The Difference Between a Treadmill and an Elliptical Trainer

Treadmill and elliptical trainer

Africa Studio/

By Simon Gould

The treadmill and elliptical are very similar and are both popular cardio machines. They both give you a good workout but the elliptical works the upper body more than the treadmill using the handlebars. Many of you will have a personal preference so here we are comparing them both side to side and in every detail too see which is better.


Treadmill – come in an increasing number of varieties like manual, motorized and the new curved treadmills. They all vary in cost and the more you pay the better you get generally. If you only want to walk then a cheaper treadmill with a smaller motor will be fine or go for an incline treadmill. If you want to jog or run then be prepared to pay around $2,000 plus for a good one.

Elliptical – come in quite a few varieties as well. You can buy front or rear drive and there are some where you sit on them while exercising. As with treadmills the more you pay the better you get. We recommend you pay attention to the warranties as they are a guide of how long the machine should last. Prices are similar to treadmills where we would advise you pay around $2,000 plus for a good one.

Ease of use

Treadmill – are easy to use but maybe you have some anxiety if you’ve never used them before. The consoles are usually touch screen or with buttons. The workout programs can be complicated and fiddly to find but most of us just use the quick start feature and get on and go. They are, on the whole, quite safe and easy to use.

Elliptical – in our opinion are not the most natural of movements. It replicates cross country skiing and is difficult to keep your feet on the pedals if you go fast. People get used to using an elliptical but they’re never as popular as treadmills. Nothing beats the act of running for a good workout. The elliptical can’t really compete in this regard. There are workout programs but like the treadmill it’s easier to just get on and go.


Treadmill – perform badly where impact is concerned. Any cardio machine has less impact than a treadmill. The joints take a beating even though the deck is usually cushioned and better than running outside. If you are overweight to begin with then another machine like an elliptical maybe better for you at first, then a treadmill until some weight loss is established. Your joints take a pounding otherwise.

Elliptical – are very easy on the joints. It’s the circular motion your legs take, there is very little impact at all. If you have any injuries then you may be able to still get exercise in with an elliptical. It’s a good starting point if you’re new to a gym and your wary about using the machines and you can be confident that an elliptical will be easy on the body.

Weight loss

Treadmill – Burning calories is what you need to do to lose weight. The treadmill nearly always wins this category. If you’re running at nearly any speed then you’re going to burn a lot of calories. Even walking you can up the incline and your calorie burn level will be good. It also works out the parts of the body where you want to lose weight from like the butt.

Elliptical – will help you lose weight and works out the upper body. For calorie burning the elliptical needs some tweaking. We recommend ramping up the resistance if you want to lose weight. The thing is with an elliptical it’s very easy to cheat and not burn many calories while still riding fast. An elliptical would be good as a warm up or cool down to begin with to get the muscles going.

Variety of exercise

Treadmill – The incline and range of workout programs give a good variety. You can go from power walking up a steep incline to sprinting while doing some speed work. The workout programs have names like calorie burn and hill climbs. They’ll get you a good targeted workout. Some programs will exercise the butt more when you have the incline turned up.

Elliptical – The elliptical has the resistance which is like the incline for the treadmill which it makes it harder to workout. Some ellipticals have ramps in combination with the resistance which is more like an incline. You exercise on a slope with a ramp and works parts of the legs that are missed by the normal resistance.

Assembly & location

Treadmill – The motor requires an electrical socket unless you get a manual one powered by yourself. The assembly is tough and we always recommend that if you’re buying a treadmill then get them to assemble it as well. You will have a professional do it that’s assembled many treadmills and will be far better at it than you.

Elliptical – will require an electrical socket as well to power the console. The resistance is often magnetic on good ellipticals. Assembly is often just as complicated for ellipticals as it is for treadmills so we recommend you pay an expert to do it for you. This way they take it into your room of choice as well. Then you can sit back and let them do the work.

Maintenance & longevity

Treadmill – require regular lubricating but that isn’t difficult. There are videos on youtube which show you how to do it and treadmill lube is sold on Amazon. Where longevity is concerned a treadmill should last for many miles if properly taken care of. The longest warranties for in home labor are 2 years but it should last far longer than that.

Elliptical – last a similar amount of time as treadmills and the warranties are often the same. Regular maintenance like cleaning and checking for safety are routines that are essential for any fitness equipment. You can lubricate the elliptical as well. Otherwise you don’t have to do so much with an elliptical. Any servicing and repairs should be done by a professional.

Final thoughts

Treadmill – is easier to use and has a greater variety of workouts you can do. It also does better where weight loss is concerned. If you can run and you’re thinking of a piece of fitness equipment then we believe the treadmill is better than the elliptical. It does have a slightly bigger footprint though so you need a big space.

Elliptical – is good for people who don’t want to run for their exercise. Some prefer the elliptical as it requires less commitment. The fact that it works out your upper body is a plus that the treadmill doesn’t have. Ellipticals are popular and require less maintenance, their warranties are good so they do last. If you like the exercise then go for it, the important thing is to get health and fit.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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