Selecting the best cardio options: Treadmill VS Elliptical

As fitness technology continues to advance and gym chains continually refresh their equipment gym-goers are faced with an increasing number of choices when it comes to cardio equipment.

In this series of articles we take a look at the pros and cons of the most common pieces of equipment you’re likely to find in your local gym so that you can make the best choice and achieve your goals, be it improved fitness or fat loss.


A treadmill is the most common piece of cardio equipment that you’re likely to find in the gym. That’s because it is also one of the most effective. On a calorie-per hour basis, nothing burns calories faster (depending on your pace, incline and intensity). In a study conducted at the Milwaukee VA Hospital, which compared exercises, users who felt that they had exercised equally strenuously on bikes and treadmills actually expended 25% more calories on the treadmill. Treadmills also give you the option of walking or running, with the ability to control your speed and incline to meet any goal.

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  • Burns more calories per hour than other cardio equipment (estimated to be between 600-1200 calories per hour).
  • A great training option during inclement weather when outdoor activity is not possible.
  • All aspects of the workout can be controlled by the user, so different speeds and inclines can be chosen to create fat-burning, cardio and sprint-training workouts.
  • Relatively easy piece of exercise equipment to use.
  • Provides ideal conditions for pace running, intervals, Fartlek training and controlled speed work.


  • Even though the treadmill running surface reduces impact though cushioning, jarring can still be experienced.
  • Cannot simulate the conditions of running outdoors (wind, heat and terrain).
  • Your stride length can be shortened when running on a treadmill, which can adversely affect your natural biomechanics if done too often.

If running is not your vibe, check out the best options to pedal your way to a better body.


The elliptical machine simulates cross-country skiing, which is widely considered to be the most effective form of cardio for burning calories on a per-hour basis. However, this is largely due to the fact that cross-country skiing takes place in sub-zero temperatures so your body needs to burn extra calories to maintain your core body temperature. Even without the cold, this is still a great cardio option as it incorporates both your upper and lower body. It also takes a lot of the load off your joints as it is low impact. This makes it an ideal alternative for those who enjoy walking or running, but have injuries or joint problems.


  • The use of upper and lower body muscles burns extra calories and increases oxygen demands.
  • Ideal piece of equipment for beginners or those requiring injury rehabilitation.
  • Some research has indicated that using an elliptical trainer in a reverse direction actually helps to strengthen the anterior cruciate ligament and other parts of the knee.
  • Even though it is low impact it is still a load-bearing exercise, which helps to build bone density and fight off osteoporosis.


  • Some people find the dual action, elliptical exercise is awkward and are more comfortable simply walking or jogging on a treadmill.
  • The fact that upper body muscles are included can make it more difficult for people to control their heart rates or keep them within a certain range.
  • Ellipticals generally don’t have adjustable foot rests and handles, so shorter people may experience compromised biomechanics on the machine.
  • People often experience foot numbness when using the elliptical. This issue typically sets in after about 30 minutes because your feet remain planted throughout the exercise so blood flow and circulation is compromised.

The stepper is another effective cardio option for those who want another low-impact exercise. 

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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