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Are you shopping for a new cardio machine? Or not sure which machine you should choose at the gym? Cardio enthusiasts often fight the elliptical vs. treadmill debate. And most people have a strong preference for one or the other. But there are some genuine pros and cons to each of these cardio machines.
Treadmills are loved by runners and power walkers, while those with vulnerable joints often prefer ellipticals. However, there is no hard-and-fast rule about who should use each machine. But, despite this fact, is one better than the other? Or is it really just personal preference?
All About Cardio Machines
It’s pretty common knowledge that cardio is good for us. Not only does it help keep our heart and lungs healthy. It can also help clear our minds and alleviate stress and depression. The beauty of cardiovascular exercise is that it comes in a wide variety of forms. You can run, dance, ski, swim, and more. But for some people, convenience is essential to creating and sticking to a cardio routine. That is where cardio machines come in.
Cardio machines allow you to perform a specific style of cardio in the convenience of a small, air-conditioned space. While some forms of cardio, like outdoor running, are subject to the whims of nature, cardio machines are not. There are all kinds of cardio machines: rowing machines, stair climbers, and stationary bikes. But the most common choice is the elliptical vs. treadmill.
What is a treadmill?
The treadmill is perhaps the most recognizable exercise machine on the market. This machine features a continuous belt that the user stands on, creating an endless “track” to walk or run on. Most treadmills have adjustable speed settings, so the belt will move as slowly or as quickly as you like. You can also change the incline of the treadmill’s base, imitating a hill. And treadmills with digital displays will track the approximate distance that you’ve traveled, all without actually going anywhere.
Higher end treadmills can include features like Bluetooth connectivity and built-in television screens. While simpler models might not even have a screen at all. Some luxury models also include simulated walks and runs, where you view a video of an outdoor trail or track while you’re on the treadmill. All of these features are important in the elliptical vs. treadmill debate.
What is an elliptical?
There are two types of elliptical machines: the regular elliptical and the cross trainer. Both machines feature moving footholds that mimic the movement of running. That allows you to “run” without ever actually lifting your feet. But cross trainer models also feature moving handles. These handles provide resistance and therefore work out your upper body as well.
When it comes to the elliptical vs. treadmill debate, regular elliptical machines are more comparable to treadmills. But in most modern gyms, cross trainers are more popular. So for our comparison of the elliptical vs. treadmill, we’ll be focusing more on cross trainers.
The Pros of Using an Elliptical
Choosing between an elliptical vs. treadmill machine is not just a matter of personal choice. Each machine has a list of pros and cons. And ellipticals and cross trainers are no exception.
Some of the pros of using an elliptical vs. treadmill machine are that it provides a full-body workout, is gentler on the joints, and the elliptical itself takes less wear-and-tear. We’ve gone into a bit more detail below.
Exercises both upper and lower body
Like we said above, most elliptical machines you find in commercial gyms or fitness stores are cross trainers. That means that both the footholds and the handles move and provide resistance. Unlike a treadmill, or even a stair climber or stationary bike, the elliptical offers a total-body workout all at once.
If you don’t want to work out your upper body and lower body on a cross trainer elliptical, you also have the option to rest your hands on stationary handles. This workout versatility and the ability to switch workout styles at any time is great for those looking for a full-body cardio workout. However, you usually can’t reverse this by only working the upper body. You’d need to switch to a rowing machine for that.
Gentler on joints
This machine’s most significant advantage in the elliptical vs. treadmill argument is how gentle it is on the user’s joints. With a treadmill, your feet are regularly lifting and impacting the moving belt. But with an elliptical, your feet are never actually leaving the footholds. And your ankles, knees, hips, and back aren’t getting shocked by the impact of your feet landing on the machine.
For overweight individuals or those with compromised joints, ellipticals are a great option. But one thing to consider is the ability for exercise to strengthen bones and joints. While the elliptical won’t cause further damage to your damaged joints, it also won’t help rehabilitate them as much as a treadmill would. Consult with your doctor or physical therapist to learn which machine is right for you.
The low-impact nature of an elliptical is also beneficial for the machine. Since elliptical trainers don’t feel hundreds of pounds of body weight with each step, they generally have a longer lifespan than treadmills. As a result, you’ll see less wear-and-tear on your elliptical vs. treadmill machines.
If you’re a gym member, then this isn’t a huge pro for you personally. But if you’re interested in owning your own cardio machine, then the durability of your machine is essential. While elliptical machines can still have problems and break down, they won’t take anywhere near the beating that a treadmill will.
The Cons of Using an Elliptical
Elliptical machines have plenty of benefits, but they also carry some potential drawbacks. While these cons might not be a dealbreaker for you, you should consider all angles before investing in a new cardio machine.
For ellipticals, the two primary drawbacks are a lower perceived effort and that the actual movement can be awkward for the user. Plus, some people just don’t enjoy the feeling of using an elliptical vs. treadmill for their cardio workouts.
