Last Update: December 6, 2023
Bad knees can mean a lot of things, so I have compiled a list of various treadmills to suit your training needs. Treadmill cushioning can impact your biomechanics, changing how you run or walk. A treadmill with soft cushioning can absorb more shock, but a firm treadmill may feel more stable and encourage you to land more softly (less stiffly). Treadmills with more cushioning may also have a higher deck to accommodate their shocks, but this design may make it harder for walkers and runners with bad knees to step up onto their decks. As a biomechanist, I understand that there’s a lot that goes into knee rehabilitation, so none of these treadmills are going to be a cure for your knee injury. But, hopefully, they can provide more comfort and support during your return to training. All of that said, lets check out the best treadmills for bad knees.
Here’s Our List of the Best Treadmills for Bad Knees
- Best Treadmill for Bad Knees: NordicTrack X32i Treadmill
- Best Firm Treadmill for Bad Knees: Sole F80 Treadmill
- Best Cushioned Treadmill for Bad Knees: NordicTrack 2450 Treadmill
- Best Treadmill with Low Step-up Height for Bad Knees: Horizon T101 Treadmill
- Best Compact Treadmill for Bad Knees: Echelon Stride Treadmill
- Best Folding Treadmill for Bad Knees: NordicTrack EXP 7i Treadmill
- Best Manual Treadmill for Bad Knees: AssaultRunner Pro Manual Treadmill
Best Treadmill for Bad Knees: NordicTrack X32i Treadmill
The NordicTrack X32i is one of the most cushioned treadmills for bad knees. It is a high-end treadmill, so it may not be affordable to all treadmill shoppers, so I’ve included several other soft treadmills on this list. Yet, the X32i is one of the best options. Its incline training also allows users to work their knee flexion and extension in a lower impact way than running while still increasing their heart rate. Its impressive cushioning and training features make it our best option.
As a long-time runner, I have had my share of knee injuries. One of my go-to rehabilitation methods is stair climbing or incline walking. I’m not your doctor or athletic trainer, so please be cautious. I can’t speak to your specific injury or circumstances. For walkers or runners whose rehabilitation plan includes incline walking or stair stepping, the NordicTrack X32i is a great tool for your rehabilitation. The incline range is from -6% to 40%, so there are plenty of training options. There’s no need to move at a fast pace on the X32i. Grab the incline handles for support, make sure you are maintaining good ankle, knee, and hip alignment, and get to stepping. If part of your knee pain originates from your calf muscles (soleus or gastrocnemius) then prepare for a stretch and some eccentric muscle activation!
The cushioning on the NordicTrack X32i is extremely soft. The deck has plenty of shock absorption, which may be easier for your body to handle. The deck is also bouncy, so a little spring is added to your step. Softer cushioning can be easier on the joints. While we have not been able to mechanically test the X32i’s cushioning, the softness is apparent just be feel. The X32i is noticeably different from running outdoors on the pavement or asphalt. A few other features make the treadmill deck great: the spacious 22” x 65” tread belt and the lack of a motor hood (the motor is under the deck). These two features are good for users with gait variations like wider step widths and those who need to support themselves with the handles.
The NordicTrack X32i has smart features to appeal to users with or without knee injuries. The touchscreen display is 32 inches and displays iFIT content. New subscribers will get 30 days free with their purchase of the X32i. iFIT provides trainer-led content for on and off the treadmill. With iFIT, walkers and runners get access to smart heart rate training, automatic speed and incline changes, and classes personalized to their fitness level. The NordicTrack X32i is an impressive treadmill for users of all ability levels.
- The NordicTrack X32i has an incline range of -6% to 40%.
- The cushioning is very soft and bouncy.
- The 22” x 65” belt and motor positioning provide plenty of room for walking and running.
- The touchscreen display is 32 inches.
- iFIT provides trainer-led content.
- Smart features automatically adjust the treadmill speed and incline and support heart rate training.
- The X32i is very expensive.
- The soft, bouncy cushioning may not be suitable for all types of knee injuries.
- The X32i does not fold.
Best Firm Treadmill for Bad Knees: Sole F80 Treadmill
The Sole F80 Treadmill is one of our top treadmills for a variety of reasons, but the firmness adds a nice contrast to our top treadmill’s cushioning. Softer isn’t always better, so some runners and walkers may need something a little more firm and stable. The F80 is more shock-absorbing than running on the road, but it is closer to that level of firmness. If you are trying to prepare for an outdoor event like a road 5k or marathon, this treadmill could help you adapt to the firmer running surface. The Sole F80 also has great content and training options.
