Ellipticals Vs. Treadmills: Which Is More Effective?

Ellipticals and treadmills are two of the most popular and pervasive pieces of cardiovascular equipment – but which is more effective? The answer really depends on the individual exerciser.

Treadmills

There is no question that treadmills are effective at incinerating calories and boosting metabolism – especially when used as part of an interval training program. They also allow for some variety, as exercisers can select different speeds and inclines. And, because the motion of walking, jogging or running on a treadmill is high-impact, it’s very effective at improving bone density and strength.

But, because of the high-impact nature of treadmill exercising, it’s not appropriate for all populations. As such, older individuals – as well as people with injuries or joint issues – may need to steer clear of treadmills. In addition, treadmills do not provide a total body workout; the exercise is limited to the body’s lower half.

Ellipticals

Because ellipticals have arm bars, they activate both the lower and upper body – providing a more efficient workout; many people are able to burn more calories on an elliptical than a treadmill. Ellipticals also provide more variety, including the ability to pedal backwards.

But, exercising on a elliptical is less beneficial for bone strength and density, and it is less helpful for athletes that are training for running events like marathons or a 5k.

It comes down to YOU

Ellipticals and treadmills are both great pieces of exercise equipment. Since there are pros and cons of each – at the end of the day, much of it comes down to personal preference; there is no clear winner. For most people, the most effective machine is the one you most enjoy and the one you’re most likely to stick with (which may include a combination of both).

My heart is with the treadmill. I’ve never had an elliptical workout that can compare to a set of intervals on the treadmill; I work harder, burn more calories and see better results. What about you – which machine do you prefer and why?

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.

Comments

  1. Ellipticals feel and look awkward so I generally skip them in favor of treadmills. Although recently I discovered the stair stepper machines which has been royally kicking my ass so I’ve been switching it up between treadmill and those machines.

  2. I actually prefer some of the newer ellipticals they have at my gym… instead of being in a set track, the footholds are floating.

    As a result, you’re forced to work to do the back-and-forth motion as well as the up-and-down motion… makes me feel like I’m doing about twice the work!

  3. I’ve used both an elliptical and a treadmill and for me I choose an elliptical. I have weaker knees and when I’ve used a treadmill I find myself in slight pain and have to either slow down or just stop but on an elliptical it doesn’t put as much stress on me so I can go longer and most ellipticals I’ve come across actually have an interval training option so I still can incorporate intervals in my workout.

  4. If I’ve had hard workouts all week or am coming off a flu or anything exhausting I’ll do elliptical just to keep the body moving but I find that most ellipticals and really most weight machines force my body into a limited range of motion that doesn’t fit my body frame and then hurts my knees more than speed and incline intervals on the treadmill. Plus when you hit your stride on the treadmill I think it’s a major workout keeping PROPER body alignment when running, great for the core, back and shoulders because we all know what happens with bad form anytime. Cheers to treadmills.

  5. I’m 51 and i find that I use both. The treadmill is much better for me because the machine sets a pace and I have to keep up. It’s also been very helpful getting in shape for 5Ks. But I also like the elliptical because I get more of my body going. So my average workout tends to start with 2 miles on the treadmill at a 6mph clip (with 3 -5 minutes of warm-up and stretching). Then I move on to weights. I finish with good 30 minutes on the elliptical on the FAT Burning set up. Being a bit older I work out with a heart rate monitor so I don’t over do it. I’m still a bit bigger than I want to be but when I compare myself to my siblings I am doing far better on the weight control and exercise thing.

  6. Rog in Miami Gardens says:

    Nothing beats taking a walk or run outdoors around your neighborhood, at the beach or in a park. I’ve never liked gyms, but I certainly understand that they are perfect for people who live in places where inclement weather is the norm. Though I have jogged in pouring rain on a few occasions, and I never got sick, but not everyone can do that.

  7. I like to use both. I have some limits in my workout because of health issues. I like to use the treadmill to warm up and cool down, and sometimes I do distance on the treadmill depending on how I feel. The elliptical machine on the other hand has greater versatility, is low impact, and I can use it for longer periods of time, even on days I am in moderate pain. For me, both have a place in my workout.

