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Knee Exercises for Seniors: Best Knee Strengthening Exercises for the Elderly

By Maurice

Knee Exercises for Seniors

Have you ever considered what your knees go through on a daily basis? Just being able to stand straight depends on our knees.

Think about how many times you stand up and sit down during a normal day. Walking means that they work a little harder. If you go dancing, or running, or play sport, you are asking your knees to act as shock absorbers, while taking most of your weight. It’s no wonder that, as we grow older, our knees begin to show wear-and-tear. Arthritis may also add to the discomfort and pain.

The good news is that it is not just a matter of grinning and bearing it… You can manage the pain in your knees, by doing targeted knee exercises for seniors!

Please click the button below to download a free PDF of the exercises in this article:

Keep in Mind:

Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.

Benefits of Knee Exercises for Seniors

It is natural for pain to develop in our knees as we mature. Exercises will strengthen the muscles around your knees, so there will be less strain on your knees. They also allow the joint to keep moving, which adds to managing the pain.

It is best to be advised by a medical professional when you begin exercising, so that your programme of exercise is tailored to suit you and your knees. Generally, you should aim to exercise at least 30 minutes on five days a week. You can split your 30 minutes up during the day, to perhaps two sets of 15 minutes, or even three sets of 10 minutes. (Holden et al, 2014)


Before beginning any new exercises, it is best to consult your doctor.

For each of the exercises described below, you should do a number of repetitions. Begin with 10 on each side and add to this as you get fitter.

If you feel any pain in your knee, stop the exercise and consult a medical professional.  

Exercises to Strengthen Your Knees

To give your knees the ‘edge’ and to help them to cope with the strains of everyday life, you should do exercises that will strengthen them. Here are some knee exercises for seniors:

Rear Knee Flex

The rear knee flex is a good warm up exercise.

  • Stand with your feet slightly apart.
  • Hold onto the back of a chair, or support yourself against a wall.
  • Bend your right knee until your lower leg is at right angles to the floor. Lower your leg.
  • Repeat on the right.

When you perform a knee flex, make sure that the movement is smooth, as you raise and lower your leg, and stand strongly on the supporting leg.

Side step-ups

When you perform a side step-up, you will place a little more weight on your knee, so that you use your muscle on top of your thigh even more.

To do this exercise, you may need to support yourself by holding onto the back of a chair, pressing against the wall, or holding a banister.

  • Stand on the floor, sideways next to a low step.
  • Place your right foot on the step.
  • Put your weight on your right foot and step up on it, raising your left foot off the ground.
  • Lower yourself onto your left foot again.
  • Repeat this a few times, then turn around and repeat the action on your right leg.

While you are performing a side step-up, keep your body straight.

Sit to Stand

Sit to stand is an exercise that allows you to practise the everyday action of sitting and standing repeatedly, so that your muscles really do have a chance to become stronger.

  • Sit on the front edge of a chair, with your feet planted firmly on the floor, slightly apart.
  • Slowly stand up until you stand straight.
  • Sit down again, slowly.

When you perform a sit to stand, make sure that you do so slowly and steadily, focusing carefully on using your thigh muscles to do so.

Wall squats

A wall squat is similar to a full squat, but puts a lot less strain on your knees. To perform this exercise, you will need to work against an open piece of wall.

  • Stand a little way away from the wall.
  • Lean back, so that your back is supported by the wall.
  • Keep your back straight and bend your knees a little.
  • Put your hands at your sides, or on your hips.
  • Slide your back down the wall, bending your knees.
  • Do not bend any further than where your knees are about 45 degrees.
  • Push against your feet, so that you can slide back up the wall.

When you perform a wall squat, make sure that you slide up and down the wall at a slow and steady rate.

Exercises for Seniors with Bad Knees

Don’t allow stiffness or pain in your knees to stop you from doing what you want to do – use these knee exercises for seniors to strengthen your muscles, which will help to relieve the pain in your knees.

Calf raises

To perform a calf raise, you may need to support yourself. Hold onto the back of a chair with one hand, or support yourself against a wall.

  • Stand in a neutral position, with your feet under your hips.
  • Slowly rise onto your toes.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds.
  • Lower back onto flat feet.

Remember that performing calf raises is a slow and steady process.

Leg extensions

For a leg extension, sit back in the chair, and do sit up straight.

  • Sit with both feet squarely on the floor, about a pace apart.
  • Straighten one leg in front of you. Make sure that you extend it strongly.
  • Return the leg to the starting position.
  • Repeat with your other leg.

When you perform the leg extension, focus on tightening your thigh muscles.

Straight Leg Raises


Straight leg raises are performed lying on the floor.

Do not extend your leg further than is comfortable.

Do not over-stretch your muscle or your knee.

  • Lie on your back on the floor.
  • The small of your back should be flat on the floor.
  • Extend one leg, so that it is lying on the floor. Keep the other one slightly bent.
  • Raise the extended leg, keeping it straight, as high as you can without it being uncomfortable.
  • Return that leg to the ground.
  • Bend the first leg and extend the other leg.

Repeat the leg raise exercise.

Exercises for Arthritis in the Knee

As you mature, arthritis may creep into your joints and make your knees ache. This may be exacerbated if you have played sport for a long time.

