Elliptical vs Treadmill: Which Cardio is the Best?

Fitness, Training Advice, Training Tips, Workouts

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // November 16, 2023


When most people think of cardio workouts, they immediately think of running on a treadmill. However, elliptical machines are becoming increasingly popular as a way to get a great cardio workout. So, which is better: elliptical vs treadmill?

When you want to get a solid cardio workout done at the gym, chances are you have your eyes set on one of two machines: the elliptical vs treadmill. There are a lot of myths about these two machines, but the truth is they can both give you a great workout if used correctly. 

The machine that works the best is the one that you LIKE the best. If you enjoy it, you’ll be more apt to stay consistent. And that is what matters the most. 

That being said, there are pros and cons to both types of machines. 

Elliptical workouts tend to be low-impact, which is easy on the joints. They also provide a full-body workout, engaging the arms and legs simultaneously. 

And because you can adjust the resistance on an elliptical, you can easily switch the intensity of your workout.

Treadmills, on the other hand, are ideal for those who want to work on their running form and get a great calorie burn. Yet, if you are a walker like I am, treadmills can also give you a great low impact workout.  

And if you increase the incline, you can really work those leg muscles!

If you’re looking to lose weight, both the treadmill and the elliptical can help you burn fat and shed pounds if you’re working hard enough. 

Let’s explore the main differences between these two machines and how to use them most effectively for weight loss goals. 

And don’t worry, you won’t get bored with an exercise machine. These four treadmill workouts for weight loss will keep you active and engaged, and these three elliptical workouts will maximize your weight loss efforts!

Why You Need Cardio Workouts To Lose Weight

The CDC recommends that everyone get at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity per week. You can divide that up however you like, whether in five 30-minute cardio workouts, three 50-minute cardio workouts, the occasional 10 minute jump rope sesh, or brisk walking or jogging. 

Getting enough cardiovascular exercise is crucial to your heart health and overall well-being. But if you want to lose weight, you need to take those cardio recommendations especially to heart—pun intended.

Yes, strength training helps boost your metabolism and can make your muscles long and lean, but if you’re not doing some form of cardio, you won’t see the number on the scale go down. 

Cardio can be anything from jogging in your neighborhood to doing an interval workout at home. If you’re hitting the gym though, there’s also plenty of equipment available to get a solid calorie burn; and the treadmill and the elliptical are two of your best bets. 

They can both get your heart pumping and fat burning—but in different ways. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each of these gym equipment staples.

Benefits of Ellipticals for Cardio Workouts

The elliptical is a popular choice for a cardio workout for many reasons. 

  • Low-impact exercise, meaning it is easy on the joints. 
  • If you have a cross trainer, then you also get a full-body workout, meaning it works the upper and lower body at the same time. 
  • Great cardio machine, meaning it gets the heart rate up and burns calories.

If you are looking for a great cardio workout, an elliptical trainer is a great choice. They offer a low-impact, full-body workout that is easy on the joints and great for burning calories.

Benefits of Treadmills for Cardio Workouts

Treadmill workouts are a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Not only do they provide a great cardio workout, but they also offer a variety of other benefits.

  • Mimics outdoor walking and/or running which is often familiar and fun for people. 
  • Help you to reach your fitness goals by providing a challenging workout that will burn calories and help to improve your cardiovascular fitness.

Durability of Elliptical vs Treadmill

When it comes to choosing a cardio machine for your home gym, you may be wondering whether an elliptical or a treadmill is a better investment. Both machines offer a great workout, but there are some key differences that you should keep in mind.

One of the main considerations is durability. 

This will come down to the brand and model for the machine you purchase. You can find home gym equipment for very reasonable prices on Amazon. 

But, make sure to read the reviews on sturdiness, warranty and feel. These smaller machines are movable also which can be a factor for some.

You can find commercial grade equipment at a sporting goods store. These machines will be heavy and very durable, but you’ll pay a lot more.  

Another thing to consider is the type of workout you want. If you’re looking for a low-impact workout, an elliptical is ideal. If you’re looking to really get your heart rate up by running, a treadmill may be a better option.

Whatever you decide, make sure you choose a machine that fits your budget and your workout goals. And don’t forget to add a full-body workout to your routine to really get the most out of your machine!

Pros of Using Treadmill or Elliptical Machines

There are many advantages to both of these pieces of equipment. Even though they offer a slightly different format, they share a lot of positives.

Either machine could be a good option for your home gym space.

Low Impact

Ellipticals are a low-impact machine. That means they are easy on your joints. If you have joint pain or other issues that make high-impact activities difficult, an elliptical can give you a great workout without aggravating your condition.

Similarly, you can choose a low impact workout, like walking, on a treadmill.

Cardio Benefits

Ellipticals and treadmills both provide a great cardio workout. If you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular health, either machine can help you reach your goals. 

Both machines will help you burn calories. If you’re looking to lose weight or get in shape, ellipticals and treadmills can be a great way to reach your goals.

Muscle Toning

In addition to helping you burn calories, ellipticals and treadmills also tone your muscle groups without much risk of injuries.

Choose a cross trainer model if you’re looking to tone your legs, arms, and core, with an elliptical machine. If you prefer a treadmill, grab some hand weights to use while walking.

Weather Proof

Either of these machines will allow you to get a great cardio workout in in the convenience of your home, no matter what the weather is. Rain or shine, you can still hit your aerobic exercise goals.

Variety

Ellipticals and treadmills are both versatile machines that can be used for a variety of different workouts. Whether you’re looking to do a gentle workout or a more intense workout, you’ll be able to find something that works.

Ellipticals offer variety with resistance controls, while treadmills use incline.

woman wearing blue leggings running on treadmill in front of window, elliptical vs treadmill

Cons of Treadmill and Elliptical Machines

​Since both machines are significant in cost and space usage, they both have a few cons as well.

Cost

Ellipticals and treadmills can be pricey, especially if you’re looking for a high-quality commercial grade machine. If you’re on a budget, either machine might be out of your price range.

Space

Ellipticals and treadmills can take up a lot of space. If you’re short on space in your home, these machines may not fit properly. 

If space is an issue, there are even simpler versions of treadmills, called a walking pads. They are great for low-impact exercise and movement during the work day, and are easily stored under a bed or in a closet.

Boredom

Some people find treadmills and ellipticals boring. The repetitive motion of an elliptical, or the consistency needed for walking and running isn’t for everyone.

As you can see, there are both pros and cons to using a treadmill or elliptical machine for your cardio workouts. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use either machine is up to your personal preference.

How To Get The Best Results On An Elliptical

Low impact doesn’t need to mean low intensity. You get from your elliptical workout what you put into it! Sure, if you are barely pedaling at a snail’s pace, you won’t do much. You want to be working hard and breathing out of your mouth.

Use these tips to get a kick-butt elliptical workout and lose weight:

Watch Your Posture

Don’t slouch over the machine—stand tall and engage your core. It’s harder—but better. You’re not supposed to lean on the handrails; you’re supposed to be standing tall with an activated core. Good form is important if you want the maximum health benefits!

Get The Foot Positioning Down

Keep your feet in contact with the pedals the entire time without taking them off the pedals, but do let the back of your heel come up a tiny bit. 

They shouldn’t lift entirely, but you want a rolling motion from the balls of your feet to your heels. Keep your knees slightly bent.

Use The Handles

Using the cross training handles and pumping up the resistance can be equally as intense as a run on the treadmill. 

If you want to establish and maintain ideal workout intensities, the ‘talk test’ is an informal way to measure whether you’re getting the most out of the workout. Your workout should be intense enough to make you breathe deeply and to make you feel a little winded.

The handles are great tools to make sure you remain stable on the machine.

Use Interval Training

Slow, steady-state cardio is less effective at burning fat than higher intensity intervals. You may not realize it, but you can use high impact intervals on the elliptical and treadmill, too! 

Try our Elliptical Workouts For Weight Loss if you want ideas, or try making up your own. 

Varying the resistance & intensity, you can work at a variety of different speeds at resistances. Here’s one of our interval workouts from our Elliptical Workouts For Weight Loss article:

A chart with the minutes and the resistance levels for an interval elliptical workout.

How To Get The Best Results On A Treadmill

Whether you’re a serious runner looking to log some miles indoors or you just want a solid 30-minute cardio workout, the treadmill can be your best friend. Don’t let it become the “dreadmill;” there’s no need for a treadmill workout to be boring! 

