Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which Cardio Machine is Right For You?
When it comes to cardio equipment, two machines reign supreme: the treadmill and the elliptical. Both have earned their seat on the throne due to their versatility and effectiveness at burning calories and building strength.
So, with both the elliptical and treadmill offering impressive workouts, which one is the best cardio machine for your home gym?
In this guide, we’ll help you make that decision by highlighting the key benefits and drawbacks of each machine and offering considerations that will help you feel confident in your choice.
The Treadmill vs. The Elliptical: What Are the Pros and Cons of Each Machine?
One of the biggest benefits of treadmills is their versatility. The motorized belt on a treadmill offers adjustable speed and incline options. This means you can easily walk, run, jog, or perform high-intensity interval training all on one machine at the push of a button. And most treadmills feature dozens of pre-programmed workouts to keep you entertained and to help you achieve different fitness goals, like weight loss or building muscle.
Builds Strong Legs
Treadmill training does more than build your cardiovascular endurance – it also helps you build leg strength and bone density. Running is a high-impact activity. And research shows that high-impact exercise that forces your body to work against gravity results in greater bone density.
The amount of calories you burn during exercise depends on a lot of factors, like your weight, gender, and exercise effort. However, studies suggest that running on a treadmill may result in more calories burned compared to other cardio machines, like an elliptical or rowing machine. The higher speeds, higher intensity, and the high-impact nature of running on a treadmill are a winning combination for torching calories.
One of the treadmill’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses. The repetitive foot strike on a treadmill can be taxing on the joints, especially for beginners. And if the proper rest and recovery aren’t taken, it can lead to discomfort and injuries, like shin splints. Looking for treadmills with cushioned belts and alternating between high-impact and low-impact activities (like walking) can help minimize that risk.
Can Be Monotonous
When you run outdoors, the natural scenery keeps your mind occupied. So, for some, running indoors on a treadmill can get boring without any entertainment. A model with a built-in screen and Bluetooth connectivity, like the LifeSpan TR5500iM, allows you to screenshare your favorite show or movie and stay stimulated during your workout.
The elliptical’s biggest advantage is its ability to offer intense workouts while being kinder to your joints. During an elliptical workout, your feet never leave the pedals. This significantly reduces strain on your joints and spine during training, making it an ideal cardio choice if you suffer from joint stiffness or if you’re recovering from an injury.
Unlike the treadmill that only targets your legs, ellipticals come with handlebars that engage the upper body. The dual action of pushing the handles back and forth as you move your legs ensures a more uniform workout. This allows you to tone and strengthen everything from your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, to your back, arms, and shoulders.
If you’ve never run before, stepping on a treadmill for the first time could be intimidating. You have to know what speed to set the treadmill at to run at your ideal pace and have a proper running gait to avoid injuries. The elliptical’s intuitive design and low-impact nature make it less intimidating and a more approachable cardio option if you’re at the beginning of your fitness journey.
Can Be Bulky
While treadmills come in folding and under-desk options to save space, the elliptical’s size is pretty standard. Look for compact machines, like the Keiser M5i Strider, or self-generated ellipticals like the LifeSpan E5i, so you can just focus on floorspace, not being near an outlet.
Less Natural Motion
An elliptical has a fixed motion, which is great if you’re new to training but not so great if you’re planning to use it to focus on running form. The stiffer movement and lack of foot striking don’t always translate over to your natural running gait.
What to Consider When Choosing a Cardio Machine
While both treadmills and ellipticals are elite cardio machines that will build strength and burn calories, here are some additional considerations to help you make your pick.
Decide what you’re trying to achieve through your cardio training. Are you looking for a way to continue your marathon training during the wet fall and winter weather? A treadmill is a perfect tool for you. Do you suffer from arthritic joint pain? The low-impact nature of the elliptical has you covered. Simply want to burn calories and focus on losing weight? As long as your energy expenditure is the same on the treadmill and elliptical, both will get the job done.
Space and Budget
While both ellipticals and treadmills command floorspace, we have options in all shapes, sizes, and budgets at Fitness Town. If you have room to splurge, consider a commercial-grade treadmill machine like the LifeSpan TR7000iM or an elliptical like the Octane Max MTX Trainer. (Remember, ellipticals tend to be bulkier than treadmills). If your space (and your wallet) are tight, go for a folding or under-desk treadmill. You’ll get tons of great features in a compact package.
If you share an apartment with roommates or want to avoid waking the kids during your early morning workout, you’re going to want a cardio machine that’s quiet. Ellipticals are the noise-friendly choice because there is no foot strike, like on a treadmill. But if you want to run with as little noise as possible, look for a treadmill with a cushioned belt that will help absorb the vibrations.
At the end of the day, the best workout routine is the one you stick to. And choosing the cardio machine that is most enjoyable to you will help you avoid burnout and look forward to training. If you find elliptical workouts boring, go for the variety offered by the treadmill. If you’re injury and accident-prone, choose the low-impact cardio option. Just remember, when it comes to achieving your fitness goals, consistency is key.
Choose the Cardio Machine That’s Right for You
Elliptical and treadmills have cemented themselves as home gym staples. Both cardio machines have their strengths and weaknesses, but what matters the most is how they align with your personal fitness goals and training style.
If training for a race is your thing, nothing beats the treadmill. But if you’re looking for low-impact cardio that won’t flare up your old knee injury, opt for the elliptical. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
But before making your decision, why not test out your options? Visit us at 1 of our 6 Fitness Town locations to put our elliptical and treads to the test. Or, if online shopping is your thing, check out our curated collection of cardio equipment here.
 “High-Impact Exercise May Be Best Bone-Builder.” Reuters, 12 Mar. 2009. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bone-builder-idUSTRE52B6RR20090312.
 Filipovic M, Munten S, Herzig KH, Gagnon DD. Maximal Fat Oxidation: Comparison between Treadmill, Elliptical and Rowing Exercises. J Sports Sci Med. 2021 Mar 1;20(1):170-178. doi: 10.52082/jssm.2021.170. PMID: 33708000; PMCID: PMC7919349.
 Brown GA, Cook CM, Krueger RD, Heelan KA. Comparison of energy expenditure on a treadmill vs. an elliptical device at a self-selected exercise intensity. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jun;24(6):1643-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cb2854. PMID: 20453685.