bring your body to the wall, as if you’re doing a traditional pushup. Return to the start position.



Instead of using a wall, stand in front of a high bench or your kitchen counter. Place your hands on the bench and bring your feet out behind you until your back is in a straight plank position. Begin your pushup until your chest grazes the counter. Return to the start position.



Take the same steps you used on the counter and bring it to a lower-level platform, such as a stair step or low bench.

My motto is: “If you can sit down to use the bathroom, you can do a squat!”


Place a chair 3 inches behind you. Take a wide stance, feet hip-width apart. Sit down and stand up. That’s it! Complete 10 to 15 reps.