Treadmills vs Elliptical Trainers: Advantages and Disadvantages for the Non-Athlete

For those looking to improve their overall cardiovascular health and aerobic capacities, treadmills and elliptical trainers are the most common choices. They work in a similar fashion, but how to decide between the two? There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right approach to you cardiovascular health and overall fitness.

What Is the Difference Between Treadmills and Elliptical Trainers?

Treadmills allow for stationary walking and running. They have conveyor belts and can use natural resistance or motors move the belt. The most expensive versions are motor-driven while the lighter and cheaper versions use mechanical resistance.

Invented in the 1960s, treadmills have become almost synonymous with home exercise. Besides, almost every medical center, sports club, Olympic training center, and university around the world has treadmills. Even NASA and police use them.

Elliptical trainers allow for stationary walking and/or running exercises, too. However, they can also simulate stair climbing and are generally considered a low-impact form of exercise. Moveable handlebars allow the inclusion of upper body exercises.

Elliptical trainers first entered the market in the 1990s and today there are three types – rear-drive, front-drive, and central-drive. Users can target various muscle groups by adjusting the incline of the roller ramps beneath the pedal-links. Most commonly, elliptical trainers are used for the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Some also use them for triceps, shoulders and biceps.

Benefits of Using a Treadmill

  • Treadmills are less stressful for feet, knees and legs than running outdoors
  • Treadmills allow the user to set and adjust the desired pace
  • Treadmills can simulate race courses and inclines
  • Due to running in an obstacle-free environment, treadmills are stress-free and increase mindfulness
  • Safe, practical, and convenient
  • Can help with weight loss
  • Increases both leg and core strength
  • Boost joint flexibility
  • Easy to learn and use
  • Help improve bone density

Disadvantages of Using a Treadmill

  • You won’t work as many muscles as running outdoors
  • Running in place can be somewhat boring
  • Prolonged use can cause loss of some agility
  • Could detrimentally effect length of stride and the optimum biomechanics of running outdoors

Benefits of Using an Elliptical Trainer

  • You can burn a lot of calories in short amount of time
  • Decreased stress on joints
  • You can work upper and lower body
  • Elliptical trainers tend to burn more fat
  • You can target specific leg muscles
  • Elliptical trainer can help you improve balance
  • You bear less weight than when running
  • Lower maintenance than a threadmill

Disadvantages of Using an Elliptical Trainer

  • Less stress on legs means lower strength gains
  • Some users note foot numbness due to lack of weight on feet
  • Inferior to treadmills when it comes to building bone density

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

When choosing between a treadmill and an elliptical trainer, you should first think about your goals. While there no doubt that either machine can improve your overall health and well-being, you should take a number of factors into consideration before you make the final decision.

Style of Exercise

Treadmills closely mimic the movements of running outdoors without uneven pavements/surfaces and without the elements. You can fine tune the speed, incline and running time.

Elliptical trainers place less stress on the joints, so that users can use them for longer periods. They’re also gentler to seniors due to less wear and tear on knees, ankles and feet. Plus, elliptical trainers also offer upper body exercise.


Most of the popular home treadmills cost between $800 and $1,200, with the most expensive models going up to $3,000. Most of the popular elliptical trainers are also in the $800 – $1,200 range, with the best models running closer to $2000.


The average treadmill is about 7 feet long and 3 feet wide. On the other hand, the standard-size elliptical trainer is about 6.5 – 7 feet long and 3 feet wide. Have in mind that most treadmills can be folded in half for storage while elliptical trainers cannot.

The Verdict

Experts almost unanimously agree that if your goal is to train for outdoor races like 5K, 10K and marathon, then a treadmill is best. After all, it is the closest thing to regular outdoor running. However, if your goal is to increase cardiovascular health and stamina while eliminating as much joint pain and stress as possible, then you should probably get an elliptical trainer.