Are you ready to lay an age-old aerobic question to rest? If you’re a fitness fanatic, chances are you’ve wondered which cardio machine is best suited for your goals.
We know the most popular pulse-pounding machines, the elliptical and the treadmill, offer similar health benefits such as strengthening the heart and lungs, crushing calories, and improving your overall health. But despite plenty of parallel perks, there still are several differences to consider to ensure you’re making the best choice.
Let’s evaluate these top cardio contenders in a fitness face-off. Here’s what to know before your next cardio workout:
Keeps joints jolly. One of the most alluring aspects of the elliptical is its ability to give a great workout without irritating fragile joints. Since your feet are planted on the pads throughout your entire sweat session, your body can keep up the intensity without jolting your joints. This sort of low-impact exercise helps reduce inflammation and discomfort in sensitive areas such as knees, hips, and lower back, making it ideal for beginners or those who are rehabbing an injury or have orthopedic issues.
Another aerobic asset is that you have full control over resistance, so you can increase or decrease the workload on the limbs.
Full-body workout. When it comes to the elliptical, the lower body isn’t the only area getting a workout. Rather, this machine comes equipped with adjustable handles, which mobilize the upper body as you push and pull with each glide and stride.
It’s important to avoid poor posture when using these handles. When the muscles fatigue, it’s tempting to hunch and use the arms for support, but this can cause muscular misalignments, which lead to aches, pains, and even injury. Proper posture is paramount for protecting the body.
Bone and balance builder. Weight-bearing exercises are instrumental in stimulating bone growth and boosting bone density, which naturally declines as the body ages. Contrary to the fixed footing used on the elliptical, walking or jogging on a treadmill forces the legs and feet to lift from the belt with each step. This movement against gravity puts positive pressure on the body and helps facilitate stronger bones, as well as better balance through the activation of the spine-stabilizing core muscles.
Better race-day routine. If you’re preparing for the upcoming spring and summer racing season, the treadmill is a far superior training tool to the elliptical. Because the elliptical keeps the body in a locked position, this restricts the body’s ability to improve running form, foot strength, posture, and even the stamina necessary to cross the finish line.
With that said, the treadmill shouldn’t be your only practice for pounding pavement. You’ll want to include cross-training days that combine resistance exercises and other cardio machines such as a stationary bike, to avoid overuse injuries from a repetitive running routine.
All natural. Whether you are walking or running, the treadmill is the top pick for mimicking the natural movement patterns of the body. The arms and feet move freely, just as they would outside of a gym setting. This is beneficial for bolstering the muscles we rely on in our everyday activities.
Remember, in order to walk or run within your natural range of motion you must avoid holding on to the handrails. If you need to hold the rails lightly for balance, move slowly while keeping the shoulders back, chest up, and gaze forward with a consistent stride and pace.
We know there are a bevy of body-boosting benefits to both the elliptical and treadmill machines. But that still doesn’t answer one of the most common questions regarding cardio goals: Which works best for burning calories?
Whether you’re using an elliptical or treadmill, caloric expenditure is entirely determined by exerted effort. The harder you work, the more calories you’ll burn. The treadmill does have a slight leg up on the elliptical because it requires extra energy and power to lift both feet from the ground to push forward. But if the elliptical is set to a vigorous resistance, you can easily match the calorie count of the treadmill.
It’s worth noting that most cardio machines are inaccurate at estimating calories burned, so don’t let this be your sole source for stats. The best way to lose or maintain your weight is to simply be consistent with exercise, aiming to hit the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobics each week using a machine that makes the most sense for you. And remember that exercise alone won’t lead to much weight loss — a smart diet matters, too.