Five HIIT Workouts for People with Bad Knee Problems

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a method of training that involves short periods of high effort exercise followed by short rest periods. HIIT, which follows the Tabata protocol, has been touted to provide the same benefits as a 30-60 minute cardio session, but in only 4 minutes- a massive time difference but with the same results. HIIT also helps you burn calories, even after you finish working out. Great for those looking to watch their weight, or lose a few pounds.

High intensity exercise is all about pushing yourself to your own limits. The traditional form of HIIT may not be suitable for those with knee problems as it can be pretty high impact. However, HIIT can be easily and safely modified to allow for maximum benefits for all. Every individual is different, and therefore to ensure that you are ok to complete a new HIIT based regime check with your doctor first. Finally, remember to get a right pair of HIIT shoes for your workouts.


Adapting HIIT for People with Knee Problems

Most traditional HIIT workouts are completed on a treadmill or a track. Both of which can be bad news for those with knee issues or injuries who need to keep impact low. Additionally, even gym based resistance exercises can be difficult for those with knee problems, as many involve lots of bending and squatting. Finding alternative exercises can be challenging, and can be the reason many are put off.

However it is not as hard as it might seem, and what most people don’t realize is that high intensity doesn’t have to mean high impact. If you’ve got bad knees, sore joints, are nursing an injury, or want to avoid ever having one in the future, then you don’t have to steer clear of HIIT- you can still reap the metabolism-boosting benefits- you just need to make slight adjustments.

By swapping a treadmill for an exercise bike or elliptical trainer you can massively reduce the shocks and jerks that your joints will receive. Additionally, and elliptical can help you build balance and core strength- always good news as you get older. In terms of alternative resistance exercises there are lots of things you can do, and depending on the extent of your knee issues you can modify where needed. Read on to get some inspiration so you can incorporate HIIT into your next session.

Here are 5 low impact HIIT workouts that are suitable for those with knee problems:


Workout 1

This high-octane workout is guaranteed to bump up your heart rate, burn some serious calories and help you build strength, whilst also being safe for your knees. No excuses not to give it a go!

Always ensure that you do a full and proper warm up before you start your HIIT session. For example, do 10-15 minutes of low intensity cardio work such as cycling, and follow that with some stretches and dynamic drills such as knee lifts, to get your muscles moving and joints loose.

This workout involves 5 exercises. You should do each exercise 15 times (i.e. 15 reps). Between each exercise have 20 seconds rest. Then once you have done all 5 exercises have 2 minutes rest. Then repeat. Depending on your fitness level you can repeat the set once or twice. If you want to increase the intensity further you can add low weight dumbbells.

  • High knee’s with arm pull downs
    • Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms overhead.
    • Contract your abs and draw one knee up to your chest as you pull your elbows down.
    • Repeat on the other side.
  • Standing Side leg lifts with Jumping-Jack Arms
    • Think jumping jacks, without the jump, and done one side at a time!
  • Double side step with back row
    • Stand with your arms straight out in front of your chest.
    • Take two steps to the left, pulling your arms back with each step, and then take two steps with arm rows to the right.
  • Half squat heel touches
    • Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent.
    • Tilt your body forward slightly and have your arms down at your sides.
    • Open your arms and lift your elbows into a reverse fly.
    • At the same time tap your left heel out at a 45-degree angle and bring it back.
    • Repeat with your right foot.
  • Knee lifts
    • Stand in a split stance with your right foot forward and left foot back.
    • Put 80 percent of your body weight on the front leg, and bend the front knee slightly.
    • Lean forward and raise your arms overhead. You should form a straight line.
    • Raise you left knee up and bring it into your chest.
    • At the same time, bring your hands down to tap your knee.
    • Repeat on the left side.

When you are in HIIT mode, you should be working out at almost maximum effort i.e. breathing very hard. Remember that the goal of HIIT is low volume and high intensity, so with these exercises keep the pace fast.


Workout 2

Go hard (but stay soft on your knees) with this fat-busting, fast paced HIIT circuit.

Warm up for 10-15 minutes. You can do this on a bike, or elliptical. Or if you are home, walking around, or marching on the spot are great alternatives. Next do some stretches and drills to loosen up your joints and get you ready for action.