  8. What happened to going out for a run? You can get all the same variety of a treadmill (incline and intensity) in the real world, with nothing more than a decent pair of running shoes. Obviously not great for people who need lower impact, but so much less boring than running on a treadmill, especially if you’re training for a longer distance like a half or full marathon.

  9. The treadmill is too high impact and hurts after so I use the elliptical.

  10. But seriously, the best cardio was the old stair masters that gyms used to have 5 or more years ago. The new ones they replaced them with just suck. At my old gym in college everyone used to love these and then nobody used the new version. Its so obvious, why not go back to the old design.

  11. The treadmill most closely mimics running, which is just moving your body through space without external support (like wheels, for example). Hence, from a cardiovascular point of view it is the “best.” But, as has been pointed out, if you suffer from joint problems, be it knees, hip or back, then it has major deleterious effects. These effects can be reduced by varying the incline you run at, leading to less repetitive foot strikes.

    But ellipticals are a fine choice for the over 40 population. I especially like the Arc trainer, if you have one at your gym. They come in two types, with arm movement and without. With is more challenging.

  12. I’ve recently started working and I find that running on a tredmill for me is way more enjoyable and I actually have a lot of fun which is something I did not expect.

  13. When I was in cardio rehab, I had to use both an elliptical and a treadmill. When I was on the elliptical (which I hated0 both my blood pressure (from 120/80 to 180/90) and heart rates (from 76 bpm to 150 bpm) would soar. My heart rate on the treadmill would be pretty good.

    I just so much enjoy a treadmill.

    Stan

  14. iconoclast says:

    “But, exercising on a elliptical is less beneficial for bone strength and density…..”
    This seems unlikely to me, Mr Wavey. Can you cite any controlled, peer reviewed studies that support this hypothesis?

    • The elliptical is not useful for increasing bone density because it is not a weight bearing exercise. Running on a treadmill is.

  15. I don’t disagree, but I sweat more when using the elliptical. I do interval training on both, alternating between 5.8 and 8.0 mph on the treadmill, 13/13 and 18/15 (incline/resistance) on the elliptical machine. I only recently started interval training. Thanks for that tip, Davey. xo

  16. i used to run every other day… not far, just fast… great training for hockey… so is inline skating, but neway… alas, i cant run anymore… ive tried using the treadmill, and have fallen off of it a number of times… even my best i-meant-to-do-that face doesnt really hide my embarrassment… so its the elliptical for me… i can do intervals and work my arms…. i like the spin bike too…

    ~ cheers…

    • I’ve read about some fitness gurus sttanig that exercise should be pure and zenlike, not marred by distractions. Let me tell you, walking on a treadmill for a long period of time is boring and far from zen-like. I know that I love to use my laptop because, like the inventor, our tech jobs have invaded our home space. The pay is great but you can’t sit at your desk (at home and work) for 12 hours a day and expect to stay in shape. This device allows you to have both. I’m not in the best shape (which is why this is a Christmas present) and I can go up to level 2 while fully using the laptop, and up to normal running speed when watching videos. I’ve been in gyms off and on for the past 15 years of my life. It gets REALLY boring and there aren’t enough mp3 s out there to provide variety. I’ve changed my workout, changed my song list, watched the gym televisions with headline news, read articles in magazines I would normally not pick up, and spent the entire workout flipping pages on a book or holding it open to actually read the book. Magazines are boring and books usually don’t work very well on the treadmill (and I’ve never mastered the small text/high movement aspect of running-reading). When I am using the SurfShelf, I DO NOT FEEL LIKE I AM EXERCISING. I feel like I am having fun! I have a skinny little toddler and he does not have an exercise routine, he moves because it is fun to move and he stays naturally skinny. Why do we as adults have to make working out so painful and boring when we can get a low-impact workout surfing the web for an hour and have a great time with it? Think of all the teens who use instant messenger! OMG! Why not use instant messenger while walking? I’m sure we could get a few World of Warcraft guys out there to get into it! And what about when my boss tells me that I need to log on from home for an entire evening after sitting at my desk for 8 hours? This is a reality for a LOT of people in my line of work where the line blurs between private time and office time. Many of us have home offices or bring our laptops (money makers) to the couch to continue working in the evening. Why not work on it while walking very slowly? I mean 1.0 is very slow on the treadmill, I’ve seen supermarket conveyor belts with more speed. At 1.0 you could get in a few miles over the course of several hours. I worked on a project where THREE of our engineers had heart attacks within a six month period. I have a very clear vision as to where this lifestyle leads and if I do not start taking care of my health, I will be that person being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. This provides an alternative to folks who are on the internet for necessity or for entertainment. You don’t have to give up your productivity or enjoyment to get a little movement in your life you can have both!

