The elliptical is one of the most popular cardio machines you can find. It’s a staple in the gym, right next to the treadmills.
For those who aren’t a fan of the treadmill, it’s often the next best option. Those who run may prefer to do something a little different and opt for the elliptical instead of the treadmill.
But the elliptical does come with one common complaint—knee pain. If you’ve tried it before and found that it hurt your knees, we’re looking at how to prevent knee pain on elliptical trainers.
We’ll also delve into the different reasons your knees may be hurting on the elliptical. Plus, we’ll give tips on strengthening your knees so they can handle the repetitive motion with more ease and less pain.
Does Using the Elliptical Cause Knee Pain?
Like any form of physical activity, the elliptical has the potential to cause pain in a variety of different places if used incorrectly. They are low-impact, which means they’re typically better for the joints than treadmills, but it still comes down to using the machine the right way.
You may experience knee pain after using the elliptical for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons will likely be causing knee pain; but if you find none of them seem to fit, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
What Causes Knee Pain on an Elliptical?
Generally, there are a few different reasons your knees may be hurting when you exercise on the elliptical. In most cases, one of these will be the culprit—and the good news is, they’re relatively easy to get around.
Your Form Is Incorrect
Using the elliptical trainer is just like any other exercise—your form needs to be correct to get the most benefit out of the workout and reduce your chance of injury.
If too much strain is placed on your knees during the movement, you’ll come away with knee pain. Another telltale sign of poor form is a sore back and arms, along with your knee pain!
The Machine Is Set Up Incorrectly
Not all machines you find in the gym or buy online are high-quality. If you find yourself on a badly designed elliptical that doesn’t move smoothly or through a full range of motion, you may be at a higher risk of developing knee joint pain.
You may also be using a machine with a stride length that doesn’t match your own. We often jump onto the nearest elliptical machine without even checking to see that it matches us!
The danger here is that exercising on an elliptical that doesn’t match your stride length means you’re most likely moving out of your natural range of motion. This is more likely to put a strain on your knees—or other joints—and cause pain.
It’s common for elliptical beginners to struggle to get into a good stride. We aren’t talking about stride length here—rather, we mean the natural, flowing rhythm of using the machine.
You’ll need to take some time to get into a good rhythm before you try to go too fast. Make sure you aren’t fighting against the machine but instead working with it.
Overtraining can happen either by exercising for too long at a time, being on the elliptical too many times a week or for beginners, inadvertently overdoing it because you aren’t that flexible yet.
Exercising too many times a week or too long at a time can place unnecessary stress on the knees and not give them enough time to rest.
Previous Knee Injury
It makes sense that if you’ve had a previous knee injury or bad knees, you may be more likely to experience knee pain on the elliptical machine. Even if the injury has healed, pain can flare up again when you work the knee hard, like on the elliptical.
Certain medical conditions can cause various types of pain in the knee. Some of the most common include:
If you suffer from any of these, we recommend seeing your doctor before you start training on the elliptical.
How to Prevent Knee Pain on Elliptical Machines
The good news is that even if you’ve suffered knee pain on the elliptical, it doesn’t have to stop you from using the machine. Here’s what you should do to get a good workout with minimal pain.
Warm Up Before Working Out
It doesn’t matter what workout you’re doing or how familiar you are with the machine. A warm-up is always a good idea. This will get the muscles loose, which can give your knee a bit more freedom of movement.
Warming up will also get the blood flowing. If blood flow is good in the knee, there’s less chance of pain and inflammation as the blood brings nutrients and oxygen to the area.
Dynamic stretching or brisk walking on the treadmill before you start is an easy way to warm up your muscles.
Try a Knee Brace
A knee brace should keep your knee stable as it moves. It will help stop the joint from moving out of alignment, which can cause pain as you exercise.
It’s not only those with previous knee injuries which can benefit from wearing a knee brace. You can try it for any kind of knee pain, and it can also provide some compression benefits, which helps blood to flow to the knee more easily.