The Sole F80’s running deck is spacious and accessible. The deck measures 22” x 60” and has a low step-up height. The deck is firm and does not feel springy like NordicTrack or ProForm treadmills do. This construction provides a more predictable step that may allow some runners and walkers to achieve better control over their walking and running form. The low step-up height helps users with restricted mobility get onto the treadmill. Lastly, this treadmill’s wide and spacious deck accommodates users with a wide or long step.
The Sole F80 is a powerful treadmill. It has a 3.5 HP motor. The speed range is 0.5 to 12 mph. There are 15 levels of incline, but it does not decline. This treadmill is suitable for one long-distance runner or sharing among users who exercise less frequently/intensely.
You don’t need a subscription to train on the Sole F80. While Sole has an app, the Sole Plus app, it does not require a subscription to access the content. The app has some trainer-led content that you can use when you establish a Bluetooth connection to a compatible Sole cardio machine. The Sole F80 also has onboard content including fitness tests, interval workouts, heart rate training, and user-defined programs. These programs can be customized to suit your fitness level and time constraints. Sole’s training is not restricted to what’s offered by the brand. The Sole F80’s 10-inch touchscreen display provides access to tons of content options.
Third-party apps come preloaded on the Sole F80. Most of these are entertainment apps such as Netflix, Hulu, and Prime. There’s also the Kinomap app which provides virtual training content, structured workouts, and more. The app can even control the treadmill’s speed and incline levels. That’s not all. The Sole F80 supports screen mirroring on Apple and Android devices. You can mirror content from any of your favorite training apps onto the F80. The training and entertainment options are practically limitless. Other features like Bluetooth speakers, a wireless charging pad, and a tablet rack ensure your training experience is great.
- The Sole F80’s running deck is stable and spacious.
- The Sole F80 has preloaded training and entertainment apps.
- The 10-inch touchscreen can be paired to your smart device to mirror any content you wish.
- The Sole F80 does not require a subscription to use it.
- Features like Bluetooth speakers, wireless charging, and a tablet rack support your training.
- The 3.5 HP motor can support walking and running.
- The firm cushioning may not be suitable for all types of knee injuries.
- Some users may prefer a subscription-based platform built into their treadmill, unlike the F80’s options.
Best Cushioned Treadmill for Bad Knees: NordicTrack 2450 Treadmill
The NordicTrack 2450 is a premium treadmill with excellent cushioning. The 2450 is a folding treadmill from one of the most popular treadmill series from one of the most well-known treadmill brands. The NordicTrack 2450 is an excellent treadmill for walkers or runners who train daily and need more shock absorption to help them hit their weekly mileage. If your training is not as intense or your budget is a bit more restrictive, consider the 1750 or the 1250, the other treadmills in this series.
If you are looking for soft cushioning on a folding treadmill, the 2450 is one of the best options available. The 2450’s running deck absorbs shock and adds some spring to your step. If you are struggling to build mileage as you come back from injury, the 2450 makes running feel a bit easier to help you reach your goals. It’s a great choice for walkers and runners returning from injury and rebuilding their training routines. If your knee injury makes running outdoors impossible, the 2450 provides an alternative that may work for many users.
The 2450 has a 20” x 60” running deck. The motor is 3.6 CHP and should support regular running use. The deck’s incline range is -3% to 12%. The 2450 is also a fairly quiet treadmill with smooth speed and incline transitions. Runners and walkers have fantastic training variations on the 2450. This treadmill is made even better when you add a membership to the supported training platform which can be accessed through the built-in 22-inch touchscreen display.
iFIT provides all of the onscreen content for the NordicTrack 2450. iFIT is a digital fitness platform with thousands of classes from over a hundred different coaches. These classes are built for the treadmill, other fitness equipment, and workouts without smart equipment. Treadmill classes are mainly filmed outdoors on trails or other unique routes. The content lets you explore places you’ve dreamed of going to or even prepare for races like the Boston Marathon. You can run the entire Boston Marathon route virtually! iFIT is an awesome supplement to your treadmill training or a replacement for your whole gym membership.
- The NordicTrack 2450 has a softly cushioned running deck.
- iFIT provides virtual training classes with trainer-led, outdoor content.
- The touchscreen is 22 inches.
- The treadmill inclines and declines.
- The motor is 3.6 HP, which is suitable for walking and running.
- The 2450 folds to save you space when not in use.
- Some users may not like that iFIT is subscription-based.
- The 2450 is a premium treadmill with a matching price, which may be out of budget for some users.
