Treadmills, ellipticals and cross trainers are easily some of our favourite bits of gym gear on Home Gym Experts. If you’re trying to decide which one you should buy for your home or garage gym, then grab a drink and relax. This guide has everything you need to know to help you make the right choice. We’ll compare the best and worst parts of each.
You’ve probably already considered whether you want a treadmill or a cross trainer, and the choice can be difficult. Both are excellent pieces of equipment, but despite both being excellent cardio options, they do very different things.
What’s the difference between a treadmill, elliptical, and cross trainer?
Yup. Everyone knows what a treadmill is. They’re a staple of fitness, widely available in gyms and for home use everywhere. There are different kinds of treadmills from stripped-back walking pads up to huge commercial machines, and more compact runners like the JTX Sprint 7, for example. And with good reason. If you can walk or run, you can use a treadmill.
They’re intuitive, easy to set up, and modern technology (I’m looking at you, online races) makes them surprisingly fun to use, too.
Like ellipticals, you can buy a treadmill anywhere from under £200, up to thousands, for the HUGE brands like Proform and NordicTrack.
Calories burned per 30 minutes: Between 150 and 250 walking, around 350 running
- Incredibly easy to use
- Wide range of models available at all prices
- Suitable for almost everyone
- Quick way to get your heart rate up
- Fast way to lose weight
- Can be loud
- Only really exercises the lower body
The elliptical is one of the most popular machines at every gym, and it’s easy to see why. Easy to use, ellipticals can give you a great aerobic workout. They’re good for both high intensity interval training (HIIT) and steady state cardio.
You can buy ellipticals anything from a few hundred pounds, running into the thousands, for top brands. See our guide on the best ellipticals for under £200 if you want to grab a bargain. There’s some really good mid-priced machines around too – like the awesome JTX Strider X7.
Ellipticals are also kind on joints. The way an elliptical works puts almost no force on your body. That means if you have existing issues, you’re overweight, or you’re concerned about long term welfare, an elliptical is a solid option.
Calories burned per 30 minutes: 250 to 400
- Great cardio workout
- Not hard on the body
- Lower rate of perceived exertion
- Really easy for beginners
- Ideal for seniors
- Still only exercises lower body
- No incline options
- Large footprint
The cross trainer
Right now, you might be confused. You might be thinking that cross trainers are commonly referred to as ellipticals, and you’re right. They are.
Cross trainers are almost identical to elliptical machines. The major difference is that the hand bars on an elliptical are static, but the hand bars on a cross trainer move, adding an upper body workout to the routine. This is a big advantage, as it means that a cross trainer is a complete and full body workout.
Some people also find cross trainers easier to use, because the movement of the arms and legs mimics your natural walking motion.
Of course, you’ve also got hybrids like the Elliptical cross trainer bikes, but they’re really just the same thing as a cross trainer, only with an added seat.
Calories burned per 30 minutes: Around 240
- Full body workout
- Wide range of resistances
- Good for joint issues
- Movement pattern can be awkward
- Need to make sure you’re working equally hard with both halves of your body
Treadmills vs. Ellipticals – Fight!
We’ve covered some basic info on these home exercise machines, now lets look at which one is the best for certain types of fitness goals.
the best workout is the one you show up to.
Q: What’s the best for cardio and fitness?
Treadmills and ellipticals are different tools, and do different things. If you use both correctly, you’re going to get a decent workout, and you should choose based on your goals.
Honestly though, the best workout is the one you can do. Nothing is more demotivating than hating the thought of forcing yourself through another half an hour of sweaty exercise.
If in doubt, head down to a gym for a few days and try out both. See which one appeals, and which one feels better for you.
Q: What’s the best for full workouts?
Winner: The cross trainer.
Treadmills and most ellipticals only work the legs. But because cross trainers work out your upper body as well as your legs, they’re much better for full workouts. Even though it might not seem like the arm movements on a cross trainer are hard at first, if you’re working out for more than a few minutes the resistance is high enough to strengthen your arms, shoulders and back.
Plus, the motion of a cross trainer and the fact that you’re working your entire body engages your core. Crank up the resistance and you’ll quickly start to feel the burn.
You’ve also got the advantage that you can use the static handlebars, if you’re just looking to train lower body that day.
Q: What’s the best: treadmill vs elliptical for your knees
That’s an easy one. Treadmills, even with their cushioned, shock-absorbing goodness are still no match for the gentle, sweeping movement you’ll get with an elliptical machine. The lack of impact means they’re a great choice for anyone not able to undertake the more rigorous running exercise.
Q: What’s the best if you have injuries?
The reason is simple. The motion of an elliptical puts very little strain on your body, and you can go hard without putting stress on your joints.
Treadmills are actually surprisingly high impact, in the same way as running. If you have problems with your hips, knees or other joints, an elliptical trainer is going to be much better for you long term. They’re often used in recovery from a host of injuries.
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Q: What’s the best for race training?
Treadmills have a reputation as the highest impact form of cardio, and that might be true, but they’re a damn sight better for your joints than long distance running on concrete or tarmac.
A treadmill is designed to take some of the impact when you run, adding a little bit of cushioning to your body. Even cheaper models that have less cushioning are still better, as you’re running on a softer treadmill surface rather than uncaring stone.
Another advantage is the amount of technology packed into modern exercise equipment. Pace matching, second by second speed updates, sophisticated track programming. There is literally no better tool for getting yourself fit and race ready.
Q: What machines are the loudest, and quietest?
The fact that ellipticals are low impact, and the function of them, means they are much quieter than treadmills.
On a treadmill, most of the noise will come from the impact of your feet hitting the running surface. That’s fine if you’re walking, but once you start running, it quickly gets loud.
On an elliptical, your feet never leave the foot rests, so the only sound is the machine itself.
Each machine also makes different noises in operation. An elliptical makes less noise because the only real sound comes from the resistance generated by your force. A treadmill has a motor driving the running belt, which tends to also get loud when you crank it up to high speeds and inclines.
Q: Which machines are best for smaller properties like flats?
Winner: If you have more limited space, treadmills are probably the best option.
Unlike a lot of other pieces of gym gear, treadmills are almost completely flat, and certain models are designed to fold on themselves and take up almost zero space when not in use.
If you live surrounded by other people, or you’re not a ground floor flat, you’re also going to have to pay attention to noise, especially the floor striking from heavy running.
Try and find models that have padded running areas, and it’s smart to put down some form of gym flooring [LINK?] to help absorb the impact. Your neighbours will love you for it.
Q: What is the best option for weight loss?
As we said earlier, the best workout is the one you show up to.
What matters with weight loss is consistency and lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how you do it, putting yourself at a calorie deficit and getting in some healthy exercise is the best way to lose weight long term, in a way that’s good for you and likely to last.
If you want to do this on a treadmill? Good for you. Rather work out on a cross trainer? Go for it. Just do something.
Treadmills, ellipticals and cross trainers are all fantastic machines for body transformation and fitness.
It’s hard to give a definitive answer about which one is better, because there isn’t an easy answer. It depends on your situation, your needs, and your goals.
But by reading our guide, you’re now armed with the knowledge you need to make the right choice.
If you’re interested in our best machines in either category, you can find them here.
References & Further Reading
- WikiPedia – Elliptical trainer
- Precor – Are cross trainers effective?
- ewu.edu – Comparing Calorie Expenditure and Rating of
Perceived Exertion between the Curve and a
- Harvard – Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights