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Treadmill Versus Elliptical Vs. Bike

Looking to get in shape but not quite sure how you are going to achieve that? The great news is you have plenty of options. There are many different pieces of fitness equipment out there that can help you get to your end goal, so your mission needs to be about figuring out which is the best one for you.

The treadmill has a number of great benefits such as being an excellent calorie burner and easy to use, while the elliptical adds the fact it brings the upper body into play to the list. The bike is great for those who want to build explosive power, so once again, is a good option for many.

So which should you choose? Let’s look at how these all stack up so you can determine for yourself which you prefer.


Calorie Burn ModerateLow-HighHigh
Muscles WorkedQuads, Hamstrings, Glutes, CalvesQuads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, CoreBack, Chest, Arms, Shoulders, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Core
Progression Model Adding resistance and speedAdding incline and speedAdding elevation and speed
Injury RiskLow to moderateHighLow
Machine Durability HighLowModerate
Strength Building PotentialHighLowModerate
Joint ImpactLowHighLow
Easy To UseVery EasyEasyModerately Challenging
Ability To AdvanceModerateHighHigh
Exercise Variability LowHighHigh


Let’s look at these in more detail so you can see how they really stack up.

Calorie Burn

When looking at the calorie burn, we come to see that the treadmill and the elliptical are the clear winners here. Both of these pieces of cardio equipment are excellent for burning calories and helping you lose weight. The elliptical is perhaps the best calorie burner of them all because it is the one that brings the upper body into the mix. The more muscles you work in any given moment, the faster you’ll be burning calories.

Therefore, assuming you are working at a similar intensity, the elliptical is the one that will burn the most calories overall.

Progression Model

When it comes to progression, all machines will obviously offer you the ability to progress. With all of these machines, you will either increase the overall speed in which you are working or you will increase the level of resistance in some way.

With the bike, it’s a direct resistance increase. With the treadmill, you increase the elevation so it’s like you are going up a hill. With the elliptical, you actually have two methods of increase. You can either increase the elevation you are working at (so it’s like you are climbing up stairs rather than running) OR you can increase the resistance level you are working at.

Therefore, if you are someone who likes to have good variety and see results, the elliptical may actually be a better bet for you because of this.

Injury Risk and Joint Impact

Considering injury risk is important because if you find yourself injured, you are going to be in the position to be making no progress at all. Better to be safe than sorry, should be the motto for most.

In terms of injury risk, the treadmill definitely is the highest. With the treadmill, you could twist an ankle, fall off the machine, suffer shin splints, get back pain, experience sore knees, and the list goes on. It’s a very high impact machine therefore the potential for pain is also quite great.

The bike offers low injury risk. You may get a sore bottom from sitting on the seat for so long and knee pain could result if you are doing too much biking or try to advance too quickly, but other than that, injuries tend on the bike tend to be rather minor.

The elliptical offers an even lower injury risk yet. This machine was designed to be low impact and to help those who have either suffered from injury or are rehabilitating from one, so it’s a machine you should feel quite comfortable using.

Machine Durability

You might also want to take into account how durable the machines are. The last thing you want to do is invest a thousand dollars or more only to find the machine is breaking down on you.

While any good machine should hold up for quite a while, repairs do need to happen with enough use. Generally speaking, treadmills have the potential for breakdown the most.

There’s just so much that can go wrong with them. The belt can get worn, the motor can break down, the ability to incline can go. This all could be cause for bringing in a repair technician.

The bike has a low breakdown potential as it tends to run smoothly most of the time and the elliptical is also quite good for durability, however with enough use, you may find you need repairs as well.

A good idea if buying an elliptical or a treadmill is to make sure that whatever model you do invest in, comes with a good warranty model.

Strength Building Potential

Let’s talk strength. Which machine is going to have the best strength building potential? Here the bike and the elliptical win out. If you want pure lower body strength, choose the bike. If you want balanced strength and to be able to do away with a strength training routine, try the elliptical.

The treadmill unfortunately won’t build much strength at all, so if that’s your goal, you should try something else instead.

Easy To Use

The good news is that all of these machines are quite easy to use so are perfect for beginners who are just getting started. This said, the bike does tend to be the easiest as the movement pattern done on the bike will be very similar to what’s done in real life on an actual bike.

The treadmill is also quite similar, but some people do require some time to get used to that belt moving beneath them. The elliptical however can take some time. It’s not going to take too much time that a beginner couldn’t learn how to use it, but it may take an extra day or two to get used to.

So there you have some direct comparisons of the three different machines. Which one is right for you? Which fits your goals the best? Remember, you always also factor in which one you enjoy the most because this is going to have a huge impact on your ability to stick with your program.

Photo credit: Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock; Alexander Raths/Shutterstock; Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock; Nutthaseth Van/Shutterstock

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