Here’s the thing about knee pain, whether it’s caused by a recent injury, overuse, or arthritis, it can sideline even the most devoted exerciser. But there’s no need to let that happen. “There are lots of creative, low-impact ways for people who are recovering from knee injuries stay fit,” says Lea Rouse, a certified fitness trainer for Fitbit Coach. “You can get your heart rate up, get in really good cardio and do high intensity interval training without impacting your knees.”
One of Rouse’s favorite tools to use isn’t a fancy weight machine or the newest contraption on the market, it’s a common household object: a towel. “It’s really pretty amazing how fast a towel can help you get your heart rate up,” she says. With that in mind, Rouse put together this knee-friendly circuit workout—it combines cardio and strength training and the only piece of actual equipment you need is a big towel (use a beach-size one if you have it, otherwise a normal bath towel will work).
The Healthy Knee Circuit
Go through the moves in order and repeat the entire circuit two to three times.
Muscles Targeted: core, shoulders, biceps
1. Hold the short end of a beach towel in both hands. Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and core engaged.
2. Flap it in front of you, moving your hands at the same time, as if you are fanning someone or trying to put a fire out with it. Try to move the towel as hard as you can. (If this is uncomfortable on your knees, you can do the same movements while sitting in a chair.)
3. Do for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest and repeat four times.
Muscles Targeted: hip abductors, glutes
1. Lie on your right side with hips and legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Rest your head on your right arm and use your left arm to keep yourself steady.
2. Engage your core and, while keeping your feet together, raise your right knee as high as you can. Make sure your left hip doesn’t shift or move backwards while you do the move, and keep your right leg on the floor. Pause at the top, then return to starting position.
3. Repeat 15 times, then do the move on your left side.
Zorro Towel Shake:
Muscles Targeted: obliques, triceps, shoulders
1. This move is similar to the normal towel shake, but you’re going to draw the letter Z in the air with the towel. It can helpto imagine you’re holding a sword, cutting the air like Zorro. 2. Keep your feet planted on the ground, knees bent, core engaged, and spine neutral. You don’t want your hips to move at all—the movement should come from your torso and upper body. (If this is uncomfortable on your knees, you can do the same movements while sitting in a chair.)
2. Do for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat four times.
Muscles Targeted: quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips
1. Find a small step or curb that’s 5 to 10 inches high. Stand on it, with your foot parallel with the step, and your body facing toward the right.
2. Keep your right foot on the step, and bend your right knee slightly, lowering your body enough so that the heel of your other foot touches the ground. Your hips should be reaching back and down as if you’re doing a shallow squat (keep your body weight back so you feel it in your glutes). Make sure your bent knee doesn’t go beyond your toes.
3. As soon as your left heel touches the ground, straighten your right leg again to bring you back up to your standing position (your glutes and quads will get engaged).
4. Repeat 10 times, then turnaround and do the move with your left leg.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.