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Is an Elliptical Better than a Treadmill?

    The treadmill and elliptical machines are among the most sought-after equipment in the gym and home settings. And their health and fitness benefits are well-established. However, you’re lately seeing cross trainers get more love so that you barely find a vacant seat to train on. This leaves you wondering, is an elliptical better than a treadmill?

    An elliptical is better than a treadmill for beginners, and those who seek a full-body workout, or have musculoskeletal problems like muscle tears, sore joints, or injured parts. But if you’re a pro runner, want to improve your bone health, and get in shape faster, treadmills would work better. 

    Read on to discover the opportunities and obstacles each machine provides, plus when and how to apply them. You’ll also learn ideal users for each gear and can finally decide on one due to your conditions.

    Elliptical vs. Treadmill Machine

    Both elliptical and treadmill are cardio machines; hence both can burn calories, boost your heart rate, and increase your stamina, balance, cardio health, and overall fitness. But the fact that which one is better can depend on many factors such as your fitness objectives, body characteristics, and readiness.

    This face-to-face comparison helps you learn their pros and cons over each other and choose one, ultimately.

    Calories Burnt

    The number of calories torched in a cardio exercise isn’t only a matter of what equipment you use. It mostly comes down to other factors such as your body weight, metabolic rate, and workout duration, intensity, or style. In fact, you should know how devices measure and display calories burnt: 

    For example, HIIT-style pedaling on a cross trainer can do far better than running moderately on a treadmill. Similarly, sprint-style jogging on a treadmill is more effective than a steady-state session on the elliptical.

    That said, at the same intensity and duration, the treadmill wins over the elliptical in terms of calories burnt. The Medical College of Wisconsin proves it can work up to 40 percent better than any stationary, rowing, or cycling machine.

    Dr. Timothy L. Miller, a specialist in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and associate professor of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, also backs this claim. He affirms that treadmills can drop twice more calories compared to cross trainers, even if you spend the same amount of time and effort.

    So, if your only goal is to shed some weight as fast as possible, a treadmill is better than an elliptical machine.

    Targeted Muscles

    Both treadmill and elliptical machines emphasize your leg and thigh muscles initially, including your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

    But cross trainers go beyond your lower body due to their different mechanisms.

    First, they put some pressure on your abs by rotating your thighs toward your belly—something you don’t get with a treadmill. Second, it requires more focus on core muscles to sit and keep your balance on a cross trainer. So your abdominals get a harder workout in an elliptical machine.

    Other than that, most cross trainers come with moveable handrails that let you propel the elliptical cycle using your arms. So, they can engage your lats, triceps, and biceps, too.

    However, remember that targeting these muscles doesn’t mean you can add bulk to your upper arm and shoulders with a cross trainer. Due to the cardio nature of the exercise, you can only strengthen these muscles and bones.

    This whole-body workout facilitates and simultaneously adds variation to your sessions. It also increases your overall fitness, endurance, posture, and balance.

    On the contrary, although cross trainers hit fewer muscles, they have more shocking effects. So if you aim to build a firm base in your thighs and buttocks, a treadmill will make a better bet.

    Risk of Injury

    Elliptical trainers are low-impact equipment which means they’re easier on your knee, back, and thigh joints.

    Since your feet are always stuck to the pedals, your musculoskeletal system doesn’t have to resist your body weight as much as it would on a treadmill—where you need to fight against gravity to raise your feet with every stride. 

    This makes the whole workout less strenuous to you and your joints less prone to injury.

    So, elliptical machines are more advisable for you if you can’t bear the jostling motions of jogging or have orthopedic disorders such as back pain, knee pain, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Also, it’s more of a kind of exercise that you can perform during your menstruation.

    Treadmills, on the other hand, are high-impact machines, meaning they’ll strain your joints sooner. A 2014 report by CPSC claims about 24000 people go to the US hospital each year only because of treadmill injuries.

    However, your muscle fibers and bone density will improve in return, spurring your overall fitness. If you have no injuries and prioritize your skeletal health, treadmills are more recommended since they reduce the risk of bone fractures or skeletal disabilities in old ages.

