Recumbent exercise bike vs elliptical exerciser for bad knees
August 3, 2021 2:30 PM   Subscribe

My knees are toast but not bad enough for surgery. I need to add mild exercise to get some relief and have a couple options I need help with

I am a middle aged obese woman and my knees are getting pretty bad. I am working on losing weight- it’s going to be a long process but I am diligently working on that part. I am not seeking advice on weight loss nor do I need to be reminded how much that will help.
I recently finished my 2nd round of hyaluronic injections in my knees which helps, the grinding pain has decreased and am not waking numerous times a night in pain, but I do still have pain, limp often and generally am miserable when standing.

I’m quite out of shape and I’ve started doing seated yoga exercises for 2 weeks now which has helped my pain level quite a lot. I have a recumbent exercise bike I was thinking of using for short times to start off. I also read about using an elliptical exerciser, not the big equipment one stands on and glides but a floor gadget type exerciser that is recommended after knee surgery and is used primarily while sitting. I know swimming would be the best exercise but with covid restrictions there isn’t a public indoor pool available in my area. There’s a ymca a couple towns away but its west of me while I work to the east and would end up spending a lot of time and money to swim and am afraid I’d get tired of driving so far out of my way and stop going. So I wonder if using the recumbent or elliptical is a good substitution and if so, which?

I’d like to use the bike as I already own it, the elliptical costs $100 and if I get into better shape I won’t use it for long so it seems wasteful to buy it and in a few months shove it in a closet when I can use the exercise bike. But I don’t want to hurt my knees so wonder if one is better for me to use?
posted by RichardHenryYarbo to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Best answer: consult your doctor or physical therapist.

Personal experience: I've found recumbent bikes very easy on the knees and a great way to get the heart rate up with much lower impact.
posted by praemunire at 2:34 PM on August 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: personal experience - the bike is easier on my knees. Elliptical doesn’t have impact but sometimes I feel like my knee might give out while using it.
posted by brilliantine at 2:39 PM on August 3, 2021

A lot more weight is still on your knees with the elliptical, which is not true for the exercise bike. I would choose the recumbent.
posted by mhoye at 2:52 PM on August 3, 2021

Best answer: Before I had knee replacement surgery, I found that strengthening my quads did help. I really liked the recumbent bike for that, as well as some isometric exercises like sitting on the floor with legs straight and contracting the quads. Hold for 10 seconds, release, repeat. It doesn't sound like much but it works.

After the knee surgery I did use one of those pedal machines (Desk Cycle). It's great for circulation and for improving range of motion. It wouldn't put much stress on your knees, but I don't think it would help them, either.
posted by wryly at 3:21 PM on August 3, 2021

Make sure you're using easy enough gears on the recumbent bicycle. My knees hurt when I ride recumbent bikes, but my partner says I still use too-high gears.
posted by aniola at 3:41 PM on August 3, 2021

I think both the bike and the elliptical would be similar in terms of knee stress given that you’re talking about the seated floor models for ellipticals. I would go for the bike if for no other reason than you already have it! I also wonder if the bike might give you a larger range of motion during the exercise, which I would guess to be beneficial. The floor ellipticals seem like it’s a pretty small circle.
posted by obfuscation at 4:49 PM on August 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

YMMV of course*... you may want to consider adding bike pedal straps (e.g.) to your set up. Straps/ toe clips/ cleats enable one to use the quad muscles in the 'pulling up' part of the stroke.

*I found that doing spin with cleats helped strengthen my quads which helped a lot with my knee pain.
posted by oceano at 7:29 PM on August 3, 2021

Best answer: The bike, hands down. Biking is part of almost every knee rehab program. If you Google [your injury] + “rehab protocol” I almost guarantee biking will be part of it, probably 10-30 minutes at first, at low resistance and higher speed (no slower than 80 rpm) so you don’t grind your knees. It’s lubrication for your joint. However, stop if there’s pain and definitely make sure the bike is set up properly to avoid unnecessary stress. I don’t know how that works for recumbent bikes, can you egfr a regular stationary bike? (This would be better for core engagement too, and you might find the recumbent boring sooner than you think.)

Those ankle ellipticals aren’t great for your Achilles, if you read reviews you’ll see complaints about ankle and calf pain. It’s not a natural movement.

Also do some rehab exercises, whatever is recommended by a physiotherapist. As a rule, quad sets, light hamstring curls with a light resistance band, glute bridges and clamshells tend to be part of most knee programs, but for sure check with a physio. Tailored advice is best, even if it’s a one-off consultation. Failing that, see if you can find a [your injury] + “protocol” pdf, health units and insurance companies have these handy. Just make sure you stop if there’s any knee pain. Or reduce repetitions, start low and go slow. This will help build quad and hamstring strength for the bike.

Source, have had many knee injuries and spent three years straight in physio (for other things than just knees)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:25 PM on August 3, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, bike is my choice too. Thanks for the input!
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 4:01 PM on August 4, 2021

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