Bad knees can be frustrating if you want to improve your health and fitness. We’ve reviewed the three best low-impact ellipticals and provided a handy buyer’s guide explaining how to train with bad knees, what to look for, and the benefits of elliptical training.
When you’ve got knee pain, your cardio machine exercise equipment options are severely limited. This is especially so when it comes to training for cardio endurance and fat loss. Most exercise options will involve putting direct impact on the knee joint and therefore less stressful on your knees. Yet there is one form of cardio training that is extremely low-impact and, therefore, a fantastic choice for people with knee pain. This is the elliptical machine. Not all elliptical machines, though, are equal. Because you can’t afford to gamble with the health of your knees, we have gone the extra distance to find the three best elliptical trainers for people with bad knees at different price ranges that will suit your budget and will allow you to achieve your fitness goal.
In this article, we provide in-depth reviews of the three best elliptical trainers for people with bad knees, along with an overview of what you need to look out for when buying a zero-impact elliptical and some tips on how to stay safe when performing an elliptical cardio workout around bad knees.
Key Features for Ellipticals and Bad Knees
- Stride Length – you need full range of motion to prevent knee strain!
- Rear wheel drive – prevents forward lean which stresses the knees!
- Low Step on/off height – 8 inches or less is ideal!
- Smooth, jerk free operation – the jerkier the operation, the more strain your knees will experience!
- Large flywheel – 7kg or more will deliver the smoothest operation!
The Best Ellipticals for Bad Knees
Below I’ve reviewed the three best exercise equipment pieces if you suffer from bad knees. Let’s take a look at them in more detail:
Life Fitness CSX Club Series Elliptical
The Life Fitness CSX Club Series Elliptical is a cross trainer that is extremely popular and is a home gymversion of the Life Fitness commercial model elliptical. This rear wheel drive machine provides one of the best, smoothest, most natural elliptical movement patterns that you will find outside of a commercial gym. You’re able to work both your upper and lower body with full range of motion arms that perfectly synchronize with your lower body movement.
The console on this machine provides you with 18 inbuilt workout training programs, along with two user profiles. The professionally designed programs include those that are geared towards specific training goals. The handlebars feature a patented Ergo grip technology that ensures maximum stability while you are working your lower body.
A unique feature of the console is that it has a message feedback centre which provides you with feedback on your workout including tips for improvement. The oversized pedals allow you to customise your foot position in order to completely eliminate any impact on your knees. Your purchase includes a Polar wireless chest strap to enable precise heart rate monitoring. You also get pulse sensors on the moving arms.
This unit has been ergonomically designed to work with your body. The pedals are ideally spaced apart to reduce any lower back or hip strain. The elliptical movement pattern on this machine is extremely smooth and natural, ensuring zero impact on your knees.
The Life Fitness CSX Club Series Elliptical is on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of price. However, if you want a near commercial quality elliptical that works with your body and provides zero impact on your knees, then this is the machine for you.
- Rear wheel drive
- message feedback centre
- 18 inbuilt programs
- ergonomic design
- extremely smooth operation
- water bottle holder
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-E905
The Sunny Health and Fitness SF – E905 is a budget price rear elliptical, which is a rare thing to find. It also stands out due to its smooth elliptical motion. It features anti-slip foot pedals to allow you to get the ideal lower body position. Movable arms allow you to synchronise full body action. You also get a pair of static arms to give you balance and control while you are focusing on a lower body workout.
The compact digital monitor is basic but functional. It provides you with scan readouts of your time, speed, calories and distance. It comes with transportation wheels for ease of movement. A centrally located dial allows for eight levels of resistance, with smooth transitions between them. This ensures that there is no impact on your joints as you progress at the intensity levels. Your balance and stability are assured on this unit thanks to the addition of floor stabilisers that allow you to get up a perfectly flat, stable base. The maximum user weight capacity on this machine is 220 lbs, which is pretty good for a budget price elliptical.
