The elliptical vs treadmill question has often been a heated debate, with both sides arguing passionately for their cause. Issues such as calorie burn, aerobic workout, muscle building, and injury risk have all been mentioned, with many claims being made “for” and “against” each piece of equipment.
However, according to most “neutral” fitness experts, the elliptical and the treadmill both provide excellent cardiovascular training if they are used correctly.
They can increase endurance, aerobic capacity, and overall fitness level. Which one you choose will really depend on your goals, your physical condition, and of course, your personal preference.
1. Versatility and Variety. Most good quality treadmills have a wide range of options. You can walk, run, jog, or even sprint. You can climb hills, vary speeds, and choose from several different training programs.
2. Natural Movements. A treadmill emulates actions you would perform in everyday life. These movements are natural and comfortable, so you can focus more on intensity rather than form.
3. Weight Bearing. Studies have shown that the impact of walking or running not only strengthens your lower body muscles, but it is also good for your bones. In fact, it is one of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis.
4. Motorized Motivation. Once you set a speed, you have to keep up with it or you will end up falling off the back of the treadmill. Setting a program or choosing a challenging speed and incline will force you to work a little harder while also preventing your from easing up or slacking off mid-workout. This can be especially good for those days when you feel a little less motivated or need that extra “push”.
1. Hard On Joints. While weight bearing or impact exercises can be good for your muscles and bones, they can also be stressful on your joints. Running and jogging, especially on an incline, can cause injury to your back, hips, ankles, or knees.
2. Safety. Most people find that holding onto the handles, at least on some machines, can be awkward. It often requires you to lean forward, slouch, or hold your arms in an uncomfortable position for a prolonged period of time. Not to mention the fact that it can be difficult to run while trying to keep your arms stationary. However, if you choose not to hold on, you could fall off the back, lose your balance, or accidentally step off the belt.
3. Only Works Lower Body. While treadmills provide great cardio workouts, they only strengthen and tone your lower body. This means that you will have to hit the weights to avoid muscle imbalances.
1. Non-Impact. The pedals on an elliptical move in a smooth, circular motion – like a bicycle – so it is much easier than a treadmill on your knees, ankles, hips, and lower back. If you have arthritis, joint pain, or injuries, then an elliptical can help protect your body while still providing a great cardiovascular workout.
2. Full-Body Workout. Most ellipticals are equipped with moveable handles so you can work both your upper and lower body at the same time. A full body workout means you will burn more calories per hour.
3. Reverse Stride. Many elliptical machines allow you to pedal in reverse, which gives muscles such as your quads, calves and hamstrings an even harder workout.
1. Less Variety. Elliptical machines do not have as many options as treadmills when it comes to features such as speed, incline, and workout programs.
2. Non-Weight Bearing. Since the pedals are suspended above the ground, you will get a completely impact free workout. This is great if you suffer from weakness or joint pain; however, you will trade-off the weight bearing effects of running.
3. Momentum Only. While a treadmill provides motorized motivation, with an
elliptical, you set the pace. This can be an advantage if you have physical
issues because you can slow down when
needed; however, it can also make it much easier to “take it easy” rather than
Elliptical machines can provide excellent workouts, but you must be self-motivated to get the maximum benefits since you won't have the motor to pull you along.
Both the elliptical and the treadmill can provide an effective and beneficial workout. Which is best will depend on your specific situation. Generally, calorie burn is greater on the elliptical if you use the handles because you are working more muscle groups simultaneously, which means more energy is being expended. If you are looking for maximum efficiency in less time then this may be the better machine for you.
Likewise, if you suffer from arthritis, joint pain, or are recovering from an injury, then an elliptical is usually recommended over a treadmill, which can be much harder on your body. Treadmills are the better choice for runners, especially those training for a marathon. While these machines can be harder on your knees and hips than ellipticals, many are equipped with good cushioning to absorb some of the shock.
Many endurance runners prefer to
regularly use a treadmill over outside training since pounding the pavement or
concrete can be much more stressful on
their body. Also, if you like variety and become bored easily, then a treadmill
will give you many more options to work with so you can vary your workout
Finally, some people simply have a personal preference. You may enjoy the treadmill and don't mind doing separate upper body exercises. Likewise, you may find the co-ordination required to use an elliptical more challenging. Basically, if you enjoy it, you will be more likely to stick to it!
In the elliptical vs treadmill debate, there are no winners or losers. They both offer unique benefits and drawbacks, so it really comes down to which machine will help you reach your fitness goals in the most effective and safest way possible. And, if you have no physical or health issues, why not challenge yourself and use both!
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I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or ideas you would like to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum