Lower Body Exercises: Dos and Don'ts

Learn how to keep your hips, knees, ankles and feet limber and strong.


Exercise is great when it comes to reducing pain and improving range of motion, but what’s best for your joints – particularly those in your lower extremities? Marjorie Albohm, a certified athletic trainer and director of orthopaedic research at Orthopaedics Indianapolis, suggests the following lower body exercises that work best – and even help improve the affected area – as well as some activities to avoid.
Remember to wear well-fitting, supportive shoes for all exercise, except pool work and yoga in some cases. As always, check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting a fitness regimen, and stop any action or movement that brings pain. If you feel joint – not muscle – soreness that lasts more than two hours after your workout, your regimen needs adjusting.

Most of the following lower body exercises can be modified for tender joints.


Do: Walk in the shallow end of the pool, on land or on a treadmill (keep it flat – no incline); swim laps using gentle kicks; ride a bike in easy gears or cycle on a stationary bicycle; perform some yoga poses; upper-body strengthening exercises and isometric exercises to strengthen the hip without moving the joint.

Don’t: Running; “abduction” exercises, which move the leg away from the body and can include some Pilates and yoga poses; squats with heavy weights. Wall squats or squats with just the bar and no weights across your shoulders are OK.


Do: Swim laps using gentle kicks; walk in the shallow end of the pool, on land (rubberized asphalt tracks are best) or on a flat treadmill; tai chi; perform upper-body and quadriceps-strengthening exercises (without weights); ride a bike in easy gears or cycle on a stationary bicycle.

Don’t: Running; squats with heavy weights; some yoga poses and sports such as basketball or racquetball that involve jumping and quick changes of direction; high-impact exercise where both feet leave the ground at the same time, like jumping jacks or rope.

Ankles and Feet

Do: Swim laps with gentle kicks; ride a bike in easy gears or cycle on a stationary bicycle; walk in the shallow end of the pool; yoga; walk in supportive shoes, limiting speed as needed, on land  (on a rubberized asphalt track, if available) or a flat treadmill; most land exercise moves and upper-body and quadriceps-strengthening exercises.

Don’t: High-impact activities that involve jumping (jumping rope, some aerobics classes); walking on uneven surfaces (gravel, hiking trails and some sidewalks), walking for long distances without rest or lower body stretching breaks and sports like basketball or tennis that involve quick changes of direction.

Be sure to ask your doctor or physical therapist about the best lower body stretching moves.

The Arthritis Foundation is the leading organization 
providing support and funding research to improve the 
lives of individuals with arthritis. You can help!