There isnâ€™t a more ever-present cardio conundrum than deciding whether the ever popular elliptical trainer should be your go-to exercise choice or the even-more-popular treadmill should get your workouts. That is until now. The answer may surprise you.
First, let it be known that both give you a good workout and, as long as you exercise for the same amount of time and at the same intensity, they will give you the same workoutâ€”in physiological terms. A June 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when untrained subjects exercised at the same perceived exertion rate on each machine, the amount of calories burned and the amount of oxygen consumed was the same. The University of Nebraska at Kearny researchers wrote that â€śan elliptical device is an acceptable alternative to a treadmill.â€ť These results confirm a 2004 Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness study that found that when training volume and intensity were the same, moderately trained subjects experienced the same physiologicalâ€”calories burned, oxygen consumedâ€”improvements over a 12-week period whether they used a treadmill or an elliptical (or a stair stepper, which was also a part of this study).
Now that thatâ€™s out of the way, there is one big aspect where the two differâ€”workout variety. On a treadmill you can walk, jog or run either on a flat surface or an incline with resistance or without. There are your options. You might be able to change it up by slowly walking backwards or sidestepping (also at a slow pace). On an elliptical, the incline changes the workout. For instance, set an elliptical at a low incline where you are performing a horizontal motion and your movement is more like a NordicTrack cross-country skier, especially if you are using arm levers. Raise it to a mid-level incline and the action is similar to a bikeâ€™sâ€”this is the typical elliptical movement. Increase the incline to a more vertical angle and it simulates a stair-climber. It is these options that make the elliptical the ultimate workout boredom buster not just for your mind but for your muscles. This makes the machine a great cross-training tool since your muscles will be taxed in a way that they may not be accustomed and thus they work a bit harder. (When this happens, you perceive the exertion as greater.)
Ultimately, your training goals will determine the best machine for you. An avid runner training for a road race will look to the treadmill most of the time, for instance. However, that same person may do a weekly session on an elliptical to help prevent overuse injuries, break the monotony of running, or simulate hills. When it comes to the elliptical v. treadmill face-off, the two machines complement each otherâ€”like black and white.