Elliptical vs Treadmill

Elliptical vs Treadmill Comparison: Which is Better?

Let’s face it — 2020 was a strange year for fitness– but also maybe one of the best years for investing in home gym equipment.

It turns out that 2021 is starting the same: with an investment, not just in-home fitness, but embracing trends that once were more connected to in-person gyms.

The latest fitness trend is all about workouts on the best treadmills, and it’s being shared the way you’d expect during a time where we’re all connecting even more online than ever: via a social media influencer.

The latest fad, called the 12-3-30 workout, was first shared on YouTube and TikTok back in 2019, but it wasn’t until recently that it’s especially become popular. The workout involved setting your treadmill to an incline of 12, 3 miles per hour pace, and keeping that up for half an hour– a great walking workout for those just starting.

That’s not the only trend, though. For elliptical users, at-home streaming workouts are getting a boom as a way to connect socially and stay motivated, with everything from high-intensity workouts to more low-key sessions.

But even if you’re ready to start your home fitness routine, you may be wondering: is the elliptical or the treadmill the better way to go?

In this article, I’ll give you the pros and cons of the elliptical vs the treadmill and everything you need to know to decide which one is the better fit for you.

Main Differences Between Elliptical vs Treadmill

The Main Differences Between Elliptical vs Treadmill are:

  • Treadmill running burns more calories, whereas ellipticals can burn more calories than treadmill running
  • Treadmill workouts have more variety, whereas ellipticals provide more consistency
  • Treadmills can provide intense workouts, whereas ellipticals are great for low impact workouts

Should I buy an elliptical or treadmill?

Making the decision to buy an elliptical or treadmill can be a difficult one. As someone who is frugal as possible, I understand why that choice may be overwhelming. In an ideal world, of course, you’d be able to invest in both– or even build your own gym at home.

Incorporating a variety of workouts is ideal for a few reasons. For one, doing so reduces your risk for burnout and injury. Too much of one type of exercise makes it more likely you’ll suffer from overuse injuries or simply fall off of your routine and lose motivation.

Another reason you should consider mixing it up is overall health. Both cardio and strength training are essential for overall fitness, cardiovascular function, and muscular strength.

That said, both ellipticals and treadmills are most useful for cardiovascular workouts, and you can easily invest in just one and get in a solid variety of cardio workouts. Let’s take a look at some of the top pros and cons of elliptical training vs treadmill walking or running.

Is an elliptical or treadmill better for preventing injuries?

Not all home fitness equipment is created equal when it comes to cross-training and preventing injuries. While not anyone’s workout type is perfect, your history of fitness routine, injuries, or preferences may help you decide if a treadmill or elliptical is a better option for you.

Treadmills

Treadmills have sometimes been used as an alternative to road or trail running. Both road and trail running, while my favorite kind, have special risks, with more uneven terrain and potentially inclement conditions. When runners are walkers are faced with stormy or slick weather, or don’t have access to even trails, a treadmill may be less likely to cause injury.

Treadmills are also helpful if you can only work out in very early or late hours. Meanwhile, running on concrete too much can place greater stress on your feet and even legs, so swapping in treadmill workouts can be helpful.

However, treadmill workouts, both running and walking, certainly have risks, too. In fact, compared with outdoor or track running, treadmill workouts are actually more likely to lead to overuse injuries, due to repetitive motion and improper form.

Compared with walking or running outside, there’s also less variety in the muscles you’re working on. Treadmills are not the best form of exercise for anyone with a history of overuse injuries, joint issues, feet issues, or leg injuries.

Elliptical

Ellipticals are one of my favorite pieces of equipment for training if you tend to be injury-prone. As a former athlete myself, I’ve seen elliptical used for those who can’t engage in high-intensity workouts or running but still want to keep their fitness up.

Ellipticals are known to be excellent for cross-training as well. Compared with running or even walking, elliptical training is considered to be low impact and ideal for those who have a history of knee injuries or even joint issues.

