The “Do’s” & “Don’ts” of Exercise After a Knee Replacement

March 23, 2021

Often, knee replacements come with a mix of emotions. Being able to engage in physical activity without pain is super exciting, but it’s also slightly nervewracking — the last thing you want to do is damage your new knee.

The truth is, artificial knees need movement to function at their best just like natural ones do. Exercise is vital to your restoring strength and mobility; working out post-surgery just requires some special considerations. 

To learn more about the safety aspect, we consulted CA personal trainer Deanna Nosel, who specializes in working with people who are undergoing or have undergone joint replacement surgeries. Read on to learn more about the “do’s” and “don’ts” of working out after a knee replacement! 

Deanna Nosel

Deanna Nosel, Elite Personal Trainer

Once your doctor clears you for exercise, what are the benefits of working out after a knee replacement?

Nosel: There’s so many benefits to your wellbeing. Being active increases your mobility, muscle tone and endurance. Knee issues can lead people to slow down and gain weight as a result, so getting back into exercise helps enhance your overall health. This gives you a new lease on life and helps you get back in shape physically, mentally and emotionally.


What kind of aerobic activities are a good idea? 

Nosel: Because running is too high-impact, interval speed walking is a good alternative. This is where you change the speed between distances, from easy and steady to faster-paced. You’re still getting a cardio workout, but it’s less stressful on your knees because your feet aren’t leaving the ground.

A soft surface like a treadmill or track is ideal when you’re first starting out. As you build up, the asphalt on the street is slightly softer than the sidewalk. Remember, you want to progress gradually instead of going full force right away. Walking on the treadmill is helpful because you can slowly increase the incline to build the muscles in the backs of your legs, which support the knees.

Cycling is another excellent option — in moderation — that builds strength in the knees. Some people don’t have that range of motion post-surgery, so it can be something to build up to. And of course, swimming is always a wonderful form of low-impact cardio.


What’s the verdict on lifting weights with a knee replacement? 

Nosel: You definitely don’t want to avoid strength training in the lower body. Strengthening the muscles around the knee will reduce joint pain; you just have to be smart and ease into it. The quads, hamstrings, calves and even glutes play a role in supporting the knee. When you think about it, almost every movement in the lower body involves knee motion — so the pay-off of building knee strength is huge. 


The great thing about knee replacements is that you automatically go into physical therapy, which is so essential for helping you heal and regain strength. You’ll want to first get their “ok” (as well as your doctor’s) to start strength training exercises. A personal trainer can also be a valuable resource in safely accelerating your recovery. They can piggyback off of the exercises you’re doing in PT and help you gain confidence in the gym.


Are there any other exercises that are especially beneficial for people who have had knee replacements?

Nosel: Ellipticals or recumbent bikes! Ellipticals sometimes get a bad rep, but they’re an awesome low-impact workout. They also allow you to increase the resistance and incline as you gain more range of motion and stronger legs. 

TRX straps are also a helpful tool in CA’s fitness clubs. The support of the straps allows you to do exercises that may not otherwise be accessible. For instance, say you’re not ready for a full bodyweight squat. With the TRX straps, you can take a small squat to work the hamstrings and glutes without impacting the knees. Another move you normally wouldn’t do soon after a knee replacement are lunges. But with the TRX straps, it’s possible to do reverse lunges to strengthen the quads.

The beauty of TRX straps is that there’s so much variation in the exercises you can do to safely build muscle in the lower body. This is great news for the knees, since it’s best to do a variety of moves and to avoid excessive loads or repetition to keep them healthy. The straps also allow you to find proper alignment with support.


Is there anything else people who have had a knee replacement should know when it comes to rebuilding their strength and fitness?

Nosel: ​Some people have the misconception that once you get the knee replacement, you’re good to go. However, your recovery process is greatly enhanced when you exercise before surgery. Strengthening the muscles around the knee will help you make a faster comeback so you can get back in the swing of things. Asking your doctor or personal trainer about what you can do ahead of time will be tremendously helpful.


Personal training at CA

Enlisting the help of a personal trainer is a great way to launch a fitness regimen that’s safe and effective for your needs. At CA, we offer both in-person and virtual personal training options. 

With over 30 skilled trainers to choose from, including those who specialize in working with clients recovering from joint replacement surgery, you’re in great hands at CA. Learn more on our website.

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