Bad knees aren’t the end of the world. And they’re not even reserved for the aging population. People of all ages could suffer from knee pain, whether it’s due to a disease like osteoarthritis, a sports injury, or the overuse of their joints.
With such an injury, the idea of exercising might be a bit far-fetched. It may seem unreasonable for exercise to reduce knee pain. Yet, it’s just a matter of choosing the right exercise – emphasis on “right”!
Sure, one wrong movement can exacerbate your injury and inflict more pain by adding pressure on your knees. However, working out with the right low-impact exercise equipment can improve your muscle strength and range of motion, allowing you to easily carry out ordinary physical activities.
So what are the best exercise machines for bad knees, and what precautions and tips should people with bad knees keep in mind when working out? Keep reading!
What You Should Know Before Exercising with Bad Knees
Before you launch your exercise routine and make use of your gym membership, you should know there’s a huge difference between “soreness” and “pain.” People with bad knees should be able to tell the difference to protect themselves from further exacerbations of their knee injury.
Having sore muscles after a strenuous workout or after your first exercise following a layoff is completely fine. This soreness comes in the shape of general fatigue and a slight burn with movement. It usually occurs after the exercise, not during it, and it lasts from two to three days.
Pain, on the other hand, comes in the form of more pronounced muscle burn and discomfort. It’s also more persistent, lingering past three days. Some of the red flags of pain are:
- Constant stabbing pain
- Swelling in the joints
- Inability to walk or perform ordinary tasks
- Pain that worsens at night
If you experience any of these symptoms, you must stop exercising immediately and consult your physician. And because protection is better than cure, you should exercise under the supervision of a licensed professional trainer to make sure you’re not doing anything that could further harm your knees and joints.
Best Exercise Equipment for Bad Knees
Whether your goal is to shed some fat or bulk up, exercising with a knee injury means you don’t want to put extra stress on the injured parts. Instead, you want to strengthen the muscles that support the knees, like the quads and hamstrings, to protect your knees from further damage.
That’s when low-impact cardio machines and strength training equipment come into play. Being low-impact means they allow you to break a sweat and work out different muscle groups without adding pressure on your joints. So what gym equipment fits in that category?
One of the highly recommended exercise equipment for bad knees is the elliptical machine. According to a study discussed at the World Congress in Biomechanics Conference, exercising on the elliptical machine helps reduce knee pain. It also improves knee extensor muscle strength, which has a significant effect on the body’s motor function. So how does it do that?
Elliptical machines simulate cardio movements such as stair-climbing, walking, or running without straining or impacting the joints, including the knees.
They also provide a full-body workout. Because of your circular leg movement during the exercise, your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves get engaged. Your upper body gets involved, as well, through the moving handlebars, which activate your arms and chest throughout the workout.
All that happens without putting any pressure on your knees since your feet are always pressing firmly into the pedals, which protects your injured joints from impact stress.
Not to mention, you get to control the machine’s intensity since it has adjustable resistance and speed settings. So no matter what your fitness level is, you’ll be able to have a safe workout and challenge yourself a bit.
The key to reaping the full benefits of the elliptical trainer lies in your posture. If you’re not positioned right on the elliptical machines, you could do your knees more harm than good. So make sure your hand placement and foot location are correct before you start.
Also, if you’re using the machine at the gym, ask a trainer to guide you on your form.
Similar to elliptical machines, the stationary bike provides low-impact cardio exercises, with the difference being that the latter focuses on the lower body solely.
When you sit on a stationary bike, you take your weight off your knees, giving your leg muscles the chance to work out without bearing your load. Therefore, it’s one of the best exercise machines for people with knee pain as it neither requires any extreme flexing of the knee joint nor any weight bearing.
Although the stationary bike is used mainly for low-impact cardio, it activates major leg muscle groups, including the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, which support the knees.
During the push-down movement of the pedal, you engage the quads and glutes, while the hamstrings jump into action during the pull-up motion.
There are many types of exercise bikes, mainly the upright stationary bike and recumbent bike.
