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The Showdown: Treadmill Vs. Elliptical

Thinking about doing some cardio but not sure which machine to choose? If you are debating the treadmill vs. elliptical, there are some things to consider. Knowing what your specific goals are, what your unique body needs happen to be, and the types of programs you want to be doing will help you make an informed decision.

Both machines have great benefits, but drawbacks as well. The treadmill burns calories, helps you mentally check out, and is easy to use. But it’s high impact. The elliptical overcomes this barrier.

What are the main differences between the two machines? Let’s look at the pros and cons you need to know about so that you can decide how to best move forward.



  • Is an excellent way to burn body fat quickly
  • Can be done using slower, moderate sessions or faster, more intense workouts
  • Is ideal for those who want to hop on and go – no learning required
  • Provide good transfer benefits to everyday life
  • Is weight baring so can help you build stronger joints
  • Can build muscle in the lower body if done on a steep incline


  • Is high impact in nature, so this could lead to joint pain
  • Some people will find it boring after a while
  • The machine itself may require maintenance on an ongoing basis if you use it quite intensely
  • Injury risk is higher



  • Is a non-impact activity so perfect for those recovering from injury, currently suffering from joint pain, or who are older in age and want something that is more joint-friendly
  • Works both the upper and lower body at the same time
  • Helps build strength as well as muscular endurance
  • Enables you to form a variety of different workout program options
  • Is weight baring without the stress on the joints
  • Is adjustable to go forward or backward


  • Does take more coordination (some people just don’t feel comfortable on these machines)
  • You may find that your muscles tire out faster than your endurance does, or your upper body may fatigue quicker than your lower body
  • If you are very tall or short, you may not be able to use the machine as the stride length simply won’t work for you

Let’s take a look at this comparison between the treadmill vs. elliptical a little closer.

Effects On Body Composition

Both of these machines are known for helping to burn calories quickly, so there’s no doubt that you won’t have an issue losing weight with either of them. The elliptical does tend to put more stress on the muscles as you use it due to the resistance provided, therefore, it may help you maintain more lean muscle mass, especially while dieting. This can be very beneficial because it’s your lean muscle mass that keeps your metabolic rate where it needs to be, ensuring you can maintain your weight loss over the long haul.

Too much running, unless it’s sprinting, can actually promote the loss of lean muscle mass tissue, so that’s not what you want. Unless, of course, your desire is just to be thin all around.

Both machines, when done in a sprinting manner, can have remarkable benefits on boosting your resting metabolic rate and encouraging faster fat loss. This creates an effect known as EPOC, which stands for excess post exercise oxygen consumption.

Injury Risk Factors

Also take time to think about the injury risk factors in the treadmill vs. elliptical. The elliptical is designed to be a low injury machine as there is no impact that you would get with running. But yet, take note, this does not mean you will remain entirely injury free. In fact, if you do the elliptical enough – every day for a long while, you could very likely suffer from overuse injuries. Always remember that low impact does not mean injury free.

For some individuals, if the elliptical feels awkward to use and isn’t matching their body so well, it can actually increase their overall chances of injury. So keep that in mind.

But this said, the treadmill definitely presents risk of its own. Overuse injuries such as shin splints, sore knees, and low back pain are all too common in runners, especially distance runners. While there are many steps you can take to prevent these such as doing proper warm-ups, not ramping up mileage too quickly, and using a good of running shoes, the risk still does present itself.

And using the treadmill puts you at a risk of falling off the treadmill or twisting your ankle if you land on it in the wrong position, so those are two additional concerns to think about.

Program Options

One of the biggest things you must do when starting a cardio fitness program is figuring out ways to reduce boredom. Boredom is the factor that causes many people to fall off their program, thus fail to see results.

While some individuals are fine to just listen to music and that’s enough to combat their boredom, this is not enough for many. Finding a machine that has good programmable options is therefore key.

Both the treadmill and the elliptical pan out quite well here. You can adjust the speed in which you use either machine and also change the incline.

With the treadmill, you can go from a run to a walk, so you also have that versatility (which is a factor of speed). With the elliptical, you can either go in a forward based movement pattern or, if you want something different, you can go in a backward movement pattern instead. Both are again going to be terrific options to consider to liven up your program and work your muscles in a slightly different manner.

Giving your program this variety is what will help you ensure you don’t hit a dreaded progress plateau as well as it keeps your body guessing as to what type of exercise is coming next.

Machine Maintenance

Finally, think machine maintenance. The elliptical machine tends to be quite maintenance free, meaning you don’t really need to do much beyond purchase the machine. They rarely break down so you likely won’t have many ongoing costs.

This is not the case with the treadmill however. The treadmill belt often has to be replaced at some point during the lifespan of the treadmill, especially if you are running. The motor is also more likely to suffer problems as well as the incline feature.

This isn’t to say all treadmills break down. Especially if you purchase a high quality machine, there’s a very good chance you will get years of great use from it before running into issues.

But, if we look at treadmill vs. elliptical, the treadmill will be more prone to requiring repairs.


So there you have some of the key differences between the treadmill vs. elliptical. Both are terrific options and can certainly help you reach your goals when done on a regular basis. The most important thing is to choose a machine and commit to doing it, so that is the most critical factor to consider.

If you believe running is the best cardio exercise but hate doing it, don’t force yourself to get a treadmill. You’ll likely see better results with the elliptical because you’ll actually do the workouts more.

Photo credit: Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock; nd3000/Shutterstock; kurhan/Shutterstock

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