Linda Melone
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3 Knee-friendly, leg toning exercises

Here’s the thing about extreme sports: “extreme” is a relative term. When you’re in your 20s, activities such as zip lining over a pond of alligators, surfing 90-foot waves at night, or free diving into the Marianas trench all fit the bill.

In your 30s and 40s criteria remains high but is slightly less dangerous. Most people of this age range would agree skydiving, competing in the Hawaiian triathlon, and race walking through Death Valley remain beyond the scope of your average exerciser.

      Your extreme sport starts here

After 50, getting dressed in the morning qualifies. At least for me. 

As I’ve blogged about in prior posts, I have a quite lovely case of arthritis in both of my knees. My right knee is particularly cranky and often finds ways to try and ruin my day.

And it would if I let it.

I ignore flare ups for the most part and hope the pain goes away, like I would with an annoying coworker who insists on talking about his latest podiatrist appointment in gruesome detail.

This works for only so long.

So back to the daring feat of getting dressed. 

I was casually putting on a pair of pants and, after pulling on one leg, brought my foot down somewhat firmly — you know, like a normal person who doesn’t have to think about every single movement.

Only this time, I woke the giant. As soon as I put down my foot I felt it, a tweak to let me know who was boss. And it wasn’t me.

If you’re not lucky enough to know the feeling, let me tell you how arthritis knee pain feels, at least from my perspective (if you have a different story I’d love to hear about it in the comments below).

It’s not a particularly sharp pain, but a generalized pain that feels as if my knee is encased in some sort of wrap. 

Only there’s no wrap, just the sensation of the wrap.

My doctor tells me this likely means my knee is swelling and pushing everything else in the knee capsule out of the way. Step aside, ligaments, we got some puffing up to do!

Oh joy.

Thus began another couple days of limping around, icing (the cold-ice kind – not frosting – unfortunately), taking OTC pain relievers and generally acting as I’m ready to reserve myself a pine box at any given moment.

To add insult to injury, my gym is a huge two-story building, which requires walking up a considerable number of steps to get to the weight room.

Now here’s the thing.

If you’re going to a gym to get in shape, there’s quite possibly a chance that you’re so out of shape those stairs alone would be a workout.

Apparently the architect was some kind of jokester who didn’t stop to consider that for a second.

There’s no way I’m taking the elevator. And not just because it’s in front of ALL the cardio machines so everyone sees you pop out of the elevator.

Although that’s part of it.

So yesterday, after walking up the stairs and realizing I was no how, no way, in shape for an actual workout, I (carefully) made my way back down the stairs to do cardio, ignoring the ‘Didn’t you just get here?’ look of the woman who just saw me walk UP the stairs.

Today I’m much better, by the way. It’s how these things work.

One day you’re feeling like you can take over the world — age, shmage! — and the next you’re looking at ads for stairway electric chairs.

If your knees occasionally stage a mutiny like mine, here are some tips that can help you stay pain-free, along with my favorite leg exercises that can be done on achy days (always use common sense and avoid anything that causes pain beyond the norm)…

Consider wearing a support sleeve when you work out*

A support such as this keeps the knee stable and warm. In fact, these make my knees sweat, which is weird but no weirder than wearing it to begin with. Here’s one I’ve found most helpful.

*The operative phrase: “when you work out.” I know a woman who ignored the warnings about only wearing this constricting support a couple hours a day. She wore it all day and even slept with it. The result: a blood clot in her lungs that nearly killed her. I’m not fooling.

Always warm up thoroughly

Warming up is one of those overlooked parts of a workout we think we don’t need. At least I didn’t. Until the last couple of years. It’s even more important when you have arthritis.

Do any type of light cardio you can tolerate for 10 minutes or so, until you break a light sweat. This prepares your joints, muscles and nervous system for what’s ahead.

Start easy 

By this I’m referring to doing a partial rep or range of motion until you see what hurts. For example, I can do squats with weights most days. I never know until I do a couple of reps, so I start by squatting part-way down, then a little lower with each rep until I know it’s All Systems Go.

Some days it hurts and I do other things. Other days I feel superhuman and can do a full squat without pain.

Keep your knees aligned

You know those fancy curtsy squats and other one-legged lunges with a hand tied behind your back? Not really, but you know the ones I mean.

They’re usually not conducive to a fun workout.

Any exercise where you knee is twisted into a weird angle is usually going to cause your knee to send up a flare and call for backup. Keep your knees in line with your feet and, if possible, in line with your ankle, not jutting forward of your foot.

Keep resistance above the knee joint

Using a machine or performing an exercise where the “load” or weight is below the knee puts a lot of stress on that joint.

I use a hip-extension machine at my gym where I can adjust the rollers to just above my knee. If you’re using a machine or exercise where the resistance is below the knee, keep it as close to the knee as possible for least risk of pain.

Machines to AVOID when you have knee pain (and are not recommended at any time, actually):

  • Leg press
  • Leg extension

Push from your heels

Whether you’re squatting or using a machine, always push from your heels, not the balls of your feet. This puts less stress on the knees.

Find knee-friendly exercises like these…




Do these along with your other lower body exercises three times a week, following the tips in each video.

Want more great tips for firming up all over? Then be sure to sign up for my free webinar, How to Firm Up After 50! You will learn tons of info on what it takes to fight gravity as you age. Click HERE to get started! 

Other posts you may enjoy:

Best functional exercises for women over 50

How to exercise when you’re hurting

3 Best shoulder shaping exercises for women over 50

Questions or comments? Please leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond! 

Your Ageless Body Coach,

About the Author Linda Melone

Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.

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Leave a Comment:

Denise Fordyce says

I find lifting my toes inside my shoes ensures that I really do push from the heels. Not sure if it’s a real thing or just a reminder. I know the nasty sensation you are talking about and also get “pulling” sensations behind my knee and occasionally swelling behind the knee (Baker’s cyst)…trying to put off the new knee as long as possible but not leave it so long I don’t get the full benefit. Quite a juggling act!

    Linda Melone says

    Yes! That’s a good way to know you’re pushing from your heels, and a cue I also use. And I hear ya on the knee surgery juggling act… not fun!

Rhonda says

Looking for natural HRT
any suggestions as you are a guru….lol
Rhonda age 60

    Linda Melone says

    lol! If I’m a guru I demand a mountaintop of my own, where people can travel from miles to hear my words of wisdom. 🙂 I am not too familiar with natural HRT, sorry! I would check with a naturopath or other qualified professional who works with natural remedies.

Denise says

Hi Linda,

Love your posts! Have you tried Synvisc-One? My orthopedic recommended this.


    Linda Melone says

    Thanks, Denise! If that’s an injectable, I think it’s what my ortho did last year. It did help.

Patty says

Hi Linda! I really enjoy reading your posts. Could you tell me which otc pain reliever do you take for your arthritis? My mom who is 74 also has arthritis in both knees and it limits the exercises she can do. Thanks for these tips!

    Linda Melone says

    Thanks, Patty! I don’t have any particular brand, but I’d have your mom ask her doctor for recommendations. Not all meds are for everyone :).

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