Elliptical vs Treadmill – Which is the Superior Cardio Machine? [2023]

Last Updated on November 15, 2022 by Patrick

“Speed. I am speed.”

Zoom. Zoom. Zoom.

“One winner – 42 losers. I eat losers for breakfast.”

Zoom. Zoom. Zoom.

“Faster than fast. Quicker than quick…I am lightning!”

If you’re a movie buff you’ll quickly realize that those are all quotes from one of the most beloved Disney characters – Lightning McQueen.

Elliptical vs treadmill

But as he learned the hard way – speed isn’t everything. Sometimes you’ve gotta take a hard right to go left.

What does this have to do with the topic of elliptical vs treadmill?

Well, you see a similar rule applies to running – sometimes you’ve gotta start off slow to go fast.

In fact, if you’ve ever set foot in a gym you might’ve heard the perennial question:

“Should I use an elliptical or a treadmill?”

The answer, like most things in life, is: It depends.

Elliptical vs Treadmill

Elliptical vs Treadmill – The Cardio Showdown!


If you’re just starting out a fitness program and would like to ease into the habit of running, then elliptical machines are a great choice. Not only do they provide a low-intensity workout, but they also save you from overworking your knees and joints.

This is one of the main things to consider when comparing elliptical vs treadmill.

But don’t let the lower-impact thing convince you to cast it aside as a total beginners workout tool.

Remember that you’re constantly pulling and pushing the handle bars as well as moving your legs, all while simultaneously balancing yourself.

The elliptical can give you a full body workout in ways that the treadmill can’t!

Elliptical man

Plus, if you gradually change the resistance levels on the machine, you can target specific muscles and build them up. This works great when you need to recover from injuries or don’t want to exert yourself. In fact, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center found that elliptical training demonstrated greater activity compared to stationary cycling and treadmill walking.

Ellipticals are a fantastic choice if you’re looking to actively target your hamstrings and glutes while maintaining a low-intensity pace.

However, note that you tend to burn only half as many calories on elliptical vs treadmill (when running). That’s not a bad thing by itself – you just have to take your particular context into perspective.

Wondering how many calories you would burn using an elliptical in 30 minutes? Here are some statistics, courtesy of Harvard Medical School:

Weight (in lb.)Calories Burned
That’s like a McDonalds cheeseburger every 30 minutes!


Ah, treadmills.

Hollywood’s favorite piece of exercise equipment (next to dumbbells). Besides being used as a creative way for eating Gold Fish Crackers in a zig-zag fashion, they are a fantastic way to burn off calories!

On a treadmill, you burn off twice as many calories as you would on an elliptical while simulating the real-world as much as possible. In addition to giving you a harder workout experience, treadmills take you closer to the pavement than ellipticals do.

Turns out that those little shocks on your joints and knees actually help out in maintaining bone density. Plus, running on a treadmill just feels more natural doesn’t it?

If you’re a hardcore runner (or an aspirant) then you might be question the value of treadmills. I get it.

Treadmill people

But consider this – a very important race was held in 1984 in Los Angeles. The Olympic Games had begun.

Just 17 days before, a woman by the name Joan Benoit would undergo knee surgery – and she wanted to be the one representing the United States at the race in Los Angeles. Her sheer willpower enabled her to rest for a few days post-surgery and then begin her journey again. Starting with a simple treadmill.

Joan Benoit would go on to not only finish the race but grab the gold medal by a margin of 1.5 minutes! Talk about the power of determination. While treadmills may not recreate the exact environment of a marathon – they can certainly help you get started and provide a path away from overworking yourself.

They’re a great choice if you’re looking to strengthen your lower body, engage your core and improve your running form.

There is a downside to treadmills though – you have to plan things out. While running, you’re primarily targeting your leg muscles. That means you’re responsible for maintaining a good posture and finding a way to stay on track (if you don’t you just might find yourself on track to being YouTube famous!).

Also, if you’re exercising for a prolonged period, then you may risk losing some muscle. A good post-workout meal can help out but the key is to find balance when exercising. 


As we’ve seen till now, when it comes to elliptical vs treadmill, they each have their own pros and cons. However, I’d like to touch upon some of the things they have in common as well.

First off, both types of machines generally have integrated timers within them so you can set up sessions and track them in a reliable manner. Second, they also allow you to set the intensity level so that you gradually improve your performance. Third, these machines allow you to slowly seep into the asphalt environment – which can help you stay on track even when you’re recovering.

Also, note that both of these machines help you improve your cardiovascular health (that means you are taking care of your heart, lungs and circulatory system).

Oh yeah, I almost forgot – you can go in a reverse manner on both machines to stimulate both your brain and body! Who said workouts can’t be fun?


Lastly, let’s talk about costs.

You can find machines on both sides of the aisle – a good bargain and ridiculously expensive. If you’re a beginner, maybe hold off buying a $3,000 NordicTrack for a while. Also make sure you actually have enough space to store the elliptical or treadmill – you don’t want your guests staring at them in the living room do you?

Final Words

I’d like to leave you by quoting a passage from Christopher McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’:

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”.

So how about you – What purpose drives you to run everyday? What side do you fall on? Elliptical vs treadmill?

Further Reading

Learn more about the benefits of aerobic exercise

Is it worth it to have a treadmill at home? (Yes)

Just getting started? Check out the Best Home Exercise Equipment for Beginners

Thinking about taking pre workout before a run? Find out how long it takes for it to kick in and how long it lasts

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