Treadmill Versus Elliptical: Which Is Better?

Treadmill Versus Elliptical: Which Is Better?

With the winter months quickly approaching, you’re likely looking to move your cardio indoors to avoid the bad weather. As you transition, you may start to wonder what the best option is for your training—the treadmill or the elliptical?

There’s no denying the fact that running is an excellent form of cardiovascular activity and has been used as a training tool and recreational activity for decades. However, with gyms bringing in dozens of elliptical trainers, it’s worth wondering if it’s a superior option. 

Let’s compare the two machines on five different factors, so you can make an informed decision. 

Calorie Burn

First, let’s consider the calorie burn as it’s usually the main focus of people’s health goals. Running has always been considered to be a great calorie burning activity, which is still true. If you’re running at a fairly brisk pace, you can expect to burn around 100 calories per mile. 

This works out to approximately 500-650 calories per hour, depending on the individual. Pick up the pace even more and you may hit 700-800 calories per hour, if you can sustain that for a long period of time. Note that you will need to be in fantastic shape to hit this level of calorie burning. 

When looking at the elliptical, the calorie burn is quite similar. However, at the same intensity, you may burn even more calories on the elliptical trainer because your upper body is involved.

If your focus is on fat loss and burning calories, elliptical trainers can be a terrific option.

Injury Prevention 

While injuries are not a topic you necessarily want to think about, they should be considered when weighing your options. When it comes to the treadmill versus the elliptical, which machine are you least likely to become injured on? 

Here, the elliptical wins hands-down. The great thing about the elliptical is that it’s very low impact, making it a safer option for those with knee or back pain

With running, even while on the treadmill, there is constant pounding as your foot strikes the belt repeatedly. While running on the treadmill can be safer than running on the road due to the cushioning from the belt, it’s still not as good as the elliptical trainer in terms of injury prevention. The impact from running can cause shin splints, sprains and strains, and even stress fractures of the legs and feet.

It’s important to note that the elliptical trainer may not come out ahead if the movement pattern feels very awkward to you. Due to the fixed parts of the machine, which have been built for the “average person”, it may not work well if you’re under or over the target height range. In that case, you may notice that you feel more natural when running on the treadmill and are less likely to suffer from an injury.

Strength Improvement

If building strength is a goal of yours, the elliptical earns top marks here as well. Using the resistance settings, you’re able to challenge both your upper and lower body with this machine. Don’t shy away from putting it at a higher level!

Furthermore, you can also adjust the incline of the foot plates on the elliptical trainer to target different areas of the lower body. Want glute training? Use a higher incline. Feel like focusing on your quads? A lower incline will work better. 

With the treadmill, the only way you’ll see strength improvements is if you run on an incline. While this works well for sprints, that’s about all it’s good for due to the fact that most people simply can’t sustain running on a steep incline for long enough to see strength changes. Additionally, running on an incline may be problematic for your knee joints. 

Ease Of Use

This is one factor where the treadmill comes out ahead. When it comes to the physical movements required, almost everyone knows how to put one foot in front of the other, but the elliptical trainer can take a little getting used to. Usually it’s fairly easy to pick up, but some people may find that the treadmill is easier, especially at the beginning. 

As previously mentioned, due to the fact that the elliptical machine uses a fixed movement pattern, it may feel slightly awkward for some people depending on their biomechanics and the length of their legs. On the other hand, the treadmill allows for a completely free pattern of movement, where your natural stride will work just fine. 


Finally, you must consider the enjoyment factor. Which type of cardio training do you like doing more? This factor shouldn’t be discredited! Even though the elliptical trainer seems to come out ahead on all of the above characteristics, take note: if you love running and hate the elliptical, running is what you should do. 

Some people are runners at heart and will almost always do better with this exercise. On the other hand, if you hate running, then you should definitely find other cardio activities instead.

These are a few points to consider when selecting a form of cardio between the treadmill and the elliptical. At the end of the day, the piece of cardio equipment you are most likely to use is the one that you enjoy using and which will deliver you the results you’re looking for. 

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