Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which Should You Use?

Wondering which cardio machine is best? It depends on your goals.

There’s long been a debate in the fitness world about whether there are benefits to using a treadmill vs. an elliptical machine – or vice versa. Both of these popular cardio machines offer many similar benefits when it comes to improving your overall health, strengthening your heart and building stamina. But there are differences between the two that may make one machine or the other more desirable to use when working out.

Here are some differences between the two:

Treadmill

  • Walking or running on the treadmill is a weight-bearing activity. While this makes it harder on your joints, it helps improve bone strength and density which is especially important as you age.
  • The treadmill simulates the same motion as walking or running outdoors. If you’re training for an event, such as a 5K or marathon, it can help you improve form, posture and technique.
  • Since you move your arms and legs freely using natural movement patterns, the treadmill helps improve strength and coordination of muscles you use during everyday activities.

Elliptical

  • If you’re looking for a lower-impact workout, the elliptical is for you. Your feet don’t move off the pedals so there’s less impact on your joints compared to the lift-and-land motion of the treadmill. This makes it a good choice for people with orthopedic issues, arthritis or those rehabbing from injury.
  • Since the elliptical keeps your body in a locked position when moving, it doesn’t help you improve running form, posture or technique. But although the treadmill is a better option for race training, the elliptical is a good way to give your joints a break and change your routine so you avoid overuse injuries.
  • You can get a full-body workout by pushing and pulling on the handles of the elliptical. Just be sure to watch your posture or you may wind up with aches and pains.

One of the biggest questions asked about using a treadmill or elliptical is this: Does one burn more calories than the other?

The answer depends entirely on how much effort you put into your workout. Although the treadmill may burn more calories than the elliptical at similar effort levels, the harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn no matter what machine you use.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 14, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS

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