Your bad knees may prevent you from jogging, running, racket sports, skiing and jumping rope -- but they need not prevent you from a kettlebell workout. In fact, you should probably hop straight to a set of kettlebells if you can. The strengthening of your quads, hamstrings and calves from classic kettlebell exercises may be just what the doctor ordered -- and no surprise, sports medicine specialists are moving toward these cannonball-shaped weights as part of rehab for athletic injuries of the lower extremities. Given your chronic knee complaint, ask your health care provider or physical therapist for clearance before beginning a kettlebell workout.
Picking the best exercises and performing them with good form is crucial to protecting your knees. “The key is to perform hip-dominant movements, so that the glutes and hip flexors carry the load of the weight, not the knees,” advises New York-based kettlebell trainer Lorna Kleidman. Set aside four or five sessions a week for time with your KBs, as aficionados affectionately call their weights. As a beginner, you can use 15- to 20-pound KBs, Kleidman advises.
Double- and Single-Arm Swings
The foundational movement of kettlebells, which allows you to copy the power and beauty of explosive barbell Olympic lifts, is the swing -- and it’s well within the scope of a workout for Nesties with bad knees. “Swings are perfect for those with knee issues,” Kleidman said. “And because it’s nonimpact, it’s a safe and effective movement.” The swing entails a hip-propelled move of the kettlebell from between the thighs to eye level, repeated 15 to 20 times as part of three to four sets. You can perform the swing with both hands or a single hand to recruit your stabilizer muscles.
Standing Alternating Knee Lift
You can add work on the hip flexors, abs and obliques, as well as continue to exercise your spinal muscles and glutes, with the standing alternating knee lift. Stand tall, keeping your abs tight, and hold the kettlebell in your left hand. Lift your right knee, passing the bell underneath to your right hand. Return the bell to your right hand and repeat. Perform 10 repetitions on each side and three to four sets.
This exercise continues to address your quads, hamstrings and glutes, as well as abs and spinal muscles, with biceps work an added bonus. For the goblet squat, hold the bell by the handles for a challenge or by your body against your chest for an easier workout. Position your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward, Kleidman advises. Squat as if you’re going to sit back on a chair, with your knees going out over your toes, keeping your chest up and your back flat. Keep your feet flat on the floor. At the bottom of the squat, push your elbows into the inside of your legs and push your knees out. Stand and repeat for 10 to 12 reps, and complete three to four sets.
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.