Elliptical vs Treadmill Machine: Which One Is Best for Your Health?

  • Elliptical Machine

When you walk into the gym for a cardio workout, it can be hard to decide which machine will provide the best cardio fitness workout. Most people look first to the elliptical or the treadmill.

These are two of the most common pieces of cardio exercise equipment found in gyms and homes. Both are beneficial at providing an effective cardiovascular workout and improving your aerobic capability and lung function.

However, each machine offers unique advantages and drawbacks. Which is the most effective at burning calories, the elliptical or treadmill? What are the unique features? What are the disadvantages?

Which is best for training? These are some of the questions that will be answered below as we look at the many benefits and disadvantages of the elliptical and the treadmill.

The Treadmill

Arguably one of the most popular cardio machines in fitness gyms all over America, this is one that even non-committed exercisers are likely to have tried once or twice.

According to Club Industry, a site for fitness business professionals, Americans spend more than $2 billion a year buying treadmills. It is also one of the most common cardiovascular machines in homes. But what’s so great about it?


Whether you are a beginner or seasoned athlete, the treadmill has lots of utility options. Almost any capable young adult can use a treadmill safely as well as retired seniors.

Treadmill ramps have the beneficial incline feature, allowing it to adjust from a 0 percent grade all the way to 15. Walking at a high incline can be as effective at jogging at a moderate pace.

What the elliptical lacks in incline the treadmill has. Most importantly, the treadmill offers the versatility of varied speed settings, inclines, and pre-programmed workouts that make it easy to follow a simple or challenging workout with lots of variations.

Tougher Workouts

The biggest advantage of controlling the speed and incline is that one has a higher potential of getting a tougher workout in. As your aerobic capacity increases, the treadmill is able to be adjusted to continue the challenge, so you are always improving.

Treadmills also offer hill workouts, that simulate the experience of running up and down hills, providing an intense workout for any fitness level.

Treadmill Cons

Though running and walking can help improve bone strength, one should be careful of the weight pressure put on the joints when running on a treadmill. Studies show running on a treadmill is easier on the joints than running on pavement.

However, if you suffer from arthritis or are significantly overweight, it may be best to only walk on treadmills to minimize joint stress.

Wearing proper running shoes will help prevent shin splints, plantar issues, and other ailments causing you discomfort. In order to avoid injury, approach treadmill workouts gradually.

The Elliptical

Upon entering the gym, you often see rows of ellipticals and treadmills filling up the majority of space. The elliptical machines are a popular choice for many reasons. Not only are they easy to find at most gyms, they’re fairly simple to use.

Like the treadmill, they offer programmed workouts and the ability to set your age and weight to accurately estimate calorie burn. The elliptical machine offers an array of advantages to your next cardiovascular workout.

Non-Impact Exercise

Probably one of the best reasons to use the elliptical is the fact that it is less harsh on joints. If you’re just starting to work out or are older and getting to know your body’s limits, the elliptical is a great place to start.

Many people who suffer from bone and joint conditions turn to the elliptical. The gliding platforms where each foot goes move in one fluid motion, taking the impact off your joints. This makes the elliptical safer and prevents injuries.

If you have sensitivities from injuries in the past, the treadmill may worsen the injury. In this case, the elliptical is most likely the best choice for you. Consult your doctor before beginning any physical regiment when recovering from injury.

Total Body Workout

Though the treadmill is great for a variety of challenging workouts, the elliptical beats it for this capability. Elliptical machines challenge the upper and lower body at the same time with handles that move in tandem with the gliding platforms.

Many offer stationary handles as well for those that are less comfortable with the challenge of moving both arms and legs. Elliptical machines challenge muscles in the legs, chest, shoulders, back and arms. With this special feature, you can achieve a full-body workout and torch more calories.

Reverse Stride

Like the treadmill, the elliptical is great for building leg muscle definition. The elliptical equipment helps you work out your legs better by being able to reverse directions.

Using the reverse stride can challenge muscles in a completely new way that they are not used to, burning more calories and improving coordination. This is one feature the elliptical has that the treadmill doesn’t.

Which has the better calorie burn?

The treadmill offers a variety of intense work out capabilities. The elliptical is much better for joints and bones. But which has a better calorie burn? According to a study by the Medical College of Wisconsin, the average calories burned on a treadmill for one hour was 705-866.

For comparison, Health Status estimated that using an elliptical machine for one hour can burn approximately 733 calories. Drawing from these studies, the treadmill has a slight benefit over the elliptical machine as far as calorie burn.


Even though the treadmill may have a slight better calorie burn than the elliptical, the elliptical might be safer and overall better for your health. The elliptical is a safe option for a wider variety of people.

In case you’re looking for an elliptical for a home use, make sure you read this comprehensive buying guide on how to choose the best elliptical machine for home use.

The treadmill, on the other hand, is a wonderful option for many seasoned exercisers, though its intensity can be a drawback for some. Deciding which cardio machine is best for you depends on your overall health and fitness goals.

For optimal fat loss, high intensity interval training can be implemented with the elliptical or the treadmill, but the treadmill may yield more calorie burn. The elliptical is the most desirable machine for overweight, injured, and elderly exercisers.

If you are training for a marathon or other physically demanding events, the treadmill wins the competition. It all depends on your particular goals. Remember whenever starting a new fitness regiment to consult a doctor and to start gradually to guarantee safety.

About the Author:

Laura Bierman is a home improvement enthusiast, who has been in the industry for more than 15 years. Her passion is to share her expertise through writing on a wide range of home improvement topics. Laura is a director of editorial content and an Editor-in-Chief at YouthfulHome.com, a rapidly-growing, North American homeowner and contractor portal.