Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which Provides a Superior Workout?
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Two of the most common machines you will find at gyms are the elliptical machine and a treadmill. Many people even choose to have one or both of these exercise machines in their homes. Both are designed to help with weight loss and keeping fit. But which one is better?
The short answer is that it really depends!
More specifically, each machine has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
So that’s why, in this article, we’ll compare the elliptical machine vs. a treadmill, with an emphasis on the different circumstances that should lead you to pick one over the other. We’ll also provide a few recommendations for the different models that you should choose for your home gym.
Don't have time to read the entire review?
Here's a quick look at our top 3 choices for elliptical trainers and top 3 choices for treadmills.
Let’s get to it!
What Is an Elliptical Trainer?
An elliptical trainer is a stationary exercise machine that allows you to replicate the movement of climbing stairs, walking, or running, without putting a lot of stress on your joints. This helps decrease your risk of becoming injured (compared to doing other exercises that are high-impact). These machines produce an intermediate range of motion for your legs that is between those of a stationary bike and a treadmill.
While some people believe the elliptical is a mindless and easy workout, that is far from the truth. Ellipticals are effective cardiovascular machines that allow you to get both an upper and lower body workout. As you actively push and pull the handles on an elliptical while using your legs to pump against the resistance of the machine, you are able to get a full-body workout.
Ellipticals are great to use for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) if you want to lose weight, because you can control both your speed and the resistance of the machine. Because of this, ellipticals are considered to be a type of weight-bearing exercise.
Pros and Cons of Elliptical Trainers
Pro #1: No impact or low-impact workout
Offering a low-impact workout, elliptical machines allow you to get a great workout even if you suffer from joint problems.
If you are recovering from injuries, you may also benefit from using an elliptical machine if you are required to limit the amount of impact on your body. Because you are not pounding down with each step you take, using an elliptical is easy on your knees and ankles.
Pro #2: Effective cardio workout
The upper and lower bodies are both engaged when you use an elliptical. You can get an effective arm and upper back workout on an elliptical simply by adjusting the tension of the handles.
By keeping a straight posture during your workout, you will also engage your core. When you get into the motion of actively pumping with your hands while also moving your feet, your heart rate will quickly rise, which benefits your cardiovascular health.
Pro #3: Provides a variety of exercises
Not only can you adjust your speed and resistance, you can also choose to pedal backwards. When you increase the resistance of the foot pedals, your workout becomes more effective for your legs and butt. Pedaling backward also helps increase the focus on your backside.
Pro #4: Supports natural movement and feels easier
Using an elliptical is similar to riding a bike, so once you get into the motion of it, the movement becomes very natural. While it may become mindless if you focus on a television or book, if you create a plan for your workout and stick to it, it will be easy on your joints but still challenging for your muscles and cardiovascular system, so you will get a good workout.
Con #1: No impact to low-impact workout
Doing a low-impact workout is great if you have joint pain or are injured, but it does not help much in keeping your bones strong. After your 20s, your bone density begins to decrease, and you need to actively do things to maintain the strength and health of your bones. Unfortunately, the elliptical won't help you with this too much.
Con #2: Limited range of exercise
The elliptical puts more strain on your legs than it does on your upper body, for two reasons. First, you can choose to not pump or use the handles at all. Second, if you are not actively paying attention to pushing and pulling the handles, you are likely to resort to primarily using your legs to move the machine, which doesn't allow for the equal distribution of energy throughout your body.
Con #3: Can be tough on joints
Because you don't pick your feet up, the first few times you exercise on the elliptical can lead to a burning sensation in your joints. Also, because your feet remain on the platforms, you may feel like you can't adjust the way you are moving, which can seem repetitive and become uncomfortable.
Top 3 Elliptical Trainers
This elliptical allows you to move in a fluid and natural motion in both forward and reverse directions. It comes with a 25-lb flywheel and a high-gear ratio that allows you to have an extremely smooth yet challenging workout with 20 varying levels of resistance.
The adjustable, moving handlebars can be adjusted for your comfort, and the stationary handlebars include heart rate monitors to help you track your workout. This elliptical has oversized foot pedals that are specially designed to reduce stress and impact on your ankles and knees. The footbeds are also made to provide the user with optimal comfort and performance.
This machine has an easy-to-use console with an LCD display, fans to keep the user cool, and built-in speakers to work with your smartphone or media device.
This budget-friendly option is comparable to higher-priced ellipticals. It comes with a 20-inch-long stride path, and the console includes Bluetooth so you can export your workout data. This might be the right elliptical for you if you are looking for a starter model for your home.
This is a front-drive elliptical, which means it saves space in your house and costs less to build than rear-drive machines. The elliptical pedaling path includes six slope settings, ranging from zero to nine percent, which is a steep and challenging uphill climb.
This elliptical can hold two user profiles, so it is great for couples. Each user is able to create and store two custom workout programs, in addition to the 20 exercise programs that come preset in the machine. The preset programs include manual mode, fitness tests, profile programs, and heart rate controlled sequences. The heart rate programs that are preset use the data that is collected through the contact sensors on the stable handlebars.
3. Gazelle Edge
This very inexpensive, foldable glider works well for aerobic exercise. It’s designed to give you a low-impact motion that is gentle on the ankles, knees, and joints. This is a great low-cost alternative to traditional elliptical machines. Compared with other low-budget options, this is a good buy.
