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Low-Impact Leg Lift Workout & Exercises That Protect Knees

Kelly is a certified personal trainer and enjoys educating others about fitness and health.

Leg muscles showcasing the quadriceps.

Leg muscles showcasing the quadriceps.

Undeniably the leg muscles are the most critical muscles in our body for continued mobility. Besides being the largest muscles and a large contributor to our overall lean muscle mass (or lack thereof), the leg muscles also protect the knee joint.

The leg contains both the longest and the largest muscles in our body.

Outside of the spine, the knees are the most vulnerable to injury as we age.

Protecting our knees involves building our leg muscles. How do we build these muscles outside of the swimming pool? Here are some great low-impact exercises to try.

Easy Leg Lifts - Side-Lying Leg Lifts Variation #1A

Start with lying on your side—thus the side-lying leg lift term.

Rest the Body Bar on your inner foot as shown, with the end of the bar extending no more than 1 – 2".

Then slowly lift your leg off the ground 6 – 8" as we have shown below.

You will feel both your quadricep and your sartorius contract.

Listen to your body and feel the power of the muscles in your legs.

CAUTION: If you feel your back muscles engaged, stop immediately. You need to re-position your hips.

Repeat the leg lift for 10 – 12 repetitions. Switch legs. Always perform the same number of repetitions on each leg unless you are fighting an injury or are in rehabilitation.

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Build Muscle to Protect the Knees

Building muscle to protect the knee can be problematic, especially if your knees demand a low-impact exercise. This article showcases four great variations on the often forgotten leg-lift exercise.

Always Warm Up Before Exercising!

We have 640 muscles in our human body. These muscles are perhaps most similar to a rubber band. A warm rubber band is very flexible. Our muscles love a warm-up because it is only after a warm-up that our muscles are flexible.

If we try to exercise without a proper warm-up, we may end up like the cold rubber band and snap the band or hurt the muscle.

The Good News: No Expensive Confusing Equipment Needed To Protect the Knees

Home exercise can be both effective and inexpensive with the Body Bar. The Body Bar I know looks strange at first—but it works! This exercise is wonderful for the inner thigh muscles.

Journey with us as we walk through this great exercise complete with photos detailing each movement.

The Bad News: You Must Be Consistent

It will at first seem difficult. Remember everything new is difficult at first. Start slowly and do the exercises on a regular basis. It takes 21 days to change your pattern. Therefore, I always recommend starting small with a simple two minutes a day for you—2Min4U. Once it becomes a habit, it really is easy! The first 21 days are critical so don't overdo it - just add your exercises into your morning routine.

Leg Lifts Versus Lunges

These leg-lifts target the inner thigh and quadriceps. The leg-lift exercise movement is different from lunges and squats. Lunges and squats are outstanding resistance exercises. However, for those of us with knee problems, these two exercises may not be a practical option.

Leg-lifts are a great addition to any workout and are especially loved by those with knee problems, such as myself!

Knee Problems—Seniors & Rehab Too!

For my clients who find lunges hard on the knees, the leg lifts are simple and very effective. These exercises are especially wonderful for seniors because the exercises are low impact and yet target tone the two most important skeletal muscles in the human body.

The Largest and the Longest Muscles in the Human Body

All of the exercises shown in this article work the two largest and longest muscles in the human body! No wonder these leg lifts are magical in changing your metabolism, toning and reshaping your body! Remember changing fat into muscle will 1.) protect the joints and 2.) change your metabolism thus allowing you to eat more and yet be thinner too! What are these two muscles - the longest and the largest? Read on...

The Largest Muscle in the Human Body: Quadriceps

The largest muscles in the human body are in our legs. As the diagrams to the right detail, these muscles are extensive. The king of all muscles is called the "quadricep" and includes four muscles on the front of the thigh. This massive muscle also is connected to the largest bone in the human body—the "femur".

The Longest Muscle in the Human Body—Sartorius

The side-lying leg lifts engage not only the quadriceps but also the long muscle called the sartorius.

The sartorius is the longest muscle in the human body. The sartorius as the diagram showcases runs obliquely across the thigh and descends all the way down to the knee. The name "sartorius" is derived from Latin—the word "sartorial" which means to do with tailoring. Some people have nicknamed this muscle the "tailor's muscle".