- Rear wheel drive
- Movable arms
- Smooth elliptical movement
- Budget priced
- Anti-slip foot pedals
- Limited stride length
Precor EFX 835
The Precor EFX 835 is another commercial gym quality cardio trainer that is designed for home use. It features an incline ramp that allows you to train at between 13 and 40°, along with moving handlebars, a total of 20 different resistance levels and 15 inbuilt workout programs. This rear wheel drive machine is on par with the Life Fitness CSX as among the smoothest, zero impact home use ellipticals that we have ever encountered.
This elliptical is designed for chest strap heart rate monitoring but you will have to buy the chest strap separately. The ergonomic design of the handlebar’s foot pedals and chassis of this machine is outstanding. A patented foot pedal design helps to ensure that your feet remain in contact with the base of the foot plates at all times. This is perfect to reduce knee impact. This machine also features reversible pedal rotation.
The console of the Precor EFX 835 is impressive. It allows you to program a range of different languages and provides running readouts of all of your key training diagnostics. The step-up height to the foot plates is 8 inches, providing easy access onto the machine.
The Precor EFX 835 elliptical would make a smart investment for a person with a long-term knee issues, allowing them to train impact free for many years to come.
- Rear wheel drive
- Excellent smooth elliptical motion
- Low step up height
- 20 resistance levels
- Reverse pedaling
- A large, heavy unit
Training with Bad Knees
There is a lot of evidence to show that training around knee problems is good for your health. Apart from improving your cardiovascular endurance and helping you burn calories, it can directly improve the health of your knees by improving the blood flow so that oxygen and nutrients strengthen the cartilage and the muscles that support the knee joint. The weight loss that results from cardio exercise will also help to reduce the strain on the knee joints.
There are a number of causes for knee problems. A person may suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, meaning that they will have arthritic knees for the rest of their lives. Getting into the lifestyle habits of regular zero impact exercise that strengthens the cartilage and muscles around the knee has been identified by osteoarthritis specialists as one of the best things that can be done for this condition. Other people may have suffered knee injuries during sport or as part of their everyday activities. This training on a zero-impact elliptical will allow them to maintain their fitness level, while strengthening the area around the knee. This will prevent them from going backwards in their training and conditioning. Other people may be post-surgery and in need of a gentle rebuilding program. A zero-impact elliptical is, again, ideal for this purpose.
Training on an elliptical is far easier on bad knees than using an exercycle. Another excellent zero impact choice is the rowing machine.
What to Look for in a Zero Impact Elliptical
There are 5 things to look out for when buying a zero-impact elliptical good for bad knees and great elliptical workouts:
The stride length is the maximum distance that you are able to move your feet on the elliptical foot platforms. If you are unable to get a full, fluid, natural motion than your knees will be affected negatively. For most people of average height, an average size stride length of between 18 and 20 inches is ideal. If you are 5 foot 6 or under, you will be able to get away with a shorter stride length, but keep in mind that other users of the machine may not be able to use it effectively.
The motor of an elliptical consists mainly of its flywheel, which drives the elliptical pedal motion. This is known as the drive of the machine. It can either be located at the front or the rear of the elliptical (some newer machines are also having centrally located drives). You will usually find front drives on lower-priced ellipticals. These require that the user lean slightly forward when performing the exercise. This is not ideal as it can place some strain on the joints. A rear drive elliptical will allow for a more freestanding, natural and less joint impacting elliptical movement and is, therefore, preferred for people with bad knees.
When we are talking about height, we are referring to the setup height required to get on and off the elliptical. You wanted to be as low as possible to reduce the impact on your knees.
The last thing that a person with bad knees wants is to use an elliptical that provides a stuttering, jerky motion. So before buying, be sure to check the reviews to see what the actual performance is like. You want to read that people are experiencing a fluid, natural and smooth elliptical motion without any jerkiness.