For this workout do 1 set of each exercise. Performing each for 45 seconds- as hard as you can. Then take 15 seconds of active recovery i.e. walking around, or marching on the spot- this will allow you to catch your breath, ready for the next exercise. Aim to do 2 to 4 rounds- depending on your time and fitness level.

  • Side to Side Skater
    • Stand with feet hip width apart. Lunge to the right side, extending your left leg out- toes pointed.
    • Squat low and stay down. Quickly shift your weight from side to side, extending the non weight bearing leg each time. Swing your arms forward and back as you go.
  • Adjusted Squats
    • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Lower down into a squat position- as far as you can go without causing undue pain.
    • Extend your arms out in front of you.
    • Quickly stand up, lift your heels of the floor, and reach your arms overhead. Make sure this is quick and explosive!
    • Return to the start position, and repeat.
  • Jump free burpees
    • Stand with feed hip width apart and arms overhead.
    • Bend down into a squat, and put your hands on the floor.
    • Walk your feet back into a plank, and then lower down into a push up.
    • After your push up, walk your feet back to squat, stand up and put your arms in the sky!
      • Rep one done.
    • Seated tuck jumps
      • Find a chair or sturdy box and sit on the edge of it, leaning slightly back.
      • Pull your tummy in tight and bend your knees.
      • Lift your knees up to your chest- as far as they will go. Accelerate the upwards action for maximum benefits.
      • Quickly lower your knees back down, and repeat.


Workout 3

To get the most from this workout you need to make sure that your movements are very deliberate. This will help provide resistance with your own body- boosting strength gains and fitness. You can also make the session harder by holding weights while you do the exercises. Just 2-5lbs will up the burn significantly!

After a good warm up, and some dynamic drills and stretches, get stuck in to this intense two exercise workout. For the session you will do bursts of 20 seconds of effort, off 10 seconds of recovery. You will do each exercise twice per round, and you will complete 2 rounds in total.

  1. Squat circles with rows
    • Stand with feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and lower into a squat.
    • Stay in your squat as you lift one foot and draw a circle with it.
    • At the same time use your arms to row above your head.
    • Repeat on the other side.
  2. Single leg deadlifts with arm circles
    • Balance on one leg, and bend at your hips to lower into a single leg deadlift.
    • Keep your arms straight out in front, and do small circles with them.
      • Awesome way to build balance and stability whilst working your body hard.


Workout 4

This quick HIIT workout will help push you to your max without pounding your joints. You will need to use the elliptical at your local gym for this one (if you don’t have access, then this workout can also be completed on a stationary bike, or even in the pool!). If you are thinking of buying an exercise bike, check out our guide on the best HIIT exercise bike review.

Do a thorough warm up of 10-15 minutes, and include some drills and stretches. Ensure you are ready and rearing to go. Then get started. This workout involves working as hard as you can for 20 seconds, followed by 40 seconds of static or active recovery.

  • 5 x 20 seconds hard (40 seconds recovery)
    • Repeat this 3 times
    • Take 2 minutes between each set

If you are new to HIIT, you may need to reduce the number of sets- don’t worry!- with time you will get fitter and faster. If, however you are a pro HIIT athlete, and are looking to increase the intensity of this workout, then increasing the resistance on the elliptical will really ramp up this session!


Workout 5

Working out in a swimming pool is the ultimate low impact way to train. The water takes away all the impact of being outside, whilst also providing some resistance- great for toning up and burning those calories.

To warm up, swim up to 200m, or the equivalent of 10-15minutes, and then do some dynamic drills in the water. Using the pool wall to do leg swings and lunges is a great way to loosen up and prepare to work hard. This workout is made up of 3 intervals. Between each interval take a 3 minute recovery. You can stay static, or swim very slowly. The workout is as follows:

Interval 1

  • Sprint 1 lap (25 yards)
  • Recover 1 lap

Repeat this 6 times


Interval 2

  • Sprint 2 laps (50 yards)
  • Recover 1 lap

Repeat 4 times


Interval 3

  • Sprint 4 laps (100 yards)
  • Recover 2 laps

Repeat 2 times

Now you have all these workouts to do, you have no excuse but to get moving! NB. If you feel any pain (above what would be expected during a high intensity workout), then stop, and rest.