Do Exercise Bikes Strengthen Knees? (For Arthritis & Pain)

If you’re suffering from a knee injury, recovering from surgery, or experiencing knee problems such as arthritis, the last thing that’s on your mind is to ride an exercise bike.

You’re probably thinking that working out your knees may exacerbate the pain and can be detrimental to your situation. However, some experts say otherwise. So, do exercise bikes strengthen knees or not?  

The short answer is yes; exercise bikes can strengthen your knees. However, if you're suffering from knee injuries or recovering from one, you need to consult with your physician before using this workout machine. But how does it strengthen your knee and why should you start incorporating this in your workout?  

To help you understand this, you need to know the two major muscle groups that support your knees: the quadriceps and hamstrings. These muscles are responsible for stretching the knee and the movement of the knee caps.

It helps with walking, standing, and running. On the other hand, the hamstring can be found behind the shin bone, which supports your knees when you bend them.

Do Exercise Bikes Strengthen Knees? (For Arthritis & Pain)

Other muscles also support your knees, like the hip abductors, but they don't play crucial parts in stabilizing them. Riding an exercise bike targets these muscle groups, toning and strengthening them as you go.

This is why cycling is a good exercise for your knees. With the proper form, the pedaling motion stretches and strengthens the muscles that support the knee without putting too much weight on the knees, unlike running.

In addition, exercise bikes are used to rehabilitate knees since they can help with increasing movement range and stabilize knee joints. If used with foot straps, the pedaling motion becomes a more intense hamstring workout. The more you exercise a muscle group, the stronger it becomes. 

Furthermore, the bike's resistance can be modified depending on the amount of work your knees need. If you feel like the exercise is straining your knees, you can decrease the resistance. But to strengthen the knees, you need to increase the resistance and make your muscles work.

The additional weight pushes your muscle groups to work more, resulting in stronger and toned muscles. However, if you’re injured or suffering from arthritis, don’t overwork your knees. Pushing your knees to their limits can worsen the pain. That’s why you need to gradually increase your resistance and switch between light or no resistance to heavier ones.

older man strengthen knees with trainer

Do Exercise Bikes Help Or Hinder Arthritic Knees? 

Riding an exercise bike is a low-impact workout ideal for people suffering from arthritis. The pedaling motion works your legs, which encourages the production of synovial fluid, also known as joint fluid.

This fluid lubricates the joints, reducing friction when you move them. Apart from that, strengthening the muscles around the knees helps better support the joints. This relieves some pressure from the knees, reducing the pain you experience from arthritis.

It’s a common misconception that biking would only worsen your arthritis. Riding a bike--whether stationary or not--can help with your arthritic knees. According to research on knee osteoarthritis, exercise bikes can lessen the pain while improving the function of arthritic knees.

In another study, people who have rheumatoid arthritis were trained on exercise bikes, and results showed that their muscles were strengthened. This helps reduce the activity of the disease after six months of continued usage. But even though studies are showing significant improvement in exercise bike usage, it doesn’t mean that it will work well for you too.

There are many factors that you should look into before committing to this workout, especially if you have arthritis. First, you should ask your physician if this is the right choice for you. If the doctor recommends you try exercise bikes, the next thing you should check is to find which bike is perfect for your condition.

There are two common types of exercise bikes that you’ll see in most gyms: upright and recumbent stationary bikes.  

Upright exercise bikes resemble traditional outdoor bikes. The handles, seat, and pedals are the same but just set on a stationary platform. With this type of stationary bike, you target the same muscle group as outdoor bikes would. This means that it’s more of a whole-body workout. 

However, some exercise bikes have lower handles, requiring users to lean forward. But this form may be uncomfortable if you have arthritis on any part of your upper body. If this is the case for you, you need to look for an upright stationary bike with higher handles. This will allow you to sit more upright, lessening the pressure on your upper body.

On the other hand, recumbent bikes come with a chair-like saddle, often larger than regular seats. This allows you to sit in a more comfortable, reclined position, making it lighter on your lower back and hips.