Machine Stride Length
Choosing the right stride length makes a huge difference. This will ensure that you aren’t overstretching, which can wreak havoc on the knees.
There’s no ideal stride length for everyone. Most ellipticals have a stride length of 20 inches, which can be suitable for most people between the heights of 5 foot 3 inches and 6 foot.
If you’re taller or shorter than that, it’s a good idea to choose a machine with a different stride length. You may have to experiment with a few different ellipticals to find the best one.
Some have adjustable stride lengths, while others come with a set length—the longest distance from the toe section of the front pedal to the heel of the second pedal.
Here’s the ideal stride length for your height, but remember that it’s more of a guideline than a rule.
Under 5 feet: 11 to 14 inches.
5’ to 5’3”: 14 to 16 inches.
5’4” to 5’8”: 16 to 20 inches.
Over 6′: more than 20 inches.
Focus On Proper Posture
The first part of good form is proper posture. It’s easy to hunch over on the elliptical, especially if you’re trying hard to give your leg muscles a good workout. However, to get your form right, you must stand up straight.
Next, you need to make sure your leg placement is correct. Your feet should both be facing slightly forward, and your knee joints should be stacked over your ankle joints.
Focus most of your weight back on your heels. Standing on your toes will activate different muscles and can be done on occasion, but the majority of your elliptical workout should be done on your heels to reduce knee pain.
Also, be careful not to grip the handlebars too tightly. This will only increase tension in your forearms, which can lead to cramps. While this won’t affect your knees, it’s important to get every part of your form right to take pressure off the knees and lower your chances of pain.
Elliptical Safety Tips
It can be easy to injure yourself on the elliptical if you ignore safety. Here are our top elliptical safety tips to help you get a great cardio workout with little chance of hurting yourself.
Use Proper Footwear
Wear footwear that supports your arch, offers decent cushioning, and is snug but not too tight on your feet. The shoes you wear on an elliptical should not be loose, and there should be no heel slippage as you exercise.
Loose shoes can influence your form and increase your risk of injury. Also, if your arch isn’t correctly supported, you may be placing strain on the knees as your foot rolls inwards, even though the exercise is low-impact.
If this is part of the problem, opt for a supportive insole first, rather than buying new shoes.
Heading straight into a hardcore workout isn’t the way to go, even if you’ve warmed up. Stick to a moderate, light pace for 5 to 10 minutes when you first step into the elliptical, so your body can get used to the movement.
From there, you can increase the speed to what suits you. Keep in mind that each machine might be slightly different, so it’s in your best interest to get a feel for the machine you’re on before you get stuck in, even if you’re experienced!
Use a Little Resistance
When you increase the resistance, your muscles work harder to keep the machine going. But it also makes the elliptical safer.
When your body has something to work against, it helps you to keep your posture; no resistance means you’ve got nothing equalling your force, and it’s easier to go off-form as your legs move faster than the rest of you.
Hold Your Handrails
While you can do an elliptical workout without holding the handrails, it’s best to use them to stabilize yourself. They’ll help you keep your form correct and add an element of stability and safety.
Make sure not to grip them too hard, or you’ll start to cramp. Once you’ve gotten used to using perfect form and keeping your form throughout a workout, you can graduate to working out without holding them on occasion.
Don’t Go Too Fast or Stop Suddenly
Stopping suddenly is a big risk factor for all sorts of injuries. Ellipticals are not designed for sudden stops—they should slow down and come to a stop over a period of a few seconds at least.
Sudden stops can jar your joints—not just the knees. In some cases, the machine can throw the user off, which could result in bigger injuries. You have to wait for the spinning of the flywheel to slow itself before you come to a stop.
Maintain Proper Form
In the beginning, you may need to pay close attention to your form every time you get on the elliptical. Ensure that your back is straight, you aren’t leaning forward, your feet are a comfortable width apart, and the stride length is optimal.
Not only will this reduce your chance of injuring yourself, but it will also help you to perform better during your workout!