Elliptical vs Treadmill: Key Differences

Choosing between elliptical vs treadmill is the most common query or confusion. Both elliptical trainers and treadmills are the most popular cardio machines and famous gym equipment that provide good cardiovascular exercise. 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.


The elliptical trainer is designed mainly based on ergonomics 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 push or pull pump motion of the handlebars provide upper body workouts, while the suspended pedal motion on the Elliptical (oval-shaped) track provides lower body workout.

woman on elliptical trainer
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels

Benefits of Elliptical Trainers

1. Elliptical Trainer Increases your Stamina and Cardio Capacity

Cardio exercises or aerobic exercises (like running, jump 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. Elliptical Machines Provide Low Impact Workout and Less Stress on Joints

In the elliptical machine, 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 minimalized. Since the elliptical motion is fluid, it places a low level of stress on the joints or spinal structure.

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

3. On the Elliptical Trainer a Good Amount of Calories are Burnt

Elliptical machines are good at burning calories in less amount of 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.

4. Elliptical Trainer Provides Cross-Training

An elliptical machine with arm handles is among the few cardio machines that offer both upper body and lower body workouts together rather than in a single motion. In an elliptical trainer, you work on your arms and legs both at once. Pump both your arms at the same speed as you are moving your legs, to maximize the upper body benefit.

5. Customization of Workout as Per Need can be Done on Elliptical Machines

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 too and other customizable options to suit your need.

6. More Muscle Groups are Involved in Elliptical Exercise

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

7. An Elliptical Trainer can Target Specific Leg Muscles

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

By increasing the incline, you can target the backside of your lower body 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.

8. Elliptical Exercise 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. Elliptical Machines Help in Maintaining Fitness after Injury

If you are affected and nursing any injury and are not able to 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 like running, jumping, and jogging.

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

10. An Elliptical Trainer is Easy to Use

Elliptical trainers are easy to use. If you had 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.

Drawbacks of Elliptical Machines

1. Difference in Muscles Activations may Lead to Injury

Since the motion on the elliptical trainers is different than running or walking, the core muscles and leg muscles are activated differently and 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 and 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 exercises than running or weightlifting, there is less improvement in bone density and strength when compared to other high-impact exercises.


The treadmill is more common and simple exercise equipment that can be found easily in gyms, clinics, and home gyms. The treadmill is an exercise equipment with a continuous loop belt run by a motor and allows the person to walk or run in your place.

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

man on treadmill
Photo by William Choquette on Pexels

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 outdoor. It encourages you to maintain your daily cardio exercise even if the climate is not likewise or if it is dark outdoor.

2. Gives you Customization Options

Treadmill workout offers you 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) 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 in strengthening your bone strength and density.

Drawbacks of Treadmill

1. A Treadmill may lead to Injuries

Jogging or running on a treadmill put more stress on your joints and bones and may lead to injuries. Common related injuries are knee injury, 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

Treadmill targets fewer groups of muscles than an elliptical trainer does. It strengthens your leg muscle, 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. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Degree of Stress Feature

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

2. Elliptical vs Treadmill- 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 too, hence providing a workout for the lower and upper body simultaneously. Whereas, the treadmill offers a workout for the lower body mainly.

3. Elliptical vs Treadmill- The Number of Calories Burned

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

However, people generally run at a fast pace on the treadmill and tend to burn more calories in comparison to walking on them.

4. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Weight-bearing Effect

Elliptical does not have weight-bearing effects on joints and muscles. So, it causes low improvement in bone density and strength. Whereas, treadmill has weight-bearing effects on joints in high intensity and is used for developing more bone density and strength.

5. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Preferable for the Type of Person

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

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

6. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Noise Produced

Elliptical machines produce less noise because there is no impact of feet on the ground. Whereas, treadmills produce more noise than ellipticals because of running impact.

7. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Mechanism Feature

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

8. Elliptical vs Treadmill- 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. Whereas, treadmill is riskier if it is at high speed or high incline setting, and used for running. They may cause injuries. Treadmills have a high impact on your joints too.

9. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Versatility Feature

Elliptical Machines are less versatile since they have fewer setting options and you can create less change in your workout. Whereas, treadmills offer a range of speed and inclination options, hence you can change the intensity of your workout as per your need.

10. Elliptical vs Treadmill- 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.

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

11. Elliptical vs Treadmill- 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. Elliptical vs Treadmill- Suitable for Elder People

Elliptical is suitable in ways for seniors like it provides a low-impact workout and is easy on the knees and joints. It also helps in promoting muscle growth combating age-related muscle loss and help in increasing balance and stability.

But elliptical has some drawbacks like old age person with low strength can develop spasm in the chest or it may worsen heart condition in a person suffering from a cardiovascular disorder. Elliptical has pedals at a height which is difficult for old age people to step on to.

The treadmill is beneficial in many ways for seniors like a treadmill mimicking outdoor jogging and is easier to access. It also provides a good aerobic workout and fights off the age-related loss of muscle mass.

A treadmill can be harmful in some conditions like it can cause pain in joints because of impact and worsen any knee or hip injury. The treadmill is not suitable for people with arthritis or cardiovascular problems. 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. 

Both the treadmill and elliptical are fitness equipment, the popular cardio machine that provides basic aerobic workouts. The choice between elliptical vs treadmill depends on the person’s needs, health condition, and fitness goals.


  • Saba

    Saba is a wanderer from heart. She likes to explore new places, region, cultures, and cuisines too. Loves travelling and cooking, works in a company. Focuses on living a healthy lifestyle. She shares some of her experience.

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