Treadmill VS Elliptical : Which is Better?

As we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, everything has changed. Many of us are working from home. Some people are also trying to juggle educating their children as schools have closed across the nation. Lucky are those people who run to maintain their sanity; however, there are many extenuating circumstances that could keep a person from pounding the pavement outside during this crisis. If you are fortunate enough to have access to cardio machines, there are some great tools out there to allow you to exercise to maintain your physical fitness as you relieve stress. Here’s a question though, which one is better when it comes to elliptical vs treadmill?

elliptical machine
Nordictrack elliptical

While people scramble to put together home gyms, two common materials being purchased are treadmills and ellipticals. Can you get a quality workout on both? What are the benefits of each? Are there drawbacks to either of these? Both of them? What if I can only afford one piece of equipment: which should it be?

Elliptical: What exactly is it?

An elliptical is a machine created to allow the user to get a cardiovascular workout without stepping outside. The elliptical typically mimics running or walking, but sometimes the pedals circle in such a way as to seem like the user is sort of climbing.

Standard elliptical trainers only work the lower body, as the arms are stationary. Since your legs, in particular hips and knees, are doing most of the work, these types of machines will build glutes, quads, and hamstrings most. Ellipticals work in a circular, or elliptical motion.

Elliptical cross trainers work both upper band lower body. Your arms are moving opposite each leg stride, mimicking running or walking motion. This movement, as you move handlebars forward and backward, works shoulders and arms in addition to the muscles of the lower body.

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The essential difference in an elliptical glider is a glider lacks the circular motion. Instead, your feet glide back and forth. Gliders can have handlebars where you are working your arms to ensure a more full-body workout, but they don’t always. Some gliders only work the lower body, just like the aforementioned ellipticals.

Benefits of the Elliptical

Low Impact – An elliptical is an amazing piece of equipment. Since your feet are pushing down on the pedals, it is not considered zero impact. It is significantly less impact than running.

Weight Bearing – Even though it is a super low impact exercise, it does qualify as a weight-bearing exercise with is excellent for bone health.

Engages Upper and Lower Body – If you use an elliptical with handles for your arms, you are engaging both upper and lower body.

Varied Workouts – Although some people claim boredom on the elliptical, it does not have to be! An elliptical can be used for interval work.

Convenience – Whether you are avoiding bad weather or just need an inside workout for other reasons, an elliptical is great for convenience!

Let’s Talk About Treadmills!

First, a manual treadmill is one where the person actually causes the equipment to propel forward. Using a system of belts, the user’s feel on the belt causes the forward motion. According to studies, the user can expend up to 30% more energy going at the same speed on a manual treadmill than on a motorized treadmill.

The newest thing in manual or non-electric treadmills is a curved treadmill. These are starting to show up in fitness centers. These self-powered pieces of equipment are said to allow the runner to run on the balls of their feet and in a more natural style.


On a motorized treadmill, the belt is over by a motor and the user has to run and keep pace. The motorized means less work to get the belt moving and no straining to propel it forward. Also, a motorized will have more features than its manual counterpart.

Benefits of Treadmills

Most Like Running – For people who love to run, a treadmill most closely replicates running outside. Setting your treadmill to 1% incline will get you closer to outdoor running than working out at zero inclines.

Weather – Whether you live in the bitter cold of Alaska or are in Arizona in July, a treadmill can come in handy for an escape to the elements.

Convenient – Many people love a treadmill or any piece of indoor equipment, for convenience.
This is especially true for a single parent or someone whose significant other is gone for stretches of time. Parenting is difficult enough without having to sacrifice your workout!

Less Impact than Running Outside – As you ease back from injury, a treadmill offers less impact than pavement pounding.

What Do Real Runners Say on Elliptical VS Treadmill?

Diana Prentice – “I have an elliptical and treadmill and use the elliptical as cross-training. I usually do easier workouts on it so I do a steady pace. If I use it to substitute for running, I’ll do harder workouts and intervals. Especially if I am coming back from injury or trying to prevent something from getting worse. I really enjoy the elliptical as a welcome change from running.”

Jen Bruno – “I began to use my elliptical in heavy rotation when struggling with plantar fasciitis because it didn’t seem to aggravate the issue. I continue to use it 3-4 days a week.” 

Debbie Peterson likes, “the ellipticals that replicates skiing if I’m feeling hurt from too much running because it works different muscles.”

Coach Daphne Matalene, “I know lots of people who’ve used the elliptical for serious training when they’ve been injured—you can use it to mimic all kinds of running workouts (one of my most favorite psychos—er, I mean running buddies) has done a 3hr long run on one! He then ran a 3:28 marathon a few weeks later. The key thing to remember is effort. Your heart and your lungs don’t know what’s taxing them—they’re inside your body and can’t see the workout!”

Which Is Better?

If you are trying to most closely replicate running, a treadmill is better. Of course, that seems obvious. But is it important to always replicate running? As Coach Matalene stated, if the goal is simply taxing the cardiovascular system and maintaining a certain effort, the difference seems negligible.

elliptical or treadmill

When using an elliptical that engages both upper and lower body, that equipment will give you a better whole body workout than a treadmill.

A treadmill will typically burn more calories if that is important to you, and also strengthen your legs more. An elliptical is a better tool when working through an injury or post-injury.

Both pieces of equipment are excellent for getting your heart rate up and as tools for weight loss. If you can only purchase one piece of equipment for your home, an elliptical is typically less expensive a piece of equipment than a treadmill. Also, you can replicate anything you would do on a treadmill outside. With an elliptical, that is not the case.

If you are looking to purchase just one piece of equipment, it really is a tough decision. Weighing the options if an elliptical or treadmill is better simply isn’t a question you can answer in a way that is true for everyone. Personal preferences and objectives both come into play here.

For myself? An elliptical was the right choice. I can do anything I want to accomplish running outside, and an elliptical was a cost-effective piece of equipment that involves way less impact than running. Elliptical over the treadmill for home gym equipment for this author.


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Six Benefits of Elliptical
Manual vs. Motorized Treadmills

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