Treadmill VS Elliptical: Who Wins The Race To Cardio Fitness?

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

It’s an argument that fitness gurus have had for years now: Which gives you the better cardio workout – the treadmill or the elliptical? Whatever camp you fall into, there are certain facts to be faced, and the final answer isn’t a simple cut-and-dry one. Read on to learn more about the race between treadmills versus elliptical machines.

Lap 1: Burning Calories

When it comes to burning calories, these two workout machines are in a dead heat. While treadmills are found to burn between 705 and 866 calories per hour, an elliptical machine is said to burn about 773 calories per hour – just about right smack in the middle of the range given for treadmills.

The thing to keep in mind is that how many calories you burn will largely depend on how you use a treadmill or an elliptical. If you use a treadmill at a slow and leisurely pace, you won’t burn as many calories, while an intense workout on an elliptical will burn many, many more calories in comparison, and vice versa. Try both machines and see which one you are more motivated to get an intense workout on.

Related: Walking VS Running: Which Is Better?

Lap 2: Building Muscle

Any type of running – whether it’s on the treadmill, on the elliptical, on a track or on a trail – is good for building muscles in your legs and glutes. However, there are two areas where elliptical machines have treadmills beat when it comes to bulking up. First, there’s the fact that elliptical machines are typically equipped with handles or poles that you can move back and forth as you run. It’s a fairly natural arm motion, but using the handles or poles adds more of a challenge to it. Therefore, elliptical machines allow you to build muscle in your arms and legs simultaneously.

Secondly, there’s the option to pedal in reverse when you utilize an elliptical machine. This builds up different muscles that when you pedal forward or run normally. It helps build up the hamstring and calf muscles, which are sometimes neglected when a person’s main exercise is running. This can also help counterbalance the muscles you build up while pedaling forward so that you don’t injure neglected muscles in the future.

Treadmills and elliptical machines both offer difficulty options that make it possible to build up muscle while running. With treadmills, you can increase the incline on which you’re running. Meanwhile, elliptical machines let you increase the effort required to push the pedals around and move the attached handles. The ability to build muscle is pretty even with these options, but the fact that elliptical machines also offer the handles and the ability to pedal backward make them the clear winner when it comes to building muscle.

Related: Battling Boredom While On The Treadmill

Final Lap: Drawbacks

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks associated with using each machine. First, with treadmills, there’s the higher impact on your joints, particularly your knees. If you have sore, arthritic or weak joints, an elliptical machine is considered a preferable option. Treadmills can also be more dangerous since you can slip and fall if you don’t keep up with the pace of the machine.

With elliptical machines, the drawback is that they don’t prepare you as well for traditional outdoor running like a treadmill would. Therefore, if you’re training for a race or a marathon, it’s better to use a treadmill to acclimate your body to the required work.

Another drawback with the elliptical machine is the tendency for users to display poor posture. Don’t lean on the handles or look down at your feet when using this machine. Instead, use good posture, look ahead and let your lower body support your weight.

Final Result: It’s A Tie

In some ways, the elliptical machine appears to be the winner in this race since it has better muscle-building capabilities along with providing a low impact workout on your joints. However, that doesn’t mean this machine is the right choice for everyone. If you are training for a race, have trouble maintaining good posture on an elliptical or just feel more motivated when using a treadmill, then the treadmill is the better machine for you. There’s no one easy answer to the question of treadmill vs. elliptical, so use the information in this article coupled with experience on both machines to make a personal decision between the two.


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