Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which is Better for You

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For most people that choose to work out at home, it’s always a toss-up between the treadmill or the elliptical machine, and before you choose either one, you’ll do well to consider a few factors about each option. Apart from your budget, the most important factor is probably your fitness goals. Below we’re going to give you a complete overview of each machine, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

The main difference between a treadmill and an elliptical trainer is the design. The treadmill has a long deck that’s designed specifically for walking, jogging and running, whereas the elliptical trainer is optimized to simulate a climbing or stride-like running motion. You can modify the resistance and incline levels of an elliptical trainer to help target certain muscle groups according to your preferences, while the treadmill enables you to modify the speed and incline so that you can achieve the level of cardiovascular endurance levels that you desire.

Impact

For most people, the elliptical trainer seems like a no-brainer because it is the very low impact when compared to the treadmill, and it’s gentle on the joints on your knees, feet, back, and hips. This is why an elliptical trainer is ideal for cross-training athletes that are recovering from injuries because it provides you with all the advantages of running without damaging your joints. In fact, working out on an elliptical machine will even make your joints stronger.

On the other hand, treadmills are constructed to absorb shock so as to relieve pressure and impact from the joints while you’re running, and that makes it the better option when compared to road running, which can be quite taxing on the joints.

Another great upshot of low-impact exercise training is that it protects you from injuries while encouraging good posture. You see, an elliptical trainer is designed to support your back at all times while you’re training so that even when you’re tired of running, your back will still remain straight. Other training machines don’t provide the same level of support and control, and that makes it easy to sustain injuries or strain while training on them.

Calorie Burn

The number of calories that you burn when training is directly linked to the workout intensity. One of the most efficient ways to incinerate calories without spending hours sweating is through Interval Training, which involves short bursts of high-intensity and high-speed training with low-intensity and low-speed rest periods. Basically, Interval Training provides the best of both worlds by combining aerobic and anaerobic methods in order to efficiently burn more calories by consuming energy that’s stored up in your muscles.

In a nutshell, you can burn more calories using your elliptical machine doing interval training, than you can by spending twice as much time running on a treadmill.  That said, you can still do interval training on your treadmill if you set it to the incline position and use different speed levels, but an elliptical trainer is way more customizable because you can adjust its incline and resistance as well, which makes the aerobic exercise more intense and engaging to the core muscle groups that you want to target. Naturally, you stand to burn way more calories when you engage more muscle groups.

Some elliptical training machines even come with handlebars that make it easy for you to train both the lower and upper body parts at the same time, thus burning calories more efficiently than you would when running, which only works on your lower body.

Versatility

A lot of people get so bored with doing the same workout every day that they just stop training altogether. Of course, this is understandable because anyone would tire of performing the same motion day in and day out.

While some treadmills do come with entertainment features to keep you mentally focused, they’re mostly just designed to perform one type of motion, which is running. On the other hand, elliptical trainers feature a versatile design that allows you to perform a wide range of motion that engages various muscle groups at the same time, and that can go a long way to improve your running performance.

For one, most elliptical trainers are designed to move in forwarding and backward motions. Through this movement, you can work for various muscle groups and develop better coordination while stimulating you mentally to think differently about each movement that you perform.

Also, elliptical trainers feature flexible handlebars that can move around or stay fixed according to your preferences. For example, keeping the handlebars stationery can help improve balance when training the lower body, while the flexibility of moving handlebars is ideal for training both the lower and upper body.  Lastly, you can also choose to train “hands-free” in order to simulate running more efficiently.

Another way to keep your training routine more exciting is to use workout programs. Sure, both treadmills and elliptical trainers do feature workout programs, but the latter tend to have more options in this regard. At best, the treadmill only allows you to practice endurance runs and sprints, while an elliptical trainer can really spice things up with sprints, hill climbs, upper body endurance training and even reverse motion drills.

Cardiovascular Benefits and Muscle Toning

It’s often recommended to add resistance training into your daily workout routine no matter what it usually consists of because it helps to boost the metabolism, strengthens the bones, prevents injury while enabling your body to literally incinerate fat even after you’re done working out. Doing cardio alone is not enough to build muscle, so you need to combine it with resistance training in order to achieve the desired results, and elliptical trainers are the go-to machine for that purpose.

For example, your heart rate goes up every time you adjust the incline of your elliptical trainer because it intensifies your cardio exercise by pushing you to apply more energy, and you invariably end up engaging a number of different muscle groups because you have to move the pedals while pushing and pulling the handlebars as well. The more muscle groups get involved during your workout, the more calories you’ll burn. Targeting particular muscle groups is one of the best features of an elliptical trainer. You’ve got the handlebars that engage your arms when moving, or you can keep them stationery to engage your lower body. There’s also the hands-free or reverse motion approach for even more calorie burning.

