Elliptical vs. Treadmill – Which is the Better Cardio Machine?

Elliptical vs Treadmill - Who Wins?

The elliptical vs. treadmill...these two popular cardio machines are always being compared to each other, and everyone seems to have a different opinion as to which is the better option.

The truth is, there is no clear "winner".  They each offer a unique set of advantages and disadvantages, and it's simply a matter of choosing the type of workout you are looking for.

Both can give you a great cardiovascular workout and help you burn calories, tone up and lose weight.  They are comparably priced and take up relatively the same amount of space in your home gym.

But since we are an elliptical site, we're going to make some strong arguments in favor of the elliptical trainer, our favorite piece of cardio equipment.  

Yes, we are a bit biased, but all of the information below is fact rather than opinion, as these are all areas where the treadmill falls a bit short.

Elliptical vs. Treadmill – Quality of Workout

Although both treadmills and ellipticals give you a solid cardio workout and will help you burn calories, you get more of a workout for what seems to be the same amount of exertion with an elliptical trainer.

This is called the “perceived level of exertion,” and because it’s lower with an elliptical you are more likely to keep with it once you get started.

Ellipticals Work the Lower & Upper Body

Elliptical vs. Treadmill - Gym Workout

You also have a more complete workout with an elliptical machine. When looking at elliptical versus treadmills, don’t forget to look at what parts of the body are being used.

With a treadmill you are working only the lower body. This is great if you want to focus strictly on the abdomen, buttocks and legs, but if you want a more complete workout, go with the elliptical machine.

Most elliptical trainers give you the option of an upper body workout by including movable handlebars that work in tandem with the elliptical motion of the legs. You not only get to tone your arms and work your shoulder and back muscles, you increase the cardiovascular workout you get in a set amount of time.

Many people choose to hold dumbbells on the treadmill in order to incorporate an upper body workout, but this can be a bit cumbersome.

Reverse Motion

One other advantage of the elliptical vs. treadmill is the reverse motion. With this, you can work out a completely different area of leg muscles while gliding in reverse – something you’d never try to do on a treadmill.

Not all elliptical machines offer this capability, but a lot of them do.

Calorie Burn

What burns more calories a treadmill or an elliptical?  Although most people believe that the treadmill wins hands down, the reality is that in some cases the elliptical burns more.  It comes back to the perceived level of exertion we mention above.

Because some people feel like they are exerting themselves less on an elliptical, they may actually be working out harder.  Add to that the back and forth motion of the moving handlebars, the resistance levels and the incline capability, and you're really burning a ton of calories.

However, apples to apples, with the same level of exertion on both the elliptical and the treadmill, you're burning roughly the same amount of calories per hour, as evidenced by numerous studies.

Elliptical vs. Treadmill – Comfort & Safety

Treadmill Versus Elliptical in the Home

There are safety and design standards for all types of exercise equipment, but there is always the slim chance of becoming injured while working out.

However, an elliptical machine eliminates many of the problems that people tend to run into with treadmills. One of the most common injuries people sustain on treadmills is a fall when trying to get on or off while the treadmill is still running or stumbling when they don’t successfully match their running or walking pace with the treadmill’s speed.

Elliptical Trainers Match Your Speed

Elliptical machines are designed so that they never operate without you actually providing the power – when you stop, the machine stops, so you won’t get caught on the foot pedals or stumble at any time. You will also be determining the speed – the elliptical trainer will speed up or slow down to match you, not the other way around.

Jarring of the Joints vs. Low Impact Exercise

While injuries to joints are considerably less likely to occur on a treadmill than when running outdoors, there is still significant jarring of the joints. In fact, you are putting the pressure of twice your body weight on your knees and ankles with each impact of your foot on the treadmill.

When using an elliptical, your feet never lift off of the foot pedals, virtually eliminating any impact. You can work up a sweat without any pounding or grinding of the joints, as Dr. Laskowski points out on the Mayo Clinic website.

Elliptical vs. Treadmill – Cost & Design

Here is one area where treadmills beat out elliptical machines. On average, a good treadmill will cost less than an elliptical trainer of similar quality. So if your joints are in good shape and you want to focus strictly on cardio and lower body, a treadmill might not be a bad investment.

Ellipticals Provide More Options

If you’re looking for a full body workout with cardio, the elliptical trainer is certainly worth the extra money. You also usually have many more options with a comparably priced elliptical trainer, including adjustable inclines, pre-set workout programs and many other features to customize your experience.

Ellipticals Need Fewer Repairs

And finally, the design of elliptical trainers vs. treadmills tends to mean fewer repairs (there’s no belt to be replaced) and a smaller footprint. This means you can put them almost anywhere in your home with ease and look forward to lots of workouts without lost time and money for repairs.

In the end only you can determine what the best exercise equipment is for you and your family, but when it comes to elliptical trainer vs. treadmill, the elliptical trainer is the favorite.

So What's the Bottom Line?

One way to avoid the whole elliptical vs treadmill debate is to just buy both machines.  :)   That way you don't have to worry about which is better and just reap the benefits of both of them.

But the bottom line is they are both great machines, which is why they are so popular.  

If you're strictly a runner who wants to have the ability to run indoors when it's not possible to get outside, then by all means choose a treadmill for your home.  It just makes sense.

If you want something with lower impact and the ability to work both the upper and lower body simultaneously, then go for the elliptical instead.

As we mentioned, it's a matter of preference.  Try both machines out at your gym, or someone's home, and decide which workout you like better.  They are very distinct in that regard, as they are two completely different machines.

So elliptical or treadmill?  The real answer......both!

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