Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which Cardio Machine Is Better?

Most gyms and fitness centers dedicate equal space to treadmills and elliptical trainers. However, that doesn't surprise me, seeing that they're two of the most popular exercise machines for indoor workouts. Besides, both machines provide an effective cardio workout and are ideal for advanced exercisers & beginners.

Although both pieces of exercise equipment are cardio machines, each option has its benefits and drawbacks. More importantly, they are some key differences between them, just like when choosing a rowing machine or treadmill. For instance, with an elliptical trainer, you put your feet on the platform and move in an elongated circle/ ellipse. On the other hand, a treadmill allows you to run or walk on the moving belt and control the incline or speed.

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But, which equipment between Elliptical Vs treadmill is the perfect option for you? Glad you asked! In this guide, I'll take you through the pros and cons of each piece of equipment and their notable differences. This will help you make that decision depending on your fitness goals.

Let's get into it!

Treadmill

You'll find elliptical trainers in gyms and fitness centers in most cases. However, treadmills are common, including in the doctor's office or physical therapy. Also, chances are you've come across one in real life, even if you don't own one yet, since they are all over.

By definition, a treadmill can be described as a piece of workout equipment with a motorized running belt to allow users to run or walk in place. It allows you to run fast, walk slow and do anything in between. Moreover, it allows you to change the incline level, helping you use it as a steep hill, gentle incline, or flat road.

3 Best Treadmills: Our Top Picks

Our pick

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-T7603; Elliptical Vs Treadmill

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-T7603 Exercise Treadmill

  • 2.2 HP motor
  • 16” X 49” running surface
  • 3 incline levels
  • 220 lbs weight capacity


Runner up

Goplus 2 in 1 Folding Treadmill

Goplus 2 in one Folding Treadmill

  • Powerful 2.2 HP motor
  • Non-slip 40” X16” Running belt
  • Multi functional LED screen
  • Innovative 2-in-1 folding design


Also great

NordicTrack Commercial Series 1750 Treadmill

NordicTrack Commercial Series 1750 Treadmill

  • 300 lbs max weight limit
  • 10” Interactive HD Touchscreen display
  • -3 to 15% incline control
  • 30-day Ifit family membership



Pros and Cons of Treadmill Training

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Pros

Treadmills offer a wide range of benefits, both from a practicality and health perspective. As a result, they’re highly beneficial for accomplishing various fitness goals. Below are some of the many benefits associated with having a treadmill as your workout equipment!

1. High customization

One major benefit of treadmill training is that it's highly versatile because of how customizable the machine's settings are. Specifically, it allows you to change up the incline and run/ walk at varying speeds. Therefore, you can either take an uphill walk or a quick run on the machine. On the same note, treadmills support both low-impact workouts and high-impact workouts. These workouts will help you burn more calories and develop stronger bones.

2. Tones & strengthens leg muscles

Since treadmill running is a high-impact workout, it stimulates your bones and muscles to grow stronger over time. The workout stresses the bones and muscles to bear your weight with each stride. Overall, this maintains your flexibility and improves your fitness for the long haul.

Some of the leg muscles strengthened by treadmill walking and running include; the calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Also, these workouts can strengthen your glutes and hip flexors.

3. Ideal for runners

You don't have to be identified as a 'runner' to enjoy the benefits of treadmill training since it's ideal for all users. However, it's better for sport-specific training for runners than an elliptical, which is ideal for cross-training.

Besides, treadmills allow users to change the speed or incline levels. Therefore, you can either progress toward your steady-state running goals or create a sprint workout. All in all, treadmills are easy to use since you only need to get used to the running belt.

4. Supports various workouts

As mentioned earlier, exercising on a treadmill gives users a lot of versatility. For instance, you can dial in your workout's exact incline and speed and do an uphill run or a brisk walk. In addition, most treadmills have various training programs that you can choose from. This gives you more control over your training, making it easier to accomplish your fitness goals.

This machine allows you to perform different kinds of workouts, including HIIT. According to research, High-Intensity Interval Training effectively reduces body weight, improves cardiovascular health, and burns calories in a short period.

Potential Drawbacks of Treadmill Training

Although many reasons make treadmill training a good alternative to pavement/ road running, it has some potential drawbacks. They include:

1. Limited workout options

A treadmill can only be used for running, walking, jogging, etc. Even worse, you'll be walking or running in the same place repeatedly, which can become monotonous over time. To prevent boredom, you need to develop innovative tactics to keep you motivated during your workouts.

2. Risk of injury

Jogging or running on a treadmill is a high-impact workout. It can stress the joints and bones more than exercise on elliptical trainers. While most treadmills have cushioning to reduce the impact of the footfalls, running on these machines will still impact your joints and limbs.

This will ultimately lead to injuries; not to forget, users are always at risk of falling and slipping as the belt moves. Common injuries associated with treadmill running include; stress fractures, knee injuries, and shin splints.

On the bright side, you can minimize the risk of injury when training on a treadmill by cooling down and warming up during each workout. Also, make sure you stretch before and after the treadmill session.

