If you’re looking for a new piece of kit to try out at your local gym, or are thinking of expanding your home set-up, you might be weighing up whether to go for the elliptical or the air bike.
So which which is better the elliptical vs air bike? Air bikes tend to be better suited towards high intensity interval training, with ellipticals potentially offering a steadier workout. Ellipticals have been a popular choice in gym settings for some time now, with air bikes being something of a rising star in the fitness world.
At the same time, both bill themselves as offering aerobic workouts that go easy on the joints whilst delivering big cardio boosts. They’re also regularly marketed as being useful weapons to have in your weight loss arsenal.
Today, we’ll be balancing out the pros and cons between these two heavy hitters of the fitness world. We’ll be thinking about the sorts of workout they’re each best suited to, the differences in functionality, and a range of other features that you might want to think about before choosing which to invest your time and money in.
What’s The Difference Between an Elliptical and Air Bike?
Let’s start with a basic refresher of what these two pieces of kit actually are.
An elliptical is a piece of equipment in which two foot platforms are attached via a series of drive belts and connectors to a circular flywheel. You work the machine by moving the foot platforms back-and-forth, almost as if you were walking or running in mid air. The movement roughly mimics that of cross country skiing.
In addition to the foot pedals, many ellipticals also come with handles that you can use for balance and to exercise the upper arms and torso. Overall, the machine offers an all over body workout, primarily focused on boosting endurance and cardio. They’re often billed as being particularly good for those looking to build up their fitness gradually or return to working out after a period of rest or injury.
Air bikes can, at first glance, look very much like stationary exercise bikes. The main difference is that they include a user-driven fan, usually a large, industrial-looking component, that sits in between the pedals. This fan blasts the user with air as the pedals rotate, causing relatively high levels of resistance. The faster you pedal, the faster the fan goes, and the tougher your workout gets.
As with most ellipticals, air bikes also offer handles which are used to drive the fan and pedals as well, all three components being linked. This also means that, like full body ellipticals, the air bike can target a range of muscles. You can drive the intensity of your workout using your upper body as well as your legs.
Is Air Bike The Same As Elliptical?
Let’s start with some similarities.
Both machines offer a way of working out a range of muscles and giving yourself an effective cardio boost, without placing as much strain on the joints as traditional running.
Both offer mechanisms for working the upper body as well as the lower body, with handles being employed by each in conjunction with foot pedals. The main range of motion in both machines is focused around a central, rotational wheel.
In the case of ellipticals, this is a flywheel that usually sits at the front or rear of the machine. In air bikes, the central fan acts as a form of flywheel itself, governing the momentum of the pedals whilst simultaneously generating resistance for the user as it rotates.
Schwinn Fitness 430 Elliptical, Black
- Goal Track capability enables users to set individual exercise goals by tracking time, distance and calories to compare with previous workouts
- 20 inch stride with Precision Path foot motion technology simulates a natural running motion
- High speed, high inertia drive system offers easy start-up and smooth, quiet workouts
Last update on 2023-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Different people will make different claims as to which machine is better for your joints overall. I would contest that it is difficult to say with any real certainty which is easier on the limbs, knees, and lower body, as the nature of injury or pain you are experiencing can make one or the other preferable.
Some people point towards how the elliptical does not involve the same strain on the knee joints as it does not involve the rapid, cycling motion that an air bike can.
On the other hand, some people will also claim that the weight bearing element of the elliptical, in which you are effectively standing up using your whole body, makes it more straining on the lower limbs than the air bike, in which a seat can be used.
I would suggest that, given these differing opinions depending on different options and joint focus, both machines should be experimented with to see which suits your particular health need. Neither can categorically be said to be ‘better’ for or less straining on lower limbs.
Try them both out at your local gym to see which suits you best in this regard, and consider getting the advice of a physiotherapist if injury prevention and recovery is a priority for you.
What Are The Differences in Workout on an Elliptical and An Air Bike?
The primary difference between what an elliptical and an air bike offer lies in their suitability for High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. HIIT is a form of exercise that is increasingly being used by gym-trainers and fitness enthusiasts to expand cardio fitness, shred fat, and raise resting metabolic rate. It involves pushing yourself close to your physical limits for short periods of time, interspersed with periods of comparative rest.
It’s worth noting here that both elliptical and air bike machines can be used for interval training of this sort. Both offer variable levels of resistance and both can be used to ‘push hard’ for periods of time.
However, the air bike appears to be consistently better suited to truly intense interval training, because it allows the user to switch more seamlessly between periods of intense output and periods of comparative rest. This is because the resistance is directly tied to the amount of strain you put through the pedals.
To put it simply, the harder you push, the harder the bike (or the fan) pushes against you. The second you drop the intensity of your pedalling and handles, the resistance will drop as well.
With an elliptical trainer, you may need to manually or digitally alter the resistance or incline in order to ramp up or decrease the intensity. This can sometimes lead to shifts in intensity feeling less seamless, more ‘synthetic’ as some have described it. It can also be difficult to suddenly alter the intensity of the workout in the same way that you can with the air bike. ‘Sprint bursts’, as it were, are less manageable.
Is Air Bike Better than Elliptical?
Does this mean the air bike is ‘better’ than the elliptical? Well, that really depends on the sort of workout you’re looking for.
Although HIIT workouts probably work better on an air bike than an elliptical, this doesn’t necessarily mean the air bike is going to suit your specific goals, body, or temperament. Nor does it mean that the elliptical is incapable of providing HIIT training or that it can’t improve your cardio and help you lose weight.