    Perceived Effort

    Before, we discussed that treadmills could burn more calories than cross trainers with the same level of intensity, oxygen consumption, and heart rate. However, research indicates that they do so at a higher perceived exertion rate.

    Simply put, you cannot tolerate as many hours on a treadmill as you can on a cross trainer.

    So, no matter how many calories can a machine theoretically cut away from you, you won’t hit that target if you can’t continue using it for a prolonged time.

    Also, people naturally show an inclination to easier workouts. And although cross trainers shed slightly fewer calories per hour, they’re more effective due to their lower perceived effort.


    Treadmills have more control options, hence more versatility compared to cross elliptical bikes.

    For one thing, you can adjust their speed from 1 to 15 Mph and their incline level from 0 to 15 percent. This lets you alter between walking to running and jogging. It also makes the treadmill an excellent option for HIIT training, which is highly effective at fat reduction and calorie burning.

    Although some elliptical models come with an incline control, their ramp degrees aren’t as high or versatile as a treadmill.

    However, they offer something that treadmills lack: Reverse stride.

    When pedaling backward on a cross trainer, you recruit your posterior thighs (hamstrings) to their full potential. It not only balances your front and back muscles but also revamps your overall posture. Plus, you’ll get one more step closer to a full-body workout.

    The Verdict

    As the above comparison may have taught you, both elliptical and treadmill have their goods and bads. So to decide which one is better for you, you have to evaluate your intentions, preferences, ability, and physical conditions.

    All in all, an elliptical is better than a treadmill if you want to shed weight with low efforts and minimum jarring effect on your joints. It engages more of your muscles and is easier due to the wheels’ momentum that assists your pedaling.

    On the other hand, treadmills can reduce your fat and improve your cardio ability in a shorter time. They’re also better for runners or those who want to enhance their bone density.

    Tips on Using the Treadmill

    The high-impact nature of the treadmill makes it dangerous for your spine, thighs, ankles, and knees. But you can mitigate its potential dangers with a 5-minutes warm-up.

    Start with an easy-to-moderate pace—2.5 or 3 mph—at around three mph.

    If you also want to up the incline during your treadmill session, try stretching your back and hips before the workout.

    Also, alternate between short bursts of intense running and longer periods of walking–HIIT treadmill to maximize exercise. Altering the treadmill incline between your intervals is also a great trick.

    Here’s an example workout to shed weight maximally on a treadmill:

    Treadmill workout

    Note: Adopt this program three to four days a week.

    Tips on Using the Elliptical

    To make the most out of your elliptical bike, first, you need to maintain a correct form because it determines what muscles you’re going to target. A wrong posture is ineffective and can cause back pain, muscle strain, and other skeletal disorders on a cross trainer.

    So, stand up erect with your chin up and your shoulders pinched back together. And never lean on or put your weight on the handlebars. Unless you want to trigger the motions only using your arms, don’t grab the handles tightly.

    Make sure you’re using both legs equally, and don’t arch your feet while pressing the pedals. Apply force through your heels and look straight forward instead of down. Importantly, make sure it’s you triggering the motion, not just the machine’s momentum.

    Adopt a HIIT workout schedule for your elliptical, too. You can adjust both incline and resistance levels to do this. Here’s a workout sample that can push your workouts to new heights:

    Get healthy

    Note: Adopt this program three to four days a week.

    Final Thoughts

    Elliptical cross trainers and treadmills offer almost similar results in burning belly fat and losing weight. But certain circumstances can make you favor one over the other.

    For example, if you’re short on time and want to whip into shape quickly, a treadmill is more desirable. But if you put your physical health prior to fast outcomes, the elliptical is superior because it impacts your joints, bones, and muscles less.

    Pro distance runners should also go for treadmills, while novice trainers may find it hard and may prefer ellipticals due to their easy-to-play mechanics.

    Lastly, regular treadmill workouts will do the trick if you want to increase your bone density for a more active life and senescence.


    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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