Is The Elliptical Bad For Your Lower Back? (Pros & Cons)

The elliptical is an excellent exercise machine for most people because it is a low-impact workout with minimal stress to the body. Is the elliptical bad for your lower back?

No, this cardio machine is a great option for people with lower back pain because it puts little stress on the joints while building stamina and giving the heart a good workout.

In this guide, we’ll talk about who benefits the most from elliptical machines and who should look to other workout machines for their cardio needs.

Minimal Stress

The elliptical machine is typically thought of as a great workout machine for lower back pain because it places minimal stress on the joints. This is helpful for co-occurring problems such as knee pain or neck pain. The reason the elliptical machine is a minimal stress machine is that very little force is moving through the body because of impact.

Unlike running, for example, which involves the body “pounding” into the floor and is considered high-impact, the elliptical machine focuses on lateral movement without impact.

If you're ready to invest in a low-impact machine, check out our favorite affordable ellipticals on the market!

Optimum Spinal Flexion

The elliptical machine places the spine in an optimum spinal flexion position, which keeps it from over flexing or under flexing. This is important because people with lower back pain tend to have lower back pain from incorrect spinal flexion.

Correct Posture

Ellipticals can help correct posture because the proper form while using the machine requires you to stand upright. Correcting your posture will keep your joints and bones in alignment.

This will keep pressure from being placed on your lower back joints. It is important that weight is distributed evenly in the body, and correct posture makes this possible.

Flexible Resistance

The ability to change resistance levels gives exercisers the ability to work out at the level that feels best for them and change those levels within the workout itself. Flexible resistance makes it easy to increase the difficulty of the movement while still maintaining the low impact benefits of the machine.

Strengthen Your Surrounding Muscles

The elliptical works the upper body muscles and core muscles (if you tighten and engage your core while completing the workout). By strengthening these muscles, you can better protect your back. In addition, strengthening the surrounding muscles adds extra support for impact and keeps the spine neutral throughout the day.

Related Article - Does The Elliptical Work Your Core?

Elliptical Bad For Your Lower Back

Scenarios Where Ellipticals Can Be Bad For Your Lower Back? (Cons Explained)

Irregular Stride Motion

The elliptical uses an irregular stride motion for each part of the workout. This irregular stride is different from our typical walking stride and for some people, this can place stress on the lower back.

We recommend trying a few elliptical exercises over the course of a week and seeing what the effect is on your body. If the irregular stride motion does negatively impact you, you’ll feel it and be able to change workout machines. 

Improper Upper Body Form

Many people use improper upper body form when using the elliptical. Too many lean forward and forget to engage their core, driving the motion forward with their arms. Being aware of your form and staying present in the moment will lead to a better, more effective workout.

Improper Footwear

The elliptical is a low-impact machine and easy-to-use, so some exercisers attempt to work out with improper footwear. Make sure that you wear workout sneakers and do not attempt to work out in flip-flops, dress shoes, or other casual shoes. Improper footwear can increase the risk of pain due to the elliptical’s irregular stride motion.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give athletes is to get a proper pair of gym or running shoes. Read through our complete guide to find yours!

Previous Injuries

If you have previous injuries, any exercise machine is a risk, and the elliptical machine is no exception. It is important to speak with your doctor about what exercise machines are best for your injuries. The elliptical machine doesn't place much pressure on joints, but the irregular stride motion may aggravate old injuries depending on the severity and placement of those injuries.

man working out on the elliptical

Precautions To Take For People With Lower Back Pain

Warm-Up & Stretch

All exercisers should use a warm-up before beginning cardio workouts. Warming up and stretching the body means that the muscles are fired up, and injury is less likely to occur during the workout. For example, if you have a stiff lower back, it's important to gently warm those lower back muscles up and get them ready to engage in a cardio workout.

A simple, low-impact exercise is to walk briskly for 5-10 minutes. Avoid jumping jacks or jogging (both high-impact) as your warm-up if you suffer from lower back pain.

See Also - Why Is Stretching So Important?

lower back stretch

Use Resistance Wisely 

Resistance is a powerful tool when it comes to working out. It can help develop muscles as well as quickly raise your heart rate. However, the more resistance you add, the greater strain placed on your body.