While treadmill running is an ideal way to engage your lower body and abdominal muscles, it’s not really made for resistance training purposes. Of course, you can always manipulate the speed and intervals while you work out to increase your heart rate, but there’s nothing you can do on a treadmill that will help you target particular muscle groups like you can on an elliptical machine.

Why You Need Cardio Workouts to Lose Weight

As we all know, the best way to lose weight is to eat right and get moving! But, you can’t just do any type of training, so a combination of cardio and strength training is often recommended in order to get best of both worlds. In fact, one can go so far as to say that cardio exercise is definitely an essential component of effective weight loss.

The only challenge with cardio exercise is that there are so many options available that you can get really confused trying to figure out how hard you should push in your cardio, how much cardio you should do, and which cardio exercises to employ for your current fitness level and goals.

However, the upside to this is that you have plenty of exercise movements to choose from, and can keep your cardio workout routine exciting by incorporating different moves each day.

Most fitness experts reckon that doing mixed training is the best way to get better results, especially if you vary the intensity of each exercise and perform various actions to keep you mentally and physically engaged throughout, which can also help you say committed by preventing boredom.

The good news is that most beginner workouts are quite forgiving and allow the participant to start slow with activities that are fun but low-impact and are generally not as demanding. The most important thing is to train in a way that brings you joy by doing activities that are actually fun and easy for you.

How Cardio Helps You Lose Weight

Most people know that the best way to lose weight is to decrease the number of calories you consume on a daily basis, or alternatively burn more calories than you consume. However, the fastest way to get results is by combining both solutions- consume a diet that is low in calories and high in nutrients, while getting in a daily exercise that includes cardio and strength training.

Cardio, specifically, is crucial because of the following reasons:

  • You burn more calories at one time – Cardio will not only increase your heart rate, but it improves blood circulation and breathing while enabling you to sweat out all the fat. Once you get into “the zone” as most athletes call it, your body will literally become the most efficient calorie-burning machine it’s ever been. For instance, if you weight about 150 pounds, you can burn 200-more or less- just by doing a brisk 30-minute walk.
  • You can easily add intensity to increase your calorie burn – Cardio also enables you to burn more calories with the smallest tweaks in exercise intensity. All you have to do is challenge your body by climbing more hills, jumping higher, running faster and just generally going harder with each workout.
  • It adds to your overall calorie deficit – As you burn more calories, you can slightly increase your calorie intake by consuming more healthy foods. However, this doesn’t mean that you should binge eat after your workout just because you did more in your workout as some people do.
  • You can do cardio most days of the week – With cardio, you don’t have to take days off, because it is not as taxing on your body as weight lifting for example, which needs to be followed with periods of substantial rest.

The Best Cardio Exercises

While cardio training, in general, is great for weight loss, some people still question if there are certain exercises that are better than others at getting faster results.

Truth is, there is not “ideal” cardio exercise. The best cardio exercise is the one that you repeat on a daily basis. That’s why it’s so important to find an exercise routine that you absolutely enjoy, as that’ll motivate you to continue working out to lose weight even when the going gets tough. Whatever you do, avoid exercise routines that don’t excite you or make you happy.

That said, there are certain exercises that provide better intensity than others.

  • Impact activities: Impact-focused training such as taking brisk walks will increase your heart rate faster than cycling or swimming, which are both low-impact activities.
  • High impact activities: Incorporating some form of jumping or running into your exercises will help you burn even more calories than you would by just walking. In fact, you don’t even have to go through the whole workout and you’ll still feel the results with high-impact training. Just sprinkle a few high-impact activities into your current exercise routine and you’ll immediately see the difference.
  • Whole body activities: Activities that involve both lower and upper body movement, i.e. cross-country skiing, are often really effective at increasing heart rate to burn calories, and a whole body workout will also boost your endurance and strength levels.

However, low-impact exercise also has its place, as both activities enable you to burn calories in different ways.

Truth be told, both your mind and body actually enjoy it when you add variety to your workouts because you get to alternate between challenging moves and periods of rest. Otherwise, it’s best to challenge yourself just enough to get out of your comfort zone for most of the workout, and then spend the rest of it doing high-intensity moves.

