When my hands and knees started hurting, arthritis was the last thing on my mind. As a former BMX biker/rugby player and now a strength training and mountain biking fan, arthritis wasn't 'supposed' to happen to someone like me. But after a visit to the doctor, my condition was confirmed.
The silver lining? I've been a personal trainer for more than 20 years and have spent more than a decade teaching other trainers how arthritis can affect the bodies of their clients. And now that I'm living with arthritis myself, I can combine my book knowledge with real-life experience.
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With that said, living with arthritis doesn't mean you have to neglect exercise completely, despite how uncomfortable it may sometimes feel. Luckily, there are machines specifically designed to reduce the stress on your joints and help strengthen your supporting muscles.
In my own experience, these are the best exercise machines for arthritic knees, hands, wrists and joints in general. Browse a few top picks and learn what you should consider before you add these to your home gym.
How We Chose
I chose these machines using my history of training clients with arthritis and my own experience living and exercising with the condition. I selected these best workout machines for arthritic joints based on criteria, including:
- The effect of gravity on the joints
- The possible hand and wrist discomfort of holding free weights
- The effect of high-impact forces on the joints
The 3 Best Strength Machines for Arthritis
1. Hip Thrust Machine
The glutes are the foundation of a strong, stable body. And hip thrusts are one of the best exercises to strengthen these muscles. Hip thrusts generally involve placing a barbell across your hips, leaning against a bench and pressing the weight up by pushing your hips to the ceiling.
But placing a barbell on your hips can add strain and pressure on sensitive joints. That's why I'm a fan of hip thrust machines. The best part about the hip thrust is that you can use heavy resistance without adding extra pressure on your spine or knee joints (like if you were doing a squat or leg press). For that reason, I consider them the best exercise machine for arthritic knees.
While more gyms are starting to feature hip thrust machines (which are less taxing on your joints), they aren't incredibly common. Luckily, you can buy them for your at-home gym — and it can be worth the investment for your hip health.
Nautilus Glute Drive
Developed by Pete Holman, a physical therapist, the Nautilus Glute Drive places strength-building resistance on your lower body without the added back strain you can get from a barbell.
The belt provides a comfortable surface for pushing (no barbell pad needed) and the back cushion protects your spine. The machine also has attachment points on the bottom so you can add different levels of resistance bands without needing to invest in a bunch of weight plates.
Buy it: Corehomefitness.com; Price: $299
The Bootysprout is another resistance band-based hip thrust machine that's easy to set up and won't take up too much space in your home. And it has a cushioned pad that helps keep your back comfortable and safe.
Unlike standard resistance bands, the Bootysprout's bands are padded for extra comfort and all you have to do is hook them to the machine to get started. The machine comes with three bands (about 45 pounds of resistance each) but you can buy more separately, depending on how much resistance you want.
Buy it: Bootysprout.com; Price: $169
2. Cable Machine
Free weights are inherently unstable, which can be challenging if your joints feel sensitive. And many people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis find that holding dumbbells and other free weights can be uncomfortable on their wrists or hands. Supporting free weights can also compress the joints, increasing arthritis-related discomfort.
The pulley on a cable keeps the tension on your muscles relatively consistent (and stable) as your joints go through their range of motion. Also, the movement of the handles and cables allows you to find a grip and angle that feels most comfortable for you.
Valor Fitness BD-62 Wall Mount Cable Station
The pulley can also be placed in different positions allowing you to do exercises from a number of different angles. This versatility also allows you to adjust the machine to different heights and angles that feel most comfortable on your body.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $383.98
Merax Cable Crossover Machine
Equipped with a lat pulldown handle, this cable station is a little more advanced than others. It has 16 different adjustable positions and a variety of attachments (including single strap handles and a low row bar).
This one even has its own pull-up station attached and vertical pegs where you can store your weight plates.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $700
3. All-In-One Machine
All-in-one machines (aka home gyms) involve a lot of vertical pull exercises (like lat pulldowns and underhand pulldowns), which can help straighten the spine and increase the space between your vertebrae. Both of those things can help reduce discomfort from arthritis.
When you work with barbells or dumbbells, you need to use a lot of grip strength to control the weights. This can be painful on the joints in your hands and wrists. But home gyms eliminate this factor, thanks to the nature of the handles and attachments.
Body Solid EXM2500S Home Gym
This machine supports your body in a number of different positions to allow you to strengthen your muscles without worry of gravity increasing the discomfort in your joints.
This home gym allows you to do plenty of exercises across muscle groups without the need for tons of different machines or equipment.
Buy it: Walmart.com; Price: $1,595
Bowflex Xceed Home Gym
When it comes to resistance variety, Bowflex's home gym is definitely a winner. This one enables you to add on 5 to 210 pounds of resistance on a given exercise. You can even upgrade to 410 pounds total by purchasing additional weights.
