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Treadmill Vs. Bike Vs. Elliptical

It’s a showdown between the most popular pieces of fitness equipment out there: the treadmill vs. bike. Vs. elliptical. Which machine is the superior machine? Which will help you realize true success the fastest? Which should you be spending more of your time using?

It’s a hard question to answer, but by doing a comparison of the treadmill vs. bike vs. elliptical, you can hopefully get a better idea of precisely where you stand.

Treadmill Vs. Bike Vs. Elliptical Summary

Fat Burn HighHighModerate
Joint Impact LowHighModerate
Muscle StrengthModerateLowModerate
Variability HighModerateLow
Ease Of UseLowHighHigh
Boredom FactorLowModerateHigh


In order to properly evaluate these machines in comparison, let’s look at a few more details.

Fat Burning Potential

It’s the age-old question that everyone wants to know the answer to: which machine is going to burn more fat.

Hard question to answer and like most things in life, it depends. The very first question you need to ask yourself is which machine do you feel most comfortable using? Because chances are whichever machine you feel most comfortable using is the machine you will put the most effort into and therefore, will burn the most calories. If you feel awkward on a machine and it actually hurts your body in some way, it’s going to be hard to get to that level of fat burning that you desire.

But if you do happen to have two machines that you’d rank about equal in terms of how well you feel while on them, then let’s consider some points.

The elliptical works the upper and lower body. This makes it the king of fat burning. Any time you get more muscles involve, you are going to use more energy to complete each movement. So it ranks ahead of both the treadmill and the cycle.

Next we have the treadmill. If you are running at a brisk pace or doing interval sprints, you’ll be burning up calories quite readily on this as well. More so than you would on the bike.

The reason? The cycle has you sitting, therefore all those muscles in your core aren’t going to have to work as hard to get the job done. They can sit back and relax, more or less, thus this also drives your calorie burn down.

So if all machines are equal in terms of how comfortable you are on them, choose the elliptical, then treadmill, then cycle when looking for calorie burning ability.

Joint Impact

Now let’s consider joint impact. Which machine is going to be less taxing on the joint? The elliptical has been designed to be easy on the joints, so right away you know this machine earns good marks here. You have zero impact with this machine and since you aren’t even stepping (your feet stay placed in the foot pads at all times), you won’t have to worry about that either.

Therefore, choose the elliptical if you want to avoid joint pain. The treadmill is going to earn the worst marks as shin splints, knee pain, ankle pain, and low back pain are all too common amongst runners. If you choose to walk, you likely won’t feel pain quite as much, but if you choose to run, be prepared. The best you can do is increase mileage and/or time slowly and make sure you use good padded footwear to minimize joint pain.

The cycle is pretty easy on the joints. It’s non-impact, but your knees will move from a very bent to a very straight position multiple times each workout, so this can actually lead to grinding of the joints if you aren’t careful.

Muscle Strength

If you are someone who isn’t interested in strength training, it’s wise to consider which mode of cardio will help you gain the most strength since this is an important element of any home workout program. When looking at the treadmill vs. bike vs. elliptical, how do they stack up? Which is going to help you gain the most strength?

The treadmill offers very little resistance, so don’t expect to gain much strength here. Instead, consider the elliptical or the bike. The elliptical will help you gain strength in both the upper as well as the lower body, while the bike will focus primarily on the lower body. This said, the bike will help you build up your quads and hamstrings to a larger degree than the elliptical typically will, so if those are the muscles you want to target, the cycle should be your go-to.

If, on the other hand, your glutes are your main focus, try doing the elliptical on a high elevation. This will transform the elliptical into more of a stair climber, which is great for building the booty.

Sadly, uphill walking, despite being on an incline, comes in short. While it will help you gain some strength, it’s just not really having you work against the forces the other two are so you aren’t likely to see much carry over benefit to other activities.


Which machine offers the most variability? And why does this matter? It matters because it factors into determining how like you are to hit a progress plateau as well as how likely it is that you fall off the program entirely because you just don’t look forward to your workouts.

Changing things up is important so it’s wise to find a machine that will allow you to do so.

The elliptical wins out here. It allows you to go forward, backward, as well as on a steep or shallow incline. Form there, you can also increase the resistance level. This gives you plenty of options to create different workouts with.

The bike only allows you to pedal faster or increase the resistance while the treadmill allows you to go on an incline or increase your speed.

So while there is some variability, it’s simply not enough to create interesting workouts day after day after day and many people may find that they do become bored.

There is the information you need to know about the treadmill vs. bike vs. elliptical. While you can’t go wrong with any machine, choosing the elliptical is a wise move as it has many benefits to offer. But if you are a runner at heart, then you will likely respond better to the treadmill because this is what you enjoy the most. Likewise with cycling. Listen to your own needs and preferences too because those matter with long term adherence rates.

Photo credit: Mladen Zivkovic/Shutterstock; Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock; Zodiacphoto/Shutterstock

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