Treadmill vs Elliptical

Treadmill vs Elliptical: Which Cardio Machine is Right for You?

Table of Contents

Cardio is an essential part of anyone’s exercise routine. From awe-inspiring athletes to at-home workers, we can all benefit from getting our blood pumping. In fact, the United States Department of Health And Human Services recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. However, it doesn’t specify exactly what type of cardio exercise to do.1

That means the choice is yours when it comes to how to work up a sweat. Two of the most popular cardio machines to choose from are treadmills and ellipticals, and both are excellent choices for staying in shape.

Either can help you improve your health, burn fat, and build strength, but they work your muscles differently, have varying degrees of impact on your body, and can burn calories at different rates. In this guide, we’ll give you a quick rundown of treadmill vs elliptical to highlight their strengths, unpack their weaknesses, and determine which is a better choice for helping you achieve your fitness goals.

The Pros and Cons of a Treadmill

Perhaps the most recognizable of exercise devices, the tried and trusted treadmill has withstood the test of time to become a staple of gyms across the globe. First invented over 200 years ago, the ubiquitous running machine now dominates fitness floors, and it’s not uncommon to see an entire row occupied while other cardio options go untouched.2

But why are treadmills the favorite choice of so many gym-goers and home exercise fanatics? Let’s explore their many benefits to find out.

What Benefits Do Treadmills Offer?

All types of treadmills are easy to use: if you can walk, jog, or run down the street, then you can do the same in one spot. Besides simplicity, however, treadmills also offer:

  • Year-round exercise, no matter the weather – In the United States alone, nearly 165 million people (almost exactly half of the population) walk, jog, or run for exercise.3 Many of them, however, live in places where rain, snow, cold, and other climatic factors make exercising outside difficult for months on end. Treadmills allow you to exercise year-round without having to worry about forecasts or seasonal temperatures. Likewise, the comfort of exercising in an optimally climate-controlled room can motivate runners to stick to their routines even when the sky’s looking gray and gloomy.
  • Reduced chances of injury – Every year, over 50% of runners suffer some sort of exercise-related injury.4 The even surface of a treadmill reduces the chances of hurting yourself as it eliminates potholes and other tripping hazards. Treadmills are also generally much more compliant and shock-absorbing than outdoor surfaces, such as concrete, clay, and astroturf, leading to less overall impact on your joints and tendons and a reduced possibility of injury due to overuse.5
  • Total workout control – Treadmills allow you to set the pace and difficulty of your workouts and keep close track of your abilities and progress. Sure, you can run faster or slower outdoors, but without the belt setting and maintaining your desired speed, you’re likely to change your pace or naturally slow down as pushing yourself becomes difficult. Treadmills also let you set your preferred incline on the fly—meaning you can go on uphill runs without having access to a mountainous area.

Drawbacks of a Treadmill

Despite the alluring rotation of benefits that treadmills present, there are some drawbacks to working out on a treadmill:

  • Less muscle engagement – Treadmills are designed to be shock and impact-absorbing, meaning you use fewer muscles to stabilize and push yourself as you work out. In fact, running on outdoor surfaces has been shown to increase lower leg muscle activity in comparison to running on a treadmill.6 Increased activity means more effort and strain, in turn leading to more burned calories and, over time, a greater potential for muscle growth and development.
  • Perceived difficulty – Even though treadmills are shown to work your muscles less than outdoor runs, people may not perceive that. There’s evidence to suggest people often feel like they’re working harder when they’re running on a treadmill than on a sidewalk or track. Oftentimes, treadmill runners think they’re going faster than they are. When running outdoors, those same individuals tend to set better paces—even if they feel like they’re exerting more energy on the belt.7 While there’s no scientific conclusion as to why treadmills feel harder than outdoor runs, one explanation may be…
  • Potential for boredom – Some people love the consistency of a solid turn on the treadmill, but others can’t stay in one place for so long. Watching videos or browsing the web can help pass the time, but some people may feel nauseous after concentrating on a small screen while trying to run. Ultimately, the fun of a treadmill is a subjective matter but, the more enjoyable an exercise, the easier it is to stick with it long-term.

