Elliptical Vs Running

Gone are the days where fitness enthusiasts are limited with exercise choices. Walk into any gym and you’re likely to see the two most popular cardio machines in use, the treadmill and elliptical trainer. For the best cross trainers, check out our roundup article.

There’s good reason why people are so focussed on cardio because of its benefits to the mind and body. Cardio based workouts increase heart rate, improves heart health and lowers risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and other health issues.

But which type of cardio is better? While on the surface the mechanics seem similar, in this article we will show the similarities of both running vs elliptical trainers and which will give you the most effective workout. 

elliptical vs running, ultimate comparison

Impact

Cross trainers have a smooth motion that is much easier and lighter on joints in comparison to running. This is particularly important for those who are overweight or suffer from back pain, arthritis or joint problems.

Using a cross trainer might be a better option in this case where you want to lose weight, burn calories and not experience the heavy impact on joints that comes with running. The beauty of this is you can start with the elliptical to strengthen your joints and get to a good level of fitness before evolving to running. 

One source found that the impact generated from a cross trainer is similar to walking as opposed to running. On this basis, if you prefer a brisk walk as your calorie burning exercise or suffer from an injury which doesn’t allow you to run at the intensity you would like then an elliptical might be the choice for you.

Additionally you can elliptcal backwards or forwards to target different muscle groups.

Elliptical Vs Treadmill Calories

Which is better, the treadmill or elliptical for weight loss? For the same level of perceived exertion (the work feels the same for both movements). Running does burn more calories than the cross trainer but it’s not significant – about 100 calories.

This difference is due to the consistent pound of running and having to propel your body through the air. So both feet are off the ground simultaneously. This type of movement takes more energy consumption.

For this reason if you prefer the motion of an elliptical then this is better than running for a small difference in calories burned. If you are around 70kg and run a mile in 9 minutes you can burn around 410 calories in 30 minutes.

Jogging a 12 minute mile you can burn 298 calories in 30 minutes and a cross trainer you can burn 335 calories in 30 minutes. So in this example the elliptical is right in the middle. Both options you can increase your work rate and burn more calories but the difference between running and an elliptical is insignificant.

Cardiovascular and Muscular

One study found that heart rate and oxygen consumption were similar between a treadmill and elliptical. So both exercise tools provide great cardiovascular benefits.

Running is more likely to cause an injury due to the nature of the consistent pounding on the ground. One benefit that the cross trainer has over running on a treadmill is that it also works your arms. You can manipulate the movement so that your arms do more of the work if you wanted an upper body workout.

Elliptical vs running outside

If you prefer to go on an actual jog or if you are training for a competitive race then a cross trainer isn’t going to be ideal. Although the elliptical vs running outside can provide the cardiovascular benefits, it won’t provide the training your musculo-skeletal system requires.

Long races like marathons require you to reach the top end of your V02 max as well as force on your bones and connective tissues. Under this circumstances running outside or on a treadmill is needed to simulate race conditions. 

Cross Trainer vs Running Outside

When you’re running on a treadmill it dictates your workout more so than running outside. You can set the pace and incline of a treadmill and match the appropriate work.

running vs elliptical

Whereas outside you set your own pace and it requires more muscles. Due to the nature of outdoor running where the terrain changes you tend to use your core and hamstrings more to maintain the correct posture. In general the treadmill provides a more effective workout on the lower body in comparison to an elliptical as it requires much more effort from the core and hamstrings.

One other drawback of the cross trainer is the motion is a locked pattern. Unlike running where you have running form and can be flexible with the movement. Training for a race, runners focus more on their technique which can’t be achieved on an elliptical.

Cost

Running wins this one if you prefer running outside. If you prefer a treadmill this is where it makes a good comparison to an elliptical machine as you will have to purchase one or the other.

Cross trainers can vary in cost depending on the features it has. Entry level elliptical machines can be as low as £300 up to £2500. The same goes for a treadmill, they can both be a similar cost and take up the same amount of space if you were looking to purchase your own.

Ideally you can just join a gym for £20 a month and use both of them!

How safe are cross trainers and treadmills

If you follow guidelines safely both machines are perfectly safe. If you’re new to using an elliptical you may want to try using the fixed arm handles first to get comfortable with the leg motion. Once you are comfortable with the movement you can start to use the moving handles. 

It’s important that when you’re using the cross trainer that you focus on form. It’s important to keep your core tight and posture upright. If you are using it at the gym for the first time, ask a certified personal trainer how to use it safely.

When using a treadmill you can attach the safety clip to your top, this immediately stops the treadmill if you were to have a fall. Running on a treadmill puts stress on your bones and joints.

It’s important to warm up properly before you start to workout, this lowers your risk of injuries and gets your muscles and joints ready to work.

elliptical vs running, woman running on treadmill

Which is a better workout

A cross trainer is a great choice for beginners who have a significant amount of weight to lose. Because you can adjust the resistance to meet your requirements you can work at an intense level without sacrificing pressure on your joints.

The stable position you can hold while on the cross trainer helps your posture stay strong. Sometimes the elliptical benefits outweigh the treadmill. It may be a better choice for you because:

  • Reduces risk of injury while exercising.
  • Allows you to get a good cardiovascular workout without putting extra stress on joints and bones.
  • Allows you to get lower body and upper body workout in a short period of time.
  • Tone muscles in the lower body.

On the other hand the treadmill may be more suitable if:

  • You are susceptible to joint issues or injuries.
  • If you are looking to meet a specific goal like training for a 10k or marathon
  • You want to build strength in hamstrings and glutes.

Elliptical vs running is a hot topic and both machines have their benefits. Arguably running requires more effort from the body giving a more effective workout.

A cross trainers still provides a lighter motion making it ideal for those who don’t like high impact exercise or if you’re suffering from injury/joint pain. Both movements provide similar calories burned for a given output and duration so it comes down to preference which you prefer.

If you are training for an event, enjoy running outside or don’t have the budget to invest in exercise equipment then running is going to be for you. 

Regardless of which you choose, you benefit from both types of cardio and that is the most important thing.

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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!