Interval Training is the perfect way to achieve this, and you can also accomplish it by alternating between periods of exertion and recovery throughout your workout routine. That way, you’ll get to incinerate calories while improving your endurance levels.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular exercises to lose weight, just to give you an idea of how effective cardio is:

Next, to each exercise below, we’ve included the number of calories you stand to burn if you weigh 150 pounds while exercising for 30 minutes at a time:

  • Step aerobics: 340 calories
  • Stationary bike: 238 calories
  • Swimming: 270 calories
  • Walking 4 mph: 170 calories
  • Running 5 mph: 270 calories
  • Mowing the lawn with a push mower: 200 calories

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of activities that you can perform in order to burn calories from mowing the lawn to swimming in your backyard pool. All you have to do is put some back into it and you’ve got yourself a cardio workout!

How Much Cardio Do You Need?

There is no general consensus when it comes to answering this question. However, there are certain guidelines that provide us with a framework that anyone can use to understand their physical limits.

According to the American Heart Association as well as the American College of Sports Medicine, 20 to 60 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise every other day is enough for most people. However, this may not be the case for everyone, as each person is different. So the whole thing is influenced by certain dynamics such as:

  • The number of calories that you consume
  • How much you push while you exercise
  • Your metabolism, age, and gender
  • Your fitness levels
  • The percentage of body fat that you have, as well as your weight
  • Your exercise schedule

In any case, here are some useful tips that can help you put together a workout program that actually works.

Cardio Programs for Beginners

  • For beginners, we recommend that you select an activity that you enjoy. Walking is the easiest starting point because you can do it anywhere and you’ll be able to regulate the intensity of the walk as you go along. All you have to do is go up a few hills or just increase the speed. Walking poles are another great way to intensify your walks.
  • Start by doing the same activity for 3 days straight, and make sure to keep the intensity at a moderate level, which for most people means stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit.
  • Keep up the workout for as long as you can, and aim for 20 or more minutes.
  • Add a few more minutes to your workout each week until you reach about 30 to 45 minutes per session.
  • As your strength increases, you can also incorporate a bit of Interval Training into our routine to increase your endurance levels while burning even more calories.
  • Try to increase the number of days you work out to 5 or 6 days per week, and add variety and intensity as you go along.

The following cardio schedule templates will hopefully assist you in creating your own workout program.

Basically, cardio is one of the most ideal ways to burn calories and lose weight, and it works even better when you combine it with a low-calorie diet and strength training.

Cardio for Muscle Gain

Weight loss is not always the goal when it comes to working out. For some people, the goal is to gain more muscle, which can be a really hard thing to do.

It’s interesting to note that while most people associate cardio training with weight loss, it also comes with other benefits like conditioning your lungs and heart while supporting overall wellness and health.

That’s why you should still incorporate a bit of cardio even if your goal is to just gain muscle. For example, 20-minute sessions done 3 times will help you get cardio exercise benefits without hurting your muscle gains.

Also, remember that high-intensity strength training like kettlebell training is a great way to get your heart rate up while building muscle.

Elliptical Pros and Cons

There are a lot of detractors out there who will tell you that you can’t really get an effective workout on an elliptical because it does all the work for you. Granted, this may be true for those people who depend on the elliptical momentum to carry them forward without doing any real work. But if you push along with the volition provided by the elliptical trainer, then you’ll be able to get the results you want. Plus, elliptical training is one of the few methods that enable you to increase the heart rate while keeping things relatively low-impact, which is great news for anyone that wants to work out while recovering from an injury or some sort of muscle pain.

Pros

  • Low impact
  • You can switch up the resistance
  • You can utilize the arms to achieve a full body workout

Cons

  • You can easily find yourself on “autopilot” when working out on an elliptical
  • Moving on the elliptical can be quite difficult for beginners

Safety Tips

Using the elliptical trainer is a bit more complex than using the treadmill, which is why it’s essential for you to fully understand the controls before you even step onto it. Newbies are often advised to avoid the arm handles in the beginning, as most machines come with a pair of convenient stationery handles that are optimized for new users. You’ll also find elliptical machines with wider foot platforms that enable you to shift your stance as needed while improving balance and relieving pressure on your joints.