Pros and Cons of an Elliptical

Similarly to treadmills, ellipticals are popular options for gym goers, cardio exercise lovers, and the health-conscious alike. Let’s glide through some of the main reasons why these training machines are a trusted choice of the fitness community.

Benefits of an Elliptical

Elliptical trainers, like treadmills, test your cardio abilities by getting your heart pumping and blood flowing. Ellipticals may be your perfect cardio companion due to their:

  • Targeted quadricep engagement – If working your quads is just as important to you as working your heart, then an elliptical should be your first choice on the cardio floor. That’s because they engage the quads more than stationary biking, treadmills, and even running overland.8 So, if your fitness goals include increased upper leg development and strength, skip the treadmill and head straight to the elliptical.
  • Low impact – Unlike running, you never lift or lower your limbs while exercising with an elliptical. This significantly reduces the amount of shock that reverberates through your body, in turn reducing your risks of strain and injury. In fact, elliptical exercise is shown to be less strenuous than even simple overland walking—yet it burns far more calories and gives your muscles a more rigorous workout.9
  • Ability to work more of your body – An elliptical’s moving handles continually activate, stretch, and work your arm muscles as you exercise. Sure, they’re not going to produce the same results as weightlifting or resistance training, but the motion can keep you consistently simulated, help rehabilitate ailing muscles, and provide a more holistic workout than running on a treadmill alone.

Drawbacks of an Elliptical

As effective and popular as elliptical trainers are, they’re not without their drawbacks. Some of the biggest downsides to using ellipticals as your primary form of cardio include:

  • Minimal muscle activation – Low-impact workouts are beneficial for your joints, but may not be as vigorous as their higher-impact counterparts. So, just like you may not work as hard running on a treadmill as on the street, exercising on an elliptical presents a similar tradeoff between shock absorption and overall effort.
  • No inclines – Many runners are drawn to exercising on treadmills due to their ability to begin hill sessions on a whim. While you can up the resistance on most ellipticals, few include options to increase the incline. Thus, if uphill battles are part of your regular exercise routine, ellipticals may not be the perfect fit.
  • Limited range of motion – While treadmills may seem one-dimensional at first, there’s actually a wide range of exercises you can do on the belt. Side steps, circular steps, pirouette walks, and backward jogging are all commonplace for treadmill enthusiasts—some even add dumbbells into the equation. With an elliptical, however, you’re pretty much locked into going forward and backward, which limits your ability to technically tweak your exercise to target different muscle groups.

You might also consider an exercise bike vs elliptical. Our blog’s got you covered on what’s best for you.

Which Machine is Right for You?

There’s no cut-and-dry way of determining whether a treadmill or an elliptical will suit you better. Many individuals see impressive results from using either (or both) as part of their exercise routines. Nevertheless, you can make an informed pick between the two by determining your ongoing exercise needs.

Evaluating Your Exercise Needs

Gauging your abilities and deciding on your goals will truthfully tell you which machine to invest in. Consider your body, what you want to achieve, and whether an elliptical or treadmill will best support you on your journey. To decide, consider factors such as:

  • Impact – Are you recovering from an injury or dealing with joint pain? In general, ellipticals absorb more shock than treadmills so, if low impact is your number one priority, they’re a better call.
  • Muscle targets – As mentioned, ellipticals are excellent at targeting your quads and likewise work your upper body as you exercise. Treadmills put more strain on your lower legs, but also activate your core to promote stability while running. Check out our treadmill buying guide if you think you might go that route.
  • Personal preference – This one’s simple: which exercise do you prefer doing? Get a day pass to a gym that has both machines and give them a go before committing to one as your consistent cardio companion.

Which Is Better for Weight Loss: Treadmill or Elliptical?

Many people start exercise routines with the goal of losing weight. Weight loss depends on expending more calories than you intake, and both treadmills and ellipticals will help you burn calories. But, is one more efficient than the other?

