Which is better: Elliptical or Treadmill?

Cardio definitely has a certain sound to it.

You probably know about the typical gym characteristics: upbeat music, huffs of heavy breathing, equipment whirring and cardio machines vibrating in the background. Machines such as treadmill, elliptical, stair machines, rowers, etc. are easily spotted at cardio sections in most gyms. The wide range of exercise machines available out there makes it difficult to choose one; but we’re here to help you get precise regarding your destination.

In this article, we have presented a comparison between two of most popular cardio machines: Treadmill and elliptical.

The mentioned machines are perfect for aerobic fitness and cardiac health, but just like every other equipment, they have pros and cons. Here are the basic facts you need to know before deciding to go for a treadmill or elliptical.

The Treadmill

Treadmill is basically a belt conveyor with modifiable movement speed, and you can set it on different modes to walk, jog or run in place. Most treadmills are equipped with adjustable incline, distance and pace tracker. Some even come with program interval training.

What the Treadmill Targets

Activities to be done on treadmill mainly involve the lower body. For core training, you can also do sprints. A tough exercise session on treadmill causes some burn in the abs, quads, hamstrings, glutes and claves.

When to Use The Treadmill

This machine is awesome for avid runners and racers who want to avoid training in adverse weather. Treadmills nowadays come with a wide range of exercise options so you’ll be able to keep track of your pace and mileage, also set your workout goal.

If you can’t keep up with hour-long running sessions, modify intervals and rest times regarding your conditions and create a shorter HIT. If you’re supposed to lose weight, aim for intensive interval training for 10 to 30 minutes or slightly more and you’ll lose excess weight effectively.

Treadmills are a useful tool to control your pace and push your speed. Since the machine generates movement, you’re forced to catch up with the pace. Adding the MPH is a great way to intensify your training and slowly get adapted to running faster. It’s not surprising that doing so in real environment won’t be as easy and controllable.

A major advantage of using treadmill is that you’re able to concentrate on your running form in a way that’s impossible when jogging on concrete or plain earth. However, since the belt conveyor generates main power to push you forward, your natural movements are almost limited on a treadmill and the leg muscles aren’t as involved as they are in natural running conditions. So don’t stop at training on treadmill for it may shorten your gait; go outside and have a nice job whenever you can.

Treadmill is effective for lower body training even if you’re not a fan of going for a run. This is especially true if you’re running on an incline. Although treadmill cannot be a perfect alternative for weighted squats and lunges in terms of strength and power, it indeed is an acceptable way to challenge the stamina of your legs.

When Not to Use The Treadmill

Elliptical vs Treadmill

This is not the best machine to use if you are dealing with an ankle, knee, or hip injury. Some argue that running on treadmill forces less stress on your joints than a regular outdoors run, but keep in mind that exercising should not injure you any further if you’re already suffering. When you’re having difficulties with hips or legs, decide on a lighter cardio such as swimming, biking or the elliptical. These sort of trainings are low-impact.

As a summary:

Treadmill Pros:

  • Strengthens your lower body and sometimes your core
  • Great for race training when outdoor conditions are bad
  • Can help to improve speed
  • Can be used to program HIIT workouts
  • Can be used to work on running form
  • Can be used to train on an incline
  • Good to use for weight loss

Treadmill Cons

  • Not great for those healing from joint injuries (unless supervised by a physical therapist)
  • Not the best for perfecting running gait

The Elliptical

This machine has two foot holders and two pole-like handles you can grab onto. At some point it might look like a stationary cross country to you. The very name “elliptical” is given to this machine since your feet will cycle in a shape of ellipses as you move the handles back and forth. However, the locomotion on elliptical is different. You can go forward or backwards on this machine, or increase the resistance to force your muscles into harder workout. Keep in mind that not all ellipticals allow you to alter the incline.

What the Elliptical Targets

This machine is designed to involve hamstrings, quads, glutes and a wide range of lower body muscles. To train your arm and upper back, push and pull the handles. Elliptical trains the upper body mainly, so it will engage more parts of your body compared to a treadmill. Bonus point for you can work with free hands and train the body core even further.

When to Use the Elliptical

The elliptical is an excellent low-impact cardio option for overtrained, achy joints.I t puts less weight pressure on your body than running does. It’s a great break for you to get all refreshed after doing some intense activities.

Since you are able to move backwards on the elliptical, its great for isolating your hamstrings and your glutes. You most probably won’t be able to run backwards properly on a treadmill, let alone a fast pace. Elliptical is a great option if you’re planning to tone up after a heavy cardio session. You can also perform HIIT workouts on the elliptical, making it a good tool for someone who has weight loss goals.

When Not to Use the Elliptical

Despite the advantages, elliptical isn’t recommended for functional training since the movements you do on this machine don’t really match real-life practices and natural motions. If your goal is to become a better at what many fitness experts call “functional” movements — like running, jumping, throwing, squatting, pivoting, lunging, etc. — solely training on this machine will not be very effective. But if you are training for the Elliptical Cycling World Championships, by all means, go for it.

Another big con: Elliptical won’t be much of use if you’re planning to log your mileage. It definitely won’t work if you’re using different machines. Ellipticals aren’t manufactured precisely equal, so the amount of workout you do on one machine will most likely be different on another.

And while it’s awesome that the elliptical doesn’t put as much stress on your joints, this does mean that it doesn’t have the capacity to strengthen your leg muscles as much as the treadmill. So if you are looking for more strength gains, it’s better to go for a treadmill.

As a summary:

Elliptical Pros:

  • Great for low-impact exercise or active recovery
  • Can target the upper and lower body
  • Can be used to move backwards and isolate the hamstrings and glutes
  • Great for HIIT workouts and interval training
  • Good for weight loss goals

Elliptical Cons:

  • It doesn’t train functional movement
  • It doesn’t accurately track mileage
  • It doesn’t strengthen as much as the treadmill
  • May or may not be used to train on an incline

So, which is better: the treadmill or the elliptical?

Basically, both the treadmill and the elliptical can be really effective tools. It depends on what you are training for, how your body feels on that particular training day, what training data you need, and what movement you most enjoy. Use those parameters as a rubric to help you decide which machine is best for you and go from there.

If you’re not very particular, use both and mix it up from time to time! While the amount of cardio tech out there may feel overwhelming, know at least that we’ve got all of these great options to keep us entertained.

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