Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Better for Home Use?

elliptical_vs_treadmillIf you are looking for a convenient way to work out at home, you may be considering whether an elliptical trainer or a treadmill would be better. Before making that decision, there are a few factors to consider but the most important factor is to choose a machine that coincides with both your fitness goals and budget.

Before we discuss the pros and cons of each, let’s take a look at each machine with a brief overview. An elliptical trainer and treadmill differ mostly in the design. An elliptical trainer will feature a stride-like motion that is similar to running or using a stair climber, depending on the model, while a treadmill features a long deck for running or walking. Elliptical trainers generally allow users to adjust the incline and resistance so you can target various muscle groups, and treadmills will allow users to adjust the incline and speed to change the necessary level of cardiovascular endurance.


One of the most popular reasons people choose to purchase an elliptical trainer over a treadmill is impact. Elliptical trainers are low-impact and easy on the joints, specifically the joint of the feet, knees, hips and back. Because your feet never leave the pedals of the trainer, there is literally no shock or reverse action to your body. You get all of the benefits of running without the negative effects on the joints, which is ideal for cross training or for people with injuries who still want to work out but cannot handle the impact. Training on an elliptical can even strengthen your joints. However, if you still want to run, running on a treadmill is better for you than running outdoors on a flat surface as many treadmills feature shock absorption that help to take some of the impact off of the joints.

One of the most beneficial outcomes of low-impact exercise is protection of the low back, which also promotes good posture and less incident of injury. When we workout, or run in particular, we may compromise our posture when we get tired, but on an elliptical trainer that is almost impossible because of the way you are positioned on the pedals and in an arm’s reach from the handle bars. On other machines, you are free to move as you wish without any control so you inevitably run a higher risk of injury or strain.

Calorie Burn

Essentially, the number of calories you burn depends on how hard you push yourself and your overall level of exertion. Interval training is one of the top ways to burn the highest amount of calories in the shortest amount of time; and who doesn’t want to be efficient in their workouts? Interval training combines short, higher intensity bursts of speed with slower, lower intensity periods of rest. The idea behind interval training is to work both anaerobic and aerobic systems together, thereby optimizing calorie burn by using stored energy in the muscle (which also revs up your metabolism even after you have completed your workout).

So when it comes to elliptical trainers or treadmills, this means that you could burn the same number, and probably more, calories doing interval training on an elliptical trainer for twenty minutes than you would running at the same pace for forty minutes to an hour on a treadmill. Interval training can be achieved on a treadmill if you use the incline option and vary your level of speed, but on an elliptical trainer, you have the option to adjust the resistance and incline, making the periods of aerobic exercise more intense and involving more muscle groups. And of course more muscle groups equates to more calories burned. Many elliptical trainers also feature movable handle bars that allow you to work upper and lower body simultaneously, burning more calories than you would by just running where only the lower body is involved.



Boredom is one of the leading reasons why people simply don’t work out. Doing the same motion over and over again is not a great way to pass the time. When it comes to a treadmill, while running is the same motion, some machines will feature entertainment options to keep your mind busy. However, elliptical trainers are built so that you can use the machine in a number of ways, even to improve your running.

First, many elliptical trainers are built to go in both forward and reverse motions. This motion not only allows you to work different muscle groups, but it also affects your coordination and changes the way you move and think about the movement. Next, elliptical trainers have both movable and stationary handlebars. If you want to work only the lower body, you can hold on to the stationary handlebars for increased stability and the ability to work the lower body even harder. If you want to work both the upper and lower body, you can use the moving handlebars. Finally, you can also simulate running and take the “hands free” approach, using neither set of handlebars.

Workout programs are another to spice up your workout. While both elliptical trainers and treadmills offer built-in workout programs, there are naturally more options on an elliptical trainer. For a treadmill, you can do hill sprints or endurance runs, but with an elliptical trainer, you can do hill climbs, sprints, reverse motion drills and upper body endurance workouts.

Cardiovascular Benefits & Muscle Toning

Resistance training is incredibly important to add into your workout routine as it promotes healthy bones, raises your metabolism overall, prevents injury, and allows your body to burn more fat while at rest. If you only do cardiovascular exercises, you can actually burn up muscle, so it’s important to integrate both resistance training and cardio into your routines.

Elliptical trainers do just that. Users have the ability to adjust the incline, which raises your heart rate and offers a great cardiovascular exercise, and the ability to adjust the level of resistance, which also raises your heart rate but forces you to exert more energy by using your muscles to push and pull the pedals and/or moving handlebars. By engaging more muscle groups, you also burn more calories. Another great benefit of an elliptical trainer is the ability to target muscle groups. By using the moving handlebars, you can target the arms, and by using the stationary handlebars, you can target the lower body. You can also go in reverse or hands-free.

Running on a treadmill is great for the muscles of the lower body and even the abdominals, but as a whole, it is not a resistance training workout. You can work in intervals of speed and incline to get your heart rate up, which is great for the heart, but it’s almost impossible to “target” muscle groups while running on a treadmill.

Elliptical vs. Treadmill? Which One Wins?

Overall, both the elliptical trainer and the treadmill have the ability to offer users a way to work out in the comfort of their homes without having to go to a gym. Both trainers have pros and cons and it really comes down to your preferences and fitness goals. If you want to be able to cross train and keep it more low-impact, an elliptical trainer is ideal; and if you want the ability to do speed intervals and endurance training with running, then a treadmill would be a better fit. However, no matter what machine you choose, it is all up to you and your level of exertion on how many calories you burn and what long-lasting results you will see.