Knee Friendly Cardio Workouts
Knee pain and cardio just don’t mix! To make matters worse, we all agree that some form of cardio, whether that be low or high intensity, needs to be performed in order to stay lean and fit.
So, what do you do?
The good news is that for the last 6 years, thanks to my two knee reconstructions at the age of 17, I’ve been experimenting with alternative cardio options for when you can’t run.
Heck, even if you simply just hate the treadmill, these 5 cardio free options will be your best bet to remain pain free, torch a ton of body fat and keep your fitness levels up to scratch!
Knee Friendly Cardio Workout #1 – Kettlebell Complex
For a kettlebell complex you can either use one or two bells. Both have their positives, however, I like using double bells since the sole purpose of a kettlebell complex is to cause the greatest amount of stress to the body, so that you can lose fat without cardio.
A great example of a kettlebell complex is:
High Pull x 5
Snatch x 5
Presses x 5
Front Squat x 5
So, you would perform 5 high pulls, 5 snatches, 5 presses, and 5 front squats all in a row without setting the bells down. Rest for twice the amount of time it takes you to complete – if it takes you 60 seconds to complete the complex, then rest for 120 seconds and repeat for 3-5 sets.
If your knees are really bad and you can’t squat, then just finish either with double cleans.
Knee Friendly Cardio Workout #2 – The Barbell Complex
The barbell complex is another great alternative to running.
Just like the kettlebell complex example, pair up a few big bang exercises in a row and make sure that the complex flows from one exercise to the next. Making your complex flow is very important because if it doesn’t, it will result in a very ineffective and frustrating complex.
Try this one:
High Pull x 5
Hang Cleans x 5
Push Presses x 5
Reverse Lunge x 5 (each leg)
So, you would perform 5 high pulls, 5 hang cleans, 5 push presses and 5 reverse lunges each leg without putting the bar down. Rest for twice the amount of time it takes you to complete – if it takes you 60 seconds to complete the complex, then rest for 120 seconds and repeat for 3-5 sets.
You’re welcome J
If your knees are really bad and you can’t lunge, then replace it with a Romanian deadlift.
Knee Friendly Cardio Workout #3 – Kettlebell Swings
If you’re not kettlebell swinging, then you’re really doing your heart, body and knee a disservice.
Yes, swings are known for a full body smoker, but I’ve also found it to be a great knee rehabilitation exercise. I always find that my knee starts to play up when I take a break from swinging.
Swings hit the posterior chain hard, especially the glutes, which are responsible for knee stabilisation. Because the knee flexion and extension (bending and flexing at the knee) is far less than what would be required in a lunge or squat, the knee doesn’t get as ‘hot’.
Here are my favourite set and rep styles for swings:
5 x 5 x 16, 24 and 32kg bell
Reps always stay at 5. Swing the 16, 24 and then the 32kg bell; repeat starting back at the 16 for a total of 5 rounds.
5 x 5, 10, 15
Use the same size bell. Swing 5 times, rest, swing 10 times, rest, swing 15 times and rest; repeat starting back at 5 for a total of 5 rounds.
20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Use the same size bell. Perform 20 swings, rest, swing 18, rest, swing 16, and so on.
Knee Friendly Cardio Workout #4 – Sled Drags
The quadriceps and especially the vastus medialis are knee stabilising muscles. Unfortunately, if your knees are really bad and you can’t squat or lunge, then you’re really not left with much to play with since both of these are the common ‘go to’ exercises for developing the vastus medialis.
The good news is that the sled drags are a fantastic quad smoker. After a few rounds with the sled, your lungs will be on fire too.
Clear out 15-30 metres, and have some fun pushing and pulling the sled for the next 15-20 minutes.
Knee Friendly Workout #5 – Crawling
Yeah, you used to do this at the very early stages of your childhood. When you think about it, crawling is running in slow motion.
Picture running on the spot and then slow down your run to marching on the spot – that’s crawling, just horizontal to the floor.
One huge benefit of running is it ‘links’ up the body and makes it work as one, this results in a decrease in injury. Unfortunately, you miss out on this benefit of running if you just simply lift weights and/or perform no running at all.
The best way to get the body ‘linked’ up again without knee aggravation is to crawl. Not only will it link up your body and teach it how to work as one again, but it will also smoke the heart, upper body, abs and quads.
Crawling for 30 metres with 30 seconds break for 10 minutes straight will make a believer out of anyone!
So, there you have it. Don’t be a sucker and neglect your fitness work altogether just because you have a few knee issues, or a grudge against cardio. Give those 5 knee friendly options a go and your body, heart and knee will love you for it!
Written by Grant Lofthouse, a trainer, RKC and the founder of Cardio Haters Training.
He experienced two freakish sporting injuries 9 months apart that resulted in him having two knee operations by the age of 18. During this time, his hate for cardio grew and he was forced to think outside the box when it came to staying lean, fit and athletic without running.
Grant is now on a mission to help you and 100,000 other cardio haters set themselves free from the daily, boring treadmill grind.
He is also a fan of hip hop, kettlebells and bodyweight training. Plus, he prides himself on being able to out-lift his younger sister.