Treadmill vs. Elliptical – Which is Best for Losing Weight?

A question I often get asked by my readers is whether a treadmill or elliptical trainer is better for losing weight.  Well, it depends, and the answer is which machine are you the most likely to use in the pursuit of your fitness goals.

Weight Loss on a Treadmill

The advantage of a treadmill is that it accommodates a form or exercise that comes natural to us, walking or running.  The way you burn calories on a treadmill is that you adjust the speed and the incline.  Obviously, the faster you move and the steeper you set the incline the more intense cardio burn your will experience.   In addition, by raising the incline you simulate hiking up hills or mountains and you target additional lower body muscles.

The one disadvantage to a treadmill is that you do have a form of impact as your foot strikes the deck, however, the impact is significantly less than running on the street or sidewalk because of the shock absorption that is built in.


Weight Loss on an Elliptical Trainer

One of the major advantages to an elliptical trainer is that it works out both your lower and upper body.  And there are some controversial studies that suggest when exercising on an elliptical you are able to exercise harder with a lower perception of exertion. In other words, you are burning more calories, but you do notice it as much. (See abstract at Regardless, the benefit of an elliptical trainer is that you can target muscles in both your upper and lower body.

Another benefit of an elliptical trainer is the reduced impact.  Your lower body moves in an elliptical motion, and your feet never leave the pedals.  In fact, the original elliptical trainers were designed to assist individuals with previous injuries from exercising.

Elliptical trainers utilize a form of resistance to increase the level of cardio exertion. By increasing the resistance the user must exert more energy to keep the motion going.   Furthermore, most elliptical trainers include an incline feature that works in a very similar fashion as the incline on a treadmill.   You can increase the incline of the elliptical motion and also increase your cardio exertion (Click here to see elliptical trainer reviews.).

However, some people find the dual action and the elliptical motion to be a drawback.  They are not comfortable with the feel of the exercise, and prefer the simplicity of the tried and true treadmill.

So which machine is best for burning calories and losing weight?  It is a matter of preference and it comes down to which one you will most likely use on a regular basis.

What is important is that every time you workout on either a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, you push yourself.  That means you gradually increase the speed, incline or resistance.   You will find that except for the dirt cheap machines, all treadmill and ellipticals come with installed workout programs.  With treadmills they control the speed and incline, with ellipticals they control resistance and the incline.  By varying the challenge you can break out of the monotony of exercising in place.  These programs are designed to help you lose weight.  In fact, some utilize interval training that is used by professional athletes.  With interval training you go from an intense cardio burn to a cool down period.

You will also find a number of treadmills and ellipticals that allows you to track your progress.  Some store you results directly on the console, while others let you transfer your exercise stats to an online account, where you can graphically view your progress.  Studies have shown that individuals that monitor their progress are more likely to achieve their fitness goals.

In conclusion, you want to find the machine that works best for you in achieving your fitness goals.  I personally have both a treadmill and elliptical trainer, and I split my workout between the two.  I like the upper body workout that I get on my elliptical, but I also feel I burn more calories running on an incline on my treadmill. Both machines have their unique benefits in keeping me healthy, slim and in shape.

More thoughts on elliptical machines vs. treadmills.

Fred Waters

Fred Waters has worked in the fitness equipment industry for the past 17 years, and was formerly V.P. of marketing for Smooth Fitness. He offers his recommendations and advice on purchasing treadmills and elliptical trainers on his web sites.

5 thoughts on “Treadmill vs. Elliptical – Which is Best for Losing Weight?

  • May 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for sharing this article Fred. I agree that balance and variety are key for these machines. I find I get my best total body workouts on the elliptical trainer and use my treadmill for sprint intervals. I am seeing dramatic weight loss and endurance.

  • February 9, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I can’t find much time to go to a gym, so I bought an elliptical machine for my home. I did not consider a treadmill at all because of two reasons. I At the gym I preferred the elliptical way more than the treadmill(even though that was the general trend, most gyms here have just one elliptical and 5-6 treadmills) the home use treadmills available here in India are either too bulky(and expensive for the electric ones) for a small urban apartment or too stressful for the mechanical one. I also liked the fact that an elliptical exercises your entire body instead of just your legs

    My suggestion to those planing to buy either of this for home use is: go to a gym and try out both for 2-3 months. If you find yourself veering more towards one, go ahead and buy it.
    If time is not really your concern then as Melanie L says try different exercises for different days.

  • February 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Great post. I know a lot of people are friends of the “treadmill”, but the one thing that I always suggest is that people use different forms of exercise throughout the week, be it an elliptical or something else. Something like running is great, but it doesn’t form the upper body and something like lifting weights is great but it doesn’t exactly work the leg muscles.
    Finding a perfect balance of exercises is the key to living a healthy body.

    • February 26, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Variety in exercising is important for both strength building and cardio development. I personally use my elliptical, treadmill and home gym. And when the weather permits I am running up and down hills, which my dog prefers I do. There are so many different muscles in your body and it is important to train and target and many as possible.


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