If used correctly, elliptical trainers overall have a low injury or overuse risk, partially because of the consistent and low impact motion. While some can become injured on an elliptical, it isn’t very common. Most all injuries connected to ellipticals are connected to using it improperly, such as slouching or pushing too hard.

In fact, the only people I’d maybe caution against using ellipticals are those with chronic foot conditions, such as nerve pain, arthritis, or more serious injuries. That said, the same could be said for treadmill use, which arguably would be even worse for foot concerns.

Best Choice: Ellipticals

If you’re a healthy individual, there’s no reason you need to choose ellipticals or treadmills, but those with frequent injuries or special leg or foot conditions will find that ellipticals will be kinder to the joints. I also prefer ellipticals in this category because they are especially great for cross-training, and maybe more useful if you have a family member with different needs.

Is a treadmill or elliptical better for weight loss?

Weight loss shouldn’t be the only goal for buying home fitness equipment. For some individuals, in fact it shouldn’t be a goal at all, especially if you’re already within a healthy body mass index.

That said, for some, safe and healthy weight loss is a very real part of a fitness routine. Combined with nutritional advice (sometimes with an app like MyFitnessPal vs Noom), a workout routine can help with your weight loss efforts.

Elliptical

First, I’ll start by talking about calories burned. When it comes to an elliptical, there’s a bit of variety– but overall, elliptical trainers are known to burn fewer calories than many home fitness equipment of its kind.

An average person of around 150 pounds can be expected to burn a little under 350 calories in 35 minutes, or around 650 calories for a full four. Of course, the amount of calories you burn is dependent on your own body weight, body composition, and the pace you go at.

Ellipticals don’t burn belly fat specifically but can help with your overall body composition and improve your body fat to muscle ratio. As a whole though, ellipticals are helpful for maintaining a healthy weight but not huge calorie burners.

Treadmills

Treadmills, as you can imagine, can be great tools for burning calories– but if the number of calories burned varies for ellipticals, that’s even more true for treadmills. Treadmills, of course, can be used for everything from leisurely walking to intense running workouts.

For the average person, at around 150 pounds, you can burn around 190 calories every 45 minutes at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour. Increasing the incline by a degree or two can burn an extra 20 to 40 calories for that workout session.

Treadmill running vs outdoor running typically burns fewer calories– some experts estimate around an average of 5 percent less; that said, by increasing the incline, you can make a treadmill workout nearly equivalent to running outside.

For a 125 pound person, running 5 mph for half an hour burns 240 calories; running at 6 mph burns around 300, and running at 7.5 mph will scorch around 375 calories.

Incline, intensity, fitness level, and even adding high-intensity interval training on the treadmill can also play a factor in calorie burn.

Best Choice: Treadmills

In theory, either ellipticals or treadmills can be used to either bolster weight loss efforts or help you maintain a healthy weight. If you are planning on treadmill walking vs ellipticals, ellipticals actually could be a slightly better choice initially. That said, there are more opportunities to tweak and continue to up your intensity on treadmills vs ellipticals. If you do run, even at a slow pace, you can easily burn more calories on a treadmill vs an elliptical.

Are elliptical or treadmill workouts easier to stick with?

Of course, the most important thing is consistency: if you select a workout type that you don’t enjoy, you aren’t likely to stick with it. Part of this comes down to personal preference: that is, you need to genuinely at least tolerate what you’re doing. But in a comparison of elliptical trainers vs treadmills, there are a few differences.

Elliptical

There are a few great things about elliptical trainers. Some of the top brands, like Peloton, are joining the live-streaming classes trend and allow you to stream workouts to give you direction and keep it more interesting. Some more luxury models also include wifi connectivity and other additional features to make workouts feel connected and more entertaining.

Another thing I like about the elliptical is versatility. While not great for calorie burn, you can also use under the desk ellipticals during your workday– making it almost effortless to get more exercise into your day.

When it comes to variety, though, there aren’t very many options. You’ll likely be tweaking your intensity or perhaps intervals, but there are only so many options for workouts on an elliptical.

