Treadmill vs Elliptical Training

With space and a budget for only one machine, the treadmill vs. elliptical training debate is likely one that is currently going on in your home.

If you like both machines equally, in so much that personal preference is not a criteria, you have to weigh other factors before you decide which one to buy. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Maintenance and Durability

Elliptical machines have fewer moving parts due to the magnetic flywheels so they should rarely need expensive repairs. One maintenance drawback to a front drive elliptical model is that the tracks that the wheels roll in must be cleaned for optimum performance.

A good treadmill with a strong motor backed by a 25-year warranty and a maintenance-free deck will be relatively easy to care for. As long as you don’t buy a cheap model, either type of machine will give you years of reliable use with little maintenance required.

Verdict:  Tie, assuming both the treadmill and elliptical are high quality.

Machine Footprint

Ellipticals are actually longer than you think so they lose this category. Treadmills with folding decks let you conserve floor space when not in use.

However, there are some very compact mid-drive elliptical trainers, as well as some overly long commercial treadmills.

Verdict:  Treadmills win in most cases, but not all.

Extra Features

You won’t find any arguments in the treadmill vs elliptical trainer debate here. Both cardio machines come equipped with exercise programs, heart rate monitors, fans, and entertainment features such as speakers, music ports, touch screens and internet connections, among other capabilities.

Verdict:  Tie, again assuming both high quality machines.


Depending on the brand, you can usually get more elliptical for less money than with a treadmill. Although it is like comparing apples to oranges, we would say that a $1000 elliptical is at least equivalent in value to a $1500 treadmill.

Because the parts are less expensive, you can get a quality elliptical at $999 that will last for years. If you are a runner, plan to spend around $1,500 minimum to get a decent treadmill for training purposes.

Verdict:  Ellipticals win out here, as they tend to be cheaper on the whole than comparable treadmills.


You want the best bang for your buck so you want to go with the machine that will get you in shape in the least amount of time and be something you will stick with for years.

Assuming you are comparing a treadmill vs. a crosstrainer with moving arms, the edge goes to the elliptical for intensity since it can give you an upper body workout.

But take away the handlebar feature and the intensity experienced on an elliptical or treadmill, both equipped with incline ramps, will be the same.

Verdict:  Ellipticals win. With their moving arms you get an upper body workout the treadmill doesn't provide.  However, running full speed and full incline is certainly an intense workout.

Calorie Burn

As with any exercise, you get out of it what you put into it. In this case, researchers have found that the physiological responses such as increased heart and respiratory rate were the same when comparing subjects running on a treadmill vs elliptical training.

Both machines equally offer the ability to lose body fat through cardiovascular exercise, which means the fat burns away all over your body and not just in your legs and trunk.

Verdict:  Tie.  You can burn a lot of calories with both machines, however some of the hybrids like the BowFlex Max Trainer and TreadClimber claim you can burn more with those.

Stress Impact

The elliptical is lower impact on the joints so it gives you a kinder, gentler workout than a treadmill.

On the other hand, if joint impact isn’t an issue for your body, the weight bearing exercise of the treadmill helps to strengthen bones.

Verdict:  Elliptical wins. It's one of the main benefits of the elliptical trainer vs. the treadmill.  However, the cushioning on treadmills is getting better and better.

Versatility for the Household

On average, treadmills with a 20” x 55” deck or larger will fit anyone, right down to the position of the handrails. On the other hand, ellipticals can be tricky.

An elliptical stride that is too small or too large, or a pedal stance that is too wide, or pedals that aren’t properly articulated, can be uncomfortable for some users.

Verdict:  Treadmill wins. Most people can just hop on and go, as opposed to the elliptical which can be uncomfortable or need a lot of adjustment.

Personal Preference

Again, you may like both machines equally but running on a treadmill vs elliptical training is so different that you may want to consider whatever cross training purposes you need for everyday activities, or other sports as well.

If you are an avid walker, a treadmill gives you that, while an elliptical is more of a combo of a stair stepper and cross-country ski machine. If you are a runner, the treadmill wins hands down.

Verdict:  Neither wins.  We just said it's a personal preference!  :)

More Tips for Treadmill Workouts

Treadmill vs Elliptical...The Bottom Line

The treadmill vs elliptical war will continue to wage on, as people will always be comparing these two popular cardio machines.  But at the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference.

You can get an effective workout, burning up the calories and toning up the muscles, on both machines.

The only two areas where the treadmill may fall short are in the impact and upper body workout areas.  But you can compensate for both by purchasing a treadmill with advanced cushioning, and using dumbbells on the treadmill or before/after your workout.

For us, the treadmill is a winner across the board...but we're a little biased!  

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