Elliptical Machines Vs. Treadmills

By Carolyn Williams

  • Overview

    During the winter months, the best workout you can get is in the gym. You can't run outside, swimming is a dubious bet and even a simple walk can be fraught with icy danger. The rowing machine is an interesting choice, as is the bicycle. But rows upon rows of folks populate the elliptical and the treadmill. Ellipticals offer a good run, but so does a treadmill. Which machine gets you the most bang for your buck?
  • Aerobic Workout

    Both a treadmill and an elliptical offer a good aerobic workout. In fact, they're largely equivalent in their ability to make your heart race at an optimum pace. Most brands of both machines offer heart rate monitors, so you can track your workout onscreen to be certain you're getting a good workout.
  • Custom Workout

    Both ellipticals and treadmills allow you to customize your workout by setting the pace and level for your run. With treadmills, you can manipulate the incline to approximate the work required to run uphill. Ellipticals can't offer this option, as they're constrained to speed and effort, without the ability to set a hill climb. For customization, treadmills are a better bet.


  • Arms

    Treadmills offer a steady pace to swing your arms next to your body while running, without a specific arm workout. Ellipticals, however, offer the option to use the arm controls to add aerobic effectiveness of the workout--using your arms can raise your heart rate by 20 percent. And the arm workout can help tone and smooth your arms by enabling them to engage in the run with both a pushing and pulling motion. For arm workout, treadmills are clearly not the stronger choice.
  • Wear and Tear

    As much as many of us would prefer to avoid discussing it, running hurts. It's painful on your ankles, shins and knees, as well as your hips and back. Treadmills offer a smooth and gentle surface without any potential to twist an ankle on an uneven pavement. But ellipticals really shine when considering wear and tear on your joints. An elliptical run is nonimpact. Your feet stay on the pedals and your hands stay on the arm controls. While you're pounding out a run, the pedals beneath your feet run with you, minimizing any potential wear and tear on the joints. Ellipticals are a clear winner in this respect.
  • Usability

    For every gym machine, there is the need to understand how it works. For both treadmills and ellipticals, this is a relatively easy process. Jump on the elliptical and it starts to move in a circular motion. After a few steps, you've got it down. Treadmills you typically start and then step on to begin your workout. Treadmills allow you to mimic the motion of walking and running easily. Ellipticals can take some getting used to, especially if you're taller or shorter than average, as the stride setting may not fit naturally to your gait. So, if you don't want to try a new system and you're an avid runner, stick to the treadmill unless you're ready to try something new.
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