Although you have better back and hip support with this type of stationary bike, it may require more range of motion than upright bikes. But, it’s easier to get on and off them since they are lower to the ground. This makes it ideal for people suffering from knee osteoarthritis.

Learn More - Recumbent Vs Upright Exercise Bikes

are exercise bikes hard on the knees

How To Effectively Use Exercise Bike For Bad Knees?

If you have bad knees, it’s natural to think that any movements that can put a strain on them can make your situation worse. However, that’s not always the case, especially with stationary bikes.

To ensure that you won’t do more harm than good with your knees, here are some tips that would make riding exercise bikes suitable for your knee recovery:  

  1. 1
    Choose the most suitable bike for your situation. As mentioned above, there are two common types of bikes that you can use in gyms. Try both of them and see where you’ll feel more strain in your knees. If there’s too much strain, it may be best to try another stationary bike.
  2. 2
    Learn the proper form. One common mistake people make when riding stationary bikes is that they don't check their form. If you don't follow the correct form, you might end up with more injuries than the ones you already have. So how can you ensure you’re positioned properly on your bike? For upright bikes, the seat should be roughly the same height as your hip. You also need to reach the handlebars comfortably and make sure that you keep a slight bend in your knee when you pedal to avoid overextending it. It's also good practice to strap your shoes into the pedal. This allows you to achieve a complete revolution where the front and back sides of your legs are working equally.
  3. 3
    Pace yourself. When riding exercise bikes, especially with a bad knee, you don't want to push yourself right away. Start riding for only 10 to 20 minutes a day, three to five times a week. Don't rush. You don't need to finish the 20 minutes right away. You can just pedal for five minutes, take a break, and do another round. Or you can do 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. It's all up to your condition. Once you're comfortable, you can increase your time on the bike, increasing your speed and resistance as you go.
  4. 4
    Listen to your body. We often love to see how far we can go, especially when exercising. But you shouldn’t do this if you’re suffering from a knee injury or arthritis. If you feel any pain, stop right away. You also need to take note of the pain level of your knee before and after you ride a bike. If the pain increases by at least two points, you're pushing yourself too much, which can worsen your situation. So, the next time you hop on the bike, decrease your effort by 50% and see if the pain will still increase.  
man working out on recumbent bike

Best Exercise Bike After Total Knee Replacement 

If you had a total knee replacement, you can still ride a stationary bike to help strengthen your knees. However, not all bikes are created the same, and you need something that won't put too much strain on your knees. That's why the best exercise bike for you is a recumbent bike.  

Unlink upright bikes that may put too much strain on your knees; recumbent stationary bikes are more stable and comfortable. They feature a wider seat with a backrest allowing you to release pressure from your knees and will enable you to move easier. This type of stationary bike is also easier to get on and off, making it ideal for people with mobility issues.  

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Strengthening Knees With Exercise Bike FAQs

How much should you exercise if you have arthritis? 

This depends on the severity of the pain you’re experiencing, but it’s good to start with 20 minutes a day, three to five times a week. Then, increase the time as you become more comfortable on the bike.

Does long term cycling damage knee cartilage? 

No, it doesn’t. Cycling can strengthen your knee. Damages on your knees won’t come from cycling itself but from exercising using an incorrect form.  

Is walking or biking better for knees? 

Bilking is a better exercise for your knees as it causes less muscle soreness than walking, where you put more weight on your knees.  

Read More - Recumbent Bike Vs Treadmill


Exercise bikes and knee pain don’t seem like a good mix, but cycling can indeed help with strengthening your knees. But of course, it’s always best to consult with your doctor before you commit to any exercise, especially if you’re recovering from an injury or have arthritis.  

Last Updated on January 28, 2023

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Andrew White

Andrew White is the co-founder of Garage Gym Pro. As an expert fitness professional (gym building nerd) with over 10 years of industry experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern fitness & the newest market innovations for garage gyms. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually out surfing or playing basketball.