There is a long-standing debate among connoisseurs of cardio equipment: is the treadmill or elliptical the better machine? Of course there are also stationary bikes, rowing machines, and stair climbers, but the treadmill and elliptical attempt to cover much of the same ground in different ways. Let’s compare.
– Ubiquitous. They are the go-to cardio machine for filling out a gym, so being comfortable on one is a must for those times your hotel promises a “gym” that turns out to be no more than a treadmill and a yoga ball.
– Wide range of prices. If you are looking to equip a home gym, you can get an electricity-free treadmill for under $200 or spend more than the worth of my car on a commercial-grade machine fit for training Olympians.
– Big calorie burns. Treadmills are a classic for a reason. If you run as hard as you can, you will burn more calories than any other cardio activity, even hiking with a heavy pack (which you could also simulate on a treadmill with incline capabilities.)
Drawbacks of the Treadmill
– Injury potential. Easily the biggest con of running on a treadmill is the possibility for injury. Not only is running a jarring activity that is hard on knee, ankle, and hip joints, but there is also the potential for falls and slips on the moving belt, which can to a lot of damage.
– Boredom. If I’m running at a high speed, the only option I have for entertainment is what comes through the headphones, and even those can fall out.
– Hard work. To get the big calorie burns, you have to run VERY intensely, whether over a long period or with High Intensity Interval Training.
Benefits of the Elliptical
– Easy on the joints. If you have an injury or physical issue that makes running too hazardous, the elliptical is a great option because it removes the jarring slap of running and replaces it with a smooth, circular stride.
– Entertainment. Because the elliptical is less jarring, it’s easier to watch a show or read a book while working out. A trainer might gripe that you’re not focused enough, but if you can push through an hour because Netflix just added the last few seasons of Dexter, entertainment options are a good thing.
– Dual action. Many elliptical machines offer moving arms, which can up the intensity of the workout in a way you don’t get on the treadmill, a benefit of the added stability of the elliptical. Using the dual action will give you comparable calorie burns without maxing out your heart rate.
Drawbacks of the Elliptical
– Lower top speed. If you are cross training for a running event and want to improve your time, the lower top speed of an elliptical makes it more difficult to really push to the max.
– Low impact. While the lack of jarring is great for nursing an injury or protecting a weak joint, the elliptical eliminates the benefits of weight bearing exercises, specifically strengthening joints, bones, and muscles to aid in the prevention of osteoporosis.
I’m not going to pronounce one machine victorious, because each has its own strengths and weaknesses and using either will greatly benefit your health. Whether you choose the treadmill or elliptical, using either one in conjunction with a healthy diet and strength training will help you become your best, most healthy self.