Treadmills

Treadmills are also often available with live-streaming classes if you prefer, with brands like Proform vs Peloton. These can be everything from basic to quite immersive, allowing you to imagine yourself running in different beautiful settings of all kinds, displayed on HD screens. There’s also, with the most expensive models, the ability to join a wider fitness community even from a distance.

Unique elliptical trainers, there isn’t a cheap or small option for use while you’re working; though there has been an increase in popularity for walking treadmills in offices, they still aren’t a mainstay or as practical as under the desk options.

In terms of variety, though, there’s actually a lot you can do with treadmills. From walking, running, speed walking, many incline settings, HIT training, and more, even live-streaming workouts offer more variety.

Best Choice: Treadmills

This is a close one– and if you prefer elliptical trainers or simply dread treadmills, it’s possible that elliptical trainers may be a better choice for you. That said, for the average person, treadmills tend to offer more variety and maybe less likely to get boring.

Of course, how much variety depends on your creativity and what features your treadmill comes with for classes, technology, incline, and programmed workouts. But even with a basic treadmill, there are more fitness apps for treadmill workouts vs elliptical trainers.

Is a treadmill or elliptical more affordable?

Finally, price is always a factor, and when it comes to treadmills vs ellipticals, there’s not exactly a clear-cut answer– the problem is that you can buy very affordable (under $500) options for both, or spend well over one thousand dollars. What you spend depends a lot on a brand name, technology features, and features like levels of resistance, resistance type, and materials used.

For the cheapest options– elliptical under the desk devices– you’d spend the least, well under three hundred dollars. That said, for an elliptical machine that provides a decent workout, you can easily spend almost as much as a treadmill. While the most expensive treadmills are going to cost more than elliptical machines, it also comes down to how many times you use them.

Overall, you can find affordable and expensive options for both, making this category, in my mind, a draw.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Which is better for losing belly fat on a treadmill or elliptical?

Answer: While I’d love to tell you otherwise, the truth is that neither a treadmill nor elliptical specifically burns belly fat. It doesn’t matter if you’re streaming HIT or taking it slow– no matter what, there is no one machine that can specifically target belly fat. While ideas of spot reduction have been often hyped in the fitness community, there is no evidence to back that weight loss works that way. Rather, you lose belly fat by an overall improvement of your body fat to lean mass ratio. Your genetics will determine how much/ where you lose this fat.

Overall weight loss will likely result in belly fat loss, but not belly fat loss alone. For this reason, both treadmills and ellipticals can be effective tools in aiding weight loss. For calories burned, ellipticals can burn more than treadmill walking, but treadmill running or HIT will burn more calories than an elliptical in the same time period.

Question: Should you do the elliptical every day?

Answer: While regular workouts are the key, both for fitness goals and overall health, getting on the elliptical every day may actually backfire for a few reasons. For one, you may simply get burnt out, both physically and mentally. For another, setting the goal to use the elliptical every day may simply not be practical.

But the biggest concern is your risk for injury: overuse injuries, while not as common as some other workouts, can and do happen on ellipticals. Your best bet is to add in at least one to two day rest days a week, and/or incorporate a mix of strength training, whether that’s powerlifting or even something as simple as using resistance bands.

Question: Is an elliptical better than walking?

Answer: Ellipticals can be a better option than walking for those with a history of joint or knee problems. They also have the potential to burn more calories, depending on your level of intensity. But what’s right for you depends on your personal preferences.

Bottom Line: Treadmills May Be A Better Investment.

While far from universally true, if you only have the budget for treadmills vs elliptical trainers, I recommend a treadmill for most people. Unless you have a history of knee or joint issues, or simply dread the treadmill, treadmills provide more variety in workouts, more possibilities for calories burned, and are not notably more expensive if you go for a mid-range option. Of course, consider adding strength and resistance training, even if that means just using dumbbells.

Interested in a treadmill? See the Best Treadmills by Price Point in 2021.

Thinking an elliptical trainer is the best option for you? Here’s How to Find the Best Elliptical.

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