Wikipedia gives an interesting background to the etymology of the word: "There are four hypotheses as to the genesis of the name: One is that this name was chosen in reference to the cross-legged position in which tailors once sat. Another is that it refers to the location of the inferior portion of the muscle being the "inseam" or area of the inner thigh tailors commonly measure when fitting a pant. A third is that the muscle closely resembles a tailor's ribbon. Additionally, antique sewing machines required continuous cross-body peddling. This combination of lateral rotation and flexion of the hip and flexion of the knee gave tailors particularly enlarged sartorius muscles."

Leg Lift Exercises Four Options Given

Four different exercises targeting the quadriceps, the sartorius and the abdominal are given as examples in this article. All leg lift exercises showcased here use either none or very minimal equipment. Yet all of these exercises deliver great results.

Leg Lifts With Equipment or Without Equipment

As you can see, the exercises we have provided here are both with added resistance equipment of the Body Bar or with simply your own body weight as shown in the videos.

Body Bar - Two Levels - Easy and Challenging - Check Out the Progression

The beauty of the leg lift with the Body Bar is this exercise offers a progression of exercises. Once you master the first movement, take it to the next level. We explain in more detail below complete with two sets of photographs.

Additionally, the Body Bar comes in different weights. I started out with the 9 lb and have worked up to the 12 lb Body Bar. Many different weights are available—I just share this as a helpful hint.

The investment in the resistance tool is certainly worth it IF you have bad knees. Body Bar is not the only manufacturer, just an example given. Body Bar kindly supplied the needed photographs upon my request in order to fully provide the needed details of the two different types of movement. No financial consideration exists between Body Bar and the author as stated below in the FTC Disclosure and reiterated here for the sake of clarity.

Take It Up A Level: Variation #1B

In the photos below, you will notice the Body Bar has been extended beyond the foot about 8 – 10". This slight change in the center of gravity dramatically changes the amount of the weight and the tension placed upon the muscles.

Follow the same steps as detailed in the side-lying leg lift variation #1A.

Recap: 4 Great Leg Exercises to Protect the Knees

As we discussed, there are three main types of exercises for building the muscle around the knee joint: squats, lunges and leg lifts. The leg lifts are the best for low impact. The leg lifts are also often the forgotten exercise or in some cases "the secret of the personal trainer".

This article details four different leg lift exercises for target toning the largest and the longest muscles in our body. Squats and lunges are great exercises, however, if you struggle with your knees hurting, try the low impact leg lift exercises just for 2 weeks. I promise a noticeable improvement.

To recap our three main points in this article:

  1. Muscle protects our joints—an especially important piece of knowledge when we have sore knees.
  2. Muscle can change our metabolism. Again an important piece of information when fighting the hourly challenge of the battle of the bulge.
  3. The longest and largest muscles in our legs need resistance exercise, the leg lifts provide a great workout with low impact upon the knees.

Make low-impact exercises part of your daily fitness routine today!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Kelly A Burnett


Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on March 11, 2015:

Kristen Howe,

Great point - yes, the low impact leg lifts are also in Pilates. Love Pilates! Thank you so much for stopping by.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 11, 2015:

Great article on how to do low impact leg lifts exercise. Those leg lifts are also done in Pilates too. Very useful and interesting. Voted up!

Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on June 23, 2014:

Pamela Kinnaird W,

Those body weight bars are hard to notice and then when you do, the light bulb goes off and you see its use with the legs and hips and understand how this simple weight bar can help.

It is sad how often we equate therapy to exercise when exercise is truly the best prescription for health.

The two minutes is a great way to engage our muscles and start listening to our body. Like our children, and ourselves, our body does wish to speak to us. Taking time each day is critical to our health.

We have made advancement in brushing our teeth daily, I hope we make the same advancement in exercise. Thank you for voting this up and sharing.

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on June 22, 2014:

This is just the hub I needed to read today. And I've never seen one of those bars before. I will have to start with a very light one. I like it that you say 2 minutes a day is fine. Great hub. Voting way up.

Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on June 07, 2014:

Jackie Lynnley,

My best friend has always had fantastic calves. For decades, I assumed it was her ballet training when in fact, I learned the other day, she does calf raises every time she brushes her teeth! And here I thought it was natural! As an exercise professional, I should have known better! Hope that helps. Thank you for sharing. I find it fascinating how each of us is so different, all striving to improve but all with different weaknesses and strengths.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 03, 2014:

I will bookmark this and try these. They look like they would work a muscle I have never worked, lol. My legs are in pretty good shape and my calves have always been hard. (hate those flabby looking calves) but my knees could use some treatment, thanks!

Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on January 04, 2013:

All too often we hear the word "can't" and in reality we just have to take a step. There is an old Chinese saying “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” - exercise takes baby steps to get started. I love these exercises because anyone and everyone can benefit.

Thank you so much for stopping by.

MargaritaEden from Oregon on January 03, 2013:

These are wonderful tips, very practical information for everyday life, leg health is so important indeed!

Kelly A Burnett (author) from United States on November 10, 2012:

Oh, getting the motivation I agree is hard. Getting in shape and feeling great is wonderful but oh, it is so easy to slack off. Making an appointment for yourself as a number one priority is a daily effort.

Great comment on exercise and fitness - oh, so true for too many of us! Best of luck to you!

April on October 05, 2012:

You all seem very motivated i wish i had that kind of motivation.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on June 20, 2012:

You bring up a good point. When we are fit, for a female, we should be able to see three curves with open space in our legs - by our ankles, just below our knees and yes our thighs. Our thighs should not touch.

I was working long hours and not exercising and my thighs were touching - oh, my goodness. Getting back in shape and understanding the tell tale signs of when you are in shape is critical for our health.

Very good point. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Kathy on June 17, 2012:

I needed an inner thigh workout because my thighs touch...I don't like that and I want to do something about knee problems and I don't want to create any. You make them look so effortless...I'm adding the circle method lying on your back and down on all fours to my exercise regimen. I'm expecting get results. Thank you.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on January 24, 2012:

Deborah Brooks,

So many people are like you - the legs are hard to exercise and yet they are so vital.

I sincerely hope you try these out. The muscles in our legs help not just with our mobility but with our metabolism. The longest and largest muscles reside in the legs. To keep trim, in some manner, we must exercise our legs along with cardio.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on January 24, 2012:

What a great legs swell real bad and hurt I am always looking for ways to exercise my legs that would help me..thankyou for sharing...I am book marking this debbie

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on August 04, 2011:


Hip problems too do demand low impact exercises.


Excellent! You are brilliant - great investment, fantastic fitness tool. I know the body bar looks useless but IF you see the movements you can learn. If you try it - you can really feel the muscles activated. Remember the muscles are what protect the joints.

As a personal trainer the number one item I am ask is about the knees. I believe knees now surpass the back for frailties that we must fight and yet we are not taught the muscles protect the joints - the leg muscles are the armor of our body.

mzebony on July 03, 2011:

I purchased a 15lb body bar and was looking for some leg exercises to use it with without hurting my knees (tore the ACL in both knees). Leg lifts seem like the best solution!! Thank you for this information.

DePuy Pinnacle lawsuit on April 25, 2011:

These leg lift exercises seem like a fun, low impact way to not only strengthen the knees, but could be useful for those pursuing a DePuy Pinnacle lawsuit due to defective hip replacements that need to also strengthen their hips and improve their overall health. Thanks!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on February 12, 2011:


Legs and knees are so critical to our personal health. So glad it has helped.

Thank you so much for your high marks.

dutchman1951 from Tennessee, USA on February 11, 2011:

Goldie, great hub, the info here has helped me also. Good work, very well done and thought out

Dutchman 1951

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on February 01, 2011:

Great exercises. Thank you for sharing them. God Bless You.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on December 10, 2010:

Tammy L,

You are right, these are great exercises for people with pain - arthritis and more.

Our body loves resistance exercises - we can target tone without high impact - even on land - and this is from the person who loves swim fitness.

Tammy L from Jacksonville, Texas on December 07, 2010:

These exercises look like they wouldn't be too painful for people with all forms of arthritis. (I've got the rheumatoid variety). Thank you very much.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on December 02, 2010:


I inherited weak legs so I track leg exercises closely. You are most welcome. Thank you for stopping by.

fucsia on December 02, 2010:

I was just looking for some exercise for the legs ...

Thanks for your Hub!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on November 17, 2010:

David 470,

The best answer of course, is to seek medical attention - the medical doctor is the trained professional.

What I can do is share with you my personal observations but they are unique only to me. What I have found is the leg press machine has helped strengthen the muscles around my knees lessening my knee pain.

The leg press machine is less sexy than squats but may be safer for proper form and therefore the safety of your knees.