And if you find that treadmill is too hard on your joints, reduce the number of miles you cover each week. Alternatively, switch to low-impact cardio workouts like biking and swimming or alternate between walking and running. Also, you can use running shoe inserts to reduce injuries and provide additional support when running on a treadmill.

3. Costly

While affordable treadmills are in the market, they are not well-suited for running. Treadmills usually designed for running may cost over $1,500 since they need a sturdy frame and powerful motor. Alternatively, you can sign up for a gym membership to perform a treadmill workout instead of buying a treadmill.

4. Targets fewer muscle groups

Another potential drawback of the treadmill is that it doesn't work as many muscles as an elliptical trainer. Instead, it strengthens glutes, hip flexors, and leg muscles while ellipticals target muscles in your chest, shoulders, arms, and back. Moreover, by reversing direction, ellipticals help you to target specific muscles, which is almost impossible with a treadmill.

Elliptical Trainer

Also known as a cross trainer, an elliptical trainer is fitness equipment that simulates workouts like walking, running, and stair climbing. It provides low-impact workouts to the lower body, such as glutes and hamstrings, while targeting the upper body like the upper back and arms.

The most interesting feature about an elliptical machine is that it's self-powered, so it doesn't need electricity to use. However, some elliptical trainers are powered to offer resistance. Interestingly, you can change the resistance of these machines to make your workout more rigorous or easier.

3 Best Elliptical Trainer: Our Top Picks

Our pick

BowFlex M3 Max Elliptical Trainer

BowFlex M3 Max Elliptical Trainer

  • 8 resistance levels
  • 2 Workout programs
  • Wireless chest strap
  • Easy-to-read display


Runner up

BowFlex M8 Max Elliptical Trainer

BowFlex M8 Max Elliptical Trainer

  • Multi-grip dynamic handles
  • 20 levels of resistance
  • Enhanced dual mode LED/LCD screens
  • Bowflex JRNY app


Also great

Schwinn Fitness 470 Elliptical

Schwinn Fitness 470 Elliptical

  • Smooth magnetic braking
  • 20” elliptical stride
  • 25 resistance levels
  • 20 lbs flywheel
  •  DualTrack backlit LCD window system



Pros and Cons of Elliptical

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Pros

The elliptical machine is usually one of the most sought-after fitness equipment in health clubs and for a good reason. Specifically, it provides a low-impact workout while engaging your lower and upper body. Other benefits associated with this machine are:

1. Provides Full body workout

Typically, an elliptical machine comes with pedals and arm levels. This allows you to work your upper body and leg muscles simultaneously, giving you a full-body workout. At the same time, the arm's resistance engages muscles in your chest, back and shoulders. Moreover, the equipment helps to strengthen muscles in the lower body like the quadriceps, glutes, and hip flexor.

2. Easy on the joints (Low-impact exercises)

Performing a cardiovascular workout on an elliptical trainer is less strenuous than running on the pavement. This is because the machine allows you to walk or run without the impact of your feet falling on a flat surface. Instead, your feet are always on the machine's pedals. Therefore, it doesn't subject your ligaments, joints, and bones to the same stress as treadmill or road running. This helps to minimize the risk of injury and prevent knee pain or joint problems.

This makes an elliptical exercise machine good fitness equipment for users that cannot withstand the jarring motion of running/ walking. Also, it's a safer option if you've musculoskeletal conditions like hip/ knee pain and lower back pain or other medical conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis.

3. Targets multiple muscle groups

The pedals of most elliptical trainers can move in both directions (backward and forward). This adds variety to your workouts and targets more muscle groups. For instance, going backward helps to strengthen your hamstrings and calves. In addition, ellipticals have handles, helping you engage your upper body muscles.

4. Effective elliptical workout

Despite being a low-impact fitness machine, an elliptical provides a great cardiovascular workout, ranging from mild-intensity to high-intensity workouts, depending on your preferences. This can be particularly useful when you want to maintain your fitness while recovering from an injury.

2010 research demonstrates that elliptical training burns almost the same calories as treadmill exercise. As a result, the scientists concluded that elliptical training is a good alternative to treadmill training as a form of cardiovascular workout.

Potential Drawbacks of Elliptical Training

Elliptical trainers offer an elliptical motion that resembles a combination of cycling and running. However, despite their several benefits, they are not perfect for every user. Also, they have a set of drawbacks that makes them not that effectives as the source of cardio workouts. These disadvantages include:

1. Minimal impact

Although this can benefit people with joint pain, your workout should have some impact to strengthen your bones. Unfortunately, that's something an elliptical trainer doesn't provide. Also, elliptical training is not effective as strength training when increasing muscle strength. It also provides a great aerobic workout that boosts your heart rate and burns calories.

2. Less muscle development

Ellipticals are a great choice for low-impact aerobic workouts. However, they don't promote the same amount of muscle development as treadmill training. If you want to develop more muscle strength by running on elliptical trainers, you need to add strength/ weight training to your workout routine.

3. Requires some training

Elliptical training doesn't involve a natural movement and may feel awkward at first. You'll need some time and training to get used to the equipment. Moreover, exercising on an elliptical may engage muscles that you don't normally use in your daily life. If you're still unsure what to do, you'll have to consult a certified personal trainer.