Use these tips to get a great cardio workout (that’s actually fun!) on the treadmill:

Make The Incline Your Best Friend

One of the best things about most treadmills is that they offer the feature to spice up your workout with incline settings. Challenge yourself by walking at a brisk pace or jogging lightly at an elevated incline. 

It will target different muscles in your lower body (hello, glutes!) and not only challenge your aerobic abilities but tone your muscles, too!

Use Perceived Exertion and the Talk Test

Determining your rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is simple: it’s based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the easiest (think lying on the sofa) and 10 being all-out effort (sprinting to catch the plane before it leaves). You can also use the “talk test” to help you determine your intensity. 

How easy is it to talk while you exercise? If you want a kick-butt cardio workout, you want it to be difficult carry on a conversation.

Intervals, Intervals, Intervals

Are you sensing a theme here? On both machines, using intervals is a great way to ensure you get a solid workout. Instead of jogging at a slower pace for 30 minutes, mix it up with a few minutes of brisk walking, then comfortable jogging and a few all-out sprints. 

Doing these cycles of training works your heart in different heart rate zones, which not only helps your heart health but helps you burn more fat, too.

A chart listing the speed and incline for a 20-minute cardio speed interval workout.

Choosing the Right Cardio Machine for Your Fitness Goals

When it comes to cardio, there are a lot of options out there. But which one is the right one for you and your fitness goals? 

Here, we’ll take a look at two of the most popular cardio machines – the elliptical and the treadmill – and help you decide which one is right for you.

The elliptical and the treadmill are both great cardio machines. They both offer a great workout and can help you reach your fitness goals.

But which one is right for you?

Here are some things to consider when deciding between an elliptical and a treadmill:

Your Fitness Goals

What are you trying to achieve with your workout? If you’re looking to lose weight, the elliptical may be a better option as it burns more calories. If you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular health, the treadmill may be a better option as it gets your heart rate up more.

Your Fitness Level

If you’re just starting out, the elliptical may be a better option as it’s low-impact and easy on your joints. If you’re more experienced, the treadmill may be a better option as it offers a more challenging workout.

Your Preferences

Ultimately, the choice between an elliptical and a treadmill comes down to your own personal preferences. Try out both machines and see which one you like better.

No matter which machine you choose, make sure to start slow and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts as you get more comfortable. And most importantly, have fun!

Common Exercise Machine Mistakes to Avoid

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give much thought to the exercise machines you use. You hop on the elliptical or treadmill, set the speed, and go. 

But if you’re not careful, you could be making some common mistakes that could jeopardize your workout. 

Here are a few to avoid:

Not Warming Up

It’s important to warm up your muscles before you start any type of exercise. But many people skip this step when they jump on the elliptical or treadmill. They think they can just start at a slow pace and gradually increase their speed. 

However, this can actually lead to injury. It’s better to warm up with some light cardio or dynamic stretching before you start your workout.

Going Too Fast

A lot of people make the mistake of going too fast on the elliptical or treadmill. They think they need to push themselves to get a good workout. But if you go too fast, you could end up overtraining your muscles or even injuring yourself. 

Start at a comfortable pace is a better choice. You can gradually increase your speed as you go.

Slumping on the Machine 

Many people think they don’t need to use the handrails on the elliptical or treadmill. But if you’re not careful, you could lose your balance and fall off. 

It’s better to be safe and use the arm handles, especially if you’re new to the machine. But, don’t slump over or put any weight on the machine. Using proper form on your machine is an important component to getting the best workout possible while avoiding injury.

Not Cooling Down

A lot of people forget to cool down after their workout. But this is an important step in your fitness routine. It helps prevent injury and helps your muscles recover. Do some light cardio or static stretching for 5-10 minutes after your workout on the elliptical or treadmill.

If you avoid these common mistakes, you’ll be sure to get a great workout on the elliptical or treadmill.

So Which is a Better Workout, Elliptical vs Treadmill?

Ultimately both the elliptical and the treadmill can give you a great cardio workout, but you have to put in the effort. Using intervals and working hard on both machines is the key to getting a great workout. 

It mostly comes down to personal preference and what you think you’d use the most!

The differences between an elliptical vs treadmill.

If you’re looking to mix up your cardio routine, try one of our Interval Workouts on Get healthy U TV, Cardio Kickboxing, or a bodyweight interval workout! Whatever gets your heart pumping and fat burning will be good for your body, so mix it up from time to time to prevent boredom.



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