I have also found swimming laps with a kick board very helpful for my legs. I completely exhaust my leg muscles and use no upper body - I target only my legs. The laps with the swim board target tones my hamstrings, my sartorius and of course my quadricep and my vastus laterilus and vastus medialis (muscles on either side of the knee).

I would caution you to make sure you have your weight in proper form for the squats and you keep the range of motion for your knees limited to just strength training - remember you are targeting these muscles you are not seeking range of motion for the knees. A personal trainer is excellent at ensuring you have proper form both for your back and your knees.

Do partner with your doctor and ask a trained medical professional.

David 470 from Pennsylvania, United States on November 17, 2010:

GmaGoldie, I have a question, since 09 my right knee makes a clicking sound when it bends. I am not sure if this was from doing squats or what, but it still does this.

My legs are VERY weak compared to my upper body. I need to do squats and stuff, but will doing them hurt my right knee more?

There is not pain it just makes a clicking sound. Not a snapping sound. Its kind of hard to explain. This may have been due to this one athletic super human that trained me on squats in march of 09....

Terry Chestnutt from Cleveland, Ohio on November 05, 2010:

Good point. I am just recently learning these things.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on November 01, 2010:

Wrath Warbone,

Oh, I sincerely hope so. The human body is truly a miracle. If we understand how we can shape our body and help our body help ourselves perhaps the depression and obesity will lessen. I feel so bad that we don't teach this, we don't shout the joys of exercise.

Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement.

Terry Chestnutt from Cleveland, Ohio on October 30, 2010:

Very helpful. Thanks.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on October 08, 2010:


Morning is the very best - gets us off to the right start. It doesn't have to be a full workout - although that would be best - just a workout to pump us up and say hello to the 640 muscles in our bodies.

ashleyyoung from United States on October 08, 2010:

Since our legs have the longest and largest muscles, they are very essential to changing our metabolism and should be exercised regularly. Thanks for bringing this vital fitness news to our notice Goldie! Can't wait to try this in the morning :)

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on September 03, 2010:

@Granny's House,

You are brilliant to do leg lifts - kudos to you - keep up the great work!

@KoffeeKlath Gals,

That is the best compliment - please stick with you - I hope I motivated you enough to follow through.


You are right - it doesn't take money - it takes determination and motivation.


Great point about the slow switch muscles - completely agree. Thank you for contributing your expertise - really appreciate it.

Marc Woodard from Portland, Oregon on September 03, 2010:

Legs are the heart and soul of a healthy body. Not only are they the largest slow twitch muscle fiber in your body making them the best "walking" fat burner through walking... Your heart, mind and body are dependent on keeping them in good shape for oxygen enriched blood. I like the term armour, the exercise recommendation for the knee, etc., great article. Keep them coming!

FirstStepsFitness on August 15, 2010:

Welcome to HubPages ! Great hub there is so much we can do to protect all of our joints ! You pointed out it doesn't require special expensive equipment either , so many infomercials targeting people for weight loss !

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on August 04, 2010:

Great information. I have been looking for a low impact exercise for legs that I can follow and keep with it. It looks like I have found it. Thanks

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on July 23, 2010:

Thank you for the great info. I do leg lifts and I am happy to see I am doing them right.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on July 07, 2010:


Oh, a runner I long to be - fantastic for the legs and weight. I will have to read more of your great Hubs. Thank you for stopping by.

Yes, I need the details to motivate me. The connection from the brain to get me moving is what keeps me going.

RunnerJane33 on July 06, 2010:

I really like the mixture of details oh how to do each exercise and the information and why it is important to tone. I'll have to use those reasons as motivation as I do the last two reps of each of these moves!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on June 21, 2010:

DeBorrah K. Ogans,

You knees and mine alike! I inherited my Gma's poor knees but I also learned her rehab exercises and dedication. Thank you for stopping by.

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on June 21, 2010:

GmaGoldie, Nice informative hub! My knees can use some help... Thank you for sharing! Peace & Blessings!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on May 28, 2010:

carolina muscle,

It hurts me that we don't take care of our muscle and haven't learned that it is the muscles that protect the joints.

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on May 28, 2010:

Great post... sore knees is one of those occupational hazards for folks who work out, and anything that will help is appreciated!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on February 15, 2010:

Dear Lgali,

I am sorry that you share my weakness - my sore knees. It has helped me tremendously - hopefully it will help you too. Thank you very much for stopping by.

Lgali on January 25, 2010:

very useful hub I have leg pian around my knee for long time. I will try this thanks

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