Skip to main content

« Back

Treadmill vs Elliptical: What Really Burns More Calories?

Jun 1, 2015

Cardio machines were created to allow people to get a workout and shed some pounds without leaving the comfort of their home.

Two examples of these machines, the elliptical and the treadmill, are subjects of an ongoing debate over which of them is more effective for a cardio workout.

Dr. Henry Williford of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) said during an interview with the New York Daily News that both the elliptical and the treadmill have upsides and downsides to them. He said that treadmills are more conducive for running, while elliptical machines are more suited for non-impact training.

"If you're training to do a 5K [run], obviously the treadmill is the preferred mode of exercise because it's similar," Williford added. "But my brother has arthritis. He can't run but he can exercise on an elliptical because there's no impact. You're not picking your body up and down."

While treadmills were initially the more popular choice for people, ellipticals are starting to catch up.

In 2012, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA)reported that treadmills amount to 25.5 percent of the $4.49 billion sales of exercise machines, while elliptical machines came in at second with $1.06 billion.

The SGMA also noted that elliptical machines had a 7.1 percent increase in sales compared to the 3.6 percent gain for treadmills.

Features of the Treadmill

The treadmill allows users to walk, jog or run indoors. The machine can be set to varying speeds ranging from 1 mile per hour to 15 miles per hour. Users can also adjust the ramp of the treadmill up to about 15 percent incline for a more challenging workout.

Features of the Elliptical

The elliptical machine allows users to combine two movement styles in one exercise routine-- rhythmic striding and stair stepping.

In rhythmic striding, the user simulates the action of cross country skiing by moving the handle bars on the elliptical back and forth during the workout in order to burn more calories in one full body routine.

The amount of calorie burned using elliptical machines depends on the ramp height's settings, the level of resistance and the stride speed, or how fast the legs move during the workout.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Older people prefer to use the elliptical because it offers little impact on the joints and muscles. The machine lets users glide their legs instead of pounding them just like in a treadmill exercise.

"You've got to keep up with a treadmill or you'll come off the back of it," Williford said. "Whatever speed you set, you've got to keep up pace. With an elliptical, you can rest or slow down."

Fitness experts, however, disagree with this assertion.

Melanie Douglass, a fitness expert from Utah, called ellipticals "feel-good machines" because they offer an easy workout that people could easily get bored with.

Douglass explained that the motor in elliptical machines takes users out of their workout zones. She said that her clients worked harder during their exercise routines on the treadmill.

Depending on the workout routine, the treadmill and the elliptical both provide effective ways to burn calories.

The treadmill is more recommended for seasoned runners who wish to get the same quality of workout they get by running outdoors.

By switching up routines on the elliptical machine, just like in cross training, users can also get a full body workout with minimal chance of injury.


Schedule a complimentary fit evaluation so we can get to know you and your goals and build you a customized training program to reach them.