Top 10 Exercise Machines for Those With Bad Knees

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Last updated on September 5, 2022

Working out can be a real struggle when you have knee problems. But that doesn’t mean that you have to remain on the sidelines. What it does mean is that you have to be selective about the exercise equipment that you use.

In this article, I’ll present you with the 10 best gym exercise machines for people with bad knees, from most knee friendly to least. If you do have a knee condition, you should check with your medical professional before beginning any exercise program.

#1: Elliptical Machine

When it comes to knee friendly exercise, you need to find equipment that is as low-impact as possible. The most low-impact of all cardio machines are those that are known as closed chain. This simply means that your feet are in contact with the equipment at all times so there is no pounding or jarring of the joints.

The elliptical machine is an excellent example of this. Your feet never come off the foot pedestals as you move your lower body through an ergonomically optimized elliptical motion. The elliptical machine gives you a great workout for your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves and is also an effective calorie burner. Many elliptical machines have movable arms so that you can also work the muscles of your upper body.

You may also want to read 5 elliptical workouts for weight loss.

#2: Exercise Bike

The exercise bike is another closed chain machine that is easy on the knees. It is one of the most effective calorie burning cardio machines that exist and is especially good for developing the muscles of the lower body, especially the calves. There are three types of exercise bike: upright, recumbent and spin.

The recumbent exercise bike, which is reclined so that you are pedaling in a horizontal rather than a vertical direction is best for people with bad knees.

If you have knee problems, you should avoid doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) on an exercise bike.

You may also be interested in How To Lose Weight On A Stationary Bike (Two Best Ways)

#3: Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is another great closed chain cardio training piece of equipment that is kind on your knees. This is one of the best cardio choices to also get a good overall body workout. As well as working your legs, it also engages the muscles of your back and arms as well as the shoulders. At the same time, rowing will give you an excellent calorie burn, making it a smart choice for fat loss.

The smoother and more jerk free the rowing action is, the better it will be for your knees. For that reason, I recommend using an air or water rather than a magnetic or hydraulic rowing machine. You should also ensure that your fees are securely strapped in to the foot pedals so that you maintain constant foot contact with the rowing machine throughout the exercise.

You should also read best rowing machine workout for weight loss.

#4: Stepper Machine

Even though walking up stairs can be hard going on the knees due to the constant pounding, the stepper machine exercise is a good option for people with knee problems. That’s because, on most modern stepper machines, your foot never actually leaves the step. Instead, you are moving on a conveyor belt that is constantly rotating with your feet staying on the platform at all times. This makes the movement a closed chain as opposed to an open chain exercise. You should, however, keep at a moderate speed when you are exercising on a stepper machine.

#5: Treadmill

Even though it is an open chain exercise, the treadmill is still be a good option for people with knee problems. Modern treadmill technology ensures that there is excellent cushioning built into the running bed of most quality treadmills. If you are walking on the treadmill, it will generally be no problem for your knees. You should, however, avoid running on a treadmill if you have knee problems.

you also maybe interested in Best Treadmill Workout to Burn Fat Fast.

#6: Leg Extension

The leg extension machine is ideal for targeting and developing the quadriceps muscles. Contrary to what some people believe, it does not compromise the knee. Rather, it develops and strengthens the four quadricep heads that surround the knee joint. When doing the leg extension, you should confine your range of motion to the middle 80% of the movement. That is because there is a risk of potential knee strain in the initial and final 10% of the movement when using a heavy weight.

The reason for potential knee strain in the final 10% of the range of motion is because the tibia, or lower leg bone, and the femur, upper leg bone, have different shaped condyles. These are the tendinous linings that cover the end of both bones. During the final part of the range of motion a side rotation of the tibia takes place. If the knee is fully locked out this can lead to what is known as ‘screw home rotation’ which can result in friction between the bones.

Some people believe leg extensions are bad for the knees because they produce a shearing effect. Shearing refers to a displacement of the upper le bone (femur) and the lower leg bone (tibia) at the knee joint.  However, this belief is false. The upward pull action of the quad tendon provides an anchor that is more than 20 times more forceful than the resistance that is being applied by the leg extension machine’s lever arm in perpendicular direction. This negates any possibility of the inward displacement of the tibia bone that would lead to the shearing effect.

#7: Seated Leg Curl

The leg curl machine is the most effective way to target the hamstring muscles at the back of the upper legs. While the traditional version of this machine, which had you lying face down on a bench and curling your legs up toward your butt, was not very knee friendly, the modern seated version of the exercise is.

With the seated leg curl, you start in the end position of a leg extension, except that your ankles are on top of, rather than under, the pads. By pushing down on the pads you will be isolating and working your hamstring muscles. As with the leg extension, do not come all the way up to complete knee lockout, stopping short of the final 10% of the range of motion.

#8: Hip Thrust Machine

The hip thrust machine is a user-friendly version of the barbell hip thrust exercise, which will place undue stress on your knees, hips and lower back. When you strap into a thrust machine, you are able to adjust the settings according to your height, select the exact weight that you need and move through a full range of motion safely. This allows you to develop strength in your gluteus muscles, which are potentially the strongest of your entire body.

#9: Glute Drive Machine

There are a number of variations of the glute drive machine on the market. They involve being in a standing position while placing one foot on a platform that sits on a guide rail. You push back against a resistance to work your glutes. This is a very good exercise that allows you to take your gluteus maximus muscle through its full range of motion without placing any undue stress on your knees, back or hips. If you are fortunate to train in a gym that has a glute drive machine, I highly recommend that you make full use of it.

#10: Seated Adductor/ Abductor Machine

The seated adductor machine targets your inner thighs. There is no movement of the knee joint on this exercise and no jarring effect, making it a knee friendly movement. The seated abductor is a very similar movement which targets the outer thighs. These exercises should be done one after the other.

Wrap Up

The 10 exercises described above will allow you to get an effective cardio and lower body centric workout in without compromising your knees. When it comes to working your upper body, your legs are generally not involved so there should be no issues with weak knees. Just remember to opt for closed chain exercises that are low-impact and, when it comes to resistance training movements, avoid any that place a heavy load on your hips or spine. Remember, too, that you should consult your medical professional before beginning any exercise program if you have ongoing knee problems

About the author  Steve

Steve Theunissen is from New Zealand and is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over 30 years experience. Read more about Steve in the 'about us' page.

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