Lower perceived effort
This drawback can actually be considered both a pro and con, depending on your perspective. Since you’re moving with the elliptical machine, even with resistance, it often feels like the machine is doing a lot of the work. That’s a benefit for some users because it allows them to push themselves further than they would otherwise want to or be able to. While the machine is taking some of the load off your joints and muscles, you are still doing a large portion of the work.
However, if you’re training your cardiovascular system for a specific reason, such as sports or another athletic activity, then this lower perceived effort can turn into a crutch. Once you’re off the elliptical and running in a field or lifting weights, your cardio ability won’t be anywhere near what you thought it was. So if you’re training cardio for performance, you need to account for the lower perceived effort when on an elliptical.
Movement can be awkward
If you’re partial to walking or running, then the movement pattern of an elliptical might feel off. For some people, the elliptical just takes a little bit of time to get used to. But for others, they never warm up to this unique movement pattern.
If you feel like you’re bouncing or rocking while using the elliptical, you might need to check your form. While the elliptical might seem easier than other cardio machines, there is still a right and wrong way to use it. However, if you evaluate your form and still find the movement too awkward, the elliptical might not be for you.
The Pros of Using a Treadmill
When it comes to choosing a cardio machine, treadmills are the classic option. And when it comes to comparing elliptical vs. treadmill machines, there are some definite benefits to using a treadmill. When you consider these benefits, it’s pretty apparent why the treadmill is the machine of choice for many people.
The biggest pros of working out on a treadmill instead of an elliptical include the ability to train for road and track running and use incline features. These benefits don’t align with everyone’s goals. But when discussing the distinctions between the elliptical vs. treadmill, they do need consideration.
Translates better to road or track running
If you’re a runner by nature, then the treadmill is probably your cardio machine of choice. While treadmill running isn’t a perfect match for road or track running, it’s much closer than working out on an elliptical. By pushing yourself to the same exertion level as you would outside, you can get an excellent workout on a treadmill. Plus, the ability to easily monitor speed, distance, and pace is invaluable for anyone interested in racing.
Of course, occasionally exercising with different movements is beneficial to your overall health and fitness level. Trying out different movement patterns can help address weak points, which is especially important if you workout for athletics. So while road or track runners should probably spend most of their time on a treadmill, an elliptical workout here and there won’t hurt.
Many models include incline options
If you’re looking to maximize your treadmill workout potential, don’t forget about the incline feature found on most models. This feature lets you change the incline of the treadmill base, typically anywhere from 0-percent to 15-percent. Even if you’re only walking on the treadmill, even a slight increase in incline will make your workout harder and burn more calories.
If you’re looking at the elliptical vs. treadmill debate, these incline features are a significant benefit. While elliptical machines can raise or lower the resistance in the handles or footholds, this isn’t quite as useful as a treadmill’s incline option. You can also use your treadmill’s incline to mimic hills for running outside.
The Cons of Using a Treadmill
Just like ellipticals, treadmills come with a few downsides. And the elliptical vs. treadmill debate wouldn’t be complete without discussing them.
The two most significant drawbacks to using or owning a treadmill are the chance for injury and the wear-and-tear. If you’re thinking about purchasing a cardio machine for your home, then these factors could change where you stand on elliptical vs. treadmill machines. But if you plan to work out in a commercial gym, these factors might not have any importance to you.
Higher risk of injury
Treadmills can cause injuries such as shin splints, tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis. Of course, these injuries can also occur in road and track runners. But treadmills also carry another risk. Since treadmills are self-propelled, users can be thrown from the belt if they trip or fall. If you turn the treadmill’s speed up too high, you could also find yourself unable to stay on or stop the machine.
Treadmills can also be dangerous to non-users. Children and pets can suffer injuries from the rotating belt or could be thrown from the machine if playing on it. While most treadmills feature safety mechanisms meant to prevent these disasters, they are not entirely fool-proof. If you plan to use a treadmill or bring one into your home, make sure you take necessary precautions to ensure you use it responsibly and safely.
Treadmills take a beating, especially when used for running
Unlike ellipticals, whose sheer nature of design protects them from wear and tear, treadmills can take a beating. When running on a treadmill, the actual impact of each step is often much more than our total body weight. Over years of use, this damage can add up and cause the treadmill to break down.
If you’re using a treadmill at your local gym, you probably don’t care much whether it lasts forever or not. But if you’re purchasing a cardio machine for your home gym, then durability is an important factor. Fortunately, most home treadmills don’t get enough use to be at risk of severe damage. But if you plan to sell your treadmill in the future, you’ll need to take care of it and prevent unnecessary damage from occurring in the first place.
Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Right for You?
As you can see, the elliptical vs. treadmill debate is a complicated one. If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that burns calories, then you’ll probably enjoy an elliptical. But if you’re interested in improving your running and athletic abilities, we recommend using a treadmill. No matter which machine you choose, though, they will both provide a great cardio workout with plenty of health benefits.
Whether you’re buying a home cardio machine or just scoping out your local gym’s offerings, picking between an elliptical vs. treadmill is difficult. Each of these machines has its own pros and cons, but the best thing you can do is try them out for yourself. After all, the best cardio machine for you is one that you’ll use and enjoy for years to come.