How to Get the Best Results on an Elliptical

When using an elliptical machine it’s important to acknowledge that low impact movement doesn’t necessarily translate to low intensity. In fact, you get what you put in with an elliptical, so the harder you work the better your results will be. Whereas if you move at a snail’s pace then you’ll probably end up feeling dissatisfied and frustrated at the lack of progress. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your elliptical trainer and lose weight:

  • Watch Your Posture – Keep your back straight, engage your core and avoid slouching over the machine. Sure, it’s hard, but it’ll get you the results you want. You also want to avoid leaning on the handrails, which should come easy when your core is engaged with good back posture.
  • Get the Foot Positioning Down – While you should keep your feet glued to the pedals the whole time you’re on the machine, it’s okay to lift the back of your heels a tiny bit to roll your feet from the balls to the heels. Also, make sure to bend your knees slightly the entire time.
  • Use the Handles – Increasing your level of resistance and engaging the training handles actually matches the intensity of running on a treadmill. The “talk test” is a method that’s used to measure the amount of benefit you’re deriving from the workout. Ideally, your workout should induce deep breathing and leave you slightly winded at the same time so that you’re not really able to talk for its duration.
  • Use Interval Training – Using high-intensity interval training is a more effective way of burning fat and calories than slow and steady cardio. The good news is that you can use the elliptical for interval training as well, and all you have to do is switch up the intensity and resistance so that you can workout at different resistances and speeds.

 

Treadmill Pros and Cons

While a lot of people dread going on the treadmill, it can actually be your best friend when the weather doesn’t allow for running outside. The best part is that most treadmills come with an incline feature to challenge and intensify your workout in an instant. So, customizing your treadmill by changing the speed and incline can go a long way to creating more challenging workouts that mimic natural conditions.

Pros

  • You can switch it up to an incline in order to tone the muscles on your butt
  • Enables you to jog or run no matter what the weather’s like

Cons

  • It’s very high-impact, which makes it a no-go for those prone to joint pain
  • It only gives you a lower body workout

Safety Tips

If it’s your first time using a treadmill, then you’ll do well to ask a trainer or similar specialist to assist you in understanding the controls, especially the on/ off switch and emergency shut-off key or clip. Stepping on the belt while it’s running is very dangerous and you’ll do well to avoid that, and always wear aerobic exercise shoes before you step onto the treadmill.

Also, when using the incline feature of the treadmill, start by raising the incline slightly at first and then increase it higher as you get used to being on the machine. Research shows that increasing the incline by 3% will translate to 24% less shock impact on the knees and legs, whereas increasing the incline by more than 3% at a time will actually increase shock to your knees and legs significantly.

How to Get the Best Results on a Treadmill

The treadmill is ideal for both beginner and seasoned runners in that you can customize its settings according to your preferences. Plus, the treadmill allows you to run indoors so that you don’t have to skip a run because of bad weather. That said, some might find a treadmill to be a bit boring because it requires you to do the same thing over and over again, but that doesn’t have to be the case, as our tips below demonstrate.

  • Make The Incline Your Best Friend – Most treadmills have an incline feature that allows you to spruce up your treadmill workouts, while light jogging or brisk walking on an elevated incline treadmill are also great ways to challenge yourself. The best part is that you’ll be targeting various muscle groups at the same time while helping to improve your aerobic skills as well.
  • Use Perceived Exertion and the Talk Test – The best way to figure out your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is to consider 1 on the scale as the easiest activity that you can perform, like lying on a hammock, for example, whereas 10 would be the hardest and most challenging activity, like sprinting at the same rate as a speeding vehicle. The “talk test”, which involves finding out how easy it is for you to continue talking while you exercise, is another great way to measure intensity. Ideally, your workout should be so intense and engage that you won’t be able to hold a conversation for its entire duration.
  • Intervals, Intervals, Intervals – Interval Training on either machine can really increase the number of calories you burn when compared to just doing the same activity.  So, instead of just jogging in place for 20 minutes, why don’t you add a bit of brisk walking and all-out sprints in between to really challenge yourself? Interval Training also comes with the added benefit of changing your heart rate to different levels while absolutely incinerating fat.

Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Calorie Burn Comparison

The Medical College of Wisconsin recently published a study which illustrates that you can burn 705 to 866 calories from jogging on the treadmill for just one hour. Training on an elliptical trainer for the same amount of time, on the other hand, will help you burn about 773 calories. Many similar studies show pretty much the same results, which means that the treadmill can actually help to burn more calories.

Another study which included a group of individuals that participated in a 12-week program using the treadmill, stair climber and elliptical at similar intensities, revealed that the participants all experienced the same results at the end of the program.

Which is Better for Arthritic Knees?

Missing out on exercise due to bad weather or because of pollen allergies is no fun, but thanks to indoor equipment like the treadmill and elliptical you don’t have to miss a single aerobic workout. However, figuring out which machine is best for your needs can be quite challenging, especially if you suffer from arthritic needs.

