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Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which is Best for Fat Loss?

By Tory Reiss / June 23, 2014
Treadmill vs. Elliptical

Treadmill vs. Elliptical

Without a doubt, two of the most commonly found machines in the gym are the treadmill and the elliptical. Both of them offer an effective cardiovascular workout and sure, they both effectively burn calories while improving aerobic capacity. Each one offers its own unique pros and cons however, so let’s discuss the drawbacks and the benefits of each one in the classic battle of, “treadmill versus elliptical”.

Have you ever asked yourself which one of these two machines is more effective at burning calories? You might be wondering which machine you should choose to ensure your getting the absolute maxumum impact from your workout, and the overall most efficient cardio workout for your time invested. We will answer these questions and more in this article, which will introduce you to the pros and cons of each method of exercise and discuss some research study data in plain english.

Benefits of the Treadmill versus the Elliptical

First, let us discuss the benefits of using the treadmill. Benefits include the following:

  • Versatile: Whether you want to take a brisk walk or go on an uphill sprint, the treadmill offers an outstanding range of options. These options include speed, incline and other training programs.
  • Natural Movements: While technology is constantly developing new machines, some of them can be confusing and even a bit awkward. The treadmill emulates the natural movement of the body in terms of sprinting, jogging and walking.
  • High Output: It requires a lot of effort to propel your own body weight. As a result, you will burn calories at a higher rate on a treadmill.
  • Effect of Weight Bearing Exercise: Walking and running helps to strengthen your muscles and your bones. This can help your posture and your sustainability, as you grow older.
  • Longevity: Since the 1800’s treadmills have been in use. They are a staple at gyms and in many of our homes. Because they have been around for so long, they have been well researched, exceptionally developed and perfected. There is no other piece of cardio equipment that can say that.

See Our Awesome List of Top Rated Treadmills

Drawbacks of the Treadmill vs. Elliptical

While there are plenty of benefits to the treadmill, there are also a handful of drawbacks. These include the following:

  • Hard on Joints: If you do not do any warm-up exercises and stretches, running on the treadmill can be tough on your joints. It can put undue stress on your ankles, knees, hips and spine, so it is essential to stretch before using the treadmill. Even if your treadmill features shock absorbers, the impact on your joints is still significant.
  • Issues with Safety: Incline sports are high-intensity and can be dangerous depending on your skill level. Use caution and do not do incline sports that are beyond your skill level.
  • Awkward Handles: The handles on many treadmills can be awkward to hold on to. The problem is that in order for the machine to read your heart rate so that you can determine your target rate, you must hold onto the handles. This can be challenging.
  • Problems with Posture: The size of the belt can vary greatly from one treadmill to the next. The size of the treadmills belt can cause an individual to change the way that they run or walk, which can lead to posture problems and muscle imbalances.
  • Level of Difficulty: It is hard to run on an incline. Most people will choose to use a machine that they find to be the most comfortable and easiest to use.

Check Out Our Picks For Best Treadmill

Benefits of the Elliptical against the Treadmill

Next, we will discuss the benefits of the elliptical machine. Some of the benefits in using an elliptical include the following:

  •  Non-Impact: The elliptical machine will allow you to emulate a running motion without the impact to your joints that can be found with the use of a treadmill.
  • The Ability to Cross-Train: Many of the newer elliptical trainers come fully equipped with handles that move and allow you to exercise your upper body while exercising your lower body.
  • Stride Reversal: Most of the newer elliptical trainers also feature the ability to stride in reverse. This allows you to strengthen different muscles and put more emphasis on your quad muscles. It will also offer you some variety in your workout.
  • You feel as though you are doing less work: According to studies, people do not feel as though they are working as hard as they really are when they exercise using an elliptical. Subjects who were asked found that they underestimated the actual output based on their heart rate. The elliptical actually burns nearly the same amount of calories with much less effort.

Cons of the Elliptical Trainer vs the Treadmill

As with the treadmill, there are both pros and cons to the elliptical trainer. Some of the downfalls of the elliptical include the following:

  • Dynamics: With the treadmill, the incline and speed can be adjusted and can lead to an extreme variance in the intensity of the workout. In the case of the elliptical, either this feature is non-existent or it is not as effective as it is with a treadmill.
  • Less of a Weight Bearing Effect: The pedals on the elliptical are suspended off the ground meaning that they lack the weight bearing effect that is used by running. While less impact can help you avoid injury, there is a downside. Exercises that are weight-bearing work to strengthen bones and muscles. These types of exercises are essential in older people when they are trying to prevent osteoporosis.
  • Momentum: When you operate the elliptical trainer on a lower level, you can use the momentum from the machine to power it.

Calories Burned: Elliptical vs Treadmill Fat Loss

A study that was conducted by the University of Nebraska used 9 male and 9 female untrained college-aged participants measuring heart rate and measuring peak oxygen uptake proved that the average oxygen consumed that were burned by jogging on a treadmill for two 15-minute submaximal exercise tests was almost identical, while the elliptical produced a mildly higher heart rate. This fact recognizes that fat loss produced by both the elliptical and the treadmill are virtually the same.

When we look at this in terms of fat lost and increased aerobic capacity, another study found that those folks who used an elliptical, treadmill and stair climber at similar intensities recognized similar physiological changes within a 12-week program.

The Verdict

If you are looking for a way to improve your cardiovascular health with minimal impact, the elliptical trainer is for you. If you want to achieve optimal fat loss, high intensity interval training should be implemented while using the elliptical trainer. One thing that you should be aware of is that often times the calorie-burning calculator that is included on the elliptical overestimates the number of calories burned. It is important to know this because it can fool you into thinking you are burning more calories than you actually are. If you have experience exercising, the treadmill will most likely offer the most burned calories but only by a very small margin. This is because you are using your own body weight for resistance. Be aware that the extra calories you burn do come with a greater potential for stress injuries on your joints. This makes the elliptical an adequate alternative for those who are less experienced or find elliptical training more comfortable.

In the event that you have an injury that is worsened by running, the elliptical may be your most viable option. To reap the most benefit, consider incorporating both of these fine machines into your exercise regimen. By using different machines, you will target different muscle groups as well as avoid having a monotonous exercise routine.

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About the author

Tory Reiss

Hi! I'm Tory Reiss. I built this blog to share my fitness quest and provide informative reviews of fitness equipment, gadgets, and supplements that you can use to help reach your health goals. Hope you enjoy it!