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5 Exercises That Are Too Hard on Your Knees After 50

For the sake of your knee health, an expert warns to stay away from these exercises.

Let's get one thing straight: Your age should never hold you back from performing a physical activity, task, or exercise, explains Marc Phillips PT, DPT, OCS, and franchise regional consultant for FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers. But what you should be mindful of is your prior level of function and conditioning. If you're worried there are some exercises that are too hard on your knees after 50 and that mindset is holding you back from working out, Phillips breaks things down. He shares that the below moves (other than the leg extension machine) are okay to perform if and only if you're properly conditioned to perform them, or if they're already part of a routine you're able to safely do sans any negative side effects.

"They can all be activities that you set as a goal to be able to achieve through an exercise progression, but they should not be where you start if you are just beginning," Phillips adds. He also notes, "Many people with knee problems had an injury when they were younger; if you aren't taking care of your knees throughout middle age, you may need your knee replaced later in life." It's always a smart move to check in with your healthcare provider or a certified fitness professional if you have any thoughts or concerns about particular exercises affecting your knee health or any other part of your body.

Poor knee health can make it much more challenging for you to use the stairs and perform recreational activities you enjoy, such as gardening, pickleball, and hiking. It can also result in decreased overall mobility. "Performing the correct exercises with the proper form will prolong knee health, allowing for a pain-free life filled with enjoyment and purpose. If knee health is already compromised, seeking professional help from a physical therapist or orthopedic physician is recommended," Phillips says.

When it comes to exercises that can be too hard on your knees after 50, you've got the scoop. Keep reading to learn more, and next, don't miss These Exercise Habits Are Destroying Your Knees After 50.

1. Leg Extension Machine

leg extension illustration

"The exercise this machine provides can be dangerous as it tends to put too much pressure or torque on the back of the kneecap which can cause early-on-set arthritis," Phillips tells us. If you're looking for a much safer alternative to the leg extension, he suggests performing straight leg raises. You'll complete this move by lying down flat on your back and raising one leg at a time. You won't have to worry, because the SLR doesn't put torque on your kneecaps.

2. Deep or Heavy Squats

For the sake of your knee health, avoid deep or heavy squats. This move can put excess stress on your knee joints and hurt the cartilage that surrounds your knees. "Deep refers to sinking down really low, whereas heavy refers to added weights you may be holding," Phillips explains. "Both are tough on your knees."

Consider the "sit to stand" exercise instead. You'll begin in a position similar to the squat, but as you lower, you only descend to the depth of a chair. "This functional exercise helps train [you] to get up and down from your daily sitting, and it doesn't put as much stress on your knees," Phillips confirms.

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3. Plyometrics

box jumps plyometrics

Performing plyometrics or landing hard when jumping up and down can cause premature wear and tear on your knees' meniscus and cartilage. "This exercise puts extra stress on the soft tissue including the tendons and ligaments in the knee," Phillips says. "As we age, these ligaments and tendons become less flexible and more prone to injury."

Opt for cardio instead, such as walking, using the elliptical, cycling, or swimming. All of these cardio-based exercises don't put as much stress on the soft tissue surrounding your knees, but they're still effective at growing your muscle strength. "It's recommended that you practice cardio for 20 to 40 minutes daily, five to six days per week," Phillips adds.

4. Sprinting

You may not be too surprised to hear that sprinting is another one of the exercises that are too hard on your knees after 50. It's a high-impact exercise that puts too much stress on your knees' surrounding soft tissue. It can also lead to excessive stress on your cardiovascular health, which can end up being quite dangerous.

Instead of sprinting, go for a hike! Make sure to be equipped with just the right footwear that offers support to your ankles and feet. In addition, Phillips says, "I recommend hiking on a gravel or dirt trail to reduce the impact on your knees; this exercise also decreases your risk of cardiovascular stress. You want to push yourself when working out, but be mindful of all your muscles, including your heart!"

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5. Lunges

"Lunges put stress on the patella (kneecap) and the surrounding tissues," Phillips tells us. "A safer alternative is a split squat. This exercise is great for strengthening and helping increase your balance as you age, and it doesn't put as much stress on the soft tissue as a lunge."

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa
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