The larger the flywheel, the smoother the elliptical motion will be. You should machine that has a flywheel weight of 7kg or more.
Benefits of Elliptical Training
Ellipticals offer a host of physical and mental benefits when used regularly. Like the recumbent bike, they use a low-impact motion but offer more versatility. Here are the top three:
Low-impact Exercise Method
Training using cardio machines provides a convenient way to improve your health and fitness, with proven benefits for disease prevention, sports performance, and body composition. When performed regularly, it can be hard on joints, especially if you have bad knees.
Using a low-impact arc motion, ellipticals work many of the same muscle groups but don’t let your feet leave the contact points meaning that there is virtually no impact. This makes elliptical training a great type of exercise if you have bad knees or even if you are looking for a rehabilitation option post knee surgery.
Easy to Learn
The elliptical arc motion is relatively easy to learn if you compare it to other cardio machines. The pedals and handles use a fixed arc motion that helps you to maintain the correct body position throughout which helps you learn the technique much easier compared to a running or rowing motion.
Hands down, the elliptical is one of the best exercise machines to learn!
Full Body Training Movement
To operate the elliptical, you push against the flywheel which uses magnetic resistance to build the tension level. This is done with your arms and legs which push against the handles and foot pedals respectively using different muscle groups.
With one motion from both parts, ellipticals can give you a full-body workout or isolate a certain half of your body depending on if you push with the handles or pedals. This also provides some workout versatility if you’re focusing on a particular body part or need to take some stress off your knee joints and reduce joint pain. Whilst it’s still cardio-based, the resistance on the elliptical does provide a lower-level strength training option alongside other exercises.
Elliptical Safety Tips
- Be sure to hold the handle during your training session. This will, not only engage the upper body, but provide support and stability while you are working out.
- Keep your feet in line with the pedals, rather than having them angled either inward or outward.
- Maintain an upright stance throughout your exercise session – do not lean forward or around your lower back.
- Do not lift your heels of the pedals – maintain a flat foot position at all times with the proper form discussed above.
The best elliptical trainer for bad knees on the market today is the Life Fitness CSX Club Series Elliptical, which provides an extremely smooth elliptical, great ergonomic design and biomechanically advanced foot plates. its out top pick best option.
Our second favourite elliptical trainer for people with knee issues is the Sunny Health and Fitness SF – E905, which comes at a great budget price point and features rear wheel drive and a natural, smooth movement.
Rounding out our top three best elliptical trainers for people with bad knees is the Precor EFX 835, with its 20 resistance levels, rear pedalling capability and low step up height.
What else should I be doing if I suffer from bad knees?
While using the elliptical to exercise when you have bad knees is a great low-impact workout option, it isn’t the only thing you should be doing. Start by seeing a registered professional to find out the extent of your knee problem. They will refer you to a specialist if needed and give you exercises to do alongside the elliptical training.
Having a normal body weight, performing knee strengthening exercises, and performing regular mobility work are all ways to help with common knee pain.
How long should I use the elliptical for?
The right elliptical training length depends mainly on what you are using it for and your exercise goals. If it’s to warm up for a different cardio or resistance-based session, 5-10 minutes will allow you to warm up your muscles and raise your heart rate before exercise.
If it’s for general health and fitness, aim for around 30 minutes each time or approximately 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week as recommended.
Are ellipticals good for losing weight?
Like most other cardio equipment, using the elliptical burns calories. Alongside the correct nutrition, this can help to lose weight as long as you burn more calories than you eat. This is known as a negative energy balance.
Using an elliptical also helps to provide a full-body toning workout and improve muscle coordination. This makes it a good option for losing weight at all fitness levels.
Does the elliptical height matter if you have a lower home gym ceiling?
If you have a lower home gym ceiling, you need to check the elliptical step height and add your own height to work out the amount of clearance you need. Add around 10 inches of extra clearance to make sure your head won’t hit the roof when you’re doing the elliptical motion.