The most prominent difference between them is the way you sit on the bike. On a stationary bike, you lean over the handlebars and extend your arms, while the recumbent bike offers a more laid-back position with your back slightly bent backward and your arms lying beside you.
Both types provide the same low-impact workout, so whether you choose the standard or recumbent bike is a matter of preference.
The vibration plate might not be the gym equipment you come across every day. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a machine that takes the shape of a horizontal platform that induces vibrations when plugged in.
The vibration plate is an excellent machine for bad knees for several reasons. It burns fat, strengthens leg muscles, increases bone density, and improves blood circulation throughout the body, all that without adding any pressure on your knee joint.
Not to mention, it’s very versatile, allowing you to work out your upper and lower body without much effort from your side. You just take a pose on the machine and let the vibrations contract and relax your muscles.
Multiple scientific articles demonstrate the effect of vibration therapy on muscle atrophy and knee pain.
The rapid muscle contraction induced by vibration plates helps promote tendon regeneration and healing. It also increases the blood flow to the injured tissues, which speeds up their healing process.
Rowing machines are a topic of controversy when it comes to bad knees. Some say they help in knee rehabilitation, while others claim they can worsen knee pain and cause knee problems in healthy people. After all, it’s an exercise that requires you to push your full body weight by your knees, so how is it of any benefit for bad knees?
As per a study published by London Metropolitan University, rowing machines can help in the recovery from Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI), a surgical procedure to repair damages in knee cartilage.
Researchers found that applying stress on the knees while being flexed at a degree of 40 to 70 strengthens the knees and speeds up the rehabilitation process. That’s exactly the same degree you bend your knees when working out on a rowing machine.
The study claims that the pressure applied by the rowing machine on the knees is even more beneficial to people with knee pain than the stress-free experience they get during cycling on a recumbent bike.
The ski row exercise machine is a two-in-one machine that provides cardio and resistance training simultaneously.
The dual-function machine works out your lats, shoulders, abs, lower back, and triceps. Because it focuses mainly on your upper body, it poses no danger to your knees.
Still, your legs get involved in the workout to keep your body stable throughout the exercise.
There is a reason we left the treadmill as our last cardio choice for people with bad knees. That’s because depending on the type of activity you do on it, it can be high or low-impact.
For example, jogging and running are high-impact exercises, while brisk walking is a low-impact one that doesn’t stress your knees, hips, or ankles.
So walking on treadmills, whether it’s with or without incline, is a safe workout for people with bad knees and of different fitness levels.
Additional Tips to Avoid Knee Pain During Exercising
No matter what exercise machine you choose, there are a few tips that can further protect your joints from pain and injury:
- Invest in Proper Training Shoes: Wearing your everyday sneakers at the gym can make your knee pain worse. Specified running or training shoes are designed with a comfortable fit and bouncy soles that absorb the impact of your steps, protecting your knees from further damage. It’s also recommended to replace your shoes twice a year to avoid working out with worn-out shoe soles.
- Take Time to Warm up: Warming up is essential to prepare your joints, loosen up your muscles, and increase your body temperature before the workout.
- Apply Heat Before the Workout: Heat can help reduce the stiffness in your joints and promote the blood flow to them, which helps ease the aches and increase your knee flexibility.
- Mix up Your Routine: Alternating between cardio and resistance training and changing the type of exercises you do regularly help you train different body portions and prevent tiring your already injured joints.
- Cool Down After Exercising: Stretching after working out allows your achy joint to recover gradually and prevent after-workout swelling.
The Only Thing Standing in Your Way Is Yourself, Start!
At the end of the day, your choice of exercise machine that’s suitable for you depends on your fitness level, pain level, and the medical condition you’re dealing with. No matter what your condition is, there is an exercise machine out there for you.
Exercising on a low-impact machine won’t only help in your rehabilitation, but it can also reverse the pain associated with your condition.
Just make sure to consult your physical therapist and fitness trainer before every move you make. And remember, the worst thing you can do is nothing, so go ahead and hit the gym!
Emma James, 29 years old professional fitness trainer with Bachelor’s degree in Physical Fitness Technician from Boston University.