Stationary Bike vs Elliptical for Knees – Which is the Best Alternative?

Knee injuries are painful and unbearable considering that they support your entire body weight. Training on the stationary bike or elliptical could give you varying experiences but which of the two is the best alternative for an injured knee? 

About a year ago, I was training for the triathlon championships in our State when I accidentally twisted and fell on my right knee. With the championship barely a week away, my chances of playing were dashed.

After a period of resting, icing, compressing, and elevating my sore knee, I had to get back in the action. My trainer advised me to take it easy and train on the stationary bike and elliptical machine. As an active guy, I didn’t like to hear that but as I started training, I understood the need for concern.

It didn’t take me long to get the hang of it and in about 2 months from then, I was back out in the field running track. I missed the championships but I gained some valuable lessons and tips on training on an injured knee. I hope they can help you too.

Stationary Bike vs Elliptical Comparison Summary

Training Concern
Which Equipment rules?
Stronger Leg Muscles
Upright Bike
Strength Training
Calories Burned
Elliptical at 780calories
Least risk and danger
Recumbent Bike
Best for terminal Illness
Recumbent Bike
Best for muscle or joint injury
Recumbent Bike

Differences between the stationary bike and elliptical machine 

A stationary bike is one without wheels that is designed to perform spinning exercises on. Its impact on your joints is low which is why it is ideal for training an injured knee. On most of these bikes, it is possible to adjust the pedaling tension to increase the challenge and give your body better toning results.

The elliptical machine is also referred to as the cross trainer because it stimulates the actions of walking, running, and stair climbing with minimal impact on your joints. It’s a great training tool that incorporates your upper body as well by the use of the movable handles on it.

Due to the increased effort needed in the operation of an elliptical machine, a 155-pound human will lose about 780 calories every hour while the same individual cycling could lose up to 600 calories in an hour.

Stationary Bike for Knees

There are two types of stationary bikes available for you to train on depending on the severity of your injury, your health overall, and your age. These bikes are either an upright bike, which resembles the outdoor bike and the recumbent bike.

Adjusting your seat and pedal position will help you find the best and most comfortable training form for you. Ensure there is enough distance between your seat and the pedals because this will reduce the tension on your knees.

The recumbent bike is ideal for anyone suffering from a bone disease like osteoporosis or arthritis because it gives you the option to lean back. The bike comes with a backrest and is designed in a horizontal fashion which takes off pressure from the back, hips, knees, and ankles.

On this bike, your legs are stretched out and the pedals are placed about waist-high in front of you. You may adjust the angle of elevation or the resistance to add to the challenge.

Elliptical Machine for Knees

An elliptical is highly appreciated in the health and fitness world due to its versatility. They feature the same kinds of pedals you will find on a recumbent bike. This cross trainer will enable you to move up, down, forward, and backward.

This makes it wholesome as it targets all the vital muscles around your hips, butt, abdomen, arms, and legs with low impact on your knees. The motion on the elliptical is more of gliding with an adjustable slope which further reduces tension to your knees.

Stationary Bike vs Elliptical for Damaged Knees 

You will need the right diagnosis from your doctor about the kind of damage that has been done to your knee. This information will guide your trainer in terms of recommending the best alternative between cycling and gliding.

There are a few factors regarding either training equipment that you must consider to settle on the best option.

Impact on Joints 

Both these equipment are great for strengthening and developing your knees’ health with little force applied to them. Due to the weight-bearing impact of the elliptical, most specialists will opt for the training on the recumbent bike.

The ability to take the pressure off the back and hips as well as its training form makes it comfortable for anyone in severe pain. If you are not badly off, you could try the upright stationary bike but be watchful of the pedal positions to prevent further damage.

If you use the elliptical in the right form and intensity, it will do you well especially if you do it right. You shouldn’t feel any pain and you will get a full-body workout.

Training Position

Ellipticals mimic walking in that they are weight-bearing and they engage the hips, knee, and back muscles. To work effectively on it, it requires you to maintain a firm and balanced back to keep the upright position. While this is good for your strength training, it may present extreme pressure to those with really bad knees or a serious health condition.

These people are best fitted to train on the stationary bike and more preferably, the recumbent type. This is because they can lean back and steadily push on the pedals which have adjustable resistance.

Muscles Activated 

The stationary bike focuses on your lower limbs and works to get these muscles stronger and leaner. Your quads, hamstrings, and glutes get a great workout from cycling. The elliptical, on the other hand, will work both upper and lower limbs. In addition to the muscles worked on the bike, the cross trainer works your shoulders, abdomen, and arms as well.

For damaged knees, you need to keep the range of motion and resistance to a controlled level for the sake of minimizing the effort needed to pedal. Both this equipment will activate supporting knee muscles although in different ways.

Find a setting that minimizes the knee bend and resistance while still adequately working out your muscles painlessly.


It is important to be very observative and quick to change your equipment setting immediately you experience some strain, pain, inflammation, or stiffness. More to that, keep a timer on your training session to make sure you don’t overdo it. I had a big problem following through with this.

While it is advisable to keep your knee in motion as it speeds up the healing process, you have to be very patient and trust the guidance of an expert to set up a training schedule for your damaged knee.


Is Cycling Good for Runners?

Cycling is a great training tool that could prove invaluable to most runners. Cycling can grow your muscles and increasing their capacity in strength and endurance while greatly minimizing the risk of injury.

How many miles do I need on elliptical to lose weight?

To get the most out of your training in about a month or two, you need to aim for training for about an hour on the elliptical which translates to about five or six miles depending on your speed and intensity.


Depending on your health, age, and severity of knee damage, either of this training equipment will help nurse you back to health. You only need to be considerate of the intensity in training and your body positioning. Overall, the recumbent bike is the best alternative for all types of knee injuries at any age and even in the worst health conditions. All the best.