Pain sucks but knee pain is a special kind of suck. You move they hurt, You do nothing they hurt and you go to the gym to train, they hurt.

When you have knee pain there is nothing to escape it except to ignore it, fight through it or take pain pills.

This is when methods to train around pain are essential because maintaining a training effect for your gains and sanity is a requirement.  

Common Knee Injuries

Here are some common causes of knee pain

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or generalized pain in front of the kneecap
  • Meniscus tears, the padding between your knee joints
  • Degeneration of the knee-joint from years of training and playing
  • Certain tissues in the knees are damaged. E.g., ligaments and tendons.

However, you should never take any of this lying down.  This is the time to exercise smarter and seek out qualified medical advice. And seeing I’m no doctor, I’ll give you 6 ways to exercise around sore knees.  

Note- If you have chronic knee pain, please seek medical advice. This advice is for undiagnosed knee pain and for those who don’t want to take it lying down.

1.     Isometric exercise

Isometric exercises are muscle contractions without movement. These exercises help to strengthen the muscles around the knee without the knee having to move a lot.

Isometric knee exercises help give short-term pain relief to your beat-up knee also. (1)

The following exercises work on the quads and the hips which are both important for knee function and health.  Try holding these exercises for 30 seconds at the start and the work into the 1-2 minutes range.

Be warned, these don’t tickle but neither does knee pain.

Iso squat
Iso Split squats
Programming suggestion

Pairing this with upper body exercises works well, and it gives you the required rest before doing the isometric exercise again. For example:

1A.  Iso split squats 30 seconds on each leg

1B. Tall kneeling Shoulder Press 8-12 reps

2.     Reducing Range Of Motion

The process of pain is complicated; but in simple terms when the brain senses a threat (real or perceived) pain happens.

And by reducing the range of motion to a pain-free one, you cut the threat and you still get to strengthen the muscles around the knee.

Hopefully, by reducing the threat, you can strengthen the knee enough to where being in pain all the time isn’t an issue. Granted, this is tricky, and it varies from person to person.

Box squats and rack pulls are the go-to exercise here. Please adjust the height to a pain-free one.

Box squats
Rack pulls
Programming suggestion

Both of these exercises can be trained for strength (pain permitting) so pairing these with a mobility exercises that helps the knee and improves mobility makes sense. For example;

1A.  Rack Pulls 3-6 reps

1B.  Half kneeling Rocking Hip Flexor 6-8 reps each side

3.     Improving Your Knee Stability

The exercises above will help strengthen the knee and improve knee stability. However, for a moment, think like a car.

Your car accelerates and brakes to go and stop similar to the function of the quadriceps and hamstrings. The big muscles of the quads act as shock absorbers for when your feet hit the ground.

The hamstrings act as the brakes for legs allowing you squat or hinge over without completely falling on your butt. Therefore, strengthening the hamstrings will help improve knee stability.

And training your hamstring eccentrically like the exercises below are helpful to long-term knee pain reduction and better knee function. (2)

Single Leg Hip Extension Hamstring Curl
Eccentric Hamstring Curl
Programming suggestion

Pairing with a floor exercise will save you from getting up and down from the ground with sore knees. For example;

1A.  Eccentric hamstring curl 6-8 reps

1B. Single arm floor press 6-12 reps on each side

Wrapping up

Motion is lotion, and nothing is more important for sore knees than exercising smart and to strengthen and mobilize the muscles and joints that surround the knee.

Because losing your gains due to knee pain isn’t an option.

Need help with training around sore knees? Please contact me here.


1&2. Physiother Res Int. 2018 Oct;23. Effects of isometric, eccentric, or heavy slow resistance exercises on pain and function in individuals with patellar tendinopathy: A systematic review.  Lim HY1,2, Wong SH1,2

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