  17. Treadmill is my fav, I love that I can walk, jog, and sprint, the eliptical gets boring way too quick.

  18. Well these are two great machines! I recently purchased a bowflex treadclimber It incorportaes both a stair master and a treadmill and i find this to be extermly effictice. Davey what are your thought on this type of machine?

  19. It depends on the goal. I use ellipticals on the days I don’t run, in order to give my body a break from the impact of landing. In that regard, a treadmill offers no advantage. They do, however, let you dictate pace, which can be good for tempo or interval work. Regardless, any means of getting your HR up (stationary bikes and rowing machines are good too) is beneficial.

  20. Iconoclast asks Davey to support his claim that treadmills can increase bone strength and density over what an eliptical can do. Citing one’s sources of information is always a good idea. But in this case what Davey said is general enough knowledge that he doesn’t need to cite sources. Any physiology textbook will tell you that high-impact exercises will cause osteocytes in the leg bones to stimulate bone growth by promoting activity by osteoblast cells. Bones undergo constant remodelling to most effectively spread forces throughout the structure. Given that the eliptical doesn’t introduce as great a force on the bones as treadmill running, the bones won’t undergo as much modification.

  21. Davey, you mention pedaling backwards on ellipticals, which I can sort of see the benefit. But I wish you’d do an article explaining the point of walking/brisk walking backwards on the treadmill and stair climber. I see people doing it all the time, and they just look like adults playing on exercise equipment… in other words, retards. In spite of how stupid these people look, do they know something I don’t?

  22. This is an ever growing topic so my hats off to you for posting such a wonderful article on the subject. I have both of these machines in my home gym so here are my two cents on the matter. I love my elliptical for total body workouts and feel it in the upper body by using the motion arm stride. I also love my treadmill for increasing my speed on the baseball field by doing short sprint intervals. So hopefully that helps a little. Thanks for posting this article.

  23. Hi, everything is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing data, that’s really excellent, keep up writing.

  24. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of
    plagorism or copyright infringement? My site has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my agreement. Do you know any methods to help reduce content from being stolen? I’d certainly appreciate it.

  25. Tthe treadmill is definitely my favorite cardio equipment. I have one in my house with a TV and I go on it any free chance I get even if I’m just waiting for laundry to be done. I don’t like to sit around and watch TV so if I can speed walk or jog while catching up on my favorite shows, it’s a good thing!

  26. I really liked running, therefore I prefer the treadmill. For me, running is great fun and a bit of a risk for injury. Thanks for the tips mr davey.

  27. Thanks for telling the difference, I prefer Treadmills, doing exercise is good for me

  28. Wow Great tips 🙂 Thanks for sharing this informative article

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  1. […] don’t want to crap on such a beloved piece of gym equipment. After all, it’s a great, low-impact option particularly for people with knee injuries or issues. And it’s certainly a better option than sitting on your couch eating potato chips. But when […]

  2. […] don’t want to crap on such a beloved piece of gym equipment. After all, it’s a great, low-impact option particularly for people with knee injuries or issues. And it’s certainly a better option than sitting on your couch eating potato chips. But when […]