elliptical vs treadmill

Elliptical vs Treadmill – Which Is the Best For Your Workouts?

They’re in every gym, but who really wins in an elliptical vs treadmill battle?

Both pieces of equipment boast that they provide a great cardiovascular workout and help you burn calories.

However there are different advantages and drawbacks to each machine.

Which machine helps you burn the most calories?

Which is the best for your body?

What are the dangers of using the machines?

In this article we will break down the benefits and disadvantages of the elliptical and the treadmill so you can know which one is best for your workouts.


Treadmill Benefits

Elliptical vs Treadmill

Treadmills are a staple of any gym and whether you’re looking for an effective cardio workout, or even just a way to warm up before hitting the weights, a treadmill will do the job for you.

Here are the benefits of using a treadmill:


Easy To Use

No matter how new you are to working out you can get on a treadmill and understand how it works.


Natural Movements

Walking or running on a treadmill mimics the same activity that you would do outdoors. If you’re training for a sport that requires running or even a race then the treadmill is a better option than the elliptical. This is because you’re training your body in a way that you’re going to be using it outside of the gym.

Unlike the elliptical, when running on the treadmill your feet lift off the surface. This requires you to engage your core to keep your body stable and centered on the treadmill.



The treadmill gives you the ability to go from a walk all the way up to an intense uphill sprint. The ability to change the speeds and incline also allows you to create a HIIT style workout all on the one machine.


Weight Bearing Exercise

When you perform weight bearing exercises, your muscles help your body to withstand the stress of the activity by pulling on your bones. This effect helps promote increases in your bone density.

Your skeletal system gradually loses bone mass after you hit the age of 30.

If you can build up your bone density in early life you can greatly decrease your risks of osteoporosis later on.


Treadmill Disadvantages

treadmill disadvantages


Tough on Joints

As with any running their is a jarring, impact stress on the back, hip, knee, and ankle joints. A proper warm up, and regular running can help lessen this stress on your joints.

Some treadmills have more cushioning and shock absorption than others, but you will need to test them out for yourself.

If you have issues in these areas it might be best that you favour the elliptical to take some stress off your joints.


Safety Issues

We’ve all seen the videos online where somebody slips on the treadmill only to go shooting off the back off it.

It’s a lot less funny if it actually happens to you. Treadmills are more dangerous than the elliptical in this fashion. There isn’t really any risk of falling off and hurting yourself on the elliptical as your feet are always on the pads and you have handles to hold onto.

If you’re pushing the speeds  on the treadmill, or using heavy inclines, you need to make sure that you aren’t exceeding your limits and that you’re giving the exercise your full attention.

It might be fine to watch a video on your phone while you’re walking on the treadmill but if you’re training hard it might be better to put it away.


Unnatural Posture

The handrails on a treadmill are often placed at an unnatural height.

Relying on the handrails can not only makes your workout easier.

They also put your body in an unnatural position and promote bad posture if your are taller.

As we all know the heart rate monitors on treadmills are almost always located on the handles. Checking your heart rate can be difficult if you’re running at full speed.

If you’re going to check your heart rate just hold the handrails until you get a reading and then let go and continue a natural upright posture.


Changes in Stride Length

Studies have shown that the length of a runners stride can differ when running on a treadmill with different size belts. Runners can even favour their support leg more when on a treadmill as opposed to regular running which can lead to muscular imbalances.


Elliptical Benefits

elliptical benefits

Since elliptical machines first came onto the scene, there popularity has grown more than any other piece of cardio equipment, according to the American Council on Exercise. Here are the benefits of the elliptical:


Non Impact Exercise

The elliptical is designed to emulate the same movement as running while reducing impact and stress on your joints that comes along with running.

A study from the University of Missouri has shown that oxygen utilisation, lactic acid formation and heart rate during an elliptical workout are nearly identical to exercising on a treadmill.


Bounce Back From Injuries

Though you should always check with your doctor when coming back from any sever injury the elliptical is a great place to work your way back into exercising.

Experts believe that the elliptical can even be used to recover from injury and maintain a level of fitness while suffering from certain injuries.

Ellipticals have been shown to help regain motion in your hips and are beneficial if you have joint issues.


Full Body Movement

Most ellipticals come with handles to give you the ability to exercise your upper body as well as your core and lower body.

The elliptical allows you to get involvement from your lats, chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Your lats and biceps are engaged when pulling the handles towards yourself. You then engage your chest and triceps when pushing the handles away

This is all done while also training your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and anterior tibialis.


Perceived as Easier

The elliptical is generally perceived as an easier machine than the treadmill as you aren’t actually fully running.

Studies have shown this to be true and highlight that people are actually working harder than they perceive when using an elliptical.

This means that the elliptical can burn the same amounts of calories as other exercises with less perceived effort from you.

Another study from the University of Idaho found that as you lengthen your stride more calories are burned.

Although you don’t actually feel like you’re working harder.

Doesn’t that sound good!


Reverse Stride

The majority of elliptical machines now have the ability to go in reverse.

This is a good way to change up your workout routine and hit different muscle groups harder (mainly your quads.)

Elliptical Disadvantages

elliptical disadvantages


Less Weight Bearing Effect

Ellipticals are designed to reduce the stress on your joints and make your movement more fluid.