Best Treadmill with Low Step-up Height for Bad Knees: Horizon T101 Treadmill
The Horizon T101 is not only our best treadmill with a low step-up height. It’s the best walking treadmill option for users with bad knees and everyone else! It’s a brilliant budget treadmill with a sturdy design that offers great value for its price. The performance of a treadmill doesn’t matter if stepping up onto its deck is too much of a challenge. The Horizon T101 has a low step-up height, so it should be easier for more users to manage.
The Horizon T101 Treadmill is best for walking. It has a compact size with a 20” x 55” deck. The step-up height is only about 7 inches, so users with limited knee flexion may have an easier time stepping onto this treadmill’s deck compared to others. The motor is 2.5 HP, which is below our typical recommendation for running but perfect for walkers with a daily routine. The speed and incline ranges are limited to 0.5 to 10 mph and 0 to 10% respectively. These ranges better reflect the T101’s capabilities than the traditional treadmill settings. Walkers who are racking up daily steps and miles will find the T101 a fit for their routine.
As a budget treadmill, the Horizon T101 is a great value. It does not require a subscription to use the onboard training programs. There’s not a touchscreen, so the content is much simpler. The training programs include calories, distance, fat burn, hill climb, and intervals. The T101 has a tablet rack, so you can stream training or entertainment content on your personal device. The speakers are Bluetooth, so you can pair your audio. I prefer listening to my device audio, because the T101’s audio is not very loud. There’s also a USB charging port to keep your device charged no matter how long you plan to train on the treadmill.
The Horizon T101’s console is simple, so you can get on and get to training. The console has quick adjust buttons for the speed and incline, but you can also use the Easy Dial controls instead. These dials spin forward or backward at the swipe of your hand to adjust the treadmill settings. Horizon has some of the fastest speed and incline transitions. The Easy Dial controls cap the end of stability handles that also have pulse grips for heart rate training.
The T101 folds compactly when not in use. It uses Horizon’s FeatherLight Folding mechanism to softly lower the deck when you are ready to train again. This frame and the motor are covered by lifetime warranties. It’s a budget treadmill with a lot of value for walkers.
- The Horizon T101 has a low step-up height of 7.125 inches.
- The T101 is priced affordably.
- The frame and motor are covered by a lifetime warranty.
- The T101 has a tablet rack and USB charging.
- The onboard training content does not require a subscription.
- The deck folds for compact storage.
- The T101 is not suitable for running.
- The Horizon T101 does not have the smart features some users may prefer.
Best Compact Treadmill for Bad Knees: Echelon Stride Treadmill
The Echelon Stride is one of the most compact treadmills, because its console and uprights fold down to the deck. For this reason, we have chosen it as our best compact treadmill for bad knees. The Echelon Stride is an entry-level treadmill that works well for walking or running despite its compact design. Echelon encourages users to purchase a membership along with their equipment, so it is best for those who want a subscription training program.
Many home treadmills use kick-release bars to lower the deck to the ground. They also have somewhat heavy decks that need to be lifted up. The Echelon Stride is an alternative to this method that may be easier for users with bad knees. The console and uprights can be folded down to the deck with the help of a lever. The treadmill can be lifted upright for storage, but this may not be the easiest for all users to manage. A grab bar is located on the back of the treadmill, but the treadmill is rather heavy. There are wheels to help the treadmill roll around, but users with bad knees (and others) may find it best to store the Echelon Stride in a permanent location.
Runners and walkers will be happy with the performance of the Echelon Stride. Though it is so compact, it has a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour and a maximum incline of 10%. The motor is rather weak in horsepower, but that doesn’t tell this treadmill’s whole story. It performs well despite this low horsepower rating.
The Echelon Stride does not have a touchscreen display, but it does need to be paired with a smart device to perform smoothly. A premium membership is required by Echelon with the purchase, and it is rather challenging to get around this requirement. The Echelon Stride works best with an active membership, but it is the best of the Echelon’s treadmill offerings for use without it. Echelon provides trainer-led classes that have a Peloton-like feel to them. Echelon also provides content for training off the treadmill and on their other fitness equipment.
- The Echelon Stride is a compact treadmill with a console that folds down to the deck.
- The Echelon Stride works well for walking and running despite its compact design.
- The treadmill inclines to 10% and has a maximum speed of 12 mph.
- An Echelon membership provides training content for the treadmill and other Echelon equipment.
- The Echelon Stride can be stored horizontally or upright.
- The Echelon Stride is heavy so relocating it or lifting it upright may not be practical for all users.
- The membership is required for a smooth treadmill performance.
