Treadmills and ellipticals are common cardio equipment that you can probably find in almost every health club and gym. They are also some of the most popular exercise machines. And why not? They’re easy to use, suitable for all fitness levels and provide a powerful cardio workout that gets your heart rate up and blood pumping.
The question is, though, is one better for you than the other? Experts weigh in on the differences between elliptical and treadmill exercise, so you can make the best choice for your body and health goals, especially if you’re considering adding one to your home gym.
Advantages of treadmills
Treadmills are designed for walking and running. Because you can easily change the speed and incline, you can create different workouts, says Adita Yrizarry-Lang, health educator, fitness professional and speaker. Plus, many treadmills come with built-in programs and interval training options, so you can choose a workout that feels fresh and challenging every time, says Marc Coronel, certified fitness trainer and owner of Energia Fitness in Las Vegas. Some treadmills even track your progress and show you how you’re doing in terms of distance, pace, energy expended, heart rate, and more.
They also provide a climate-controlled haven for exercise, says Coronel. If you typically walk, run or hike outside and the weather makes it impossible to go outside, you can always move indoors to the treadmill. This consistency is crucial to maintaining motivation and building a sustainable exercise routine, he adds.
Cons of treadmills
Treadmills are often used for running, which can cause problems for some people. Running can be hard on the joints, leading to pain and potential injury, especially for those with joint problems, says Coronel. All joint problems can be aggravated if you run exclusively on the treadmill.
This exercise machine also primarily uses the legs, which Coronel says can lead to muscle imbalances. Therefore, if you use a treadmill, it is crucial that you include exercises that also target other muscle groups, whether it is strength training or various aerobic exercises. Treadmills are also a safety concern as they can lead to falls and injury if not used properly.
The pluses of ellipses
One of the standout features of ellipticals is their joint-friendly nature. Because the feet stay grounded on the pedals, large joints commonly affected by arthritis or injury, such as the ankles, knees and hips, can take less of a hit, says Christine M. Conti, MD, IDEA World 2023 Fitness Instructor, Chronic Disease Wellness. expert and CEO of Conti Fitness & Wellness.
And unlike treadmills, ellipticals provide more of a full-body workout. For example, when you use arm levers, you work the muscles in your arms, such as your biceps, triceps, chest, and back, while pedals target your lower body’s quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, says Coronel. Plus, most ellipticals offer different resistance levels and incline settings, meaning you can customize it to suit your fitness level and goals. Some models even have pre-programmed workouts and interval training options to keep you motivated.
Cons of ellipses
Ellipticals are non-weight bearing, which means they reduce the strain on your body. That’s a good thing, but it has a downside: it means they also reduce stress on the bones, which isn’t optimal for building or maintaining bone density. These stresses are needed to keep your bones stronger as you age, Yrizarry-Lang explains.
The motion you do on the elliptical is also unnatural, and since some ellipticals don’t allow for much adjustment in hip width or stride length, you might feel even more awkward. This can cause mechanical problems and uncomfortable movement patterns that can interfere with exercise and put unnecessary stress on your body, says Yrizarry-Lang. But whether or not this affects you comes down to personal preference.
How to choose a treadmill and elliptical
If you’re still not sure which would be better for you, consider these four factors:
Personal fitness goals
Both devices give you a heart-pumping aerobic workout. But while the treadmill can improve running performance and build endurance, the elliptical is better for improving overall muscle strength and coordination, says Coronel.
A treadmill can be uncomfortable for your joints, especially if you are running, as this type of exercise is very high-impact. On the elliptical, however, the smooth, gliding motion minimizes impact, so it may be more suitable for people with joint pain, says Coronel.
The versatility and motivation of training
Regardless of the equipment, exercise boredom is always possible. However, treadmills tend to be less monotonous than ellipticals, largely because they have more variables you can change and they usually offer built-in programs. If you get bored easily while working out and want to use an elliptical, look for one with versatile workouts and entertainment features, says Coronel.
Space and budget
If you’re buying one of these for a home gym, be aware that treadmills require more floor space and tend to be more expensive than ellipticals, says Coronel. You also need to maintain your treadmill regularly; ellipticals generally require less maintenance.
The Bottom Line?
Both machines can make you healthier and fitter by providing a sweaty workout. Of course, the low-impact nature of the elliptical is probably a better choice for people with joint problems, but outside of that, base your decision on your current personal fitness goals, how much variety you want in your workouts, and what you enjoy more! The best type of exercise is one you enjoy and keep coming back to. Other factors like space and budget play a role if you buy one for a home gym.
However, if you have both a treadmill and an elliptical and either one works for you, it’s great to include both in your fitness routine. If you do just one cardiovascular activity each day, your body will adapt, meaning it will put less effort into the movements, Yrizarry-Lang says. By mixing things up in the gym and alternating between both machines, you’re constantly challenging your body (and brain!) and maximizing your overall training effort.
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