I want to make full disclosure up front.  I hate going to the gym.  I would rather do about anything else other than going to a gym. Gyms can be intimidating.  I still find the free weight section intimidating because I am not that strong compared to my size. Usually, it is full of muscle-bound men that are irritable and just plain rude.   Years ago, I bought a treadmill and a stationary bike so that I could avoid going to the gym.  If you’re in the market for exercise equipment, this article may help you decide between elliptical and a treadmill.

Reasons to use or buy an elliptical over a treadmill:

  1. Elliptical use creates less wear and tear. The elliptical is easier on the body in general but, in particular, it is easier on your joints.  It is a lower impact exercise than running outside or on a treadmill.  The gliding motion of the elliptical creates less pounding, so there is less stress on your knees, hips, and back and thus is friendly to the joint surfaces than running on a treadmill.  Walking on the treadmill, unfortunately, exerts nearly the same force as using an elliptical machine.  I have moderate to severe arthritis in my right ankle after a surgical repair, and I am able to use an elliptical with speed as fast as running, so it to increase my cardiovascular health.  Using an elliptical machine is generally considered a low-impact activity, and it shouldn’t cause knee pain if you are using it correctly.  
  2. Elliptical training is great for your heart.  I will caveat this with as long as your heart is in good condition.  Training on an elliptical get your heart racing.  Your pulse increases during elliptical training, and it will likely be higher than if you were using the treadmill.  I personally feel that I get a better workout on the elliptical.  I feel more tired afterward and break more a sweat.  Another study found that runners’ legs felt more tired after using the elliptical than a comparable workout on the treadmill. 
  3. Treadmill


    Ellipticals have cross-training ability.  Most elliptical trainers are now equipped with moveable handles which allow you to exercise your upper body and lower body simultaneously.  These handles create a full body workout.  You get a workout similar to cross-country skiing.  The use of these handles or poles allows you to exercise both your arms and your legs during the exercise.  

  4. Ellipticals make multitask possible.  Multitasking is just not possible on a treadmill.  I’ve seen a lot injuries and people who try to multitask on a treadmill, and I would be one example of these people.  I was on my treadmill at home and playing a video game on a video game console.  I went to turn to the right and stepped on the edge of the treadmill and fell.  The injuries were horrific.  If you have not seen what a treadmill belt would do to skin, consider yourself lucky.  No matter what your likes are, you can probably do it on a treadmill as long as it does not require fine motor movement.   You can read a book or magazine, watch a TV show, and even get caught up on work.  For those that are trying to get ahead, they even make an elliptical desk that will hold paperwork, files, or even your laptop.    Personally, I use the exercise time to watch the news.  I find this the best time to watch the news because if I’m truly exerting myself, I’m unlikely to be able to cuss at the TV.
  5. Ellipticals allow you to go backward.  Most modern elliptical machines will enable you to peddle in reverse or perform a reverse stride.  Pedaling in reverse allows you to work both your calf and hamstring muscles a bit more than it does in the forward motion.  I have found that only in reverse enables me to get more of a full body workout that I would get going in one single direction.  Try doing walking or running backward on a treadmill and most people will end up on their behind.
  6. Elliptical motion creates a perceived lower level of Exertion.  At least one study shows that people think they are working actually less hard than exertion level when they are exercising on an elliptical[1].  Because you perceive a lower output and you are generating a higher level of heart rate and oxygen utilization, the elliptical can burn close to the same amount of calories with less effort.  
  7. Ellipticals fit into all exercise levels.  You can absolutely use an elliptical.  An elliptical provides excellent exercise for all ages and fitness levels.  I will only caveat this with a bullet point.  You have to be wary of using it after surgery and if you are injured.  If you are a newbie and have never used one, start slowly.  The motion is so smooth that the intensity sneaks up on you because it seems so easy to use.  
  8. Ellipticals are safer.  Generally speaking, ellipticals are slightly safer than a treadmill since your feet never leave the pedals. This eliminates the potential misstep resulting in a potential fall or loss of balance.  If you look at number four on the list and the story I told, you can see why I might be concerned about the safety of a treadmill.  I have never seen an injury on an elliptical, and my patient clientele is much more active than the general public.  That being said, I have an elliptical and still use it.  
  9. Elliptical create a very efficient workout.  Plain and simple, the elliptical is one of the most efficient pieces of exercise equipment out there.  I am all about efficiency whether at work, home, or play.  If you are like me, I am sure your time is very valuable, and with an elliptical, you can work your entire body in less than 30 minutes.  With it,  you will get your upper, and lower body cardio fixes all in one exercise.  The only thing you might need to add is some flexibility and resistance training.
  10. Ellipticals are lower maintenance.  We have all seen the broke down treadmill with a note stuck on it at the gym.  Depending on the type of treadmill, some treadmills will require periodic maintenance whereas an elliptical rarely requires any regular maintenance.  My elliptical has only required oil or lubrication during its 5-year life.  My treadmill has required centering of the belt twice in 10 years along with regular lubrication.  
  11. Elliptical Trainer

    Elliptical Trainer

    Ellipticals are found everywhere and are more often open to being used.  You can find an elliptical at just about every gym, and most hotels have them.  Heck, I have desk elliptical that I use at work.  I personally have found that they are more often underutilized and you can easily find one open to use it any gym.  You cannot find the same thing to be true about treadmills.  I often find that they have a queue or line pending to use them.

  12. Ellipticals can help you recover from an injury.   Once you get approval from your medical provider, you can easily tailor your workout to develop a cardiovascular and recovery fitness plan that will maximize your return without increasing the risk of injury.  It is important that you start slowly in order to reduce pain and soreness.  The beauty of an elliptical training program is that it maximizes full range of motion and builds balance with a smooth glide that reduces your risk of injury.  In fact, most surgeons will recommend an elliptical trainer as a part of your recovery plan.  Before you incorporate an elliptical trainer in your recovery plan, discuss your plan with your medical provider.  
  13. Elliptical training is easy to incorporate into a busy schedule.  If you’re like me, your time to exercise is extremely limited by your busy work schedule.  Efficiency is crucial for me to accomplish a workout.   If I’m even more strapped for time, I often split the exercise into two 15-minute exercise periods or three 10-minute periods of exercise.  The only time-consuming part is taking a shower afterward.  It is highly recommended that you shower before returning to work or else you will chase away your colleagues.
  14. Elliptical trainers feel like you’re using less energy.  You don’t need tons of energy to use them, and they make you think you are exercising less.  Some days, we just don’t feel like working out heavily.  The beauty of an elliptical is that it makes you think you perceive less exercise than you have performed.  
  15. You can do it!  The elliptical is not only easier on your joints, but it is also appropriate for all ages and fitness levels.  It might not be the best thing for certain injuries os if you have an injury or are recovering from a recent one, discuss it with your medical provider.  The best part is it is so simple even a caveman or woman can figure out how to use it.  

The bottom line:  Since elliptical machines provide low-impact aerobic activity, they can be a good alternative to running or jogging for someone who has joint pain due to arthritis.  Either will work, but you need to pick a machine you will use.  If it becomes a clothing rack, it will not make you thin and fit.  Choose an exercise option best fits your needs and remember fitness equipment is only beneficial if you use it!  Set attainable goals and create a circle of health for yourself for today and continue it into the future.  With their ability to target a variety of different muscle groups, ranging from those in both the upper and lower body, the elliptical trainer is a great all-around option for those who wish to improve their overall level of fitness with limited time input.  Thanks to the low-impact nature of these machines, they can be used by the elderly as well as by those who suffer from injuries or other conditions that may make it impossible to use other types of exercise equipment.