home squat alternatives for people with bad knees
Alternative Exercises

8 Home Squat Alternatives For People With Bad Knees

The squat is the world’s most popular exercise for developing your quads and glutes. However, if you’ve got bad knees, it’s not an exercise that you should be doing. The squat can put excessive pressure on the knee joint. But that doesn’t mean that you should avoid doing exercises for your leg muscles altogether, even if you suffer from chronic knee pain.

Resistance training can strengthen the muscles and tendons that surround your knee. That will take the pressure off the joint, helping to relieve the pain. Fortunately, there are a number of exercises you can do to strengthen and build your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings without stressing your knee joint – and you don’t have to go to the gym to do them.

In this article, I will lay out 8 great squat alternatives that you can do for your legs at home with no or minimal equipment. 

If you are doing cardio in addition to these exercises, be sure to follow low-impact workouts that will also accommodate your bad knees. 

1. Band Leg Extension

Step by Step How To

  1. Secure a resistance exercise band to the rear legs of a chair and sit on the chair with the band looped around your right ankle. 
  2. From an upright starting position, extend your right leg up to about 80 percent of extension.
  3. Lower and repeat.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps on each leg

Training Tip

This is an effective leg extension alternative that you can do at home. Do not come all the way up to keep the tension off your knee joint. You may have to adjust your position in order to get a taut band at the start of the movement. You can do this move on a leg extension machine in the gym, in which case you should also only come 80 percent of the way up.

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2. Lateral Lunge

Step by Step How To

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms by your sides.
  2. Step out laterally to the left side, driving your hips back as you do so.
  3. Drop down to a parallel squat position and then push back to the start position.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 on each leg.

Training Tip

You can make this bodyweight exercise harder by holding hand weights. Be sure to use proper form by to maintaining an upright torso throughout the movement. Tense your abdominal muscles throughout.

3. Three Quarter Wall Squats

Step by Step How To

  1. Stand against a wall with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hands at your sides and the wall. Your feet should be about 12 inches out from the wall.
  2. Keep your entire back against the wall, lower down to a three-quarter squat position. 
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  4. Do 3 sets of 30-second holds.

Training Tip

This knee-friendly version of the wall squat does not go down to a parallel isometric hold; stop at the three-quarter descent point. As you get stronger, you should extend the length of time that you stay in the isometric hold position. 

4. Three Quarter Air Squats

Step by Step How To

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands grasped in front of you at chest level.
  2. Perform a hip hinge movement to descend into a three-quarter squat position.
  3. Push through the heels to return to the start position.
  4. Do 3 sets of 20 reps.

Training Tip

This knee-friendly bodyweight squat variation does not go down to parallel; stop at the three-quarter squat mark. You can do such other three-quarter versions of such squat variations as goblet squats, skier squats, box squats, cannon squats, the chair squat, cyclist squat, deg squats, drop-down squats, and traditional squats.

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5. Lateral Band Walks

Step by Step How To

  1. Place a mini resistance band around your thighs just above the knees. Drop into a quarter squat.
  2. Take a large step to the left then follow through with your right leg.
  3. Take a large step to the right then follow through with your left leg. That is one rep
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Training Tip

To make the exercise more challenging, use a thicker resistance band. I suggest starting with a 20-inch band and progressing from there.

6. Banded Leg Curl

Step by Step How To

  1. Secure a resistance band to an upright a few inches from the ground. Lie face down on the floor about 18 inches in front of the upright and secure the band around your ankles.
  2. With your feet together and legs extended, support yourself on your forearms.
  3. Curl your legs up to a full contraction.
  4. Lower the band under control back to the start position.
  5. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Training Tip

Adjust your body positioning so that the resistance band is taut in the starting position. You can also do this exercise with an ankle weight.

7. Banded Front Pump

Step by Step How To

  1. Put a mini resistance band around your thighs then lie on a bench with your hips on the edge and your legs hanging over. Your upper body will be on the bench. Grab the sides of the bench for support.
  2. Perform a hip hinge movement to bring your legs up to be in line with your torso.
  3. Lower under control and repeat.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.
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Training Tip

Be sure to perform the exercise under control, not allowing momentum to do the work for you. 

8. Stability Ball Hamstring Roll Ins

Step by Step How To

  1. Lie on the floor will a stability ball at your feet. Place your lower legs on the ball with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back, shoulders, and head on the floor.
  2. Squeeze your butt muscles as you lift your hips into the air.
  3. Now use your heels to pull the ball in toward you.
  4. Reverse and repeat.
  5. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Training Tip

Move slowly and deliberately to control the ball.

Conclusion

You now have eight knee-friendly squat alternatives that you can do right in your own home to strengthen, develop, tone, and sculpt your leg muscles even when you’ve got bad knees. Experiment with each of them to see which ones work best for you. Then combine those moves into a four exercise routine that you can do perform twice per week. Do this consistently to develop your legs whole also helping to relieve your knee pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are leg extensions bad for your knees?

No, leg extensions are not bad for your knees. However, to prevent the possibility of knee shearing, you should not come all the way up to full lockout at the top of the exercise. Only come up 80 percent of the way.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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