As far as indoor cardio exercise machines are concerned, ellipticals and treadmills are top contenders. These two classic machines have been leading the popularity contest for eons, and would easily beat any competitor. But choosing one over the other is a tricky and mentally tasking undertaking. While both types of equipment share several similarities, they have major differences that set them apart.
In a nutshell, treadmills and ellipticals are aerobic exercise machines that aid rapid calorie burn, improve cardiovascular health, and minimize the risk and development of chronic illnesses. However, one sports a low-impact design that minimizes stress on the joints while the other is adept at strengthening the bones. Read on to learn; which is which, their distinctions, strong points, and which machine is more suitable for your needs. While at it, also take a look at these home gyms I have reviewed.
The Elliptical Machine
An elliptical machine is best defined as a piece of indoor, stationary exercise equipment that fitness enthusiasts use for walking or running. The machine typically mimics stair-climbing or cross-country skiing ( as it is equipped with two-foot holders and handles for gripping). Using the machine entails pumping the pedals with your feet to stimulate up and down or forward and backward motions. The elliptical gets its name from the unique motion it demonstrates — as the user’s hands pump the handles in back and forth motions, their feet cycle and form an “ellipses” shape.
Generally, elliptical machines come with resistance settings that allow users to control the intensity of their workout. However, only a few ellipticals are engineered with incline settings. Because one’s foot doesn’t come in contact with the ground when using an elliptical machine, there is minimal pressure on the knees, hip, and back joints — thus making it a low impact machine.
Muscles Targeted by the Elliptical
The elliptical engages the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and several muscles concentrated in the lower body. Since it is also equipped with handles, users can also work the muscles of the arm and upper back by pushing and pulling the handles. As a result, the machine provides both upper and lower body workouts with extensive benefits.
Who Should Use an Elliptical Machine?
The elliptical machine is an effective well-developed low-impact cardio machine that is best suited for individuals with achy or sensitive joints. It is perfect and often recommended for recovery training following an injury or major surgery. Elderly people with joint issues can also reap the benefits provided by elliptical machines without aggravating their condition. It helps protect the joints and bones from stress and impact while improving old injuries or joint conditions.
The machine is also an excellent alternative for fitness fanatics who want to ditch high-impact exercises. While it is difficult to run backward on a treadmill, an elliptical does so seamlessly. As such, it isolates the hamstrings and glutes for a perfect workout. And if you are looking to shed some weight, you can take advantage of its HIIT settings!
Elliptical Machine Pros and Cons
Low-impact Stimulation — an elliptical machine simulates running and walking motions without exerting strenuous impact on your joints.
Cross-Training Function — The vast majority of elliptical machines include mobile handles along with pedals, allowing exercisers to simultaneously engage the muscles of their upper and lower body.
Multi-Muscle Conditioning — Because elliptical machines allow users to pedal or reverse backward, you get to work different muscles at a time. When you take a reverse stride instead of moving forward, you will condition and strengthen your calves and hamstrings.
Recovery and Post-injury Training — Regardless of its low-impact orientation, the elliptical provides intensive training. This is advantageous to people recovering from an injury and who want to maintain their fitness routine.
Minimal Muscle Development — While the elliptical provides a low-impact workout and engages several muscles, a treadmill engages and develops more muscles. If you are big on muscle strengthening, you might have to include strength training in your fitness regimen.
Learning Curve — Truth be told, the elliptical takes some getting used to because of its unique locomotion. This is especially noticeable for amateurs who may feel awkward when using the machine for the first time.
Less Versatility — unlike the treadmill, where users can simultaneously adjust the incline and speed for varied intensity, most ellipticals are not equipped with an incline feature.
Minimal Weight Bearing Effect— compared to the treadmill, an elliptical’s pedals are located above the ground, hence they don’t have as much weight bearing effect that is key to strengthening bones and muscles.
