6 Ways to Modify Squats and Lunges for Bad Knees

Shane Barnard, JD
by Shane Barnard, JD
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6 Ways to Modify Squats and Lunges for Bad Knees

One very important reason for exercising is to improve the way we feel and move every day. We want to be able to play with our children, carry the groceries, and do our gardening without pain or discomfort. Think of how many times you squat throughout your day or walk up the stairs.

Squats and lunges are functional movements that show up in our daily lives, and can be painful if you have sustained injuries, trauma or overuse issues in your knees.

The good news: With some practice, you can decrease pain and gain strength by executing proper technique while decreasing your range of motion when you squat and lunge. As you get stronger and become more comfortable with these exercises, you’ll be able to increase your range of motion gradually and perform the moves without assistance.

Try these variations and modifications for squats and lunges to help decrease discomfort or pain:

Squat
Key Pointers: Make sure your knees don’t extend beyond your toes. Keep your weight in your heels, maintain neutral spine, keep your chest open and flex at your hips.

1. Shallow Squat

2. Wall Squat

3. TRX Squat

Lunges
Key Pointers: Your legs should be staggered in parallel, and pelvis and spine should be neutral. Extend one leg back slowly and make sure your knees don’t extend beyond your toes.

1. Rocking Lunge

2. Static Lunge with Yoga Block

3. TRX Lunge

About the Author

Shane Barnard, JD
Shane Barnard, JD

Shane is NASM, ACE, AFAA and USATF certified and the creator and founder of the Urbankick format and instructor certifications, co-founder of Urbanplay, a non-profit health and fitness education program for youth, and a business partner at Studio360. With over 20 years of fitness experience, she is a nationally recognized presenter and currently teaches at Crunch, Fitness SF, and the University of California at Berkeley, where she is a health coach. Shane is a CEC provider for ACE and AFFA and an honored ambassador for lululemon. You can work out with Shane and Urbankick anytime, anywhere at BooyaFitness.com.
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22 responses to “6 Ways to Modify Squats and Lunges for Bad Knees”

  1. Avatar Carla says:

    Im thinking Too many Lunges and Too much Jogging is Exactly why Many people have Bad Knees to begin with, lol… The body wasn’t designed to be Tortured. There are many exercises that is easily on the joints that can and will get the SAME results as Lunges and your knees will Thank You in the Future. (Knee replacement, Unnecessary Knee Surgery, Etc.

  2. Avatar alwweb says:

    Finally, a MyFitnessPal article and video that really is for people who are beginning or have bad knees. Great information. Thanks! I’m currently in PT currently for a knee injury and was trying to improve my lunges yesterday by using a stick for support, but I love the TRX idea too.

  3. Avatar Michael says:

    I have no cartlidge left in my right knee, and my left has very little left. Doctors wanted to give me a knee replacement, but I am too young{60}. I started leg press, calve machine, and ham curls and the pain has been removed. I am now starting with much heavier weights, and feel very good.

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      I am 41 and same thing in both knees!! I have Lupus- as to why they’re both bad as is my R hip. Sigh.. Lost 50 lbs and Now they hurt and need replacing!! Lol! I was debating whether to start leg press or not. Ty for ur tips!

      • Avatar Michael says:

        I also ride a bike, both mountain and street, 3 times per week. This endeavor, coupled with the above mentioned exercises have all but eliminated knee pain.

        • Avatar Robyn says:

          Hey thx!! I was debating whether to get a bike again and start or not!! I think I will!! Trying to be think like a kid a little bit.. Ty for ur help!!

        • Avatar Robyn says:

          Ty !! I was debating whether to get a bike or not! Right now my Right knee is pushed to the left knee.. O cartilage so I am not sure if I Should yet.. Glad u were able to do it naturally and w hard work.. U should b proud of yourself!!

    • Avatar Robyn says:

      I am waiting on my unloader brace for my right knee- but alas- my left is now damaged and in pain. I’m hoping to start the leg press as soon as brace ( s) come.. Did it hurt worse in the beginning? U still doing good?

    • Avatar Campion Pry says:

      You should learn a lot from Unflexal if you’d like to know how to training good and be more wholesome.

  4. Avatar Allie says:

    This is stupid and doesn’t help with the lunge process itself, it just says how to work yourself into the position. As someone with bad knees, none of this helped

    • Avatar Shane Barnard says:

      I am sorry to hear that Allie. do you have some good exercises to share? I would love to hear them.

  5. Avatar Barb says:

    I want to start doing long rides on my bicycle. Is that bad for my knees? The lower right side of my right knee is somewhat swollen and it clicks when I stand up from a seated position. What exercises would be good to strengthen them?

    • Avatar Shane Barnard says:

      barb, it depends on what is going on with your knees in the first place. many people have tight hips but we feel this is our knees. If you have swelling I would be very-very careful because that is usually a sign of injury. Have you consulted with a doctor?

  6. Avatar Roseann walters says:

    I have fluid in my right knee have done for a while now just watching ur video has gave me comfortable wsy how to squart or lunge thank you will try that tomorrow x

  7. Avatar Kristina says:

    I have been looking for exercises that are arthritis friendly! I am 23, I had a left knee injury about 10 years ago and it has resulted in oa in my knee. I just want to thank you ms. shane for sharing! This is definatly a life changer!

  8. Avatar Kimlan Lau says:

    Hi. Thank you for posting this video. I have joint damage caused by inflammation supposedly from years of having Adenomyosis- based on what my Osteo-Specialist has told me. I am quite young & it is very difficult for me to keep up with a regular exercise schedule because of the discomfort from both the Adeno & the joint pain. I will certainly try these. Thanks again!

  9. Avatar Leah Polonsky says:

    Thank you for the great advice! I am 26 years old, but am also 6’1″ tall so my knees have been sore for a very long time (not sure if its related to my height or not). Squats and lunges are extremely painful, almost like there is something in my knee bending the wrong way. I will definitely be utilizing the trx straps more at my gym.

  10. Avatar Campion Pry says:

    I heard ‘Unflexal’ guides are the best for workouts

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