10 Knee-Friendly Lower-Body Toners

Knee pain holding you back? Sculpt your buns, hips, and thighs with these easy-on-the-joints alternatives to squats and lunges

Deadlifts are an excellent exercise to strengthen your entire backside (glutes, hamstrings, back) while also engaging your core, without putting too much pressure on your knees and hips.

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand with your feet hip-width apart, palms facing your thighs. Push your hips back behind you as you slowly bend forward from your hips, stopping when your torso is parallel to the ground (or when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings). Return to standing, keeping back straight and abs tight. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.


Floor bridges target your glutes, hamstrings, and abs while placing minimal pressure on the knees and hips.

How to do it: Lie faceup with knees bent, hip-width apart, feet flexed (pull toes up towards shins and off the floor), and arms by your sides. Brace your abs in and press down through your heels to lift hips up (avoid overarching your back), squeezing through your glutes. Hold for 1 count and then lower hips to floor. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.

Heel Press

How to do it: Lie facedown with your elbows bent out to the sides, palms stacked, resting your chin on your hands. Bend your knees and open them to the sides. Flex feet and press heels together. From there, press your heels up to the ceiling, lifting thighs off the floor as high as possible. Lower thighs to floor and immediately repeat (be sure to keep upper body steady as legs lift). Try up to 3 sets of 20 reps.

Inner Thigh Circles

Want to target your inner thighs but can't handle moves like side lunges or skaters? These inner thigh
circles engage your thighs and abs at the same time.

How to do it: Lie faceup with arms by your sides, both legs extended straight above your hips. Flex feet and turn legs out about 45 degrees, keeping heels touching. Brace your abs in tight and lower legs about 45 degrees towards the floor, open legs out to sides, and bring heels back together above your hips, completing the circle. That's one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 20 reps (try reversing the direction of your circles for each set).

Side Plank Hip Bridge

This double-duty move works your hip and glute muscles on both the supporting and the working legs!

How to do it: Lie on your right side with your upper body propped up on your right elbow and forearm. Extend your top leg out straight and bend your bottom leg for more support (keep both knees and hips stacked). Place your left (top) hand behind your head. Lift hips and top leg up, lifting your leg just above hip height. Hold for 1 count, then lower hips and leg back to floor. Try up to 3 sets of 20 reps on each leg.

Sliding Hamstring Curls

Set your hamstrings on fire with this dynamic toner that uses two paper plates or towels (paper plates work best for carpet, towels for hardwood floors) to tone your thighs, glutes, and abs.

How to do it: Lie faceup with arms by your sides, knees bent, feet flexed, and heels pressed into the center of paper plates or folded towels. Lift your hips and slide left foot out, extending your leg straight (keeping heel pressed against plate or towel). Quickly bend your left leg back in while sliding right leg out. Keep "running" your legs in and out as quickly as you can until you can't keep hips lifted any longer (about 60 seconds). Rest and repeat up to 3 times.

Static Squat

Depending on the injury or limitation that's affecting your knees, static (or held) squats can sometimes make a good alternative to their full-range-of-motion counterparts.

How to do it: Stand with feet hip width, arms crossed over chest. Lower into squat, keeping chest lifted and knees behind toes. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds then stand back up. Repeat up to 3 times.

Side Kicks

This kickboxing move not only shapes up your glutes, thighs, and hips, it also helps flatten your belly!

How to do it: Stand with arms bent, hands in fists by your chin. Rotate your left heel in towards your body and shift weight to your left foot. Bend your right knee, flexing foot, and lift your leg up to hip height. Extend your lifted leg out to the side, as if pushing something away from your body with your heel. Bend your knee back in (try not to lower your leg in between repetitions if possible). That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg, switching sides after each set. Need help balancing? Try lowering your leg for the kick and/or lightly holding onto a chair or the wall.

Lateral Band Walks

Walk this way to strengthen your thighs, hips, and glutes without lunges!

How to do it: Tie a band (or resistance loop) and place it around your legs, about mid-shin level. You should feel a little tension when standing with your feet hip-width apart. With hands on hips, abs in tight, and back tall, take a wide step to the left, then step right foot in (always keep tension on the band, feet should never be closer than hip width). That's one "step." Try taking 8 steps to the left, and then 8 to the right, repeating 3 times total.

Quadruped Triangle

When done right, this targeted tush-and-thigh tightener is much tougher than it looks!

How to do it: From a kneeling position, bend both elbows down to the floor below your shoulders, hands clasped (press both arms down into the floor and draw your abs in tight so that lower back doesn't sag). Extend your left leg straight out from your hip, toe pointed. Imagine tracing a triangle with your toes, lowering left leg down and to the left (touching the bottom left corner of the triangle), lift back up to center (top of triangle), and then lower down and to the right (touching the bottom right corner), then back to center. That's one rep. Repeat 10 times then switch legs. Try up to 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.

Photos by: Vanessa Rogers Photography

by: Jessica Smith

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