When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, both the treadmill and elliptical machine are popular choices.
Both provide aerobic exercise. That has many benefits, like improving lung function, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
But is one a more effective workout than the other?
We will go into detail below about how they compare in terms of cardiovascular effect, muscle engagement, and calories burned so you can see which is better for you.
Treadmill vs Elliptical – Cardio
Both the treadmill and elliptical machine are going to increase your cardiovascular fitness if you use them consistently. But generally speaking, running on the treadmill will provide a more effective workout than the elliptical.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t get an effective workout on the elliptical. Some higher-end elliptical machines now come with incline settings. Between that and HIIT programs, you will certainly get the blood pumping.
That being said, the elliptical machine does provide an easier workout than the treadmill, as it’s low-impact. While it mimics the motion of running, the body doesn’t work as hard as when you’re actually running.
The treadmill allows you to change both speed and incline, letting runners sprint or have a steady-state pace.
Treadmill running is also a weight-bearing exercise, which makes your body work harder with every stride. The harder the muscles work, the more oxygen your body requires. This makes your heart work harder.
Treadmills offer more versatility than the elliptical machine. This can help you have a challenging workout that will lead to increased cardiovascular fitness.
Treadmill vs Elliptical – Muscles
Running on the treadmill targets the quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors, and core muscles.
While running does mainly use the lower body, it does also engage muscles in the upper body. The arms, shoulders, and back all work together, and this helps to propel you forward as well as maintain momentum.
Running also uses a number of tendons and ligaments in each stride. Connective tissue helps to absorb impact, ensure smoother motion, and in the long term, protect your joints. The impact of running can actually strengthen connective tissue. That improves flexibility, coordination, and balance.
Running on asphalt or on a treadmill is a weight-bearing exercise. This helps to create bones that are stronger, denser, and healthier. This is important for maintaining your range of motion and keeping you moving well as you get older.
The elliptical machine uses the muscles in both the upper and lower body. The push-pull action of exercising on the elliptical engages many muscles. The tibialis anterior. Calves. Hamstrings. Quads. Glutes. Biceps. Triceps. Pecs. Upper and lower back muscles, as well as the core.
When you use both the upper and lower body on the elliptical, your core has to work a bit harder to keep you balanced. If your elliptical machine allows you to reverse the stride, then you’re able to target the muscles in the legs differently.
Treadmill vs Elliptical – Calories
You’ll burn more calories on a treadmill than on an elliptical. A person weighing 125 pounds who runs 7.5 mph for 30 minutes—8 min per mile—will burn approximately 375 calories. A person who weighs 185 pounds would burn around 525 calories.
On an elliptical machine, a person who weighs 125 pounds will burn about 270 calories in a moderate 30-minute workout. A person who weighs 185 pounds might burn up to 378 calories.
When you’re running, your body is using more energy to pick your foot up, as opposed to the elliptical where you don’t actually lift your feet.
That being said, the number of calories that you burn is dependent on the intensity of your workout. Calories burned will also be influenced by your weight, age, heart rate, fitness levels, and the amount of time you spend exercising.
When tracking calories burned, it’s important to note that not all machines are accurate in their estimates. You should use a fitness watch to track your calories, as the algorithms are based on your heart rate and oxygen consumption. It may still be slightly inaccurate, but it will be closer than the machine. Keeping your weight up to date on your device makes the estimates more accurate.
If you look at most ellipticals, the formula that manufacturing companies use to track calories burned is based on walking. However, some use a formula for cycling, which will create discrepancies in the measurements of tracking calories burned.
This means that if you’re only looking at what the elliptical machine says, the calories it shows can be higher than what you’ve actually burned.
Treadmills have been around since the 1800s, with the first medical treadmill being created in 1952. Since then, the algorithms to track running stats have been validated and are more likely to be accurate.
Depending on your fitness goals, it would be great to know how many calories you need or want to burn. This will allow you to adjust your workouts so that you can get the maximum calorie burn to achieve your goals.
Treadmill vs Elliptical – Cost
If you’re looking to invest in either a treadmill or an elliptical that you can use at home, you’ll find that the prices vary.
Treadmills can range from $500 up to $4,000 – quite a spread. The price difference in treadmills depends largely on the features. You can find some great treadmills under $500. Some of these treadmills will come with built-in speakers, Bluetooth, incline capabilities and built-in programs.
The higher-end treadmills, which vary in cost between $1,000 to $4, 000, come with more powerful motors—3.5 CHP to 4.0 CHP—incline and decline, deck cushioning, tablet shelves, built-in fans, Wifi connectivity—for 3rd party applications like iFit, Strava, Passport—and up to 5 user profiles.
Most treadmills also allow you to join virtual classes to help take your training routine to the next level. Many also have a space-saving design and can be folded or wheeled to a different spot for convenience.
Like the treadmill, you’ll find the price of the ellipticals also varies and can range from $500 to $3,000. Ellipticals in the range of $500 dollars are likely to come with adjustable resistance, digital display, a tablet holder and pre-programmed workouts.
The higher-end ellipticals come packed with features. Some feature incline, Wi-Fi, a fitness tracker app, pre-set programs, and options for interactive workouts.
When it comes to cost, there are price variations for both. But treadmills do seem to offer more versatility, training options, and more value for money.
Treadmill vs Elliptical – Better for runners?
When it comes to cross-training, choosing between the treadmill and elliptical is going to depend on your training goals. If you’re going to be training for a race or maintaining your fitness in the off-season, then the treadmill would be a great choice, as treadmills better mimic running outdoors.
If you need to develop more upper body strength, or you want to give your joints a bit of time to recover from the repetitive stress of impact, then the elliptical would be a better choice. The elliptical is low-impact and is gentler on the ankles, knees, and hips.
By adding more resistance to your workout on the elliptical, you’ll be able to develop more strength in the upper body due to the push-pull motion of the stride.
Final Conclusion – Which is better?
Both the treadmill and elliptical provide a great aerobic workout. There are differences, and based on what your fitness goals are, you’ll find either one could be best for your needs.
The treadmill does provide more versatility, and you’ll find that it does push you to work harder. The motor helps to keep the treadmill at a consistent speed—of your choice— and by changing the incline and speed settings, you’ll be able to strengthen your legs, increase your endurance and get a great cardiovascular workout.
Runners who are training for an upcoming race will find that a treadmill is better, as it’s as close as you can come to running on the road.
Elliptical machines are great for those who want a full-body workout. The elliptical machine is low-impact, and you’ll find that the circular motion does mimic running to a degree.
However, the elliptical lets you run at your own speed and uses your momentum to keep it going, which means when you start to fatigue your pace will slow down.
If you’re prone to injury, recovering from an injury, or if you’re looking for an exercise option that will allow your joints to rest and recover while you achieve your fitness goals, then the elliptical would be a great choice for you.