Which machine is more effective, a treadmill or an elliptical trainer?

July 11, 2013

Gym Source is asked this question every day: Which machine is more effective, a treadmill or an elliptical trainer? Here’s our answer: While you can’t go wrong with either one, always let your goals be your guide.

If your primary goal is low-impact aerobic training, then an elliptical trainer might be best. Here’s why:

  • Ellipticals are designed for low-impact activity, meaning they cause less stress on your knees, hips, and back than running might.
  • Many elliptical machines are equipped with movable handgrips to work your upper body, challenging different muscle groups and providing a more robust aerobic workout.
  • Most elliptical machines allow for reverse pedaling, adding variety to your workout and boosting the muscle groups worked-namely your calves and hamstrings.

Overall, elliptical trainers can be optimal for users recovering from injury or seeking to avoid joint stress. Note, however, that while a low-impact elliptical workout can help protect tender joints, elliptical trainers lack the ‘weight-bearing effect’ inherent to treadmills. Because the pedals of an elliptical trainer are suspended off the ground, they can’t-and don’t-go as far as a treadmill does to strengthen bones and muscles (achieved every time your feet pound the belt), which can be important to older users.

If your training goals involve higher impact activity-and perhaps even some road races-consider a treadmill. The benefits are easy to see:

  • Treadmills offer a greater range of personalized settings with regard to speed, incline, and training programs than do elliptical trainers.
  • Treadmills leverage the body’s natural movement and feel familiar from the start (as opposed to elliptical machines, which may feel awkward to some users). But that said, running on an incline is hard-and many elliptical machine users adore the smooth comfort level of their elliptical workout.
  • The ‘weight-bearing’ effect of treadmills is proven to help strengthen bones and muscles-aiding posture and overall health with age.
  • The energy required to move your body on a treadmill is substantial. For this reason, most research gives a slight advantage to treadmills with regard to caloric burn rate.

Today’s top-quality treadmills are designed to maximize your comfort, calorie burn, and workout enjoyment. Then again, so are today’s elliptical trainers. The bottom line is this: To truly determine the best machine for you-treadmill or elliptical-get to a specialty fitness retailer like Gym Source and try out a few for yourself. Once you’ve experienced the feel and features that today’s innovative treadmill and elliptical machines have to offer, you’ll know what’s right for you.

Source credits: Kevin Deeth, CPT, and Dr. Edward R. Laskowski