Are Ellipticals Good For Bad Knees? (Pros & Cons For Pain)

Meeting cardio recommendations for healthy living can be a challenge for people with bad knees. Cardio workouts often involve an impact on the joints that can cause soreness, stiffness, and even pain, especially for individuals who are dealing with arthritis.  

Luckily, there are several pieces of cardio equipment that are specifically designed to reduce impact and make life easier for people with bad knees, and the elliptical machine is one of them. Ellipticals make it possible to get in a solid aerobic workout with low-impact movements, but the “low-impact” of an elliptical doesn’t take away from its calorie-burning potential.  

In this guide, we’ll be exploring the question “are ellipticals good for bad knees?” to find out if this machine truly is an option for people suffering from arthritis and other forms of joint pain.  

Compared to other forms of cardio, like running outside or on the treadmill, it’s clear right away that elliptical machines are designed for low-impact workouts. You can jump over to our article on the different kinds of ellipticals to get a better understanding.

While using an elliptical, your feet stay firmly planted on the footplates while they glide back and forth on the machine’s frame. This gliding motion of the pedals (as well as the back and forth movement of the handlebars) simulates running, just without the impact that comes along with traditional running.  

More specifically, here are a few more proven reasons why the elliptical is considered a good cardio option for people with bad knees and chronic arthritis: 

  • Strengthening Of The Muscles Around The Knees
    The first major benefit of doing an elliptical workout for bad knees is that it strengthens the lower body, focusing on the joints, muscles, and ligaments around the knees. By strengthening this area, you'll be able to reduce future pressure on the joint and lessen cartilage wear and tear. 
  • Less Impact Than Other Forms Of Cardio
    As mentioned before, elliptical training has less impact than many other forms of cardio, like outdoor running, or even running on a treadmill. Since you never actually raise your feet off the machine’s pedals, you won’t experience the same impact. They’re even less impactful than rowing machines. We did a full comparison of rowing machines vs ellipticals for more information.
  • Allows For Recovery & Rehabilitation
    Elliptical machines are often used for rehab and recovery, especially for people suffering from knee pain or arthritis. It's also beneficial for general lower back or hip pain and knee/hip replacement patients. 
Are Ellipticals Good For Bad Knees

Do Ellipticals Have Any Negative Impacts On Your Knees?

When used correctly with proper technique and form, an elliptical can do a lot for your overall health. But when misusedit can do more harm than good. For example, an improper form on an elliptical can actually cause pain and strain, like leaning too far forward or practicing poor posture while using the machine.  

Aside from negative impacts that come along with using the wrong form, there are a few more drawbacks to elliptical training for bad knees, like: 

  • Unnatural Strides
    Elliptical machines feature a "stride length," and the length of the stride typically ranges from 16 to 22”. Depending on the length of your stride, the back and forth motion of the pedals might feel unnatural to you. But as long as you buy a machine that has a similar stride length to your natural step, this shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Intensity Changes
    One of the perks of ellipticals is that they often allow users to easily change resistance, therefore allowing you to change the intensity quickly. Many machines even come with preset workout programs that automatically adjust resistance based on the workout. These changes in intensity aren’t ideal for everyone, so if that’s the case for you, make sure to choose a manual program and select your desired resistance before starting. 
  • Imbalanced Forces
    An important thing to note about ellipticals before using one is that this machine puts a greater emphasis on the knee and hip joints compared to natural walking. For that reason, overuse of an elliptical machine can actually create an imbalance across the body, so a well-rounded fitness routine is a must. In other words, it’s best to pair your elliptical with some sort of strength training regimen. 
person bending over with their hands on their knees

Can Ellipticals Cause Knee Pain? (Prevention Tips) 

Yes, elliptical training can cause knee pain, but this is usually only the case when used incorrectly. If you're standing wrong or using poor posture, the knees might take more of the impact, which can create pain or discomfort over time.  

To prevent this from happening, be sure to maintain good posture, which will give you the most effective (and safest) elliptical workout. Do your best to keep your shoulders back, your head up, and your core engaged. Also, keep your gaze forward rather than down at the pedals, and avoid leaning on the handles by allowing your lower body to support your weight.  

It’s also important to avoid overuse, which can eventually lead to tendonitis. Cleveland Clinic says that “anyone can get tendonitis. However, it's more common in those who do repetitive activities.” Elliptical training can be one of those activities, so avoid overdoing it. 