For those who are not necessarily looking to sweat buckets and lose the feeling in their legs every time they jump on an exercise machine, the elliptical could be better at offering a smoother, more sustainable workout. The momentum afforded by cross trainers is better suited to longer, more consistent exercise sessions characterised by a sustainable yet heightened aerobic state, rather than bursts of intense exhaustion and muscle burn.
If we briefly consider running metaphors, you could see the air bike as being the 100m to 200m machine, with the elliptical allowing you more scope for middle and long distance sessions.
ASSAULTFITNESS Assault AirBike Classic, Black
- Twenty Sealed Ball Bearings throughout the frame and pivot points to provide a smooth and durable feel
- Unlimited Resistance for upper and lower body extremities based on Air Resistance; Get a complete Cross-Fit Workout
- Computer features motivational programs providing many programs (Tabata, Intervals, Watts, Heart Rate) to accomplish your fitness goals.Aluminum seat post
Last update on 2023-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Is Air Bike or Elliptical Better at Building Muscle?
Once again, as with discussions around which is easier on your joints, you’re likely to read different opinions as to which of these machines is better suited to working or ‘building’ muscle. In reality, if bulking up and expanding muscle is your primary goal, you’re better off entering into a dedicated weights training programme rather than focusing on just elliptical or air bike workouts.
These are, primarily, pieces of kit for cardio and weight loss. Though they can both be effective tools as part of a general fitness regime aimed at boosting muscle mass, they’re unlikely to achieve this effectively in isolation.
Nevertheless, both machines are capable of working out and toning the upper body. Some people claim that air bikes work the lower body more effectively than the elliptical. In terms of intensity of workout, this is probably the case, with the air bike being better suited to those looking to really push their hamstrings, glutes, and general leg area. However, the air bike also has handles which, if you decide to stop pedalling, can give your arms a real workout too.
Elliptical trainers, on the other hand, are designed for a more even all over body tone-up. Their consistency of motion is probably going to make it more difficult to focus on ‘just the legs’ or ‘just the arms’ in the same way, but it also means that you’re likely to be engaging a wider range of muscles more consistently, and for a longer period of time.
Air Bike vs Elliptical Calories
Obviously it depends on how you use your machine, but generally speaking a workout on an air bike is likely to burn more calories than the same duration spent on an elliptical. As already discussed, air bikes tend to be geared towards higher intensity bouts of exercise, aimed at getting your heart-rate and lungs working as hard as they can. Minute-by-minute, you’re likely to burn more energy on one of these than on a cross-trainer.
The other side of this, however, is that you’re unlikely to be able to maintain this intensity for long periods of time. Elliptical trainers, though perhaps not geared towards HIIT in quite the same way, offer greater scope for longer, more consistent aerobic routines that can burn energy over a sustained period of time. A 20 minute blast on an air bike twice a week, though exhausting and energy consuming in the moment, is unlikely to burn off the same number of calories as 3 or 4 longer, mid-intensity elliptical workouts.
This is a key and often overlooked aspect when considering weight loss and calorie expenditure. Although HIIT workouts burn more per minute, and though there is also evidence to suggest that this form of exercise can raise our resting metabolic rate in the hours following the session, losing weight is all about consistency.
In other words, whichever machine you’re most likely to keep coming back to, that’s the one that’s going to help you burn calories over time.
If you find that the elliptical offers you a slightly smoother, less intense, and therefore more enjoyable workout experience, it may well be the better tool for burning calories and losing weight. It doesn’t matter how many calories an air bike is capable of burning per minute, none of this matters if you can never bring yourself to use it!
On the other hand, if you’re someone who enjoys the rush and the burn of high intensity interval training, if you need this in order to really get yourself pumped up, then the air bike is likely to be a stronger weapon in your fat burning arsenal than the more moderate cross trainer. Some people with short attention spans can find the repetitive momentum of the elliptical difficult to get enthused about!
Are Ellipticals or Air Bikes Bigger?
Both are relatively large pieces of kit that will need a decent amount of space in order to be safely positioned. In general, air bikes tend to be slightly smaller than ellipticals, though smaller, cheaper, more compact elliptical machines are roughly the same as most air bikes.
To give you an idea, a couple of popular air bike models – the Rogue Echo and the Assault Elite – come in at 59 x 30 and 56 x 26 inches respectively. This is roughly the same width as most elliptical trainers, though higher-end elliptical machines tend to be a bit longer, anywhere between 60 and 70 inches long. Here is the assault elite but you get what you pay for, if you want to invest in a high quality air bike then you have to go for the assault elite here:
Some cheaper, more compact models can be as short as 55 inches, so overall there’s not a huge difference between them.
Which is most expensive – Elliptical or Air Bike?
Let’s round this off with a look at prices. As you’d expect, what you pay depends on the quality, durability, and range of function you’re looking for in your machine. Nevertheless, there tends to be a bigger spread of prices out there for ellipticals than for air bikes.
This is partly because there’s still a broader market for ellipticals, with more manufacturers making them and more consumers buying them. Cross trainer price tags can stretch anywhere from $200 for a budget model to multiple thousands for professional gym-grade machines.
The most reliable, popular air bikes on the market tend to come in within a more limited price range, roughly between $750 and $1200 dollars. This upper limit will give you a premium quality bike used by professional athletes, gyms, and even the US army!
But I love this air bike by Assault, this is the most popular and reliable one you can find on the market today:
There are budget air bike options out there, but less so than for ellipticals. Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether cheaper air bike models will be able to stand the test of time, since they haven’t really been commercially available for long enough to get a sense of their long-term durability.
In short, anywhere between $800 and $1200 is enough to get you either a premium quality, high-end air bike or a good quality, mid to high-end elliptical machine. Both should serve you well for years if looked after properly! Here is a good quality and affordable elliptical that I recommend:
An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!