Treadmill or Elliptical? How to Decide What’s Your Best Workout

Let your exercise goals and physical condition guide you

Contributor: Katie Lawton, MEd

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While treadmills and ellipticals offer many of the same exercise benefits, your goals and physical condition should guide you. Here are several considerations that will help you decide which machine is best for you.

The benefits

Both devices help you improve cardiovascular health, build endurance and lose weight. They also provide an indoor workout option when the weather prevents you from getting outdoors. Both are readily available in gyms, recreation centers and hotels, and some models are affordable enough for home use.

The treadmill is better for building bone density. The impact of your feet while running or walking helps stimulate bone growth, which is especially important if you have osteoporosis. The treadmill’s settings also allow you to vary your workout by walking, jogging, running or changing the incline. The treadmill requires little or no instruction, so people of all skill levels will find it easy to use.

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Ellipticals reduce pressure on the joints compared with treadmills. The lack of impact is beneficial if you need to protect your hips, knees and/or ankles. It’s also easier to challenge yourself at a higher intensity. Joint protection is why many healthcare providers recommend ellipticals over treadmills when reintroducing exercise after injury or surgery. If you feel tingling in your feet while using the elliptical, which is a common complaint, you can try pedaling backward. If it persists, you may want t o consult a medical provider.

Potential drawbacks

Both machines, if not used properly, can lead to overuse injuries (which can happen with any repetitive physical activity and any exercise equipment). Proper footwear and body mechanics, as well as periodic, moderate use, will lessen the chance of injury.

Beginners may find getting used to the movement of an elliptical a bit awkward, while treadmill users must keep the right position and pace to stay in the middle of the belt and avoid tripping on the front or side panels — or falling off the back!

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Tips for healthy exercise

  • Alternate between the two machines. The variety is appealing, and it can help minimize the risk of overuse injury.
  • Start with 10 minutes on either machine and build endurance by pushing both your time and intensity.
  • For cardiovascular health, aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity — Or roughly 30 minutes, five days a week. You should sustain the intensity for at least 10 minutes per workout to get the most benefit from your effort.
  • Check with your medical provider before starting an exercise routine.