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If you’ve made a goal to lose weight, you have probably purchased a gym membership. Two ubiquitous cardio machines that you will see in every single gym are the treadmill and the elliptical trainer. Both are supposed to be easy to use and effective at burning calories, but one question you may be having as you start your journey of exercising for weight loss is, which one is better: the treadmill or the elliptical trainer? Below is information on the pros and cons of the treadmill as compared to the pros and cons of the elliptical to help you decide which exercise machine is best for you.

Pros of the Treadmill

The treadmill is still considered the classic cardio exercise machine, largely because it has been around for much longer (invented back in the 1800s). The treadmill has not only stuck around for two centuries but also grown in popularity, largely because it is good at what it does. Some of the benefits of the treadmill include:

  • Simulates Natural Movement: The treadmill simulates walking, running, and jogging. These are all movements that are natural to the human body, meaning that exercising on the treadmill has utility beyond your time spent in the gym. If you want to become a runner, a treadmill is the better option to help you train.
  • Less Likely to Slack Off: With the treadmill, the machine controls your speed. Sure, you can adjust the number, but it is more difficult to slack off when running on a treadmill because slowing down involves making a conscious decision to adjust the settings.
  • Customizable Workouts: Most treadmills these days are highly sophisticated and allow you to customize your workouts. You can adjust the speed and inclination as you please, or you can choose from a variety of “trail runs” for an extra challenge.
  • More Accurate at Estimating Calorie Burn: Since running and walking are such natural human activities, treadmills are fairly accurate at estimating how many calories you have burned in a session (provided it gives you the option to plug in your age and weight).

Cons of the Treadmill

When deciding if the treadmill is a good option for you, you also have to figure in the potential disadvantages of this cardio machine. Despite the popularity of the treadmill, it isn’t perfect and it may not be suitable for everyone. Some of the cons of the treadmill include:

  • Harder on the Joints: Running is a high-impact form of exercise, and as such it causes stress on the joints (particularly the knees and ankles). Since running on the treadmill simulates running outside, a treadmill can cause the same difficulties. As such, the treadmill may not be a suitable option for those who suffer from bad knees/ankles/hips or joint conditions such as arthritis. Even if you are healthy, the high impact also means that on a treadmill you have a higher risk of injury.
  • Easier to Slip into Bad Posture: Maintaining good posture is essential to maximizing your oxygen intake and minimizing your risk of injury. When running on the treadmill, you have nothing forcing you to stay upright, meaning it is easier to slouch into poor posture when you are tired.
  • Only Works One Thing: Since all you are doing is running, jogging, or walking in a forward direction, treadmills also leave you with limited potential for cross-training.

Pros of the Elliptical Trainer

Even though it hasn’t been around as long as its counterpart the treadmill, the elliptical trainer is still one of the most popular cardio machines in the gym. Studies have consistently shown that the elliptical trainer is a viable alternative to the treadmill, especially for those with joint conditions or just aren’t runners. Some of the pros of the elliptical trainer include:

  • Less Impact on the Joints: One of the top selling points of the elliptical trainer is that it is gentle on the joints, making it a great option for those who have suffered from injuries or chronic joint conditions. This is because the feet always remain firmly on the pedals. Another perk of the low impact is that it reduces Relative Perceived Exertion—people feel like they aren’t working out as hard as they actually are, making this an option for people who really hate working out.
  • More Potential for Cross-Training: The elliptical trainer incorporates both the arms and the legs, which means this cardio machine has more potential for those who need cross-training or those looking for a full-body workout.
  • Highly Customizable: The elliptical trainer also has options to change the resistance (allowing for more calorie burn), and more sophisticated machines can let you focus on different parts of your body or even pedal backward (working different muscles groups).
  • Encourages Good Posture: Placing your hands on the arms of the elliptical trainer encourages you to stay upright, which strengthens your back muscles and allows your lungs to take in more oxygen.

Cons of the Elliptical Trainer

Despite its status as a viable alternative to the treadmill, its potential for cross-training, and the ability to get a good calorie burn without putting stress on the joints, the elliptical trainer does have some disadvantages. Below are some of the cons of the elliptical trainer:

  • Frequently Overestimates Calories Burned: Even though most give you the option to enter your age and weight, elliptical trainers are notorious for overestimating how many calories you have burned. This can hurt your weight loss if you aim only for a certain number of calories burned and stop there or give yourself more leeway in your diet because you think you have “earned” the extra dietary calories.
  • Easier to Get Lazy: Rather than having a motor that forces you to keep pace, the elliptical is entirely self-motivated. This makes it easier to slow down the pace and reduce the resistance without even realizing you are doing it, which in the end hurts your calorie burning potential.
  • Doesn’t Simulate Natural Movement: Although easier on your joints, the up-and-down pedaling motions of the elliptical trainer don’t even remotely resemble natural movements that will strengthen most day-to-day activities.

To summarize, both the treadmill and the elliptical trainer are effective at helping you achieve your weight-loss goals, and they both have their positives and their negatives. The treadmill forces you to work harder and simulates more natural movements, while the elliptical is great for cross-training and is gentler on the joints. As long as you are mindful of the possible disadvantages of each cardio machine, either one can be a good option. If your joints are healthy enough, you can get the best of both worlds by alternating between the two.