Elliptical or Treadmill: Which Cardio Machine Is Best?

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They might not look all that different at first glance, but those who have tried both of these popular cardio machines understand the very real differences between the two. Treadmills have been around forever (gratefully) but like all new things, the minute the elliptical hit the scene, it was all anybody wanted to work out on.

Some time has passed since the birth of the elliptical, and now that they’ve both been given a pretty fair shake, it seems useful to stack them up against each other to see which machine is winning at this moment in fitness history

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times, “Which is better: treadmill or elliptical workouts?” In these instances, we tend to put our personal preferences regarding great workouts aside, because every single body is unique and people may benefit from something very different than the cardio machine any of us thinks is the best choice. So, let’s break down the pros and cons of both elliptical trainers and treadmills to figure out which is the best option for your individual needs.

Treadmill

One of the most common cardio machines for gym or home use, this staple in the fitness community gets you up on your feet, is an awesome lower body workout, and of course, an excellent way for people to get cardio exercise.

But let’s compare notes on why it’s hot and some reasons it’s not.

Pros

The wonderful thing about the treadmill is that it is a functional exercise machine – meaning that it mimics the activity of running on your feet (minus the outdoor terrain). Plus it gives you the ability to run during inclement weather.

  • One of the most intuitive cardio workouts available
  • Provides options such as incline, speed, and workout templates
  • Gives you direct training for an upcoming race or event
  • Provides optimal calorie burn

Cons

The treadmill can be hard on joints – especially if your running form is less than ideal. It can also cause you to overestimate your outdoor running ability if you don’t change the incline and speed settings.

  • Holding the handle for support can lead to improper form
  • High impact pounding on your feet can lead to joint pain, shin splits, or injuries in your knees and even hip flexors
  • Too easy to avoid the use of increased incline and speed settings.

Elliptical Machine

A little ingenuity goes a long way. This machine got its start with a doting dad observing the motion of his daughter’s feet as she ran. In an effort to prevent her from rolling an ankle, stressing her knees, or any number of road hazards associated with running, he grabbed a couple of 4x4s and some plumbing pipes and threw together the first elliptical in his garage.

Pros

If you’ve had leg, knees or hip flexor injuries and need a workout that’s a no/low-impact exercise, the elliptical machine is a good alternative for increasing your heart rate without the pounding of a treadmill.

  • Safe, non-weight bearing, no/low-impact exercise machine that’s easy on joints
  • Ability to set at reverse stride and train a different muscle group in your lower body
  • Great way to get a full body workout by including the upper body
  • The elliptical machine provides excellent cross-training for people, especially runners

Cons

While it’s one of the best non-weight bearing exercises, the elliptical trainer is not without its faults. You can easily shortchange your workout potential on this machine, making elliptical exercise a less-effective option.

  • Too easy to rely on momentum, which can result in less effort and a less-efficient workout
  • Doesn’t mimic real-world functional movements
  • Fewer workout options and variety than a treadmill

Bottom Line

While the treadmill will burn the highest number of calories, elliptical trainers are a great way to prevent injury. But, at the end of the day, the choice comes down to you: your individual fitness goals, injury history, and overall enjoyment. Studies have shown that the last one is actually the most important. Because, for instance, if you’re wondering if you should choose the treadmill or elliptical for weight loss, and you don’t actually like working out on a treadmill even though it burns more calories, it won’t be sustainable and your body weight probably won’t shift. Your best bet is to try both, then ask yourself, “Is elliptical better than treadmill for me?” Good thing we have both in our gyms.

Get a Bonus Calorie Burn

To boost the number of calories you burn during either treadmill or elliptical workouts, try to incorporate HIIT [high intensity interval training] for calorie burning impact that lasts well beyond the workout. True story! You could also add resistance or strength training to the mix after hopping off the machine. Either are a great way to burn more calories and get even stronger. Why not make the most of it? Give your time in the gym everything you’ve got and it will give back to you in spades.

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