Calorie burn depends on a variety of factors, including your fitness level, how much effort you exert, and the resistance from your machine. For instance, pressing hard on an elliptical will burn more calories than a leisurely stroll on a treadmill and vice-versa.

So, when it comes to losing weight, the best choice is the machine you feel comfortable pushing yourself on and will continue using on a routine basis.

Features to Consider

An elliptical or treadmill can be a big investment, so you’ll want to do your research before committing to a particular model. When shopping around for your next cardio machine, consider:

  • Space – Depending on your home size, you may need something compact and storable. Consider if the machine can fold or be tucked away after use before going all in. You might consider a mini walking pad vs treadmill instead.
  • Resistance and incline – As you get better at exercising, you’ll need to increase your routine’s difficulty to maintain the same results. Make sure you can ramp up the resistance on any machine you purchase and, if you invest in a treadmill, ensure it’s inclined for a more robust workout.
  • Durability – Your exercise machine will endure hours of weekly use for years to come. Make sure you invest in a product that can stand up to your strength as you develop and push it to its limits.

Advice for Getting the Most out of Your Cardio Machine

To make the most out of your cardio equipment, get one you find comfortable to use. Make sure you can stretch your legs out while still feeling noticeable resistance against your muscles as you exercise.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, ensure that your new machine doesn’t just become a clothes rack. Invest in something that doesn’t take up too much space so you can keep it in a prime location, such as your living room or office. Then, as you see it on a daily basis, you’ll be more inclined to step up and push through a workout—rather than letting it sit and collect dust.

Consider Lifepro for Reaching Your Fitness Goals

There’s an old saying along the lines of “The best cardio routine is whichever one you have the drive and desire to stick with.” With at-home treadmills, elliptical machines, and mini walking pads from Lifepro, you’ll never feel the desire to skip your routine again.

Lifepro’s cardio machines are designed to make cardio easy to incorporate into your daily routine no matter how busy your schedule is. With compact bodies made for sit-down use, you can get your steps in as you work, browse the web, or watch your favorite TV shows. Plus, with a free massager included with every cardio equipment purchase, you’ll shorten your active recovery time and be back at your elliptical or treadmill sooner.

Browse Lifepro’s selection of at-home exercise equipment to get started toward a healthier life today.



  1. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Executive Summary: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd edition.
  2. JSTOR Daily. Treadmills Were Meant to Be Atonement Machines.
  3. Statista. Running & Jogging - statistics & Facts.
  4. Yale Medicine. Running Injuries.
  5. National Library of Medicine. Mechanical Properties of Treadmill Surfaces Compared to Other Overground Sport Surfaces.
  6. National Library of Medicine. Effects of six weeks outdoor versus treadmill running on physical fitness and body composition in recreationally active young males: a pilot study.
  7. National Library of Medicine. Unmatched perception of speed when running overground and on a treadmill.
  8. National Library of Medicine. Comparison of elliptical training, stationary cycling, treadmill walking and overground walking.
  9. National Library of Medicine. Referent body weight values in over ground walking, over ground jogging, treadmill jogging, and elliptical exercise.


Joel Gottehrer

Joel Gottehrer is the Co-Founder of Lifepro Fitness and has dedicated his life to helping people transform theirs. With over 12 years of experience in the fitness industry as a personal trainer and owner of two personal training studios, Joel has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to helping transform lives. After suffering from physical injuries, Joel and his business partner, Abraham Brach, came together with a common goal to alleviate the pain caused by their injuries.

They continued to find themselves disappointed with the results stemming from various products promising to relieve their pain, and with that – Lifepro Fitness was born. Joel's mission is to have a positive impact on millions of lives with the Lifepro brand. Whether it's finding new and innovative ways to help people recover from injuries or developing products to improve overall wellness, Joel is always looking for ways to push the boundaries. Thanks to his commitment to help people live their lives free of pain, Lifepro has been able to do this for thousands of people since its founding in 2017.

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