Treadmill vs. elliptical: Which one is better for your workout?

Treadmill vs. elliptical — Here are three differences between the cardio machines

Treadmills and elliptical machines are two of the most popular ways to get in a cardio workout, but is one better than the other?

Sergio Pedemonte, trainer and co-owner of Your House Fitness in Toronto, said there are a few differences between the two.

“The difference between the treadmill and the elliptical is that the treadmill allows you to adjust the incline levels and switch the speed (whether you want to walk, jog, run or sprint),” he told Global News. “It provides you with more of a lower-body workout and mimics the natural movement of walking or running outside.”

The elliptical, he added, allows you to select the resistance with which you want to work.

“As your feet are placed into pads, the movement is more controlled,” he explained. “It allows you to shorten or elongate the stride of the machine. The elliptical machine comes with two side handles for the hands and pads for your feet, allowing the user to work on their upper body and lower body.”

He added that when you use the elliptical, you can choose either to include the arms or not. Switching from a forward motion (dominant on the glutes and hamstrings muscles) to a backward motion (dominant on the quadriceps and calves) focuses on different muscle groups.

Both are good for warm-ups and interval workouts.
When to use each one

Elliptical machine:

Elliptical machines are best for low-impact cardio because there is less pressure on the joints.

“If your knees hurt while running on the treadmill or if you suffer from shin splints, it might be worth trying out an elliptical,” he said.

There are ways to get a good workout on an elliptical machine. Experts for Self magazine note that you should always keep your feet flat on the pedals.

“Proper form will help you avoid the aches and pains that can creep up when your body isn’t in alignment. Your feet go on the pedals, and your hands hold the bars alongside the machine or at the base of the monitor, depending on the type of elliptical.

Be sure to keep a micro-bend in your knees and elbows, and remember to keep feet flat against the pedals as opposed to standing on your toes,” Annette Comerchero, founder of Elliptifit studio, told the magazine.


Pedemonte said treadmills are better if you are prepping for a marathon or if you want to practice incline walking (or walking on hills).

“(Treadmills are also good) if you want to focus on sprinting and don’t have the space available,” he explained.

Treadmills are good alternatives for people who aren’t able to do their workout outside but still want to walk, jog or sprint.

“They’re both great machines. Just remember to only use them once you know how to. If you don’t know, ask a trainer or someone that knows in the facility you are working out in,” he added.

“One of the most common mistakes is when someone tries to mimic what someone else is doing without knowing why or what the purpose of what they’re doing is,” he explained.

“Certain things should only be done by seasoned athletes so make sure you are working within your fitness levels and respect your physical limitations. Always ask a professional if you’re unsure of what to do.”

Choosing a machine

Before choosing a machine, Pedemonte said there are four things to consider: your goals, your fitness level, your comfort level and your risk of injury (as well as if you have a past injury).

“Do you need support to walk or having trouble balancing yourself? Both the elliptical and treadmill have a support bar that you can hold onto if you need to steady yourself,” he said. “One thing to keep in mind is that the elliptical only allows you to do a specific movement versus the treadmill, where it allows variation on every step.”

If you can run, use the treadmill. If not, start with the elliptical and select a resistance that allows you to simulate running.

“Do … your knees bother you or your shins hurt? Switch to the elliptical until you feel better. This way, you can continue to work on your cardiovascular system without risking injury,”
Pedemonte said.

Arti Patel