Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Better?

Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Better?

Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Better?

An elliptical and treadmill are two of the most common cardio machines found in gyms.  Both machines can provide an effective cardiovascular workout and help burn calories and improve aerobic capacity, but each machine has unique benefits and drawbacks.

Is an elliptical or a treadmill more effective at burning calories?   Which machine should you choose for cardio workouts?  These questions and more will be answered in this introductory article, which will examine the pros and cons of each exercise method and explore some research studies.

treadmillTreadmill Benefits

  • Versatility – From a brisk walk to an uphill sprint, treadmills offer a wide range of options in terms of speed, incline, and multiple training programs.
  • Emulates Natural Movements– As technology continues to develop, fitness moguls are developing new machines that can be awkward or confusing. The treadmill is familiar and emulates natural movement for walking, jogging, or sprinting.
  • High Work Output– Propelling your body weight requires substantial effort. As a result, your body will burn calories at a higher rate.
  • Weight Bearing Effect– Contrary to popular belief, running and walking can help strengthen your bones and muscles which can aid your posture and sustainability as you age.
  • Well-Researched– Treadmills have been around since the 1800’s and are a staple at every gym and many homes. Naturally, they have been researched, developed, and perfected more than any other piece of cardio equipment.

Treadmill Cons

  • Can Be Tough On Joints – Running on a treadmill can put stress on your spine, hips, knee, and ankle joints, especially if you do not warm up, or stretch, or run on it all the time with excessive volume.  While some treadmills have more shock absorption than others, the impact is still significant.
  • Safety Issue – High intensity training such as incline sprints can be dangerous if your skill level is not adequate to be performing these exercises.
  • Unnatural Handles – Often times, people like to know their heart rate and find their target heart rate zone. Trying to hold on to the treadmill handles while you are running can be challenging and awkward.
  • Posture Problems – Some studies show that the size of the belt can cause people to change the way they walk or run, leading to muscle imbalances and posture problems.  The quality of treadmills can vary significantly.
  • Difficulty – Running (especially on an incline) is hard. Most people will inherently gravitate towards machines they find to be the most comfortable and use that specific machine as a way to burn calories.

EllipticalElliptical Benefits

  • Non-Impact Conditioning – The elliptical allows your body to emulate a running motion without causing the strenuous impact on your joints that occurs on a treadmill.
  • Cross-Training Ability – Most elliptical trainers are now equipped with moveable handles which allow you to exercise your upper body and lower body simultaneously.
  • Reverse Stride – Most elliptical allow you to stride in reverse which can activate different muscle groups and put more emphasis on your quads and offer an adjustable variety mid-workout.
  • Perceived Exertion Is Lower – Studies show that people are actually working harder than they actually perceive when operating an elliptical. Subjects in the studies were asked to rate their perceived output when operating an elliptical and the majority of research showed subjects underestimating actual output based on their heart rate.  Therefore, the elliptical can burn close to the same amount of calories with less effort.

Elliptical Cons

  • Less dynamic – With a treadmill, adjusting the incline and speed can lead to exceptional variation in intensity, whereas most ellipticals either lack this incline feature, or it is not nearly as effective.
  • Less Weight Bearing Effect – While less impact can help prevent injury, there is a downside. Because the elliptical pedals are suspended off the ground they lack the “weight-bearing effect” that is utilized when running.  Weight-bearing exercises strengthen bones and muscles and are particularly important for older people in preventing osteoporosis.
  • Momentum – Operating an elliptical, especially on lower levels, can allow you to use the machines’ momentum to power the machine

Calorie Burn Comparison: Elliptical vs. Treadmill

A study by the Medical College of Wisconsin found the average calories burned jogging on a treadmill for one hour was 705 to 866.  By comparison, an estimate by Health Status found using an elliptical trainer for one hour will burn approximately 773 calories.  Based on these and other similar studies, the treadmill may have a slight advantage in calorie burn, although oftentimes the amount of variance is considered negligible compared to the elliptical

The elliptical can be used as an effective cardiovascular machine for those who want to help improve cardiovascular health with minimal impact. Treadmills offer more versatility and the motor of a treadmill forces you to work out of your comfort zone. If you’re an experienced exerciser, the treadmill offers the most calorie burn because you’re supporting your own body weight.

Is the Treadmill or Elliptical Better for Losing Weight?

The treadmill and elliptical, popular workout machines, stand at the ready in great numbers in gyms and health clubs across the country. Both give a cardiovascular workout and attract fitness enthusiasts of all ages. The manufacturers claim theirs helps you lose more weight. Which one is better depends on the user.

The Treadmill

The trusty treadmill, born many years ago, provides a moving surface to do what people do naturally–walk. Some people use it to run as well. With varying speeds, the treadmill accommodates the beginner up to the expert. The most advanced units can track your heart rate, provide interval training and tell you how far you’ve gone, in how much time and how many calories you burned. You also have the option of holding on or walking hands-free and walking on an incline.

The Elliptical

The new kid on the block, the elliptical, gained popularity quickly. It provides you with a gliding foot motion that provides constant contact with the pedal. It can come with the same electronic equipment as the treadmill. In contrast to the treadmill, the elliptical has two moving bars that involve the upper body in the workout.


Treadmills make a lot of noise, because of their motors, while ellipticals work mechanically, with the exception of its computer system. The involvement of the arms on the elliptical provides a tad more aerobics. Both take up the same amount of space. The elliptical takes the stress off the joints by giving a fluid movement without any leg lifting. In contrast, the treadmill involves walking, which is a low-impact activity but still a little more jarring to the joints. It does, however, provide a natural stride whereas the elliptical takes some coordinating of new movements.


People who use one or the other of these machines swear by their effectiveness. Those who use both like the change of pace. According to HiltonHeadHealth.com, the treadmill burns more calories. An exerciser weighing 180 lbs. who completes 45 minutes of work on each piece of equipment burns 441.8 calories on the elliptical and 675 calories on the treadmill.


While a person might burn more calories on the treadmill than the elliptical, other factors enter into personal preference. MSNBC.com reports that people with joint problems prefer the elliptical for its no-impact design. The upper and lower body workout appeals to some more than the number of calories burned. According to MSNBC.com, elliptical sales jumped 27 percent in 2007. Personal preference will ultimately dictate which machine a person chooses. Number of calories burned doesn’t tell the whole story. Both machines will remain popular for a long time. Some folks like to cross-train and will switch between the two to keep their bodies guessing.

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