Elliptical vs Treadmill: Know the Key Differences between the Two

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A competition between the elliptical and treadmill is a debate for people looking forward to exercise. Both elliptical trainers and treadmills are the most popular cardio machines and famous gym equipment that provide good cardiovascular exercise1. Both simulate the natural movement pattern of walking or running.

The treadmill allows the person to walk or run on a moving belt. On an elliptical trainer, a person places the feet on the platform and moves in an ellipse or elongated circle. Both the elliptical and treadmill have similarities and some key differences with their advantages and disadvantages.

A view of treadmills  and elliptical trainers in a gym.
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Elliptical Trainer Machine

The elliptical trainer is designed mainly based on ergonomics rather than its appearance. It is an exercise equipment used for low-impact cardiovascular exercise.

Elliptical trainer simulates and combines the natural running form with stairs climbing movements by placing your feet on a platform moving in constant circular motion or ellipses.

The handlebars’ push or pull pump motion provides upper-body workouts, while the suspended pedal motion on the Elliptical (oval-shaped) track provides lower-body workouts.

Benefits of Elliptical Trainers

1. Increases Your Stamina and Cardio Capacity

A  man cycling on the elliptical trainer machine
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko/ Pexels

Cardio or aerobic exercises (like running, jumping rope, or cycling) make your heart and lungs work harder to provide more oxygen and blood to your muscles and thus strengthen them.

Using an elliptical will increase your stamina and endurance. You can do your cardio fitness routine on elliptical trainers.

2. Provide Low Impact Workouts and Less Stress on Joints

In the elliptical, your foot does not hit the ground and is on the pedals continuously, so the impact of walking or running on a hard surface is minimal. Since elliptical motion is fluid, it places a low-stress level on the joints or spinal structure.

3. Provides Cross-Training

An elliptical machine with arm handles is among the few cardio machines that offer upper and lower-body workouts together rather than in a single motion.

In an elliptical trainer, you work on your arms and legs simultaneously. Pump both arms at the same speed as you move your legs to maximize the upper body benefit.

4. Customization of Workouts as Per Need Can Be Done

In the elliptical machine, you can change the inclination and resistance to make your workout more easier or rigorous, thus it provides variations. There are several pre-programmed exercise routines and other customizable options to suit your needs.

5. More Muscle Groups Are Involved

In elliptical trainers, pedals and handles involve many muscle groups relatively in their motion. These machines target your glutes2, hamstrings, quads, back, chest, biceps, triceps, and core muscles.

6. Can Target Specific Leg Muscles

By working out on an elliptical, you can target different muscles of your legs by changing the incline and resistance of the foot pedals.

You can target the backside of your lower body by increasing the incline, and by lowering the foot pedals, you can target your quads. By reversing the direction of your stride, you can target your hamstring muscles and glutes.

7. A Good Amount of Calories Are Burnt

The elliptical workout3 is less weight-bearing than other cardio exercises4 like running, jogging, and other workouts. So, a person can continue their training without the wear and tear of high-impact exercises.

Elliptical machines are good at burning calories in less time. Weight loss can be achieved by burning more calories than the consumed amount. You can increase the number of calories burned by increasing the intensity of your workouts.

A close-up image of a person standing on a weighing scale.
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8. Helps in Improving Your Balance

If you set the resistance and incline at manageable levels and stand up straight without the support of arm handles with your abdominal muscles tight, you can target your core muscles and improve your balance.

9. Help in Maintaining Fitness after Injury

If you are affected and nursing any injury and cannot do your regular workout, an elliptical trainer will be a great way to maintain or build your fitness. Elliptical puts less stress on your joints than high-impact exercises.

Working out on an elliptical machine after injury will help you regain your full range of motion, strengthen your muscles and joints, and take the stress off the injured area.

10. Easy to Use

Elliptical trainers are easy to use. If you have not used an elliptical machine earlier, you may ask a personal trainer to guide you.

For beginners, first, use the foot pedals only, once get used to the foot movement then add the movement of the handles and do your workout.

