Not all treadmills are created equal.
And while running on treadmills will provide a better cushion than running on concrete some treadmills will suit runners with achy joints better than others.
The best treadmills for bad joints and bad knees will be one that has the necessary cushioning to absorb the high amount of pressure upon impact with every step. Variable cushioning is considered the best design for reducing impact and for that reason the Nordic Track 1750 is the best.
It’s popular opinion that the softer a treadmill is, the better it will be on your joints. This is false. If the belt or cushioning is too soft, you can injure yourself upon impact. I spoke to an expert on this and they said “The job of a good treadmill suspension is not to be soft but to be safe,” specifically, “a safe running surface that will not promote shin splints, IT band and patellar tendon issues due to foot strike vibration and lateral shifting (rocking) of the deck.”
There are multiple ways a treadmill can absorb shock. Even the most basic treadmills have built-in cushioning to the deck. Higher-end machines will have more uniform shock absorption built-in.
These include the polymers connecting the deck to the frame. These polymers absorb shock with every step. In total, the frame will absorb shock, the deck will absorb shock, the polymers between the frame and the deck absorb shock.
Finally, but not tied to treadmills, proper running shoes also absorb shock. According to manufacturers, the best cushioning system will absorb up to 42% of your foot strike energy. This is the absolute best, but realistically around 30% is great and more of an industry standard.
Of course, you usually get what you pay for, and that rings true with treadmills. Treadmills under $1k will have a basic cushioning, $1-1.5k will have a good cushioning system, and treadmills over $1.5k are likely to have a fantastic cushioning system. While these amounts might be basic guidance, I know there are affordable treadmills that have great cushioning that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
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Why Use A Treadmill
Every year we see new exercise machines introduced into the market. Some look like they would work, while others look like a money grab. But tried and true over time is the treadmill which makes it the mother of them all.
Running is something we do from the time that we can, and it’s ingrained into our metabolism, so walking, jogging, or running on a treadmill remains a hugely popular form of home exercise.
As I get older the more my muscles ache and the more my joints hurt the next day after a run. I like to run outside and enjoy the fresh air especially in the foothills next to my house. But I can definitely tell a difference between running on the bone-crushing concrete and pretty much any other surface.
When I run on a rubber track or on the trails, my joints don’t hurt nearly as much. Similarly, running on a treadmill is much easier on my joints so I’ve switched to mainly running on treadmills.
Besides the pain relief, there are many other reasons I enjoy running on treadmills.
I hate running in the wind. I can stand to run in the rain a bit, but even running in the rain is a deterrent. Skipping out on any inclement weather by running on a treadmill will always win my vote. One of the few exceptions is during the winter when there is a layer of snow on the ground.
It seems to dampen any sounds of the concrete jungle and the only sounds I hear are my footsteps. This always puts me in a meditative state, and I love it. Plus the snow adds a bit of cushioning, so it doesn’t cause as much pain.
Another reason I don’t mind using treadmills is, I get to modify my run at the touch of a button. Treadmills have all sorts of feedback for you. Their monitors have readings for pace, heart rate, distance, speed, incline, and a host of other information for you to consume. Depending on how my run is going, I can change it up to make it easier or harder. This control means I can get the most out of my workout.
Additionally, if you’re training for a race, you can adjust the treadmill to match the terrain you’ll be on. If it’s flat, you can keep it flat, but if there is a lot of inclines you can adjust the incline. This kind of training will help you better results.
Finally, if you have a treadmill accessible to you, you’re more likely to use it. Traveling to and from a gym can take time and gym memberships aren’t exactly cheap anymore. Plus with the current Pandemic (at the time of this post) spending time indoors with a lot of heavy breathing gym-goers might not be in your best interest.
In my opinion, these are just a few reasons why getting a treadmill will help you hit your exercise goals.
So, if you’re on board for the why, let us discuss which treadmills are best for knees and joints.
The good news is, there are a variety of treadmills designed with superb cushioning. They each have a different cushioning system, but any of them should provide the softness needed to avoid the high impact of running.
Here’s a quick table of the treadmills below. See the details for explanations on each cushioning system.
|Brand||NordicTrack||Horizon||Lifespan||Sole TT8||3G Cardio|
|Cushioning||Runners Flex||3 Zone Cushioning||8 Independent Shocks||Cushion Flex Whisper||Ortho Flex|
|Motor||SMART Response Motor||3.0 CHP||2.75 CHP||4.0 CHP||4.0 CHP|
|Top Speed||12 mph||12 mph||12 mph||12 mph||12 mph|
Best Treadmill For Bad Joints
Nordic Track 1750 (Editor’s Choice)
1)Nordic Track 1750 – It should come as no surprise that a big name brand like Nordic Track makes the list. This model of Nordic Track is great for the joints and knees because its “Runners Flex Cushioning” can be turned on or off. When it’s on it will absorb around 30% of the impact bringing much-needed relief to your body. Four springs, two in the back and two at midline, are situated directly under the side rails to support the base and provide the right amount of flex. It can also be turned off to simulate outdoor running. This feature makes it great for those training for runs/marathons. Save your joints until it’s time to actually run. Other features of interest include incline and decline capabilities, a 10″ HD touchscreen, a larger than average running deck, and much more.
