Treadmill vs. Elliptical - Which is Better for Getting in Shape

Fred Waters's picture

As someone who reviews fitness equipment professionally, I continually get asked which is better for getting in shape, a treadmill or an elliptical trainer? They are the two most popular types of fitness equipment on the market. Treadmills have been around for about 30 years, and elliptical trainers first came on the scene approximately 10 years ago. Since the introduction of elliptical trainers, otherwise known as cross trainers, they have continually gained market share on treadmills.

Treadmill Benefits

The popularity of treadmills is based on the fact they accommodate the most common forms of exercising - walking, jogging and running. You do not need a special talent or coordination to use a treadmill. You just turn on the machine, set the speed and you are off. There are several features that make treadmills appealing.

Reduced Impact - All treadmills have a form of shock absorption, that considerably reduces the stress and strain to your joints in comparison to walking or running on asphalt or concrete.
Incline Feature - All treadmills have the ability to incline the walking surface. This results in a more intense cardio workout, like hiking a hill or mountain. It also works out additional lower body muscles in comparison to solely walking on a flat surface.

Multiple Programs - Excluding cheap manual treadmills, all others offer a variety of workout programs. These programs focus on different types of fitness goals like weight loss or fitness training. For example, some programs will increase and decrease the incline to simulate going up and down hills. Others may increase and decrease the speed of the treadmill for interval training. They are designed to motivate you to reach your fitness goals.

One of the overall benefits of a treadmill is that if you are a walker or a jogger, the weather or daylight no longer dictates you exercise routine. You are also less likely to get chased by wild animals, get mugged, suffer from heat stroke, or get frost bite.

Elliptical Trainer Benefits

There are two main features of an elliptical that are most appealing to users. They provide a low-impact workout and you exercise both your lower and upper body. Similar to swimming.

Low-Impact Workout - The elliptical trainer was initially designed to accommodate a user that had physical injuries and could not handle the impact that comes from walking or running. With the elliptical motion your feet never lift up. They continually remain on the pedal. In addition, there is no reverse motion like you have on a treadmill. Consequently, this substantially limits the impact to your joints. With the majority of elliptical trainers you can reverse the motion, allowing you to exercising different muscles. In addition, many of the newer models have an incline feature that further allows you to target a variety of lower body muscles.

Lower and Upper Body Exercise - The elliptical trainer is one of the few machines that allows you to exercise both your upper and lower body. Of course, the obvious benefit is that you trim more of your body from a single workout. However, there is another benefit. Research has shown that when you exercise more muscles simultaneously, you burn calories more efficiently. And there is a reduced perception of exertion.

The one drawback of an elliptical trainer is that some users find it awkward exercising in an elliptical motion while you also workout your upper body. That makes them an ideal candidate for a treadmill.

Which One is Better?

So which is better for getting in shape, a treadmill or an elliptical trainer. Actually, I have both and like the different type of cardio workout I get from each. In fact, I usually split my workout evenly between the two machines. I enjoy running on the treadmill at different incline levels. While I enjoy the upper and lower body exercise on the elliptical. In addition, exercising on both machines helps to break-up the monotony of exercising in place, and it allows me to target a wide range of muscles groups.

If you are considering either a treadmill or an elliptical trainer and are undecided, I suggest you get to your local YMCA and spend sufficient time on each. Of course, realize these are commercial grade machines, but they will give you the feel of both. Once you make a decision head to either your local fitness equipment store, Dick's Sporting Goods or Sears and find the right model that will accommodate your fitness goals.

About the Author: Fred Waters has worked in the fitness equipment industry for over 16 years. For the last 7 years he has been providing helpful advice to potential fitness equipment buyers. If you are considering buying a treadmill you can get his recommendations at In addition, you will find a helpful "Treadmill Buyer's Guide" designed to make you an informed consumer.

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