Some Drawbacks of Elliptical Machines

1. Difference in muscle activations May Lead to Injury

Since the elliptical trainers’ motion is different from running or walking, the core and leg muscles are activated differently. If the body doesn’t adapt to the new movement pattern, it may lead to injury.

2. Improper Position May Cause Pain

Since your feet remain in a fixed position on the elliptical trainer, the constant try to keep your legs aligned and its improper tracking may lead to pain.

3. Less Gain in Bone Density and Bone Strength

Since the elliptical trainer offers low-impact exercises5 than running or weightlifting, there is less improvement in bone density and strength when compared to other high-impact exercises.


Many treadmills aligned in a gym and a zoomed picture of buttons on the machine.
Photo by Ryan De Hamer on Unsplash

The treadmill is a more common and simple exercise equipment found easily in gyms, clinics, and home gyms. Treadmills are exercise equipment with continuous loop belts run by a motor that allows people to walk or run in their place.

The treadmill offers variety; you can walk slowly, run fast, or just jog moderately by adjusting speed. You can adjust the inclination and use the treadmill as a flat road, a gentle inclination, or a steep hill.

Benefits of Treadmill

1. An Alternative to Outdoor

Treadmills mimic the same natural movement pattern as running or walking outdoors, so treadmill workouts provide a good alternative to the outdoors. It encourages you to maintain your daily cardio exercise even if the climate is not similar or dark outdoors.

2. Gives You Customization Options

A treadmill workout offers versatility; you can change the intensity of your workouts by adjusting the speed and inclination of the machine.

3. Treadmills Offer HIIT Workout

A treadmill can also be used for high-intensity interval training (HIIT)6 workouts.

4. Time Management Is Easy

The treadmill has time-setting options, so you don’t have to continue to keep a watch on your cloak.

5. Strengthen Your Bones

The treadmill offers a high-intensity workout and helps strengthen your bone strength and density.

Drawbacks of Treadmill

1. A Treadmill May Lead to Injuries

A close-up on a woman's back because of the back injury,.
Photo by Benjamin Wedemeyer on Unsplash

Jogging or running on a treadmill puts more stress on your joints and bones and may lead to injuries.

Common related injuries are knee injuries, shin splints, and stress fractures. You should always do a warmup before your treadmill workouts and end it gradually. Stretching should be done after that to reduce stress.

2. Treadmill Works on a Few Muscles Groups

The treadmill targets fewer groups of muscles than an elliptical trainer does. It strengthens your leg muscles, hip flexors, and glutes.

Elliptical vs Treadmill

Both elliptical trainers and treadmills are cardio machines, beneficial in their ways. You can choose depending on the goals and requirements of your body.

1. Degree of Stress Feature

An Elliptical Trainer has less impact on your joints and is preferable for people with joint problems or nursing any injury. On the other hand, running on a treadmill has a higher impact on knees and joints.

2. Cross Training Feature

Elliptical machines provide full-body workouts and allow for cross-training. The elliptical machine with movable handles allows you to exercise your arms with your legs, providing a workout for the lower and upper body simultaneously. On the other hand, the treadmill offers a workout for the lower body mainly.

3. The Number of Calories Burned

Elliptical and treadmill energy expenditures on both equipment are almost the same.

However, people generally run fast on the treadmill and tend to burn more calories than walking.

4. Weight-Bearing Effect

The elliptical does not have weight-bearing effects on joints and muscles. So, it causes low improvement in bone density and strength.

Meanwhile, the treadmill has weight-bearing effects on joints at high intensity and is used to develop more bone density and strength.

5. Preferable for the Type of Person

A group of men doing exercise on the the elliptical trainers in a gym.
Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

The elliptical machine is mainly used for cardio workouts for daily fitness, beginners, people dealing with joint problems (ankles, knees, or hips), or people who want to work on hamstrings and calf muscles.

A treadmill is a good tool for people training for marathons or distance running since the treadmill can mimic the natural movement pattern of running outdoors and on an inclined plane.

