Here's another common question that
I'm asked, "what's better, a treadmill or an elliptical
machine?" Well, it would make for a very short article if
there were a quick answer. However, it's not quite that
Ok... I will offer a simple
answer... "whatever you will actually use!" Seriously
though... motivation is a powerful thing and if a piece of
equipment is not suited to you, and is not something that you
can continue to use on a regular basis, then it really doesn't
matter if it's an outstanding piece of equipment or not.
Many of these machines end up being used more as a clothes rack
than a cardio machine! Whether you use a treadmill,
elliptical, stationary bike, or use exercise DVDs... it all
comes down to maintaining an elevated heart rate (in your
for a desired period of time (at least 20-30 minutes per
So back to the initial comparison...
there are definite reasons for selecting one of these cardio
machines over the other. Here's a quick summary for you:
Treadmill - used to allow for the motions of
walking while staying in one place. Decent, motorized,
treadmills don't typically have resistance settings (aside from
the potential to elevate the slope), but rely on the variable of
speed to determine the intensity of the workout. Unlike
many of the other cardio machines, a treadmill moves at a
predetermined speed (whether manually set, or based upon a
program) and the person using the machine is forced to maintain
a matched pace to keep up.
The benefit in this type of
operation is that the person training doesn't have the
opportunity to take it easy at will. On the down side,
there is little need to propel yourself on a treadmill, making
running easier and therefore not giving you an accurate
representation of running on the ground. A potential negative
of the treadmill, whether you are walking, jogging, or running
on it, is that your foot (or feet) leave the surface of it and
therefore have to make contact with it again. This impact
can be jarring to the joints of the body, especially the knees.
If you are like me and have chronic knee problems, this is
definitely a reason to consider your options. Still, the
better treadmills are typically less impact than performing the
same exercise on the pavement and the ability to do so indoors
provides a year round reason to keep up the good work!
Elliptical Trainer - (also cross
trainer or simply elliptical) is a stationary
exercise machine used to simulate more of a cross-country skiing
stride, without causing excessive pressure to the joints (hence decreasing the risk of impact injuries).
Elliptical trainers offer a
cardiovascular workout that can vary from light to high
intensity based on the resistance preference set by the user.
Most elliptical trainers work the user's upper and lower body.
They can be self-powered by user
generated motion or need to be plugged in for adjustment of
motion and/or for supplying their electronic consoles and
resistance systems. Current models incorporate adjustable
resistance via magnetic or electromagnetic
On some models, the incline of
sloping roller ramps beneath the pedal-links can be adjusted to
produce varying pedal motion paths. The result of such
adjustment changes the burdens on various
muscle groups in the legs. Some trainers can be driven in a reverse as well as in
a forward direction. Elliptical trainers are primarily driven
via the legs, and most are combination designs having
handle-levers attached to each pedal-link for the purpose of
enabling a burden on the arms to provide a secondary source of
driving power. The user grips the handles below shoulder height
and pushes/pulls them while shuffling the feet back and forth
within their elliptically shaped paths. Thus the oscillating
handle motions are dependently coordinated with the constrained
pedal motions. The better models offer a harmonious
combination of arm and leg exercise in the correct ratios.
An elliptical cross trainer is
comparable to a
treadmill in its exertion of leg muscles and the heart.
Ellipticals produce an intermediate range of leg motion between
stationary bikes and treadmills.
There are claims that the dual
action exercise of an elliptical trainers can actually be more
efficient in burning calories. The logic is that by exercising
more muscle groups simultaneously, a more intense workout can be
achieved in less time. It is also suggested that the perceived
rate of exertion is lower. However, other studies have shown
that the rate in which calories are burned on an elliptical
trainer is similar to that on a treadmill. Regardless, elliptical trainers are growing in
popularity. One reason may be that because the person who is
exercising is not taking his or her feet off of the pedals, an
exercise can be done at a gentler rate, still getting the same
amount of results as a treadmill.
exercise bicycle or
bike) is a device with saddle,
pedals, and some form of handlebars arranged as on a
bicycle, but used as
exercise equipment rather than transportation.
An exercise bicycle is usually a
exercise machine resembling a bicycle without true wheels,
but it is also possible to adapt an ordinary bicycle for
stationary exercise by placing it on
bicycle rollers or a
trainer. Rollers and trainers are often used by
racing cyclists to warm up before racing, or to train on
their own machines indoors.
The exercise bike has long been
physical therapy because of the low-impact, safe, and
effective cardiovascular exercise it provides. The low-impact
movement involved in operating an exercise bike does not put
much stress on joints and does not involve sporadic motions that
some other fitness equipment may require.
Recently there has been an
increased interest in "Spinning" classes at health clubs and
fitness centers. Indoor cycling or spinning is a form of
high-intensity exercise that involves using a stationary
exercise bicycle in a classroom setting. The exercise
bicycles used for spinning are designed more like a typical road
bike then the semi-recumbent, or recumbent exercise bikes on the
typical equipment floor of a health club. A well-trained
instructor uses music, motivation and enthusiastic coaching to
lead students through a ride that best suits their fitness level
and goals. Most instructors will lead what is called an interval
ride, this is where students will sprint, run, climb, and jump
all in the same ride but there will not be definable pattern to
the exercises. Participants set goals based on their heart
rate, which can be measured by hand or using a heart rate
monitor and ride simulated variations in terrain by altering
resistance and cadence.
Summary- There are a variety of factors to
consider when you are looking into purchasing a piece of cardio
equipment. Cost, space requirements, and motivation are
important in addition to some of the points that I covered
above. Remember to assess yourself and understand what
limitations you might have such as back or joint issues which
would steer you to an elliptical or exercise bike, or whether a
treadmill might be better if you enjoy walking or jogging, or
need to have a set pace to keep up with. Once you have an
idea of the type of equipment you want, I'd recommend doing some
homework to find out which ones are rated favorably in their
class. A few of my favorite sites for reviews are
and a variety of other useful resources that you can find by
searching for "treadmill reviews", "elliptical reviews", or
"stationary bike reviews". One suggestion that I would
make would be to check the reviews at several different sites to
ensure that you are not getting biased information on a model
and brand due to a manufacturer sponsorship of the site.
It's definitely better to get an overall consensus from a
variety of resources before you spend your hard earned money!