When you walk into a commercial gym, you’re going to see tons of different cardio machines. Despite all the choices, you’re bound to see two popular exercise machines in every gym: the treadmill and the elliptical. In fact, you may even be considering purchasing one for your home. Not only will this encourage you to work out more and stay healthy, but it will definitely pay for itself over time if you decide to cancel your gym membership.
These two machines have been popular for so long because of the numerous benefits they offer in terms of heart health and conditioning. Not only that, but they offer a simple and effective workout for people on the move. This, however, has led to a debate as to which machine is best.
Certainly if someone is going to use one of these machines several times a week, let alone buy one for their home, they want to use the machine that is going to best for them and their goals. Why waste time on anything else? Of course both machines offer unique benefits, but we want to find out which is truly the best choice for your cardio and health needs.
This means we can’t make the best decision for you, but here are some of the most important criteria to consider:
When you exercise you want to be working to improve your health, not making it worse. The problem with cardio machines is that they can often be tough on your joints because of the fixed movement patterns.
Treadmills are rough on the knees as the repetitive pounding on the hard surface wears away at the joints and cartilage over time. It also affects your ankles, spine and hips. Ellipticals on the other hand are an unnatural movement which forces the body to make the same repetitive movements. It’s not as bad as it sounds though, but it is something to consider if you have joint problems.
If you’re looking to do intense cardio than ellipticals are the better choice, but if you’re looking to do just light walking then stick to the treadmill.
One of the biggest factors in cardio is obviously cardiovascular health. That is, how effectively you can manipulate your heart rate to the appropriate level. So which machine has the edge here?
In the study ‘Comparison of energy expenditure on a treadmill vs. an elliptical device at a self-selected exercise intensity’ a group of untrained college aged individuals were put to the test on treadmills and ellipticals. The study tested for differences in oxygen consumption, energy expenditure, and heart rate based on the different machines. The results found that there were no significant differences in oxygen consumption or energy expenditure, but the elliptical was found to have an advantage in heart rate.
This is not to say that a treadmill is not sufficient at increasing heart rate- it certainly is, but ellipticals may have a slight advantage because of the machine’s structure.
This is one of the major aspects of cardio. And if you’re going to spend say 30 minutes doing cardio, you want to burn as many calories as possible. Major studies conducted for both machines have shown that there is in fact little difference between the two machines and should not have a huge bearing on the outcome.
Both machines offer different levels of increasing resistance as a staple of their designs, but is that enough? Ellipticals offer only a one-dimensional increase in resistance- you simply increase the level that you work out at. However treadmills are more multi-dimensional. They offer everything from varying inclines, to speed, to quick changes in both. The built-in workout programs also allow for much more variation.
Treadmills are quite simple- they are all about running. Ellipticals were designed to simulate running to a certain extent as well, but now most elliptical machines offer a cross-training dynamic that allows the arm handles to move simultaneously with the legs. Many new elliptical machines allow you to challenge yourself on the upper body as well. You can also choose to set which direction you want the resistance (either forwards or backwards) to target different muscles in the body. This varies by machine.
The costs of both machines are somewhat similar. Lower end models of ellipticals and treadmills can be found for even below $200, though higher end models are well over $1000. Ellipticals are slightly less expensive than treadmills, however, as it’s a long term investment the immediate cost shouldn’t be a huge factor.
Fun and Versatility
One reason so many people ignore cardio is because it can be boring. Using the treadmill or elliptical doesn’t offer much in the way of variation, but we give the edge to the treadmill. The treadmills allow you to do everything from a light walk to an intense uphill sprint. The various options in terms of incline and speed offer many more dimensions than an elliptical, which is on a fixed movement pattern.
Multitasking and Entertainment
If you don’t get excited by running hills and sprints, then there are always other options for entertainment like watching TV and reading. Treadmills are more difficult to engage in such activities because, especially with reading, it requires more focus. Ellipticals however are fixed and therefore allow a person to not have to worry about falling and causing injury.
Cardio machines offer a controlled environment where we are much less likely to experience an injury. That said, no one is immune to accidents. And when it comes to safety, ellipticals offer more. When on an elliptical you’re fixed in, and it’s virtually impossible to fall off if you’re staying focused.
It’s different with treadmills. In the event someone is running on a treadmill at high speeds and then trips, it could be very costly and any sudden movements could cause a fall. Treadmill safety measures are taken seriously, and treadmills come with an attachment that you clip onto yourself- if you get too far away, the machine will automatically shut down. But again, it isn’t foolproof. And while this shouldn’t be a major factor, if this is a specific concern for you then make sure you fully take it into consideration.
A lot of people, whether its age or health issues, don’t feel like they can use a certain machine. This is a major factor in some machines like treadmills. Because of potential safety hazards and stress on the joints, they are not an ideal option for older people or those with chronic health issues. Ellipticals on the other hand are very forgiving for such things. If you have health issues, ellipticals allow for an easy transition into exercising.
Both treadmills and ellipticals allow you to get a workout in, even when you’re not feeling up to it. For the treadmill, you want to stick to walking. For the elliptical, stick to lower speed and intensity workouts. However ellipticals have a slight edge here. This is because the perceived effort of working out on an elliptical is lower than a treadmill, meaning that people can get more bang for their buck when exercising on that piece of equipment.
The Final Verdict
In the choice between treadmills and ellipticals the answer is: it depends. The truth is that depending on your age, health, exercise capacity, price range, and desire for entertainment, the answers will vary.
If you are looking for a high-intensity workout with lots of variation in your exercise, then a treadmill is the way to go.
If you want a more controlled workout that is easy on the joints and allows for less intensity, then go with an elliptical.
Either way you can’t go wrong! If you still can’t decide after a while then another option to consider is the treadclimber— it’s a unique machine that offers a great cardio workout.