Comparison: Elliptical Vs Treadmill!

1. Calorie Burn: What burns more Calories treadmill or the elliptical?

Most people assume that treadmill workouts burn more calories compared to elliptical training. Surprisingly, that is not necessarily the case. According to a study conducted by the Medical College of Wisconsin, jogging on a treadmill for 60 minutes burns 705 - 866 calories. By comparison, training on an elliptical machine simultaneously burns about 773 calories. Although treadmill training has a slight advantage in calories burned, the variance is negligible compared to exercising on an elliptical trainer.

2. Weight Loss: Is the elliptical or treadmill better for weight loss?

As mentioned above, treadmill training helps burn almost the same number of calories as exercising on an elliptical walking machine. Therefore, regular training on both machines will help you lose weight. However, you also need to add strength training to your workout routine to tone your body structures and preserve your muscles.

3. Safety: treadmill or elliptical trainer?

An elliptical trainer is the better option if you're looking for the safest way to do cardiovascular workouts. Your feet are placed on the pedals in a fixed movement pattern, providing slightly less risk than treadmills. In addition, elliptical machines are easier on the joints since they offer a lower-impact workout. This makes elliptical machines a better option than treadmills if you've got joint/ knee pain or injuries.

On the contrary, treadmill running is a high-impact exercise, which can cause trouble for users with joint issues. Also, they can be dangerous, especially in high-intensity settings like inline sprints for users that don't have adequate skill. At the same time, treadmilling training can stress the ankle joints, hips, and spine, especially if you don't warm up before the workout. So, always remember to warm up and cool down before and after exercising on a treadmill.

4. Cost

In general, elliptical trainers are more affordable to purchase than treadmills. For instance, the cost of treadmills starts at around $150, while ellipticals start at less than $140. However, treadmills are way more popular than elliptical machines in terms of popularity.

5. Muscles worked: treadmill Vs elliptical trainer

Treadmill training strengthens your leg muscles, glutes, and hip flexors, making it suitable for lower-body workouts. However, it doesn't engage as many muscle groups as elliptical training. In fact, ellipticals are the best option if you want a full-body workout. You can use an elliptical to work your chest, shoulders, arms, and back muscles.

Does the elliptical work your glutes? In addition to providing an upper body workout, ellipticals offer lower body workouts as well. Specifically, exercising on an elliptical trainer works well for the legs, glutes, upper body, and abdominals. Best of all, you can use the machine in the reverse direction to target specific muscle groups. However, consider adding strength training to your fitness routine to improve overall muscle strength and build your glutes with elliptical training.

Conclusion: Which Is The Right Machine for You: Treadmill or Elliptical?

Before you choose either a treadmill or elliptical for your home gym, there are some aspects you need to consider. These include; budget, goals, and health. Before you settle on any machine, considering these factors will help you make the best investment.

For instance, if your goal is to become a better runner, a treadmill is certainly the best option. Also, treadmills burn more calories and offer a greater challenge. However, for overall weight loss, treadmills and ellipticals will help you achieve your goals.

On the other hand, if your main goal is safety, an elliptical trainer is the best bet. This makes an elliptical the perfect cardio equipment if you've got an injury or musculoskeletal condition.

Like choosing an exercise bike or treadmill, both options are great machines for those who want to add some cardiovascular workout into their daily fitness routines. Therefore, determining which machine is better will depend on your personal needs since they're both effective fitness equipment.

FAQs

1. How does elliptical work?

An elliptical machine works both the upper and lower body. Typically, it engages the glutes, calves, anterior tibialis, hamstrings, and quadriceps. When your legs move forward on the machines, the quadriceps get worked. And when your thigh moves backward, you'll feel your hamstrings and glutes.

In addition, some ellipticals are equipped with arm handles that move with the lower body. This engages the chest, shoulders, and arms and helps the body burn more calories.

2. Is the elliptical a good workout?

An elliptical provides a good aerobic workout to strengthen your muscles, lungs, and heart. Also, the machine allows you to perform both steady-state & HIIT workouts.

3. Is the elliptical the same as running?

Although elliptical training mimics running and stair climbing, it doesn't have the impact of either. Also, it has arm handles that promote upper body movement while training. Therefore, running is not the same as it doesn't involve natural body movement.

4. How many calories does elliptical Vs treadmill training burn?

According to research published by Havard Health, training on an elliptical machine for 30 min can help an average 155-pound person burn about 335 calories. By comparison, running on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a pace of 10 minutes per mile helps the same 155-pound individual burn 372 calories.

5. How long should you exercise on an elliptical trainer to lose weight?

Harvard Health Publishing suggests that training on an elliptical for 30 minutes every day burns around 335 calories. Doing these workouts for about 5 sessions per week will help you achieve a great amount of weight loss and other health benefits.

About the Author Treadmill Express plus

"Erik Brown" is the health and fitness author for treadmillexpressplus.com. He works with a team of committed experts to create detailed reviews and informative articles about health and fitness. For instance, he covers various fitness-related topics especially on workout equipment like treadmills, stationary bikes and more. If you want to make a wise decision when buying any training equipment, check out more of his unbiased articles."

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