2) Horizon Fitness Smart Treadmill – If you’re on a budget but looking to get the advanced cushioning of a higher-end treadmill, the Horizon 7.0 is your treadmill. The 3 zone cushioning (variable response) on this one gives you the right amount of support in all phases of your stride. It has the most flex where you land (in the upper third portion of the belt) to absorb impact, the middle third of the deck is a transition zone so it’s neutral in cushioning, and the back third of the deck is the stiffest section giving you the most support as you push off. All three zones have a function in cushioning and your joints and knees reap the rewards. Other features you might like include Bluetooth capability, connected training so you can work with several different online programs, device holder and charger, Rapid Sync Technology which makes quick changes to speed and incline, and has a weight capacity of 300lbs.
Lifespan 3000i Touch Treadmill
3) Lifespan 3000i – Lifespan is another big name brand that a lot of gyms use for their equipment, so be rest assured they are designed to take a pounding. What makes this particular model is the 8 independent compression shocks that provide safe, responsive cushioning for joints. It also features a unique easy-fold frame with a hydraulic shock that assists in the lowering and rising motion. Other features include 21 easy-to-use exercise programs, a 3-speed cooling fan, can sync to your phone for easy results, offers 15 levels of incline, and speeds up to 12 mph.
4) Sole TT8 Treadmill – Sole treadmills are top-shelf treadmills. These will be for serious runners who plan on getting the most out of a treadmill. If this one sits in the garage and collects dust, you’ve done a disservice to the word exercise. The Cushion Flex Whisper Deck keeps your joints from taking too much impact, with 40% less joint impact than road running. This is an upgrade from the Sole F63 and F65 treadmills. It does a better job of shock absorption and reducing the possibility of injuries and strains. Other features you might like are the 15 levels of incline and 6 levels of decline, Bluetooth compatibility, easy operation, and quiet to run on.
3G Cardio Store
5) 3G Cardio Elite Runner Treadmill – This last treadmill is one you probably haven’t heard of. It’s not a big name brand, but a specialty treadmill. The patented 3G Cardio Ortho Flex Shock™ suspension system is what sets this treadmill above the rest. You’d be hard-pressed to find a thicker, more comfortable orthopedic treadmill belt. It will help you get a great workout and there’s less wear and tear on your body than with traditional belts. The oversized running deck ensures a smooth, stable, and quiet walk or run.
Tips on Treadmill Purchases
Before you hit the buy button on your next treadmill there are a few tips I would like to share so you don’t get the wrong one or have any buyer remorse. Here they are:
- Confirm your ceiling can accommodate your treadmill. A good rule of thumb is to add about 15″ of clearance. Make sure you have room behind the treadmill too in case of any falls.
- Ensure you have a sturdy flat surface. These treadmills are pretty heavy, but your stability is key to preventing injury or damage to the treadmill.
- These treadmills can be tedious to assemble. You might consider using a handyman or hiring out the assembly.
- Read the instructions. I know it’s tempting to put it together and start using it, but these aren’t simple lego blocks. Safety should be your number one priority and correct assembly and usage should be a high priority.
FAQ on Treadmills
Is running on a treadmill bad for your knees?
No, running on a treadmill with the appropriate suspension should provide relief to your knees, compared to running on concrete.
What is the best treadmill for bad knees?
The Nordic Track 1750 is considered one of the best, if not the best treadmill for bad knees or bad joints.
Is running on the treadmill bad for knee joints in the long run?
There are a lot of variables when it comes to this. Stats show that recreational running have less arthritis compared to non-runners, but professional or avid runners have more arthritis compared to non-runners.
Conclusion of Cushioned Treadmills
When you’re running the impact your foot makes with the ground is about twice your body weight. This can jar your ankles, knees, hips, and back. As a kid, you don’t feel any of this, but as you get older, you start to notice these things. This is especially true if you already have weak joints or pre-existing conditions that make running painful. A treadmill cushioning system lessens this shock substantially allowing you to work out longer and feel less fatigue in your legs and body. Hopefully, one of the treadmills above can keep you running longer and further.