6. Noise Produced

Elliptical machines produce less noise because feet do not impact the ground. At the same time, treadmills produce more noise than ellipticals because of running impact.

7. Mechanism Feature

An elliptical machine mimics running motion using suspended pedals moving in an elliptical motion. Meanwhile, a treadmill has a moving belt or platform, either at or inclined at an angle, for the user to walk or run on.

8. Safety Features

Elliptical is safer for doing cardio exercises because it is less risky as your feet are placed on the pedals in a fixed movement pattern. They have less impact on your joints, too.

Meanwhile, a treadmill is riskier if it is at high speed, has a high incline setting, and is used for running. They may cause injuries. Treadmills have a high impact on your joints, too.

9. Versatility Feature

Ellipticals are less versatile since they have fewer setting options, and you can create less change in your workout. Treadmills offer a range of speed and inclination options, and you can change the intensity of your workout as per your needs.

10. In terms of Tracking Progress

Elliptical trainer models of different varieties and different manufacturers require a different amount of work on one type than on the other type. And there are fewer customization options available in them. So it is difficult to keep track of your progress.

Treadmill models are easy to use and micro-programmable. Users can track time, distance, and pace on most treadmill models and can track progress easily.

11. Cost Feature

Elliptical Machines are a little less expensive than heavy treadmills. Whereas the top model’s heavy treadmills are expensive. You can find base models with few features at a low cost.

12. Suitable for Elder People

an old lady on an elliptical trainer.
Photo by Centre for Ageing Better on Unsplash

Elliptical suits seniors in ways like providing a low-impact workout and being easy on the knees and joints. It also helps promote muscle growth, combat age-related muscle loss, and increase balance and stability.

However, elliptical has some drawbacks. An old person with low strength can develop spasms in the chest, or it may worsen a heart condition in a person suffering from a cardiovascular disorder. The Elliptical has pedals at a height that is difficult for older people to step on.

The treadmill benefits seniors in many ways. For example, a treadmill mimics outdoor jogging and is easier to access. It also provides a good aerobic workout7 and fights off the age-related loss of muscle mass.

A treadmill can be harmful in some conditions. For example, it can cause joint pain because of impact and worsen any knee or hip injury. The treadmill is not suitable for people with arthritis or cardiovascular problems8. It may cause injuries like bursitis or tendinitis in old age people. Seniors should perform their exercises under the guidance of a certified personal trainer.

Ending Thought 

The treadmill and elliptical are fitness equipment, and the popular cardio machine provides basic aerobic workouts. Choosing between an elliptical and a treadmill depends on the person’s needs, health condition, and fitness goals.

  1. Smith, Denise L., and Bo Fernhall. Advanced cardiovascular exercise physiology. Human Kinetics, 2023. ↩︎
  2. Williams, Kia. Functional Core for Women: Targeted Training for Glutes and Abs. Human Kinetics, 2023. ↩︎
  3. Li, Wanwan. “Elliptical4vr: An interactive exergame authoring tool for personalized elliptical workout experience in vr.” Proceedings of the 2023 5th International Conference on Image, Video and Signal Processing. 2023. ↩︎
  4. Smith, Denise L., and Bo Fernhall. Advanced cardiovascular exercise physiology. Human Kinetics, 2023. ↩︎
  5. Balogh, László, et al. “The effect of aerobic exercise and low-impact pilates workout on the adaptive immune system.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 11.22 (2022): 6814. ↩︎
  6. Martin-Smith, Rhona, et al. “High intensity interval training (HIIT) improves cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in healthy, overweight and obese adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled studies.” International journal of environmental research and public health 17.8 (2020): 2955. ↩︎
  7. Balogh, László, et al. “The effect of aerobic exercise and low-impact pilates workout on the adaptive immune system.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 11.22 (2022): 6814. ↩︎
  8. Saikumar, K., and V. Rajesh. “A machine intelligence technique for predicting cardiovascular disease (CVD) using Radiology Dataset.” International Journal of System Assurance Engineering and Management 15.1 (2024): 135-151. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sanjana

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