Best Folding Treadmill for Bad Knees: NordicTrack EXP 7i Treadmill
The EXP series from NordicTrack uses hydraulic assisted folding to make lifting and lowering the deck easier. The NordicTrack EXP 7i is our choice for the best folding treadmill for bad knees. In addition to an easy and compact folding design, it has great training features. It is also the most affordable treadmill from one of the top-selling treadmill brands.
Hydraulic assistance makes lifting and especially lowering a treadmill deck easier. The EXP 7i’s deck has a bar beneath the deck that makes lifting it a bit easier. The deck is not as heavy as many other treadmill decks, which is another reason we have selected it. The EXP 7i weighs around 200 lbs. The deck is only 20” x 55”, so it is more compact than most standard home treadmills. The NordicTrack EXP 7i is a compact treadmill with features that make folding it less of a headache.
NordicTrack falls under the iFIT umbrella, so the EXP 7i supports the premium training platform. The touchscreen measures only 7 inches, so it may not be the best option for users with limited vision. Yet, the EXP 7i’s small screen and more affordable price make it a more practical choice for users who decide to forego the premium training platform. While you cannot view non-iFIT content on the screen, there is a tablet rack where you can set a phone or tablet. This treadmill is worth it, even without iFIT content.
The NordicTrack EXP 7i has a cushioned deck. The EXP 7i is not my top choice for runners, because it has only a 2.6 CHP motor. The speed range of 0 to 10 miles per hour. The incline range is 0 to 12%, so no decline option here. iFIT provides instructor-led classes that automatically control the speed and incline settings. Features like Bluetooth audio and heart rate connectivity better support iFIT training. The NordicTrack EXP 7i is pictured as having a fan, but it does not, in fact, have a fan.
If you are looking for a compact treadmill with soft cushioning, the EXP 7i is a good choice with or without iFIT’s premium training content.
- The NordicTrack EXP 7i folds compactly using hydraulic assistance.
- The EXP 7i has a soft, cushioned deck.
- iFIT provides the onscreen training content with automatic speed and incline adjustments.
- The EXP 7i has a tablet rack, unlike NordicTrack’s pricier treadmills.
- The NordicTrack EXP 7i is the brand’s most affordable treadmill.
- The NordicTrack EXP 7i is not the most suited to running.
- The 7-inch touchscreen is a little small and only shows iFIT content.
Best Manual Treadmill for Bad Knees: AssaultRunner Pro Manual Treadmill
The AssaultRunner Pro is a manual treadmill. It does not require electricity to work. It has a simple console that does not offer training content. There’s no limit to its speed capabilities. You control and power the AssaultRunner Pro. The reason we have singled it out from other manual treadmills is its belt design. The curved belt has advantages over its competitors caused, in part, by its steep curvature.
The AssaultRunner Pro is a manual treadmill with a curved belt. Because you are moving the belt and essentially running at a slight incline, the AssaultRunner Pro could help strengthen the muscles working at the knee joint. This can help runners and walkers with some types of knee injuries. The belt is also very cushioned and shock absorbing even though it does not have the bounce of other treadmills. The Pro provides a difficult workout that can help athletes build stronger bodies.
A steel construction makes the AssaultRunner an incredibly sturdy treadmill. The AssaultRunner is a large and heavy machine. It does not fold, so it will need a large dedicated space in your home. The AssaultRunner Pro has a slat belt. The belt has a rubbery texture that is soft enough that you can even run on it barefoot if you prefer. The belt has a 150,000-mile warranty. The construction is high quality.
The AssaultRunner Pro has a simplistic console. The console is Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled so you can pair a heart rate monitor for training. The console has heart rate, interval, and target programs. There are two light indicators labeled ‘Rest’ and ‘Work’ to help you execute interval workouts at a glance. The console training doesn’t demonstrate the Pro’s full advantages. The unlimited speed capabilities allow you to perform speed workouts that are not easy to perform on a motorized treadmill.
- The AssaultRunner Pro’s curved belt glides easier underfoot and provides a little incline training.
- Running on a manual treadmill is harder than other types of running and may help strengthen runners recovering from injury.
- The belt is soft enough that you can even run barefoot.
- The belt is covered by a 150,000-mile warranty.
- The console is Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled to pair with heart rate monitors.
- The AssaultRunner Pro has no speed limit and does not require electricity.
- The AssaultRunner Pro is not budget-friendly.
- Running on a manual treadmill is difficult and can be discouraging for some users.
