Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which Is A Better Workout?

When you want to get a solid cardio workout done at the gym, chances are you have your eyes set on one of two machines: the elliptical and the treadmill. There are a lot of myths about these two machines, but the truth is they can both give you a great workout if used correctly. In particular, if you’re looking to lose weight, both the treadmill and the elliptical can help you burn fat and shed pounds if you’re working hard enough. Let’s explore the main differences between these two machines and how to use them most effectively for weight loss. But first—here’s just a brief refresher on why cardio workouts are crucial to any fitness plan, especially one that includes the goal of losing weight.

Why You Need Cardio Workouts To Lose Weight
The CDC recommends that everyone get at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity per week. You can divide that up however you like, whether in five 30-minute cardio workouts, three 50-minute cardio workouts, the occasional 10 minute jump rope sesh, or brisk walking or jogging. Getting enough cardiovascular exercise is crucial to your heart health and overall well-being. But if you want to lose weight, you need to take those cardio recommendations especially to heart—pun intended.
Yes, strength training helps boost your metabolism and can make your muscles long and lean, but if you’re not doing some form of cardio, you won’t see the number on the scale go down. Cardio can be anything from jogging in your neighborhood to doing an interval workout at home. If you’re hitting the gym though, there’s also plenty of equipment available to get a solid calorie burn; and the treadmill and the elliptical are two of your best bets. They can both get your heart pumping and fat burning—but there are some key differences. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each of these gym staples.
Elliptical Pros and Cons
Don’t listen to people who say the elliptical can’t give you a good workout. What they’re likely referring to is someone who lets the momentum carry them forward without actually doing any work. Of course that’s not a solid workout! But as long as you focus on your perceived exertion, you can keep pushing to that place of hard work. (Perceived exertion is a way to measure how hard you’re working on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lounging on the couch and 10 an all-out sprint.) Best of all, the elliptical offers a way to get a heart-pumping workout that’s actually low impact, a major plus if you have joint or muscle pain.
  • Low Impact
  • Can Vary Resistance
  • Can Use Arms For a Whole Body Workout
  • Can be easy to go into “auto-pilot” on an elliptical
  • Motion can be awkward for beginners
How To Get The Best Results On An Elliptical
Of this be sure: low impact doesn’t need to mean low intensity. You get from your elliptical workout what you put into it. Sure, if you are barely pedaling at a snail’s pace, you won’t do much. You want to be working hard and breathing out of your mouth. Use these tips to get a kick-butt elliptical workout and lose weight:
1. Watch Your Posture
Don’t slouch over the machine—stand tall and engage your core. It’s harder—but better. You’re not supposed to lean on the handrails; you’re supposed to be standing tall with an activated core.
2. Get The Foot Positioning Down
Keep your feet in contact with the pedals the entire time without taking them off the pedals, but do let the back of your heel come up a tiny bit. They shouldn’t lift entirely, but you want a rolling motion from the balls of your feet to your heels. Keep your knees slightly bent.
3. Use The Handles
Using the cross training handles and pumping up the resistance can be equally as intense as a run on the treadmill. If you want to establish and maintain ideal workout intensities, the ‘talk test’ is an informal way to measure whether you’re getting the most out of the workout. Your workout should be intense enough to make you breathe deeply and to make you feel a little winded.
4. Use Interval Training
Slow, steady-state cardio is less effective at burning fat than higher intensity intervals. You may not realize it, but you can use intervals on the elliptical, too! Try our Elliptical Workouts For Weight Loss if you want ideas, or try making up your own. Varying the resistance & intensity, you can work at a variety of different speeds at resistances. Here’s one of our interval workouts from our Elliptical Workouts For Weight Loss article:
Treadmill Pros and Cons
Some people call it the dreadmill, but it doesn’t have to be. The treadmill is the next best thing aside from running outside—and can come in handy on days when the weather is inclement or you want flat terrain. The fact that most treadmill machines offer an incline option offers an added challenge and opportunity to ramp up your workout. By varying the speed and the incline, you can customize your treadmill workout in countless ways.
  • Can Work On An Incline — Allowing You To Tone Your Butt Muscles
  • Get A Great Jog Or Run Done No Matter The Weather
  • High Impact; not necessarily bad unless you have joint pain
  • Doesn’t Incorporate Rest Of Body
How To Get The Best Results On A Treadmill
Whether you’re a serious runner looking to log some miles indoors or you just want a solid 30-minute cardio workout, the treadmill can be your best friend. Don’t let it become the “dreadmill;” there’s no need for a treadmill workout to be boring! Use these tips to get a great cardio workout (that’s actually fun!) on the treadmill.
1. Make The Incline Your Best Friend
One of the best things about most treadmills is that they offer the feature to spice up your workout by adding the element of incline. Challenge yourself by walking at a brisk pace or jogging lightly at an elevated incline. It will target different muscles in your lower body (hello, glutes!) and not only challenge your aerobic abilities but tone your muscles, too!
2. Use Perceived Exertion and the Talk Test
Determining your rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is simple: it’s based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the easiest (think lying on the sofa) and 10 being all-out effort (sprinting to catch the plane before it leaves). You can also use the “talk test” to help you determine your intensity. How easy is it to talk while you exercise? If you want a kick-butt cardio workout, you want it to be difficult carry on a conversation.
3. Intervals, Intervals, Intervals
Are you sensing a theme here? On both machines, using intervals is a great way to ensure you get a solid workout. Instead of jogging at a slower pace for 30 minutes, mix it up with a few minutes of brisk walking, then comfortable jogging and a few all-out sprints. Doing these cycles of training works your heart in different heart rate zones, which not only helps your heart health but helps you burn more fat, too.
So Which Is A Better Workout? The Elliptical Or the Treadmill?
Ultimately both the elliptical and the treadmill can give you a great cardio workout, but you have to put in the effort. Using intervals and working hard on both machines is the key to getting a great workout. It mostly comes down to which machine you prefer, and whether or not you need a low-impact workout or not.

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