The treadmill and the elliptical machines are two of the most popular and widely available machines in any gym. In fact, they are usually the first machines new gym-goers try out when they decide they want to get in shape.
You’ll likely find a version of both machines in most gym’s cardio section, so there is clearly some merit to each of them.
But which machine is better? This article aims to find out exactly that. By examining the pros and cons of each machine and analyzing some different training scenarios, I hope to give you the necessary information to decide whether the treadmill or elliptical is better for your goals.
Before we can decide upon the most effective machine, it is important to take each machine individually and examine some of the pros and cons. Here are the main pros for the treadmill:
Mimics natural human movement
Whether you are walking or sprinting on the treadmill, the action is close to how you would be performing the movement in your daily life. This is great for working the muscles in the same way that they are required to work during your day to day tasks.
This also allows your body to be free and move how it was intended. When you are in a fixed position, your body is sometimes forced to move in ways that do not suit your individual anatomy, leading to injury or muscle imbalances.
Moving on the treadmill is a load-bearing activity, which means you are having to support your own weight when using it. Load-bearing exercise can help to strengthen your joints and bones. It is even recommended for decreasing the risks and reversing the effects of osteoporosis.
Simple to use
One factor that makes a treadmill so popular is it’s ease of use. Everybody knows how to walk or jog, which means it’s as simple as pressing a button to get going.
High impact at higher speeds
I already mentioned the load-bearing effect to be a benefit of the treadmill. However, this can become more of a problem as you increase the speed of the machine.
At higher speeds, the impact on your joints becomes much higher. This can pose problems for those will joint pain, injuries or certain medical conditions.
Again, this one is associated with the increase in speed. If you are looking to really bump up the intensity and effectiveness of your workouts, you will want to be working harder, which usually means running faster.
Because you are required to keep up with the machine itself, running at high speeds comes with a much higher risk of an accident happening and injury occurring.
Doesn’t transfer to outdoor running
As I discussed in the advantages section, the treadmill can do a good job of mimicing natural movements. Unfortunately, your running style is likely to be slightly different on a treadmill as a result of the restricted space and lack of environmental conditions.
Factors like running on uneven terrain or into the wind will force you to run differently to how you would inside on a flat treadmill. These are things that might not be noticed or even matter to more casual exercisers but to individuals that run for a sport or competition, it could have an impact.
Elliptical Machine: Advantages
Unlike the treadmill, there is pretty much no impact on your joints when you are moving. Your feet are fixed in place and don’t need to come off of the pedals so the stress on your joints is very low.
The elliptical has handles that can be used to provide some resistance for your upper body. You can work your legs and arms together, which could prove to have a higher calorie burning effect since more muscles are being challenged.
You are in full control
Unlike the treadmill, where the belt forces you to run, you are in complete control of the speed of an elliptical. There is no need to press any buttons to slow it down if you need to, you simply slow your legs down instead. This should, in most cases, mean the elliptical is safer for use.
Your feet are fixed to the platforms and the platforms move around a fixed axis point on the machine. What this means is that you are forced to move in the way that the machine moves.
For some individuals, this can be completely un-natural and could even cause some muscle imbalances or injuries.
Easier to cheat
On the treadmill, the belt forces you to keep going and exerting consistent effort. With the elliptical, however, you are able to use the momentum of the foot platforms swinging around their axis.
This is much easier to do on lower difficulty levels, so you should set the resistance to a level that requires you to push with your legs throughout the entire revolution of the foot platforms.
Not as effective for joint strength
If your aim is to strengthen your joints or bone density, the elliptical is not a good choice. While it is a great choice for people who are looking to take the impact away from their joints, it is the opposite for those who want to strengthen them through load-bearing activities.
Treadmill Vs. Elliptical: Cardio Fitness
You have seen the pros and cons of each machine as an individual but now we must put them head to head in the two biggest reason for using them: their ability to increase fitness and aid fat loss.
In terms of cardio fitness, each machine can be used to do a great job. It really depends on the amount of effort that you are able to exert on each machine.
By nature, the treadmill will force you to work harder since you need to keep up with the belt at all times and cannot cheat it. Therefore, if you have no injuries or joint problems, the treadmill is likely to be more effective.
On the other hand, people that have pain or discomfort on a treadmill might be able to push themselves harder on the elliptical.
So, for general cardio fitness, you should choose the machine that allows you to put in the most effort and work the hardest.
Treadmill Vs. Elliptical: Fat Loss
Fat loss is likely to be a big driver behind your final decision on the equipment you use in the gym so discovering which burns the most calories could be the tipping point.
Before I get on to the calorie burn of each machine, I want to preface this by saying that the number of calories burned will follow a similar rule to training for cardio fitness: whatever machine you can work the hardest on is likely to burn more calories for you.
That being said, we do have the advantage of being able to compare the various different studies and research on each machine to see how they perform in terms of calorie burn.
One study from the medical college of Wisconsin found that a 60 minute jog on a treadmill burned up to 866 calories. We can compare that to some other research, which has estimated the calorie burn on an elliptical to be around 770 calories.
Using the example above and viewing the general trends of other studies, we can conclude that the average calorie burn between each machine is very similar with the treadmill burning slightly more calories overall.
When you take everything into account, you can see why both machines are popular in the gym. They are both more than capable of providing you with a great workout for both fitness and weight loss.
What it comes down to at the end of the day is individual preferences. You need to choose the machine that you feel the most comfortable on and that gives you the best workout.
Use the pros and cons lists above, apply them to your circumstances and choose the machine that suits your goals and situation the best.
Even better, if you are happy with both, you can switch it up and get the best of both worlds for your training.
Which machine do you prefer and why? Let me know in the comments section below.