There are some exercises that will help to strengthen your muscles, so that your knee does not take as much strain and you will be able to manage the pain just a bit better.

Hamstring Stretches

When you begin doing hamstring stretches, you may find that your leg will not stretch far. This will improve as your muscle warms up and you become more limber.

Only do this stretch as far as your leg will allow you to. Stop if it hurts.

  • Lie on your back with your legs slightly bent.
  • Hold the two ends of a towel/sheet in each hand.
  • Bend one leg and put your one foot against the centre of the towel.
  • Gently raise your leg, pulling gently on the ends of the towel.
  • Push your foot against the towel to help to raise it easily.
  • As your leg raises, try to straighten it.
  • Lower your leg slowly. When you have lost the stretch, let the towel go and extend your leg on the floor.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Performing a hamstring stretch will also stretch your arms and your back slightly.

Pillow Squeeze

The pillow squeeze focuses on strengthening the muscles inside your legs, but also uses all your thigh muscles.

The exercise can be performed sitting or standing.

Seated pillow squeeze:

  • Sit on the edge of a chair.
  • Double a pillow over and put it between your knees.
  • Push your legs inwards, against the pillow.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then release.

When you perform the leg extension, focus on tightening your thigh muscles.

Lying pillow squeeze:

This form of the pillow squeeze relaxes your whole body and focuses on your legs.

  • Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent.
  • Your back should be flat on the floor.
  • Put a doubled-up pillow between your legs.
  • Squeeze your knees together.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then release.

Side stepping

To perform a side step, you must begin by standing in a neutral position, with your feet about hip width apart.

  • Extend your right leg out to the side.
  • Step on to it and bring your legs together.
  • Now, extend your left leg out to the side.
  • Step onto it and bring your legs together.
  • Make sure that the leg you are standing on is strong and your foot is steady on the floor.

You can also do this exercise with your legs bent slightly, so that you are using your thigh muscles a bit more.

In side-step, keep the movement smooth, swopping from side-to-side.

Knee Pain Exercises for Seniors

Quad stretch

Your quadriceps are major muscles that link to your knees.

Performing a quad stretch helps to stretch and strengthen those muscles. You will need to balance on one leg for this exercise, so make sure you hold onto the back of a chair, or support yourself against a wall.

  • Stand in a neutral position, with your feet slightly apart.
  • Bend one leg so that you can hold your ankle with the hand on the same side.
  • Gently push your foot away from your body.
  • Release your foot and put it down again.
  • Repeat the process on the other side.

Performing a quad stretch pulls on your muscles, so it should be performed slowly and steadily.

Half Squat

Squatting can put a lot of strain on your knees, but is it also a really good way to strengthen your muscles.

A half squat takes a lot of strain off your knees and focuses on the muscles. Stand in a neutral position, but make sure that your feet are about the same width apart as your hips.

  • Clasp your hands and hold them out in front of you.
  • Bend at the knees, pushing out your hands a little, as you go down.
  • Your knees should not bend beyond a 45 degree angle.
  • Make sure that you push your back outwards as you bend, so that you keep your weight balanced.
  • Do not allow your knees to move beyond your feet.

You can perform the half squat standing without support.

You may choose to do the half squat with some support. In this case, stand behind a chair and hold on to it as you squat.

Side leg raises

For side leg raises, you will need to lie on your side on a bed, or on a mat on the floor.

  • Support your head on your bent arm. If this is uncomfortable, extend your arm and lie your head on it.
  • Your other hand should be placed on the floor in front of you, to help you to balance.
  • Extend both of your legs: either one on top of the other, or crossed over, so that you can balance more easily.
  • Lift your top leg, keeping it straight.
  • Lower your leg to the starting position.
  • Roll over to the other side and repeat the exercise with the other leg.

When performing a side leg raise, make sure that you only extend your leg as far as is comfortable.


Do not let knee pain stop you from getting out and about. Manage the pain by using targeted exercises, as described, and you will find that life holds just what you want it to!

Supporting Scientific Studies

  1. 1Functional sit-to-stands evoke greater neuromuscular activation than orthopaedic bed exercises in healthy older adults
  2. 2Benefits of home-based rocking-chair exercise for physical performance in community-dwelling elderly women: a randomized controlled trial
  3. 3Exercises to Activate Seniors
  4. 4Comparison of the effects of two selected exercises of Theraband and Pilates on the balance and strength of lower limb in elderly women
  5. 5Physical-Performance Outcomes and Biomechanical Correlates from the 32-Week Yoga Empowers Seniors Study
  6. 6Effects of Yoga on Symptoms, Physical Function, and Psychosocial Outcomes in Adults with Osteoarthritis. A Focused Review
  7. 7Group and home-based tai chi in elderly subjects with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial
  8. 8Physical activity for osteoarthritis management: a randomized controlled clinical trial evaluating hydrotherapy or Tai Chi classes
  9. 9Long‐Term Exercise and its Effect on Balance in Older, Osteoarthritic Adults: Results from the Fitness, Arthritis, and Seniors Trial (FAST)
  10. 10Aerobic walking or strengthening exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee? A systematic review

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