Treadmill Vs. Elliptical Vs. Bike: Factors To Consider

When you decide to get a piece of fitness equipment, you should evaluate if it fits your goals, your medical issues, and your quirks. Although ellipticals, aka cross-trainers, treadmills, and bikes, are all fantastic cardio machines, they’re not made for the same purpose.

Also, they’re not all equally easy to use.

We’ll analyze the key factors to consider right below.

Treadmill Vs. Elliptical Vs. Bike Similarities

Ellipticals, treadmills, and stationary bikes give you a good cardio workout because they bring your heart rate up. Besides, they improve your respiration, endurance, and flexibility.

Exercising, in general, reduces stress and stabilizes your mood. So no matter whether you choose a cross-trainer, cycle, or treadmill, you’ll reap the benefits of increased energy and actually feeling happy.

As a result, you’ll sleep better and experience less brain fog.

Lastly, exercise is shown to increase your lifespan and improve your immune system. As such, your body will be stronger to fight against the usual infections but also chronic illnesses.

Treadmill Vs. Elliptical Vs. Bike Differences

exercise bikes compared to treadmills and ellipticals

Now that we’ve reviewed the similarities let’s discuss the key differences. After all, these count the most before making your decision.

Fat Burn

Ellipticals and treadmills have the highest burning potential because they engage the entire body.

But they do so differently, which is where your personal preferences and preexisting conditions come into play.

Ellipticals create resistance, so you’re pushing against yourself to develop lean muscles. During your workout, you’ll burn moderate amounts of calories if you’re pacing yourself because ellipticals offer total-body exercises. Of course, you can burn lots of calories, too, if you’re speeding things up.

The key, though, is building that lean muscle mass.

This is what helps burn calories in the long term because it accelerates your metabolism.

Conversely, treadmills bring you into the fat-burning zone only during the workout and only if your heart rate gets high enough.

That’s a problem.

If you have preexisting cardiac problems, respiratory issues, or chronic pain that prevents you from running fast, you’re in trouble.

Or you might not like to run at all.

In comparison, stationary bikes don’t burn as many calories and fat because you’re sitting down. That’s not to say you can’t torch any calories. Sure, you can do that, but primarily just by pedaling harder.

If that’s your goal, though, be smart about it and choose the right type of exercise bike:

  • Air bikes allow fantastic calorie burn during the exercise, as you can reach up to 80 calories/ minute.
  • Spin bikes are excellent for HIIT workouts that accelerate your metabolic rate.
  • Upright bikes have moving handlebars that activate your upper body, too, so that you can increase your calorie burn in a low-impact way.

Joint Impact

treadmill vs stationary bike vs elliptical cross trainer

Ellipticals have the lowest impact on your joints because you’re not even stepping on them. You’re not even bending your knees as much on a cross-trainer.

Next are stationary bikes. Upright and recumbent bikes are the lowest impact, although they’re not zero-impact. At the other end of the spectrum, spin bikes offer the highest-impact training alternative, especially when you’re standing on them.

Lastly, treadmills are the highest-impact of the bunch because they’re designed for running.

But if you have your heart settled on getting a treadmill, you can choose one with an extra-cushioned deck. That way, you can avoid – or even alleviate – joint problems and chronic pain.

Alternatively, you can settle for walking.

At just 3.5-4 miles/ hour, a 130-pound woman can quickly get into the anaerobic heart rate zone. So, you can burn lots of calories without ever running a yard.

And that brings us to:

Bone Strengthening

The problem with no-impact equipment is that it doesn’t increase your bone density. And after reaching the venerable age of 35, your bone mass will start to decrease. You probably won’t feel it until you’re 50 or 60, but it can be too late by then.

Women, in general, are more predisposed to osteoporosis, but men can experience a slew of skeletal disorders too. For example, arthritis is a common condition.

To avoid that, you need some weight-bearing exercise.

Treadmills will provide that, even if you’re just walking on one.

Alternatively, you can purchase an elliptical or a stationary bike and go for walks outdoors or do strength training in your free time.

But the point remains:

Treadmills offer the most significant benefit for bone strengthening, followed by cycles, and lastly, ellipticals.

Pro tip: If you’re getting an elliptical incorporate other weight-bearing exercises in your routine too.

Muscle Strength

elliptical versus treadmills and exercise bikes

Ellipticals offer more resistance, so they’ll increase your muscle strength considerably if you’re challenging yourself. Besides, ellipticals work all of your muscles so you can shape and define your body from your neck to your tippy toes.

Next in line are bikes, though these focus more on your lower body and somewhat on your core. Lastly, treadmills offer the least amount of muscle strength because you’re mainly just running without facing any resistance.

Pro tips:

  • If you want an elliptical but want to get the same perky bum as you would on a stationary bike, set your machine on high elevation.
  • If you prefer a stationary bike but also want upper body sculpting, choose one with moving handlebars.
  • If you feel a treadmill would suit your style better but want to gain more muscle definition, choose one with a high incline and incorporate resistance bands for the upper body.


Variability is essential because adapting your workouts gets you out of plateaus. If you’re using just one routine, your body gets used to it and decides not to burn any more calories or get into any better shape.

Ellipticals are the most versatile machines, allowing you to move forward and back, fast and slow, on a steep incline or no incline at all. Plus, you can change the resistance levels however you feel like it.

With stationary bikes, you can increase the speed and resistance, while treadmills allow you to change speed and incline. As you can see, you have fewer options with these machines.

Pro tips if you want a stationary bike or a treadmill but crave more variability:

  • Choose one with lots of built-in programs or virtual classes.
  • Attach resistance bands to your machine.
  • Try different workouts or activities in your free time, like strength training, dancing, or swimming.
  • Focus mainly on HIIT workouts to activate your metabolism and avoid plateaus.

In Conclusion. Treadmill Vs. Elliptical Vs. Bike: Which Should You Choose?

After reading the similarities and differences between these machines, one fact becomes clear: you can choose the right equipment for your needs.

For example, even if treadmills aren’t that great for muscle shaping, you can always wear a weighted vest or use resistance bands. Alternatively, you can find a treadmill with included weights and upper-body programs.

So all you have to do is evaluate your goals according to your current conditions and choose the right product.

Here’s a quick summary, though:

Treadmills are best for cardio, fast weight loss, and increased bone density:

  • At higher speeds, they burn the most calories.
  • They will strengthen your bones.
  • You can gain more muscle strength with a higher incline and additional weights.
  • Although they’re high-impact, you can choose a model with shock-absorbing technology.

Ellipticals are best for low-impact fat-burning and shaping your body.

  • They’re the safest alternative for chronic pain and joint problems.
  • They exercise your entire body.
  • They bring your heart rate into the fat-burning zone without feeling it.
  • They accelerate your resting metabolic rate.

Stationary bikes are the best low-impact alternative for lower-body sculpting and calorie burn.

  • Exercise bikes protect your joints.
  • From upright to recumbent, spin, and usual indoor models – you can find the right ones for your needs.
Mary D. Brown

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