Treadmill vs Elliptical vs Cycle

When it comes to the gym with cardio equipment, they seem to be plenty well equipped. Almost every gym has a ton of treadmills, multiple elliptical machines, and plenty of stationary bicycles. You’re thinking they all make you breath hard and all make your heart pump, so they all must be the same, right? Mmm no, not right. Not quite. Side Note: That rhymed.

Not all Cardio machines are created equal!

Let’s go over the pro’s and con’s of each one so that you can see which one would be best for you, because everyone is going to be a little different and have different preferences.



  • Burns The Most Calories – A treadmill burns the most of any cardiovascular machine. You can expect to burn about 100 calories per mile at a brisk walk.
  • Rawest cardio experience – Meaning, the closest to running outside or at athletic event as you can get.
  • Ease of Use – A treadmill is about as simple as it gets. The only two changing factors are speed and slope. Other than that, it’s up to your natural running position to do the work.


  • Rough on joints – The treadmill is no doubt the highest impact and hardest on the knees, shins, and ankles compared to any other machine.
  • Back Pain – Back pain could end up being a result of the high impact steps you will be taking.
  • Gets Boring – In a world where we constantly need to feel entertained, many people consider the treadmill to be a very boring and basic machine, which may lead to discontinuing exercising on it.



  • Easy on joints – The elliptical is a lot less impact than a treadmill for obvious reasons. This causes less aches, pains, and less joint pain.
  • Arm Components – Most elliptical machines have arm components on them for you to also push and pull. This increases calorie burning even that much more.
  • Muscle Mass – With the large movements that are required to keep the elliptical going, more muscle mass can be developed on it when in comparison to the treadmill.


  • Lower Calories Burned – In comparison with a treadmill, the elliptical does not burn as many calories.
  • Less Essential Muscles Worked – While the elliptical can lead to more muscle mass, having to leave your foot on the elliptical machine means not using essential muscles that we all use on a daily basis to get around and perform. This means the elliptical will give less results as far as performance or athletic movements.

Stationary Bicycle


  • Least Joint Impact – Experts agree that the stationary bike is the easiest on the joints out of any cardio equipment.
  • Easy To Use – Since almost everyone learned how to ride a bike at some point, almost everyone can get on a stationary bike and go.
  • Further Distance – Since you are sitting down on a bike, this puts a lot less strain on some of the joints and allows you to go way further distances.


  • Need To Adjust – Bikes are only at their most effective when you correctly adjust it to fit your body.
  • Less Calories – A lot less calories are burned on a stationary bike than other cardio machines. You can expect to pedal about 4 miles before burning 100 calories.

Picking the right equipment for you will depend on these factors and your personal goals. Remember though, truly the best machine is the one that you are going to continue to use. Pick one that you can see yourself using often, and try that one out. Everything else will follow!

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Megan is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer in the Baltimore area. Her mission is to connect people with nutrition and fitness information that makes sense – information that is reliable, realistic, and fun.

Megan Solloway, RD, LDN, CPT

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