Treadmills and elliptical trainers are both used for cardiovascular exercise and to burn calories. Elliptical machines are lower impact, meaning that they are less damaging to your joints and a workout on an elliptical feels less exerting than a similar one on a treadmill. However, ellipticals are not weight bearing so they aren't as effective as treadmills for strengthening bones and muscles. Treadmills are the preferable choice for those training for distance running, while elliptical trainers are preferred for a full-body workout for cross training.
Treadmill vs. Elliptical for Burning Calories
Treadmills and elliptical trainers are both great for burning calories but with elliptical machines it is important to crank up the resistance and not rely on the momentum of the fly-wheel.
A study by the Medical College of Wisconsin found that running on a treadmill for an hour burned an average of 705-866 calories. An hour on an elliptical trainer burns approximately 773 calories.
Mechanism of operation
An elliptical trainer emulates a running motion using suspended peddles that move in an elliptical motion. A treadmill provides a moving platform that could be flat or inclined at an angle for the user to walk or run on.
Advantages of Elliptical Trainers over Treadmills
Elliptical machines offer three advantages over treadmills:
- No impact on joints: Treadmills are low impact machines for joints in the lower body -- knees, ankles and hips. The degree of impact depends upon the style of the person exercising. Walking, for example, has minimal impact while running has a larger impact on the joints. An elliptical machine, on the other hand, has no impact on joints. So it is preferable for people with joint problems.
- Full body workout: Some elliptical trainers are equipped with movable handles or poles. These allow you to exercise both your arms and your legs (lower and upper body).
- Elliptical machines can be pedaled in reverse, which allows you to work your calf and hamstring muscles a bit more than during a forward motion.
Ellipticals provide a good workout, but the perceived exertion is lower. This means they can burn more calories with less (perceived) effort.
Although treadmills have many settings, they are an intense workout, and some users may prefer something less draining.
Safety of Ellipticals vs Treadmills
Treadmills can be dangerous at high intensity settings, such as incline sprints, if a user does not have adequate skill. The use of a treadmill can also put stress on the spine, hips, keens and ankle joints, especially if used without a warm up. They may also cause posture problems.
Elliptical machines are less versatile than treadmills, as they lack the same number of uphill options. Treadmills offer a variety of options, including in speed and incline.
Elliptical trainers, however, have an advantage in that they provide a full-body workout and allow for cross training. Some elliptical machines are equipped with movable handle bars that allow the user to exercise the upper body and lower body simultaneously.
Tips for using Treadmills and Elliptical Trainers
When using an elliptical trainer, crank up the resistance; don't just use the machine's momentum. Get your muscles moving and your heart rate up. The more oxygen you consume, the more calories you burn. If you use an elliptical machine, maintain good posture -- keep your shoulders back, your head up and your abdominal muscles tight. Look forward, not down at your feet. And don't lean on the handles; let your lower body support your weight.
Running is an inefficient movement. So from a fat or calorie burning perspective, running (whether on a treadmill or outdoors) burns a lot of calories. So just like using a treadmill, crank up the intensity on the treadmill, huff and puff to burn calories. If walking on a treadmill, set the incline so that you are walking uphill.
The key in both cases is to work hard. If you can watch TV or read a magazine, you are not working hard enough at the exercise and will not get the maximum benefit from it.
If a treadmill or elliptical trainer is for home use, space could be an important consideration. In general, both machines take up roughly the same space because they are roughly the same size. Several treadmill models can be folded to conserve space when not using the machine. Some elliptical machines also allow folding but there are fewer such models. There are, however, smaller elliptical setups that require less room compared to treadmills.
Some good elliptical trainers are available on Amazon.com starting at less than $145. Treadmills on Amazon.com start at $150. The cardio exercise machines page on Amazon.com lists over 20,000 treadmills and less than 700 elliptical trainers for sale. This gives an idea of the relative popularity of the two machines.