What Upper Body Workouts Can I Do With A Knee Injury?

You can tailor a upper body workout that includes weight training, floor exercises, and bodyweight exercises. Here are some safe upper body exercises for knee pain:

  1. Bicep Curls
  2. Overhead Press
  3. Lateral Raises
  4. Chest Press
  5. Push-Ups
  6. Planks
  7. Supermans
  8. Crunches
  9. Bench Dips
  10. Pullups
  11. Inverted Rows
  12. Bent-Over Row
  13. Hammer Curls with Push Press

Knee injuries can be so frustrating, leaving you feeling like you are sidelined from workouts for weeks waiting for your knee to heal. 

But don’t worry. While your knee is recovering, why not take the time to focus on your upper body? It’s good to vary your workout–and a knee injury may be just the thing to force you to try out some new exercises and balance your workouts

Many of these exercises also work your core, which is important for all types of training. You may find you are even fitter than before!

What Upper Body Workouts Can I Do With A Knee Injury?

If you are adding cardio, swimming is often a good bet since it works the entire body with low impact. You can also try working on an elliptical machine, since it typically puts less stress on the knees than a treadmill. If your knees feel ok, you can also try rowing. 

Read on for upper body workouts with a knee injury.

Is it Safe to do Upper Body Workouts with a Knee Injury?

The most important thing to remember is that if your knee hurts during any of these workouts, you need to stop immediately. No need to push your knee any further–skip that exercise and pick something else. 

Stay away from exercises like squats, lunges, leg presses, or jogging. 

If you are under the care of a doctor or physical therapist, it’s probably a good idea to check with them before you start a lot of new exercises. 

Knee injuries vary, so some exercises will be better than others for you. Listed below are three categories of upper body exercises you can do with most knee injuries: weight training you can do while seated in a chair, floor exercises, and exercises that use your own bodyweight.

You can combine exercises from any of the categories, or stick with one category, depending on what equipment you have and what areas you are targeting. 

Sitting Upper Body Workouts

These exercises can be done standing or sitting. If you have trouble putting weight on your knee, start with sitting. 

If you are new to weight training, start with lighter weights (1-3 lbs) and work up to more weight. 

Start with one to three sets of 10-12 reps and work up from there. If you want to build muscle, you can increase the weight slowly and do shorter sets of 6-8 reps. 

Bicep Curls

Sit with your back straight, holding a dumbbell with your palm facing toward you and elbow at ninety-degrees against your torso. Exhale and raise the weight slowly to shoulder level. Pause at the top, and then inhale and release slowly back toward your lap.

You can do one arm at a time, or both at a time. 

Overhead Press

Sitting in the chair, hold the dumbbells at shoulder height, arms against your torso, palms facing either away from you or toward each other. Exhale and lift the weights straight up to the ceiling, pause, and inhale while bringing back down to the starting position. Make sure to keep your back straight. 

Lateral Raise

Sit in the chair, back straight, feet hip-width apart. Hold the dumbbells at your sides, palms facing toward your body, elbows extended. Exhale and lift your arms out to the sides like wings, keeping the elbows straight but not locked. Pause for a moment with your arms parallel to the ground, and then inhale and release to the starting position. 

Chest Press

What Upper Body Workouts Can I Do With A Knee Injury?

Rather than sitting, this exercise is done laying on the floor or an exercise bench. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Hold the weights with your arms at a ninety-degree angle and your palms facing away from you. Exhale and lift the weights above your body until your elbows are straight. Pause at the top and then release. 

Upper Body Floor Exercises 


Hands should be shoulder-width apart on the floor, with feet together. You can release your knees to the floor or keep them extended. 

Make sure your hips are not dipping toward the floor. Your back should be straight from knees to head. Inhale on the way down and exhale as you push back up. Bend your elbows to ninety-degrees each time you release. Do as many reps as you can. 

You can also try pushups with arms wide, or with your hands close together in a “diamond” shape. 


You can also hold the “plank” position you are in for push-ups. Try to keep your knees off the floor for as long as possible. Hold for 30 seconds at a time. 

You can also do a side plank. Put all of your weight on one hand or elbow, facing your body to the side but keeping your hips from dipping down. Place the top foot on top of the lower foot. Hold for 30 seconds. Don’t forget to do both sides. 


Lay face down on the floor or an exercise mat, extending your arms above your head. Exhale, and lift your arms and legs off the ground, hold, and then inhale and release back to the floor. Keep your gaze down toward the floor. Do 2-3 sets of around 8-12 reps. 

Crunches/Ab Curls

Lie on a mat or the floor, and cross your arms in front of your chest. If this puts strain on your neck, you can also place your hands loosely behind your head, keeping your elbows facing out away from your head. 

Bend your knees so your feet are around 12-18 inches from your hips. 

Exhale and lift your torso off the floor until your shoulder blades come off the floor.  Hold for 1-2 seconds. Lower slowly back down, and rest for 1-2 seconds on the mat. Try to do 3 sets of 12 and then work up from there. 

You can repeat this type of ab workout 5-6 times per week without overworking. 

Body Weight Exercises

Bench Dips

Position the bench (or even your bed) behind your back, keeping your hands on the bench and your legs at a ninety-degree angle. Bend your arms to a ninety-degree angle, lowering your hips away from the bench. Hold at the bottom for a few seconds, and then lift back up. Try to do 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

You can also try it with legs extended. 


What Upper Body Workouts Can I Do With A Knee Injury?

If you aren’t used to doing pull ups, know that you will make a lot of progress with time and a little practice. Don’t get discouraged! You can face your palms in or out (facing in might be easier at first). Pull your weight up until your chin is above the bar. Don’t try to swing or get momentum, just use your arms to pull up. 

Do as many reps as you can. You can cross your feet below you for balance.

Inverted Rows

Almost like a pullup lying down, an inverted row will require you to hang face up from the low bar, with your legs extended out in front of you. Keep your body straight, and lift your torso up to the bar using only your arms. Pause at the top, and then release.

Do as many reps as you can. 

Standing Upper Body Exercises with Weights

Assuming you can put weight on your knee, here are a couple of weight training exercises that work the whole body. These do require use of your knees, however, so discontinue if you experience any pain. 

Bent-Over Row

Stand with feet hip-width apart, with your back straight. Bend your knees slightly and bend forward from the hips so your upper body is at around a 45-degree angle. Keeping your back straight, lower your dumbbells straight toward the floor and then lift back up to your chest, keeping your palms facing toward each other.

Do 8-10 reps. 

Hammer Curls with Push Press

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and weights in your hands, arms down palms facing toward each other. Lift the weights to your shoulders, and then in one movement bend your knees and lift the weights over your head, palms facing toward each other. Straighten your knees when your hands are at the top. 

Then, bend your knees and elbows, releasing the weights to your shoulders and then straighten your arms as you return the weights to beginning position. Make sure you don’t arch your back. Do 8-10 reps. 


There are lots of ways to stay in shape, even if you are nursing an injured knee. Don’t think of this time as wasted time at all–upper body and core work improves overall fitness and is an important part of training, even for runners and others who focus on predominantly lower-body work. 

Don’t despair! Give your knee all the time it takes to recover. You may discover your new favorite upper body workout, or really appreciate the added strength and tone you see in your core and upper body!

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