Treadmills vs. Ellipticals: Which Will Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals?

March 26, 2023
Treadmills vs. Ellipticals: Which Will Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals?

Cardio machines are some of the most frequently used gym equipment. Although there are numerous options available, treadmills and ellipticals are two of the most popular machines found in nearly every fitness studio or gym. These machines are easy to use, making them ideal for both beginners and advanced exercisers.

We consulted two personal trainers, Amy Morris and Steve Stonehouse, to determine whether treadmills or ellipticals are better suited for achieving your fitness objectives. Should you focus on only one machine or use a combination of both? Our article explores the advantages and disadvantages of treadmills and ellipticals, as well as their respective roles in your workout regimen and safety considerations.

The Experts

  • Amy Morris holds the position of Director of Personal Training and serves as an instructor, at CrossTown Fitness.
  • Steve Stonehouse holds the title of Director of Education for STRIDE and is a certified run coach by USATF.

What Is the Elliptical?

What Is the Elliptical?

The elliptical machine’s peculiar appearance is not lost on many individuals. However, its design emphasizes ergonomics over aesthetics. According to Morris, “An elliptical is a gym equipment utilized for low-impact cardiovascular workouts that simulate and merge a natural running motion with stair climbing by positioning your feet on a platform that moves in a constant circular motion or ellipsis. The handlebars also provide a push-pull pump that engages your upper body.”

Stonehouse adds, “On an elliptical trainer, the user’s foot never touches the ground, eliminating the impact of walking or running on a hard surface. The suspended pedals move on an elliptical-shaped track, providing a workout for the lower body. Most elliptical trainers have adjustable resistance, making the workout easier or more challenging. Because the elliptical motion is smooth, the trainer’s movement does not stress or jolt the spinal structures.”

Read also: 5 Tips to Prepare for Your Sports Season

Benefits of Ellipticals

  • Minimal impact: Stonehouse mentions that an elliptical machine exerts minimal stress on the spine and other joints.
  • Cross-training: Ellipticals provide a diversified workout by engaging both the arms and legs simultaneously. According to Morris, “Ellipticals offer effective cross-training for the upper and lower body.”
  • Control: According to Morris, ellipticals provide the ability to manage resistance and incline, enabling variation in your workout routine.
  • Many muscle groups are used: Stonehouse states that certain models enable the pedals to move both forwards and backwards, targeting additional muscle groups and diversifying your exercise routine. “Moreover, certain elliptical trainers are equipped with handles that challenge upper body movements,” he adds.
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Sunny Health & Fitness Essentials Series Elliptical Machine – 190$

What Is a Treadmill?

What Is a Treadmill?

While ellipticals are mostly limited to gym settings, treadmills have a more diverse presence in places such as physical therapy clinics and medical offices. As a result, you are likely to have come across a treadmill at some point in your life, even if you haven’t used one. Stonehouse defines a treadmill as “a workout equipment featuring a motorized, continuous loop belt that enables users to walk or run in place.” Treadmills offer the flexibility to walk at a slow pace, run at high speeds, or everything in between. Additionally, you can adjust the incline to simulate walking or running on a flat surface, a gentle slope, or even a steep hill.

Benefits of Treadmills

  • No outdoors needed: Morris explains that “Treadmills are an excellent substitute for outdoor running as they replicate the same natural movement pattern. Moreover, training on a treadmill allows you to run in adverse weather conditions or if you prefer not to run in the dark outdoors.”
  • High customization: Stonehouse highlights that “The key advantage of working out on a treadmill is the versatility it offers. Whether you prefer a quick jog or a steep uphill walk, you have the option to adjust the speed and incline of your workout to your exact preferences.”
  • HIIT ready: With its customizable settings, a treadmill can be effectively utilized for a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.
  • Time management: According to Morris, “Using a treadmill helps runners to maintain a consistent pace and perform hill work more accurately, without the need to constantly check their watch or the terrain.”
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SereneLife Folding Treadmill – 299$

Treadmills vs. Ellipticals

Both ellipticals and treadmills offer a range of benefits. Ellipticals provide a low-impact workout that engages various muscle groups, while treadmills offer a customizable way to walk, run, or jog on different inclines. Therefore, the choice between the two depends on individual fitness goals and personal preferences.


If safety is a top priority, an elliptical may be the best option for cardio exercise. According to Morris, the fixed movement pattern and minimal impact of ellipticals make them a safer choice, especially for those with joint issues. In contrast, treadmills can be high-impact, especially when used for running, which increases the risk of injury. However, Stonehouse notes that incorporating strength training into your routine can help prevent injuries associated with running and walking on a treadmill. Ultimately, the choice between the two machines should depend on your specific fitness goals and physical needs.


Rewritten: While an elliptical may not be specifically geared towards preparing for a fitness competition, a treadmill can be an ideal tool for training. According to Morris, “if you are training for a race, the treadmill might be the better choice as it can simulate the natural movement pattern of running and incline hill running, and can help you practice holding a steady pace.”

Calorie Burning

While it’s true that people tend to work out harder on treadmills, it’s important to note that the number of calories burned during exercise is highly individual and depends on factors such as age, weight, gender, and intensity of exercise. Therefore, it’s difficult to make a general statement about which machine burns more calories. However, both ellipticals and treadmills can be effective tools for weight loss if used consistently and combined with a healthy diet.


Stonehouse highlights that treadmills offer greater customization options compared to ellipticals due to the wide range of speeds and inclines available. Treadmill workouts can be tailored to simulate daily movements, making them more functional and familiar. Stonehouse suggests that a treadmill can become one’s best friend due to its versatility and ability to provide a customized workout.

The Final Takeaway

Ellipticals and treadmills are common machines found in gyms that offer cardio exercise. An elliptical is a piece of equipment that imitates stair climbing and running movements with handles for upper body movement. It provides low-impact exercise without the stress on joints. On the other hand, a treadmill is a device used for walking or running, with a continuously looping belt. It allows you to customize the speed and incline to simulate different terrains.

Both machines are generally safe for the average person to use and carry minimal injury risk. However, which machine is better for you depends on your goals. For those prioritizing safety, an elliptical is the better option. But if you want to train for a race or have a customizable HIIT workout, a treadmill is the more appropriate choice. Morris suggests that both machines are great tools to incorporate into your workout routine, complementing your strength training exercises.

In conclusion, whether you choose the elliptical or treadmill, incorporating cardio exercise into your daily routine is an excellent way to promote overall fitness and health.

Photo: Pexels/ Julia Larson

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Margaud Raynaud is a beauty expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry. She has a passion for sharing her knowledge and tips with others and has a particular interest in skincare and makeup. When she's not writing about health and beauty, Margaud enjoys trying out new products and experimenting with different looks. Follow her blog for expert advice and inspiration for living your best life.

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