No pain, no gain, right? Well, not when it comes to your knees. Sore knees are a common complaint from workout fiends — and they can definitely be a downer. “You may be in a tough place but knee discomfort doesn’t mean you have to cut exercise out completely,” says Cris Dobrosielski, American Council on Exercise Senior Consultant on Personal Training and owner of Monumental Results. Making a few easy modifications to common strength moves can ease the aches and safeguard your joints during exercise.
Word to the wise: See your doc if you’re experiencing tenderness in your knees after workouts that persists for more than a few days, even with rest, Dobrosielski advises.
But if your discomfort is only triggered by certain moves, here are Dobrosielski’s tips for modifying lunges, squats, burpees and more.
RELATED: Got Wrist Pain? 6 Exercise Modifications That Can Help
5 Ways to Give Your Knees a Break Next Time You Sweat
1. The Move: Lunges
Your knees might ache if your legs lack sufficient strength. (Never skip a leg day, right?!) Or maybe your ambition got the best of you and you did far more reps than you should have.
The fix: Relieve some pressure from knees by doing stationary lunges instead of moving ones. Here’s how: Stand with your right foot forward and anchor your left foot in place. Bend your right knee to lower into a lunge, then raise up to start position. After finishing your reps, switch sides. You may have heard the old advice to keep your knee directly over your ankle while you lunge, and that may work for some. But the most important factor, Dobrosielski says, is that you feel your glutes doing most of the work. Squeeze your booty and feel the burn.
RELATED: Got 10 Minutes? 3 Fat-Blasting Bodyweight Workouts
2. The Move: Squats
A common knee-pain problem: Squatting lower than your body can comfortably manage, putting too much of a load on joints.
The fix: Try using a physio ball to help support your lower back and keep pressure off of your knees. Stand with your back against a wall and position the ball against your lower to mid back, then squat.
RELATED: The 15 Most Underrated Exercises, According to Trainers
3. The Move: Glute Kickbacks
Because you perform kickbacks on your hands and knees, you may run into knee problems simply because may not have enough padding around your knee to support your weight.
The fix: Add a second mat or find a spongier mat. It may be simple and logical, but, hey, it works.
RELATED: 5 Better Ways to Sculpt a Stronger Butt
4. The Move: Burpees
A deep squat is central to this plyometric move. But if you’ve got a weak squat, adding jumping into the mix can strain connective tissues like tendons and ligaments.
The fix: “The key to a good squat is learning to hinge from the hips. This will help your butt go back; otherwise your knees will come forward, stressing the joint,” says Dobrosielski. In a squat, keep your chest forward and your back straight (don’t round out your shoulders). Your weight should be in your mid-foot and heels, not your toes. As you lower, you should feel your hamstrings and middle and lower butt muscles engaging — not your upper legs and knees.
Before you do a round of burpees, practice a proper squat. After you have it down, progress to single-leg squats, which will improve strength, mobility and balance in each leg. Then, get your burpee game in check. “Don’t do too many reps at once,” he says. Start with two sets of 10 burpees.
If jumping isn’t an option for you, you can walk your legs back into the push-up and then walk your legs forward after the push-up. Then, skip the jump and simply squat instead, he advises.
RELATED: Here’s Proof Everyone Can Do a Burpee
5. The Move: Box Jumps
Jumping helps keep bones strong, says Dobrosielski. However, proper progression is key. In other words, start with small jumps, and work your way up to bigger things.
The fix: Before you reach for a box, go ahead and start with standing jumps first. Then, progress to split jumps (stand with one leg forward, bend into a lunge, jump on your way up and switch legs in the air). Jumping exercises can be tough, so you’ve got to start with a number that’s doable for you. Try two sets of 5 to 10 reps. For a “jump-free” box jump, practice step-ups onto the box. Add variety by doing a set forward, laterally and diagonally.