This elliptical is especially gentle on the body. This is because the machine allows for a healthy range of motion for both the upper and lower body, whereas other glider elliptical machines have very short strides that can cause knee and back pain.
This is a durable machine that can be used by people at any skill level. The footprint dimensions are 28″ W x 43″ L, so an additional two or three feet of clearance is necessary in front of the machine while it is in use. It can, however, be folded for storage in a closet.
What Is a Treadmill?
A treadmill is an exercise machine used for walking or running in place. The machine provides you with a moving platform consisting of a wide conveyor belt that is driven towards the rear by an electric motor. This movement requires you to walk or run at the speed of the belt.
Most treadmills come with a cardio mode, where you can define your target heart rate, and your speed and elevation are then automatically controlled until you are in a steady state of your target heart rate. This forces you to work outside of your comfort zone until you reach your exercise goal.
When walking or running on a treadmill, you have to support your own body weight, which increases the amount of calories burned. While this is tougher on joints than other machines like the elliptical, the speed of movement can be controlled and measured, so you can easily slow down, if needed. These machines are by and large the highest selling exercise equipment category, making this industry full of hundreds of global manufacturers.
Pros and Cons of Treadmills
Pro #1: Suitable for both low- and high-impact workout
You can choose to either run or walk on a treadmill, so you can give your body and joints as much (or as little) impact as you choose. Unlike running outside on the road, when you run on a treadmill, the surface has some give and shock absorption that can be conducive to lower-impact workouts. This means that even if you choose to run instead of walk, you will be putting a little less impact on your joints than you would be if you were running outside.
Pro #2: Different speeds and incline
No matter what your level of fitness is, you can choose a speed and an incline on the treadmill that works for you. You can also change up the incline in order to do different types of workouts on the same machine. This means that you can start using a treadmill while you are a beginner to working out, and you can continue to use it into your expert years. The versatility of this machine is very convenient.
Pro #3: Easy to use
Unlike some other more complex machines, the treadmill is pretty straight-forward. You don't need to coordinate your arms on one part of the machine with your legs on another, or try to figure out which levels of difficulty are right for you. You already know how to walk and run, so that same motion just translates to this machine.
Con #1: Can get boring
It is true that some people have referred to this machine as the dreadmill. Walking or running can get monotonous, especially when you are doing it in one place and your scenery doesn't really change. But if you can find a good podcast or listen to some inspiring music, this can alleviate the problem.
Con #2: Does not exercise all muscles
You don't get wind resistance on a treadmill, or the terrain change that you get from running outside, so the muscles you use don't really vary throughout your workout if you don't change the settings. Additionally, the treadmill makes walking and running easier because the belt helps move your feet, which means it is doing some of the work for you. Because the belt assists in leg turnover, it makes it easier to move at a faster pace. This means that most runners find that they are able to run faster on the treadmill than on the road.
Con #3: High-quality treadmills can be costly
A high-quality treadmill will set you back over $1,500, and if you use it regularly, it requires costly maintenance to keep it in good shape. Most treadmills that are designed for home use aren’t suitable for running. They are more compact, and the motors are not as strong as the treadmills that you will find at a professional gym. Because of this, it may be best to join a gym if you are interested in treadmill exercises.
Top 3 Treadmills
This inexpensive treadmill comes with a folding frame and has a space-saving design. It moves at up to 10 mph, and allows you to walk or run at up to a 10% incline. The console has a small LED track view display. With 20 built-in workout programs, this treadmill can help guide you through your exercise regimen.
This machine also has a dual-grip heart rate monitor to help you keep track of your fitness. There is a music port that is compatible with MP3s, as well as two speakers. The controls on the treadmill are easy-to-use, one-touch keys, and there is a quick start option if you want to just get to work.
This folding treadmill allows you to have an effective way to burn calories and live a healthy lifestyle. Walking on this machine is an easy and effective way to get on a schedule of doing regular physical activity.
Walk to Fitness requires very little assembly, so it is almost ready to use as soon as it arrives at your house. Your main task upon arrival is to simply attach the data monitor to the frame of the machine.
Customers have reported that setting this machine up takes about 30 minutes. It can accommodate up to 400 pounds, and allows you to walk at speeds of up to four mph. It has handrails to protect your safety, and has a data screen so you can track your workout.
This entry-level folding treadmill is ideal for home use. Coming in at under $300, it’s one of the least expensive treadmills available, and it meets the needs of many users. This small treadmill is great if you have limited space in your house.
This machine is only meant for walking, due to its low horsepower and the short length of the track. But there is a ramp included for users to increase their calorie burn. The ramp can be manually adjusted between its two positions.
The console on this machine has a blue-tinted LCD light and displays your speed, elapsed time, distance, and the number of calories you have burned. There are also six preset workouts included.
So there you have it—a brief breakdown of the two most popular exercise machines you can find at the gym or your home.
In short, if you have joint problems or any type of injury that could be aggravated by the impact of running, the elliptical is the safe choice. But if you’re not limited by any type of injury, you can try incorporating both the elliptical and treadmill into your fitness routine so you can mix it up a little bit and avoid boredom.
Now go ahead and start exercising on the machine that matches your personal situation.