Workout Suggestions?

Hey all,

I'm trying to find workouts that are less strenuous on the lower body but get the heart rate pumping. I've had two knee surgeries and was told I need a knee replacement (the VA won't do it until I am 55), I also have arthritis, and pain in pretty much every one of my joints (no diagnosis on this yet). I'm trying to find exercises that will help me burn calories while not putting too much strain on my disabilities. I don't have access to a pool otherwise I would just swim every day. I have a gym membership to Planet Fitness. I used to walk on the treadmill but that is too rough on my knees. The elliptical is a nightmare on my knee because the strides are so short it causes it to jerk my knee. Biking is alright. I have also begun to try the rowing machine but I haven't made a decision yet on how that makes me feel. Does anyone else have any other suggestions on what I can do?


  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 40,988 Member
    Cycling/biking is great...I'm a bit biased in that I'm a cycling enthusiast and it's my primary form of cardiovascular exercise...but I love to ride and it's great exercise and can be a great workout also depending on how training bouts are structured.
  • NorthCascades
    NorthCascades Posts: 10,925 Member
    Cycling is basically zero impact. It can be (the good kind of) stressful for your heart without hurting your knees. That's basically the reason we have gears. 🙂
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 25,217 Member
    If you stick with the rowing machine, look up resources to learn good technique (Dark Horse rowing, Concept 2 web site (even if it's not their rower, but is the same general type with a sliding seat & single handle), among others). Poor technique limits your ability to get a good workout in the long term, and can increase injury risk. Sadly, many/most trainers at gyms don't have very good technique themselves . . . even ones who are decent trainers in other respects. It's better to get technique right initially, vs. trying to fix it later.

    Whether it will work for you is individual specific. (I'd say the same about biking, personally - both of these exercises can create some knee stress even though low/no impact, so it matters what the pre-existing problem is. If you can bike without problems, that increases the probability that rowing will be OK - similar straight-line hinging motion - but no guarantees because there are also some differences.) I have a torn meniscus and some knee arthritis. Things with twisting of the knees or much impact can be a problem, but both biking and rowing are OK, as long as I manage workout schedules sensibly to allow recovery, and phase in volume increases gradually. As background, I've been rowing on water and machine for nearly 20 years, biking some for longer, took spin classes for well over a decade before the pandemic.
  • sijomial
    sijomial Posts: 19,736 Member
    I've had a multitude of knee injuries over the decades including losing a couple of important pieces......
    Currently ten years past predicted date of needing a total knee replacement.
    Your injuries and your pain/soreness reactions will be different so some experiemntation required.

    Cycling - it's been absolutely brilliant for my CV fitness. I do a very high volume and vast majority is outdoors. Great for quad strength, very controlled movement, no impact. Being clipped in (cleated cycling shoes) makes keeping everything in line easier. Standing cycling for longer durations can be problematic. Saddle to pedal relationship should be adjusted with some care.

    Rowing machine - great exercise but I can't do the duration of exercise I like. Do be aware that although it's one of the best pieces of gym cardio it's also perhaps the one that people tend to use the worst. Take note of @annpt77 advice as regards learning the proper technique.

    Elliptical - they are very varied in design and stride pattern. Some long striding horizontal ellipse, some more vertical, some as you found short strides.

    Treadmill - My ability to run declined pretty steadily from over two decades until it got to the point a mile of running caused more pain than a 100 mile cycle and stopped completely as pain/reward ratio didn't add up. Before that I did find for a long time that lumpen, slow running was far worse for my knees than running at a decent pace. I did run/walk intervals until I could run my chosen distance at a good (for me!) pace.

    Stairs - Everyday life as well as specific exercise. Great for knee stability, if you have muscle atrophy from your injuries or restrictions you also lose the smaller balance muscles.

    Walking - Not a problem for me including walking uphill, downhill a problem as one knee slops backwards and forwards.

    Weights - I know you asked for cardio but don't neglect the benefits that strength training can give for supporting damaged knees. Strong quad muscles are vital for knee stability. Your particular injuries will determine what you can/should do and a Physio consultation could be a good idea.
  • owieprone
    owieprone Posts: 217 Member
    yay biking! Hopefully your gym has spinning bikes available for non-class use, cos the normal exercise bikes are horrific. If they have one try the recumbent bike it's much comfier than the usual sit-up-and-begs. And try spinning but take it easy til you see how your knees manage it.

    Can you skate? It's low impact, and you can do the same sort of drills that you do for running. If you've *kitten* ankles I recommend quads over blades. If money isn't an issue check out rollerderby quads, but honestly anything will do. If you get cheapos you might need to fork out for better wheels but they're worth their weight in gold, and you can buy skates and wheels second hand, also get decent padding (TSG are my fave but are pricey).

    I also agree with sijomial on the weight training for knees, it helps mine out alot (knee issues from back muscle damage and pelvic tilt issues). Also i'd say Sports-Chiro over physio but that's from personal experience.

    Also what about yoga, pilates, and traditional martial arts?
    Tai chi or maybe something quicker like shotokan (anything that doesn't focus on kicking, so no tae kwon do or muay thai). If you can stand in a sumo squat, yoga warrior stance, and wall sit for a minute without it affecting your knees you'd probably be ok at karate. The sensei will take your health issues into account so no need to worry about that - if they don't find a better dojo.

    If you decide you like rowing, maybe check to see if there's a local rowing club? If they're nice they'll have beginners courses and do taster sessions, if you join you'll get technique help.

    Also what about HEMA or olympic/sports fencing (foil, epee, sabre)? HEMA doesn't need to be high impact, it's very like doing karate tbh, I do longsword but you have loads of other disciplines that might be more your style. Olympic fencing might be beyond your knees but you could always try wheelchair fencing if the local club offers it and has a club chair to ensure actual users have more than 1 partner to fight (some do). Most fencing clubs do taster sessions, I thoroughly recommend stabbing or bludgeoning people with swords... I mean learning new skills and maiming people.. no that's not it...
    Both can be expensive but it's the kit that costs, and most clubs will have club kit you can loan til you get your own gear (buy your own helmet first if you join up cos eeeeeewww).

    Good luck with whatever you try.
  • age_is_just_a_number
    age_is_just_a_number Posts: 575 Member
    edited April 2021
    Sorry to hear about your knee and joint issues. Good on you to look for ways to exercise with those challenges. The free FitOn app has a low impact section in their browse. You might want to try some of those.
  • trinafitzgerald2844
    trinafitzgerald2844 Posts: 10 Member
    What about seated/chair HIIT workouts? I do not know anything about these types of exercises, but it might be worth looking into them as a possible knee friendly cardio workout.