Treadmills vs. Elliptical Trainers - Which is Better?

Which one should you choose?

Treadmill and Elliptical
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Go to any gym and you'll see the most popular cardio machines are usually the treadmill and the elliptical trainer.

Both are excellent for cardio workouts and burning calories, but many people gravitate towards treadmills just because they've been around a lot longer than elliptical trainers.

Plus, the treadmill mimics a movement we do naturally - walking and running, while the elliptical may feel a little more foreign to your body.

That said, which one should you pick?

A quick comparison

The Pros and Cons of the Elliptical Trainer

The Pros

  1. No Impact Workout - This may be great for people with joint problems or pain.
  2. A Total Body Workout - Another advantage of an elliptical is that it usually comes with arm handles, allowing you to work your entire body, not just your lower body.
  3. A Natural Movement  - The movement of the elliptical is kind of like riding a bike standing up, so it feels like a natural way the body moves.
  4. It Feels Easier - Some studies have shown that you can burn the same number of calories with an elliptical as you can with a treadmill, only it may actually feel easier.  It may be because the lack of impact gives you the impression that you're putting in less effort.
  5. Variety - Not only can you add resistance to change your workouts, you can also go backwards - something you can't really do on a treadmill.  Well, I guess you can, but it's going to be awkward.

    The Cons

    1. No Impact Workout - While this may be a pro for people with joint problems, you do need some impact in your daily life to keep your bones strong, something the elliptical doesn't offer.
    2. Numb Feet - This may sound funny but, because you don't have to pick up your feet, they can get numb the longer you workout.  You may have to pick up your feet or move your toes around to get the circulation going.
    1. Burning Legs - The biggest issue with the elliptical will be for newbies using it for the first time.  Because you're pushing the pedals, you'll really feel this in your quads the first few times you exercise.  You'll need to build up some endurance here before that subsides.

    The Pros and Cons of the Treadmill

    The Pros

    1. Impact Workout - You can make this a low impact workout or a high impact workout, both of which helps build strong bones and may help you burn more calories during your workout.
    2. Variety - You can walk or run on the treadmill and you can change up the incline as well for different types of workouts
    3. Better for Runners - The elliptical is great for cross-training but, if you're a runner, the treadmill is obviously the better choice if you're training for something.
    4. Easy to Use - Walking is something we do every day so, even though it does take time to get used to the moving belt, there's not as much of a learning curve here.

    The Cons

    1. Doesn't Always Translate to Outdoor Running - Because the treadmill belt moves, it actually helps pull your legs back, reducing some of the effort you would normally feel when running outside.  Also, there's no wind resistance or terrain change, so moving from indoors to outdoors may be a big surprise for your body.
    1. Boring - It can be monotonous running to nowhere on a treadmill, so that's something to really think about if you're going to be using one on a regular basis.
    2. Risk of Injury - Because the belt moves, there's always a risk of slipping and falling.  God knows I've slipped off any number of times while trying to juggle my water bottle or headphones.

    The bottom line is, either machine is great.  If you're working out at the gym, there's no reason you can't use both machines - Either on different days or even in the same workout.  If you're looking for something for your home gym, my best advice is to go and use different machines multiple times to find the one that works best for you.


    Green J, Crews T, Pritchett R, et al. "Heart Rate and Ratings of Perceived Exertion During Treadmill and Elliptical Exercise Training." Perceptual and Motor Skills: Volume 98, Issue , pp. 340-348.

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