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Elliptical vs. treadmill vs. stationary bike: Which is best?


Elliptical vs. treadmill vs. stationary bike: Which is best?

There’s a lot to consider when selecting the best type of exercise equipment to use. Among the most popular machines are the elliptical machine, treadmill and stationary bike.
Each will help you burn calories and increase your aerobic capacity. The decision about which one is best for you ultimately comes down to your preferences and your body’s needs, says Jacob Welker, an exercise physiologist at Tidelands HealthPoint Center for Health and Fitness, our region’s only medical fitness center.
Welker and other exercise physiologists at Tidelands HealthPoint hold degrees in exercise science and are specially trained to help you achieve your fitness goals.
“It’s really personal preference and how it feels to your body,” he says. “A lot of times, bikes or elliptical machines are better for your knees, but your leg length or height may also factor into which machine feels best to you.”

Elliptical machines

Elliptical machines are a cross between a stair stepper and a ski machine. You use your entire body during a workout on an elliptical machine. Your legs move in a circular, up-and-down motion and your arms operate the moveable handles. Your core muscles get a workout, as well. You can add resistance or increase the incline for a more challenging workout.
An elliptical machine burns lots of calories, too. A 155-pound person can burn 324 calories in 30 minutes using an elliptical machine.

  • Low-impact exercise that doesn’t jar your joints
  • Works the upper and lower body simultaneously
  • Can focus on different muscle groups by changing directions


  • May feel unnatural at first
  • Less muscle development than a treadmill


Treadmills allow you to run, jog or walk on a moving belt. You set the speed and incline. Treadmills are well-suited for high-intensity interval training workouts, which studies have shown to be highly effective at burning calories, reducing body fat and improving cardiovascular fitness in a short period of time. If jogging or briskly walking is more your speed, you can burn 216 calories in 30 minutes on a treadmill.

  • Versatile and allows you to change settings easily
  • Many offer built-in training programs
  • Builds leg strength


  • Running or jogging can stress joints and bones
  • Works fewer muscle groups

Stationary bikes

Stationary bikes or exercise bikes let you strengthen your legs and core without stressing your knees and hips. They offer a low-impact option if you have osteoarthritis, but can be adjusted for more resistance. A 155-pound person can burn about 260 calories during a moderate, 30-minute workout on an exercise bike. Going longer or faster will burn even more calories.

  • Puts less stress on joints
  • Requires little coordination
  • Spin classes offer options for group participation


  • Don’t burn as many calories
  • Can be painful to sit on

While any of these exercise machines are good options, your age and physical condition may influence the type that’s right for you. If you have questions, find someone like Welker who can help you develop a personalized exercise program that aligns with your fitness and health needs.
“Usually for older people, we see recumbent bikes or SCIFIT steppers to be a better fit. They take away the stress on your hips and knees since you’re sitting down while exercising,” he says. “That means you can get through a longer cardio exercise with less impact on the hips and knees.”

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For younger people, treadmills can provide a more intense workout, Welker says. Self-propelled treadmills offer a more natural gait pattern and are a good option for most age groups.
“Once you start walking or running, it starts. Once you stop, it stops. It’s good for intermittent sprints, changes in velocity and speed when you’re trying to improve performance,” Welker says. “It also provides great balance and core stabilization for the older population.”
Regardless of the type of machine you use, Welker says to make sure you’re comfortable with it before getting started.
“Be sure to get acclimated to the actual machine. Don’t go too fast until you’re comfortable.”

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