The seat is fully adjustable and made of a high-cushioned foam, enabling you to find the most comfortable positions and angles for your body.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $749.99
The 2 Best Cardio Machines for Arthritis
1. Rowing Machine
You use a rowing machine from a seated position, pulling your hands toward your body against resistance. That means you don't have to worry about the vertical forces of gravity adding extra pressure on your joints.
And unlike walking or running, rowing machines don't apply any impact to your knee joints, because you aren't hitting the ground in a vertical position (this causes force to radiate up your foot into the joints).
Bonus: This machine is a very effective calorie burner because you are using so many muscles at the same time.
NordicTrack is a big name when it comes to cardio machinery and this rower definitely doesn't disappoint. Unlike others, this one has oversized pedals and a padded seat and handle, helping you find your most comfortable posture and form.
The pedal straps on this rower are also easy to adjust during your workout, so you won't have to constantly pause to tighten them throughout your training session.
Buy it: NordicTrack.com; Price: $1,299
Not only does the Ergatta machine look like a piece of home decor, it's super functional, too. Whereas most rowers have a smaller, bicycle-shaped seat, this one is bench-shaped, giving you a little more surface area to find a comfortable position for your hip joints.
Plus, this machine has wheels on the end of it, which makes it easy to move around the house and store vertically in small spaces (though considering it looks so nice, you may want to leave it out).
Buy it: Ergatta.com; Price: $2,199
2. Recumbent Stationary Bike
Indoor cycling bikes allow you to get your heart rate up without the extra force of gravity and impact from the ground.
And the best exercise bikes for arthritic knees are going to be recumbents. Unlike a standard exercise bike that has your feet beneath you, a recumbent bike situates your feet out in front. This reduces potential stress on your knees.
Plus, the seat on a recumbent bike supports your spine, reducing the tendency to slouch. This allows you to focus on moving your legs without adding strain on your neck and back. Plus, for people with severe rheumatoid-arthritis pain, stationary bikes let you get a great workout without having to use your hands at all.
Sole Fitness LCR
This recumbent bike is ideal for anyone looking to stay healthy without experiencing added pain. The seat and handles are totally adjustable to fit your body and the LCD screen sits at eye-level, helping keep your back aligned.
Buy it: SoleTreadmills.com; Price: $1,499.99
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RB4850
When you're dealing with back pain, you want a bike with back support. This bike's back is a mesh material that's sturdy and durable but also provides some breathability during your tougher bike rides.
The bike also has easily-adjustable pedals for optimal comfort. Grab the easily accessible lever to modify your pedals without needing to get up or move.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $393.66
4 Factors to Consider When Buying Exercise Equipment for Arthritis
1. Your Favorite Workouts
The type of exercise you like to do is the biggest determining factor for your best exercise equipment for arthritis. For instance, those who love to strength train, like myself, probably want to consider a strength machine.
From there, think about the body parts you like to train the most. Home gyms are probably the most versatile. The cable systems on these machines enable you to train your lower and upper body muscles all in one.
Cable systems are generally best for upper-body exercises. Although you still can do a few lower-body moves (like cable reverse lunges), your options are a little more limited.
Those who want to hone in on lower-body training may want to opt for a hip thrust machine, as this one targets your glutes, quads and hamstrings without adding extra gravity-induced stress on your joints.
More of a cardio fan? A rower or recumbent bike is your best bet. Those who want a fuller-body cardio experience should go with a rower, as these machines target both your upper and lower body. Otherwise, a recumbent bike is a good choice for anyone who likes a lower-body-focused cardio session.
2. Your Budget
The best exercise machines for arthritis can get pretty pricey, so your budget dictates a lot of the options available. Machines can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. So, once you've narrowed down what kind of machine you want, do some extra research to get an idea of all the machines at your disposal within your budget.
3. Your Available Space
Not everyone has a huge gym garage space. Luckily, exercise machines come in all shapes and sizes and finding one to fit your space is probably doable. Measure your available space and compare it to the measurements of the machine of your choice.
Also, consider that many gym machines (like the Ergatta rower above) can be easily wheeled around your home and stored away. So, those working with a smaller space may want to look into storage-friendly machines.
4. Your Body
The type of arthritis-related pain you're experiencing can play a factor in your purchase, too. Those who experience knee discomfort should probably prioritize a lower-body machine that takes pressure off these joints, like the hip thrust machine.
When I started to feel arthritis-related pain in my hands, cable systems were a must. Those who have rheumatoid arthritis or also experience pain in their wrists or fingers should probably opt for a home gym or cable system, as these eliminate a lot of the extra strain that free weights place on your hands.
Before you buy exercise equipment for arthritis or try any new form of exercise, though, it's always best to consult a medical professional to make sure you're taking the safest route.