Factors To Consider When Finding The Best Treadmill For Bad Knees
Do you need a treadmill with a lot of cushioning? Are you preparing to return to outdoor activity? There are a lot of considerations to make when it comes to deciding on the right treadmill and cushioning. Soft cushioning is better at shock absorbing. Many treadmills with soft cushioning also are great at making your steps bouncy. A soft and springy treadmill may feel nicer underfoot. It can also help walkers and runners increase their pace or mileage more comfortably.
A firm treadmill may feel more stable underfoot. It is also a great intermediary for returning to walking and running outdoors. Even firm running treadmills are usually softer than concrete or asphalt. A firm treadmill can help walkers and runners work on maintaining their running form without the deck moving so much beneath them. These decks are also typically lower to the ground, which relates to the next consideration.
Step Up Height
The step-up height of a treadmill is important, because users with limited mobility may find lower decks easy to navigate. If your knee injury or other injuries limit your range of motion, consider a treadmill with a lower deck height. On this list, I have highlighted the Horizon T101 as a treadmill with a low deck height. Additional considerations for users with limited mobility are the treadmill handles. Most of the treadmills on this list offer support for users who need help stepping on and off the treadmill. The Echelon Stride is the only treadmill on this list that has a console not suited to supporting the user’s weight. Fortunately, it does have a low step-up height.
A folding treadmill can save you a lot of space, but the folding process can be difficult to manage. Sole and Horizon treadmills may be harder to fold because their decks are heavy. Hydraulic and gas shock assistance can make lowering the deck much easier, but lifting the deck may still be difficult. Smaller, more compact treadmills like the Echelon Stride and the NordicTrack EXP 7i are easier to manage. If you do choose a heavier folding treadmill, be careful to keep good form when lifting the treadmill deck back into place–your knees will thank you!
Incline and decline training have benefits for runners and walkers with knee injuries. Adding an incline or decline to your routine can help activate the muscles that act across the knee joint to build strength. Incline and decline capabilities can also help runners and walkers overcome a challenge: hills. Treadmills allow you to support yourself whereas you may not be able to outdoors.
Training content may not be the most integral part of your treadmill decision regarding knee pain. But, many treadmill training platforms also provide content for strength training and yoga. These classes can help you build muscle and increase your flexibility to help your knee pain. The additional monthly subscription may be worth it to some but not to others. Consider how integral to the treadmill’s performance a premium training platform is, because you may end up with too many useless features if you do not subscribe.
Bottom Line – Best Treadmills For Bad Knees
Bad knees encompass many types of knee injuries. It is a hard obstacle to overcome, but these treadmills can help you take on some of the most obvious obstacles. Treadmills provide more cushioning than running outdoors on the road, but whether you want a treadmill that’s firmer or softer may be up to your specific injury. Other factors like treadmill deck height, training options, and folding mechanisms may help you make your decision. We’ve done our best to recommend treadmills that we think are most suited for use with knee pain and injury, highlighting the NordicTrack X32i as our favorite. Your doctor or physical therapist may be able to provide more specific information on what type of treadmill will work best in your circumstances.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a treadmill good for bad knees?
Treadmills provide more shock absorption than your neighborhood sidewalk, because they have soft decks with built-in shocks. Treadmills also allow users to support themselves with the handles. A treadmill may also help users feel more confident training at a slower pace. Returning from injury is tough, and treadmills allow users to keep the rehab more private if they want. However, walking and running both challenge the knees. Severe knee injuries may require users to pursue other activities that are not weight-bearing. Ellipticals and exercise bikes may be better options in some cases.
Which treadmill is easy on the knees?
The NordicTrack X32i was our pick for its really soft cushioning. However, this entire list contains treadmills that are easier on the knees for different reasons. Generally, NordicTrack and ProForm treadmills are soft. Sole treadmills are firm. The Horizon treadmills fall somewhere in the middle and have low step-up heights. Most treadmills will complement your training if you take the time to do additional rehabilitation exercises and work on keeping proper form while walking or running. One thing I have learned from testing treadmills is how much my shoes can change my experience on a treadmill. Make sure that your shoes are also a good fit for you and your knee problems so that your treadmill training will go as smoothly as possible.
Is a treadmill incline good for bad knees?
Incline training can be a good modality for some knee injuries. I can speak anecdotally about how incline training has helped me every time I have struggled with chondromalacia aka “runner’s knee.” However, it is of the utmost importance that you maintain proper form and joint alignment. This might require training at a much slower pace than you are used to. For other users, including those with runner’s knee, incline training may be too much of a trigger for their pain. It can also exacerbate the problem when improper form is used. The right type of training for your injury depends on the cause and type of your injury.