Both machines mimic running and walking movements. However, the difference is that on an elliptical trainer, you place your feet on pedals and move your feet in a circular motion, whereas on a treadmill you run or walk in place on a moving belt. Both machines come with advantages and disadvantages, so the best way to make a decision is to test each machine out first to see how your body responds to it.

Exercise Benefits for OA

Research shows that over 27 million Americans suffer from Osteoarthritis (OA). However, scientific evidence suggests that performing some type of moderate exercises like walking, swimming or running can help to relieve symptoms of this condition significantly. In fact, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recently released a report which indicates that performing the low-impact physical exercise for at least 150 minutes each week can help to improve physical function, mental health, and quality of life, all while reducing pain.

Another study indicates that even light exercise can lead to much healthier knee cartilage when done for 2 hours or less per day for about 3 days a week, and it’s better than not engaging in exercise at all. Here’s how your arthritic knees can benefit from low impact cardio exercise:

  • It helps to maintain good cartilage health by delivering more blood and nutrients to the cartilage.
  • Supports weak knee muscles while reducing wear and tear on the cartilage and strengthening knee muscles.
  • Encourages weight loss so that there’s less strain on your knees.

Treadmill Bone Strengthening Benefit

Our work here at the Save Institute goes beyond just counseling you on healthy living, but we offer scientific evidence to back all our recommendations.  In fact, there are several studies that look at the connection between working out on the treadmill and keeping your bones healthy.

The first study was done by researchers at the Keio University School of Medicine which is located in Tokyo and its titled; “Treadmill exercise effects on bone metabolism and calciotropic hormones in rats.” For this study, the researchers took 20 rats and divided them into 5 separate groups. One group exercised for 11 weeks, while the other exercised for 7 weeks, and another two groups were kept sedentary. The fifth group consisted of one rat each time. The rats had the bone mineral content of their tibia tested before and after each workout session, and the researchers also measured calciotropic hormones bone marker levels and femoral length before and after each session as well.

Another study which was also done by Japanese scientists was aimed at figuring out how much we should run in order to build healthy bones. This study also utilized rats for the experiment, and separated them into different groups, with one that was made to run for 180 minutes per day for 5 days a week, another was required to run for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week, while another group was just left to remain sedentary. The study ran for eight weeks, and at the end of it, showed that the rats who did moderate running for 30 minutes each day actually had healthier bones than both the group that ran 180 minutes per day and the one that was left sedentary.

As you can see, that old saying of “everything in moderation” actually holds true in all things, even exercise. Of course, you want to maintain variety in everything that you do as well, and that includes exercise and diet, but it’s important to not overdo it.

Walking on a Treadmill is Healthful

The following study features human participants, and its goal is to figure out treadmill benefits. For three months, a group of postmenopausal women was asked to walk on the treadmill while being supervised in order to measure their bone turnover.

Over these months, the 18 women who participated in the study were asked to walk on the treadmill at 55 to 75% intensity of the heart rate. The scientists took measurements of the women’s bone turnover during that first week and again at the end of the study to determine how much crosslinked telopeptides of type 1 collagen and propeptides of type 1 procollagen they had.

According to the study “bone resorption was increased a lot after treadmill walking.” Essentially, the study showed that after just three months of walking on the treadmill according to the above-described routine, the participants walked away with bones that were more resilient, stronger and younger.  This shows us that making a few changes in your lifestyle can significantly improve your bone health no matter how old you are.

It’s Not Too Late to Start Using a Treadmill

The above-mentioned studies on rats were performed on younger specimens, while the following study is focused on older female rats. During this study, young and old female rats were placed through the same treadmill running program, and while the older rats came into the study with lower bone density, both groups came out with the improved bone formation.

What this study shows us is that it’s not too late to start taking steps that will improve the strength and resilience of your bones. All you need to do is start walking, running or going on the treadmill a few times a week. Just keep mind that elliptical training doesn’t necessarily produce the same results because it doesn’t come with any weight-bearing exercise.

The key is to perform the same exercise consistently and you’ll definitely see results!

Conclusion

Both the treadmill and elliptical trainer are fantastic ways to keep up a vigorous exercise routine indoors, and without having to pay for gym fees! As with anything though, both machines have their advantages and disadvantages, but it boils down to your fitness goals and what you’re willing to do to reach them.

The elliptical trainer is perfect for low-impact cross-training, while the treadmill is more suited for interval and endurance training through walking, jogging and running. At the end of the day, it’s all about what type of results you want to see and how many calories you want to burn at each exercise session.

 

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