Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which is a better fit for you?

Many people ask me which cardio exercise is best for them. To answer this question, I think it’s important to take many things into account, and the following are just a few things to consider:

  1. What are your goals? Are you trying to lose weight, build muscle, improve cardiovascular health, etc?
  2. Do you have any injuries or physical limitations?
  3. What do you enjoy the most? What exercises are you the most likely to be consistent with?

The answer to these questions can be useful in designing a workout program that is right for you. Since the treadmill and the elliptical are two of the most popular cardio machines both in the gym and at home, I wanted to share an interesting article from Exercise ETC’s Review of exercise-related research that compared a brisk 2 mile walk on the treadmill versus a 2 mile run on the elliptical. The following is a summary of the pros and cons for each exercise:

  • Elliptical vs. treadmill
    • Calorie burn is the same
    • Elliptical activates the buttocks and thighs more but puts more strain on the lower back
    • Elliptical is less weight bearing than treadmill (73% vs 112% of body weight)
  • So which is best for you?
    • For weight management, both are equally as good because they burn the same calories, so pick the one you are more likely to stick with and the one that is more comfortable to you. If you can cover more distance on one of these machines than the other, I’d recommend picking that one.
    • If you have arthritis in your hips and/or knees, the elliptical may be better tolerated because it is less weight bearing.
    • If you have a lower back injury or back pain, the treadmill may be better because there is less strain on the lower back.
    • If you have bone loss (osteoporosis), the treadmill will be better for bone health because it is higher impact.

These are a few things to consider when picking an exercise. However, everyone is different, so listen to your body and see what feels best for you. Again, consistency with exercise is the most important, so be sure to pick things you like the most. Also, consider variety with your exercise routine can…it can help keep you from getting bored and will often give the best results.