If you suffer from lower back pain, start slow with resistance and keep the resistance level low. Slowly increase the resistance each week to ensure that added resistance does not aggravate your back and lead to back pain.  

Try To Maintain Correct Posture 

Maintaining correct posture while using the elliptical machine is vital for preventing back pain. Proper posture throughout your daily life is important as well. When on the elliptical, correct posture means standing upright and focusing on cycling the legs through the movement while keeping your core engaged and back upright.  

Stop Immediately If Your Back Starts To Hurt / Consult With A Doctor 

If your back begins to hurt and it’s uncomfortable, stop. You don’t want to take a problem and exacerbate it by pushing your body too far, too fast. It is possible to experience low-grade lower back pain and continue to work out, but this should only take place after a consult with a doctor.

It is essential to know what your limitations are when working out, and your doctor will be able to advise you best on those limitations.


Exercising On Ellipticals When You Already Have Lower Back Pain

If you already have lower back pain and want to exercise properly while using the elliptical machine, we recommend beginning with a warm-up. Next, it is important to stretch. After your warm-up and stretching routine, it is time to work out.  

When working out on the elliptical, you want to maintain the correct form at all times. Too many people think that they should be leaning forward on the elliptical, but this is not the case. Make sure that you maintain a straight back, standing upright while working out on the elliptical. From here, create the circles with your legs by focusing on your leg muscles.  

If you use the arm handles, make sure that you are not pulled forward but remain upright (slightly puffing out your chest may help you maintain the upright position). Think about sitting on an upright bike or standing while walking to maintain the correct upper-body/back position. When you finish your workout, do a light cool down.

lower back pain

What To Do When Your Elliptical Is Causing You Lower Back Pain

When it comes to lower back pain on the elliptical machine, there are typically a few causes, and making adjustments to your workout can eliminate those problems. We recommend performing a ten-minute warm-up by walking at a brisk pace around the room and then doing a full-body stretching sequence for five minutes before jumping on the elliptical.

Once on the elliptical, make sure that you are using the correct posture for the machine. Many people use ellipticals without the correct posture, which can lead to lower back pain. If the elliptical is still causing lower back pain, we recommend choosing another exercise machine for your workouts.

Options for alternative movements include standard walking on the treadmill or outside, recumbent bikes, rowing, or a versa climber workout.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

What is the best exercise machine for lower back problems? 

Every person has unique exercise needs, but for those experiencing lower back pain, we recommend the elliptical trainer. The elliptical machine puts little strain on the body's joints, making for a more comfortable workout that won't aggravate lower back problems. Another good exercise machine for lower back problems is the recumbent bike.

Which is better for your back, treadmill or elliptical? 

The elliptical machine and treadmill can be good options for people with lower back problems. However, the treadmill places unnecessary stress on joints and can contribute to back problems over time. We would recommend walking on the treadmill for back pain but turning to the elliptical machine for faster workouts. 

Are elliptical machines good for sciatica? 

Yes, the elliptical machine is a good workout machine for sciatica. Sciatica pain is best treated by following exercises with the McKenzie Method. This method calls for cardio workouts with low impact or no impact machines and exercises. The elliptical machine, swimming, and standard walking are a few safe exercises for sciatica. We also recommend speaking with your doctor to make sure you choose the best exercises for your condition.  

Which other exercises should you avoid if you have lower back pain? 

If you have back pain, we recommend avoiding high-impact activities such as HIIT workouts, running, and biking off-road, as well as standard crunches (puts unnecessary strain on your spine). We recommend sticking to walking, recumbent bikes, elliptical machines, rowing, and other more gentle, low-impact workouts.


Conclusion

Elliptical machines are an excellent choice for most people with lower back pain. Make sure that you consistently warm-up, stretch, and practice good posture while using the elliptical for best results.

If you do find yourself experiencing continual lower back pain, add in workouts using the treadmill (walking only), rowing machine, versa climber machine, and recumbent bike machine.

Looking for a new elliptical? Don't forget to jump over to our article on the best elliptical machines under $1000.

Paul J

Last Updated on March 5, 2022