The Treadmill Machine
Like the elliptical, a treadmill is an indoor, stationary cardio machine that is used for walking, jogging, and running. It features a conveyor belt that facilitates the above-mentioned actions. More often than not, treadmills are equipped with adjustable speeds and incline for a varied workout experience. Thus, you can stimulate an uphill motion with the push of a button. Most treadmills can reach an incline of up to 10% and can go as fast as 12 mph.
Unlike outdoor running, amateur users can adjust the intensity of their workout on a treadmill. Hence, they can run more efficiently and comfortably than running outdoors. Also, it minimizes a user’s susceptibility to injuries owing to its soft belt — the same can’t be said for asphalt or concrete terrains that are associated with outdoor running.
Muscles Targeted by the Treadmill
Compared to the elliptical, working out on a treadmill only targets the muscles of the lower body. You can tone your core to the maximum by sprinting on a treadmill. Overall, the treadmill acts on the calves, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and abs.
Who Should Use a Treadmill?
A treadmill is a fantastic option for runners who will rather train indoors than in harsh weather conditions. Plus, running outdoors can translate to frustrating traffic and avoidable risks. Treadmills also include advanced settings for mileage, pace, and goals, so you can effectively monitor these specifics.
If you are looking to improve cardiovascular fitness or lose weight, a treadmill might be the best exercise machine for you. Runners preparing for marathon events and the like can also leverage the advantages of a treadmill — in this case, you can set the incline at 1% to compensate for the lack of wind and terrain changes, thereby replicating an outdoor run.
Treadmill Pros and Cons
Versatile and Dynamic — Treadmills offer a platter of options that maximize their speed, incline, and multi-program settings. Hence, users have more control over their workouts and can reach their fitness goals in record time.
Leg Strength Development — Working out on a treadmill can do a world of good for your leg muscles; the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Your hip flexors and glutes are not excluded.
High-Performance Output — Because you utilize significant effort to push your body forward when using a treadmill, your body will rapidly burn more calories.
Maximum Weight Bearing Effect — In contrast to an elliptical, a treadmill has a higher weight bearing effect which aids bone and muscle strengthening for improved posture and other benefits.
Unkind to Joints — Unlike an elliptical machine, running or jogging on a treadmill can exert unwanted pressure on your knees, hip, spine, and ankle joints. Though some treadmills have a sizable shock absorption mechanism, the impact remains on the high side.
Uncomfortable Handles — While the handles on an elliptical are more natural and comfortable, those on a treadmill can seem awkward and uber uncomfortable, especially when monitoring heart rate zones.
Safety Concerns — Performing high-intensity training such as sprints on a treadmill can prove dangerous for exercises with low competency skills.
Challenging — Running is no easy task, especially when using incline. As such, users who prefer easy-to-navigate machines will find the treadmill too challenging for comfort.
Which Machine is Best for You?
Generally, your choice of machine is dependent on your health status and fitness needs. On the whole, both exercise machines are fantastic at improving cardiovascular fitness and burning calories. But you might choose one over the other because of distinct features that work to your advantage. For instance, people with injuries or prone to joint issues will naturally decide on an elliptical machine because of its low-impact benefits. In addition to this, the elliptical will be a better fit for you if you are looking to perform full-body and cardiovascular workouts with less exertion or effort. Yes, the elliptical machine allows you to perform high-intensity exercises with minimum effort yet high output.
On the other hand, the treadmill might be your cardio machine of choice if you are not suffering from or susceptible to joint conditions or injuries. It is also the best option for exercisers looking to attain a specific goal or who want to strengthen the muscles of their glutes and legs. While space requirements and price are other factors to consider when making a choice, there isn’t much going on there — both machines have similar builds and are sold at low, mid, and high price points.
The Last Word
The elliptical and treadmill machines are incredible cardio machines with a platter of benefits that reflect positively on overall health. They are well-built and developed and promise to satisfy your fitness needs. Your goals and physical health will determine which machine will work best for you. Otherwise, both are great options!