While less impact can help prevent injury, the elliptical has a seriously smaller weight bearing effect than running on the treadmill.

Weight bearing exercises play a key role in strengthening bones and preventing osteoporosis in older people.


No Real World Applications

I like to train to be as athletic as possible.

The elliptical is a less natural movement as opposed to running. It’s also a movement that you’re not going to repeat again in your daily activities.

While the elliptical can provide a great cardiovascular workout and burn calories, if you’re training for an athletic event that requires running, a treadmill may be a better fit for your situation.

Long story short, you wouldn’t train for a marathon on an elliptical.

Even though you may be doing a similar motion, when it comes to actually performing (in a race) you will be underprepared.

That being said, if you’re just looking for a good cardio workout that can burn calories and is safe on your joints, the elliptical machine is still a good option.


Less Dynamic

A treadmill allows you to adjust the speed and incline to vary the intensity of your workout.  Some ellipticals lack this feature or if they have it, its usually not as effective as the treadmill.


You’re In Control Of The Speed.

This can be good and bad.

Unlike a treadmill where you’re locked into a specific speed, an elliptical allows you to make your own speed.

This can allow you to drop off the pace a bit if you’re getting tired.

The elliptical on lower levels of resistance can also allow you to use momentum to power the machine rather than doing all the work yourself.

This can lead to an incorrect “calorie burn” reading on the machine.


Overestimates Calorie Burn

Although a machine should never be used as an exact measure of the calories you’ve burned during a workout, it is used as a guide for many people.

A study published in a 2006 issue of “Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport” found that elliptical manufacturers’ calculations of energy expenditure were universally overestimated.

Some machines overestimate your burn by as much as 42%.

If you’re relying on your machines readout of calories burned for your weight loss goals then this could seriously effect your calorie plans.


Elliptical Vs Treadmill – Calorie Burn

elliptical vs treadmill calorie burn-min (1)

If you’re working out to burn calories it pays to know which exercise burns more in an elliptical vs treadmill comparison.

A study by the Medical College of Wisconsin of healthy men and women found that workouts that were described as “somewhat hard” (jogging on a treadmill) burned on average between 705 to 866 calories in an hour.

According to Health Status, a 145 pound person can burn up to 748 calories per hour on the elliptical machine.

When comparing these and other studies the treadmill comes out with a slight advantage in the calorie burn department.

When it comes to fat loss and aerobic capacity another study found that different people training on a star climber, treadmill, and elliptical at similar workout intensities had similar physiological changes over a 12 week period.

This hints to say that there isn’t a massive difference in fat loss caused by using either machine.


Elliptical Vs Treadmill for Toning

elliptical vs treadmill for toning


Both the elliptical and treadmill can be used to tone up your body. There is no one size fits all answer as to which is better elliptical or treadmill for toning up, however you may find that one machine better suits your goals.


Lower Body Toning

Both the elliptical and the treadmill focus mainly on toning your lower body: quads, hamstrings hip flexors and glutes.

According to The Nest if you want to focus on training your quads, hamstrings and hip flexors the treadmill it the best option. The elliptical still trains these muscles however the treadmill has the upper hand on it.

If you pedal backwards on the elliptical machine you can hit your hamstrings and calves harder than you could on a treadmill.

If you’re looking to tone your glutes, put the treadmill on a high incline and walk or jog to really target them. This also hits your quads and hamstrings.

Alternatively if suffer from issues caused by weight bearing exercises but still want to tone your butt an elliptical can be used to begin this program.

The general consensus is that treadmills may be more effective at working the glutes than ellipticals.

A study by the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska found that jogging on a treadmill engages almost 50 percent of the gluteus maximus, whereas an elliptical only works out 32 percent of the same muscle.

So if you’re looking for the best butt workout then the treadmill is the way to go.


Core Toning

Both machines engage the abs and lower back muscles when working out on them. However you will need to add ab training if you want to see a fully toned core.


Upper Body

The elliptical has the upper hand on toning your arms and upper body. On a treadmill your arms and upper body aren’t really working hard at all.

The elliptical allows you to get more muscle engagement in your arms, chest and shoulders as you push and pull the handles.


The Winner: Elliptical vs Treadmill

The elliptical machine can be used for an effective cardio workout with minimal impact on your joints. Be careful as calorie burn calculators on elliptical machines can be deceiving and will generally over estimate the amount of calories you have burned in a workout.

Treadmill’s allow you to do a greater range of workouts than the elliptical and as they are kept at a constant speed make sure that you keep pushing yourself even if you begin to tire.

If you’re a more experienced exerciser and don’t have any joint related issues then the treadmill is a better option.  It offers the highest calorie burn as you’re supporting your own body weight.

The calorie burn calculators on treadmills are also some of the most accurate of all gym equipment. This is assuming you have one that asks you to input your weight at the start of the workout.

The extra calories you do burn on a treadmill do come with a higher potential for injury and stress on your joints, and the elliptical can make an adequate alternative.

If you have an injury that is made worse by running.

If you’re wanting to take it easier on your joints.

Then the elliptical may be a more suitable option for your workouts. Both the treadmill and the elliptical can be worked into your exercise routines and can be used to change up routines and hit slightly different muscle groups.

At the end of the day it comes down to your personal situation and goals as to which machine is best for you.


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