A woman in a high plank position doing cardio workout.

Knee pain: try this 10 minute low-impact home cardio workout to protect your joints

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If your knees are painful after running or too much HIIT, this at-home cardio circuit is a great low-impact alternative and only takes ten minutes to complete. 

You thought exercise was meant to make you feel younger, but here you are with knee pain after taking up running. After all, almost half of recreational runners get injured, according to new research

Or perhaps you upped your HIIT schedule during the previous lockdown and are now dealing with stiff and achey joints. Or you’re back to box jumps at the gym and noticing that you’re struggling to get up and down the stairs. 

“The knee has got two big, cushiony bits between the bones, but these can wear away as we get older – from general wear and tear – but also if you do lots of plyometric sports,” explains Kate Stalker, physiotherapist at The Sporting Joint.

That includes high impact sports that are performed with a lot of power – think running, jumping and twisting. “It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do those things, it just means that we need to be strong enough to do them. Unfortunately, most injuries are caused by too much too soon. Our bodies work best with progressive loading, but usually we find something we enjoy and go from zero to hero very quickly. That puts too much load on the system and it can’t cope with it,” says Kate.  

The cure is, as Kate mentioned before, building the strength in your knees and surrounding muscles – especially the glutes, hips, ankles and calves. But if you’re looking for a way to get your heart rate up while avoiding knee flare-ups, there are low-impact options you can try. These include cycling, rowing and even uphill walking, and can also include high intensity home workouts without the impact. 

“When it comes to low impact, tempo is your friend,” says fitness trainer Emma Obayuvana from the Strong Women Collective. “Adding pulses and moving explosively will get your heart rate up – even without jumping. The other key is layering multiple moves on top of each other for an extra challenge.” 

A woman doing squats at home during a low impact workout.
Knee pain: squats can be used as a low impact way to get your heart rate up.

In the workout Emma’s shared below, you can manipulate the set timings and your pace to make it more or less challenging. Emma suggests either performing each exercise for one minute back to back, three times with a one minute rest in between, or doing each move for 20 reps and doing as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes. 

10 minute, low-impact, high-intensity workout

Squat with heel raise

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet facing forwards and shoulders rolled back.
  2. Clasp your hands in front of you and push your glutes back as you bend your knees to lower into a squat.
  3. When your knees get to 90°, pause for a second then start to push up to standing.
  4. As you do so, lift your heels off the floor and drive your arms backwards.
  5. Lower your heels back down as you bend your knees back into the squat position. 

Shoot throughs

  1. Begin on all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and your toes tucked under.
  2. Activate your core by pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
  3. Twist your hips to the right hand side so that your right glute drops towards the floor.
  4. As you do that, kick the right leg under and across the body with your foot flexed and bring your left hand behind your head.
  5.  Open your chest by turning your left elbow towards the ceiling.
  6. Take your right leg back, place your left arm down and bring your hips back to the starting position.
  7. Repeat on the other side. 
A woman doing a high plank during a burpee in the gym.
Knee pain: low impact cardio can include modified burpees.

Low impact burpee

  1. Start standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Hinge at the hips to lower your hands to the floor. 
  3. Press your hands down and step your feet back into a high plank position. 
  4. From here, add in a press up, shoulder tap or just hold your plank. 
  5. Step one leg at a time in to meet your wrists. 
  6. Extend the knees to come back up to standing. 

Commandos

  1. Start in a high plank position with your belly button drawn into your spine. 
  2. Lift your right hand off the floor and place your right forearm on the ground. 
  3. Don’t let your hips drop to the left, keeping your pelvis straight and core engaged.
  4. Lift your left hand off of the floor and place your left forearm down on the ground. 
  5. Push through your left forearm to lift your right forearm off the floor and place your right hand down again, keeping the hips straight. 
  6. Push through your right hand to bring your left forearm off the floor and place your left hand down. 
  7. Repeat on the other side. 

Walkouts to mountain climbers

  1. Start in a standing position with belly drawn in to your spine and your shoulders back and down. 
  2. Hinge at the hips and lower your hands to the floor. 
  3. Start to walk your hands away from your feet one at a time, so you end up in a high plank position. 
  4. Draw your right knee in towards your chest and squeeze your core. 
  5. Place your right foot back on the floor and draw your left knee in towards your chest, again squeezing through your core. 
  6. Walk your hands in towards your feet one at a time. 
  7. Roll your chest back up to standing. 

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Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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