How To Use An Elliptical Machine Safely 

Aside from practicing the proper technique and form, there are a few more things you can do to promote safety while using your elliptical machine. Follow these tips for a safer elliptical workout:

  • Step on the machine at the lowest point using the pedal that is closest to the ground. 
  • Hold the set of fixed handlebars as you step on and off the machine. 
  • Only start using the moving handlebars after you feel stable and comfortable. 
  • Always start your workout with a warm-up and end it with a cool-down. 
  • As your workout comes to an end, gradually slow down the pedals, and dismount only once the pedals have come to a full stop. 
senior using an elliptical machine

Treadmill Vs Elliptical For Bad Knees (Workout Comparison)

Treadmills are just as popular as ellipticals for at-home cardio. They make it easy to run while inside your home, and depending on your speed, you can burn up to 500 calories in as little as 30 minutes. However, treadmills are not considered low-impact, so they aren’t the ideal choice for anyone with bad knees caused by arthritis.

Here’s what Mayo Clinic has to say on elliptical or treadmill for bad knees: 

“Using an elliptical machine is generally considered a low-impact activity, and it shouldn't cause knee pain if you are using it correctly. Since elliptical machines provide low-impact aerobic activity, they can be a good alternative to running or jogging for someone who has joint pain due to arthritis.” 

Of course, deciding between a treadmill vs elliptical for bad knees depends on individual fitness abilities and the severity of the knee pain. If you do prefer to walk, jog, or run as your go-to form of cardio, a treadmill is the best place to do it since treadmill belts are designed with shock-absorptive materials to reduce impact.  


What Are The Best Ellipticals For Bad Knees? (Popular Models)

Once you’ve decided that elliptical training is the right course of action for preventing or reducing knee pain, it’s officially time to start searching for the best elliptical machine for bad knees. Most ellipticals will do the trick, but these 3 models stand out as the best for anyone with arthritis:  

Life Fitness CSX Club Series

Life Fitness Club Series Elliptical...
  • Home version of Life Fitness popular health...
  • 18 Workout programs, seven personalized...
  • Oversized pedals accommodate feet of all...
  • Polar wireless and life-pulse digital contact...

The CSX elliptical from Life Fitness is great for many reasons, and it's especially beneficial for bad knees, thanks to its long stride length. The large size of the machine not only accommodates a whopping 350 pounds; it also allows for a long stride, which is great for mimicking your natural stepping motion.

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905  

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 Elliptical...
15,952 Reviews
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 Elliptical...
  • RESISTANCE: Easily adjust the intensity of...
  • DIGITAL MONITOR WITH PULSE: Follow along with...
  • EASY SETUP: Avoid the hassle of overly...
  • STABILIZER: Achieve smooth and even movement...

Sunny Health & Fitness is a brand that we all know and love, and the SF-E905 elliptical is a stand-out machine for anyone looking for a solid elliptical on a budget. The machine itself is less than $200, and it's incredibly stable and sturdy thanks to the frame's stabilizer system.

Precor EFX 835 Commercial Series  

Precor EFX 835 Commercial Series Elliptical...
  • Patented adjustable CrossRamp technology...
  • Patented, low-impact EFX motion is smooth and...
  • Touch and telemetry heart rate monitoring
  • Ergonomic moving handlebars let you tone and...

Precor’s EFX 835 is a commercial-grade machine that comes with a hefty price tag. As long as you’re willing to pay, you’ll love everything about this machine, especially the low-impact EFX motion that puts little to no impact on the knees. 

If you're settled on a Precor elliptical, check out our complete guide to find the best one for you!


People Also Ask (FAQs)

How long should you exercise on an elliptical if you have bad knees? 

It depends on your fitness goals as well as your capabilities. The general recommendation is to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, but this may vary depending on the severity of your knee pain. 

How often should you exercise on an elliptical when you have bad knees? 

In terms of frequency of use, the number of times you use your elliptical per week really comes down to how long you use it with each workout session. For example, if you prefer short 15-minute workouts, then it's perfectly fine to use your elliptical every day (as long as your physician agrees), but if you like hour-long workouts, three times per week would be adequate.  

Are ellipticals recommended for healthy knees? 

Yes, ellipticals are considered good for knees by many sources. They’re low-impact, they promote heart health, and they’re great for strengthening the knee and hip joints. Just keep in mind that your workout routine shouldn’t be one-dimensional, and it’s best to pair your elliptical training with other forms of exercise, like strength training or yoga. 

Which is better for your knees, an elliptical or a bike? 

When comparing bikes vs. ellipticals for damaged knees, here’s what Livestrong has to say: 

“The elliptical requires more weight-bearing than cycling because it mimics walking yet involves more hip, knee and ankle range of motion. It requires balance and trunk control while maintaining an upright posture. This is beneficial and translates to the way your knees are used every day. However, the elliptical can be challenging for people with more involved knee problems or other health issues.” 


Conclusion

To recap, ellipticals are, in fact, good for bad knees. They allow for a low-impact workout that has the potential to strengthen the lower body, burn calories, promote weight loss, and even reduce knee pain caused by arthritis. As long as you’re using your elliptical correctly, it can be an amazing piece of equipment for knee health.  

If you’re in the market for an elliptical that’s good for bad knees, consider the Life Fitness CSX machine, or the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905 if you’re on a budget.