Exercise Bike vs Treadmill vs Elliptical: The Standoff

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Exercising can be overwhelming with all these workouts. How do the popular options, exercise bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals compare?

Stationary exercise bikes mimic cycling. Treadmills allow you to run in place. And elliptical machines have invented their own unique movements.

Each of these machines has its advantages and disadvantages. Depending on things like your training goals and personal preferences, one or the other can be better.

For example, if you want to lose weight and you are not afraid of injury, the treadmill is the best choice for you.

Exercise bike vs treadmill vs elliptical summary

DetailExercise BikeTreadmillElliptical
Calories Burned*260-391 calories298 – 500+ calories335 calories and higher
Injury RiskMedium/LowMedium/HighMedium/Low
Leg Muscles EngagedYesYesYes
Ease Of UseEasyEasyEasy
*Approximation for a 155-pound person doing the exercise for 30 minutes

Comparison for calorie burning

The main comparison aspect between exercise bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals most people are interested in is the number of calories each gym machine burns.

You have to keep in mind that the amount of calories burned by exercising depends from person to person. Things like age, weight, activity levels,… influence this statistic.

Another question is, what determines how many calories you can burn with exercise?

For cardio workouts this usually comes down to the capacity of your lungs and heart. This should come down to the similar amounts of calorie-burning for these 3 workout machines.

That being said, there are still different approximations for how many calories you can burn on exercise bikes vs treadmills vs ellipticals.

The following numbers are estimations for a 155-pound person doing the exercises for 30 minutes (1).

  • Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
  • Running 5 mph: 298 calories
  • Elliptical Trainer (general): 335 calories
  • Running 6 mph: 372 calories
  • Bicycling, Stationary (vigorous): 391 calories
  • Running 7.5 mph: 465 calories

The thing with these numbers is also that the more intense and the longer you do your exercise, the more calories you will burn.

These measurements are great to get an estimation but you can’t rely on them being the exact same for you.

If you compare exercise bikes vs treadmills vs ellipticals the estimations say that treadmills are better when it comes to burning the most amount of calories in the least amount of time.

woman using treadmill for calorie burning

Exercise bike vs treadmill vs elliptical for engaging legs

Another common question is how these machines compare in terms of effectiveness for engaging leg muscles.

This is a hard question to answer objectively with raw data. Additionally, you should not expect a lot of muscle growth from these cardio machines, especially if you are experienced with resistance training.

You can argue that because with the exercise bike you only use your legs, all of your heart pumping power and lung capacity can go to working out your legs.

Compare that to for example the elliptical where part of your lungs and heart have to maintain your upper body. This would leave less capacity for your legs.

On the other hand, you can also argue that with the exercise bike you don’t have to move as much weight. You don’t have as much resistance as you would running with a 155-pound body.

However, the max capacity of the heart and lungs may again benefit exercise bikes when you look at engaging leg muscles.

Overall exercise bikes are most likely better for engaging leg muscles than the treadmill and elliptical. After that, the treadmill is most likely better.

In any case, if you are serious about engaging, growing, and strengthening leg muscles it’s better to turn to particular weight lifting exercises like for example squats.

Comparison of injury risk

Another important thing you need to look at in the exercise bikes vs treadmills vs ellipticals comparison is the injury risk with each of these machines.

No matter what your goal is with working out. An injury can reduce the amount of time you can exercise to 0 in the worst case.

The treadmill is the clear loser here. Running, even jogging at a low tempo, is risky if you are injury sensitive. This workout puts a relatively high amount of pressure on body parts like your knees and back.

If you have bad knees and a lot of pounds to lose you most likely shouldn’t go straight to the treadmill unless it is for walking.

Exercise bikes vs ellipticals in terms of injury risk is an interesting comparison. With exercise, you bend your knees further but with the elliptical trainer, your knees still carry all of your weight.

This last injury risk comparison likely comes down to how many extra pounds you are carrying and what kind of injuries you want to avoid most.

So in terms of injury risk exercise bikes and ellipticals are better alternatives compared to the treadmill.

risk injury Exercise Bike vs Treadmill vs Elliptical

Price for your own machine

The price difference between exercise bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals most likely doesn’t interest you if you have a gym membership. That being said, owning your own workout machine can offer some benefits.

By getting your own workout machine at home you won’t have to spend money on a gym membership or spend time driving to the gym and finding a parking spot.

Additionally, the machine will probably not be occupied (unless your family is really into it). Finally, you don’t have to exercise in front of other people.

Working out at home can also just make the whole exercise experience more enjoyable.

You can put it in front of the tv, catch up with your family members, play your favorite music through your favorite music installation,…

For some people, nvesting in their own workout machine makes the difference between exercising and not exercising.

Prices of exercise bikes vs treadmills vs ellipticals of course vary from brand to brand. Nonetheless, generally exercise bikes are less expensive than ellipticals. And ellipticals are generally less expensive than treadmills.

Looking to invest in your own machine? Check out:

Complexity to use

Some machines and workouts almost require a degree before you can use them optimally. For example, some kettlebell workouts or something like dancing can be slightly more complicated to get started with.

The difference between exercise bikes vs treadmills vs ellipticals in terms of complexity to use is as good as non-existent.

There might be slight differences when it comes to the right running technique but in general, everyone can get started with these machines right away.

Can you lose belly fat on these machines?

Losing belly fat is more about losing weight overall than doing a “targeted” workout. This means you can lose belly fat on exercise bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals.

Basically any workout can help you lose belly fat. In this case, the treadmill will help you lose slightly more belly fat than riding an exercise bike or working out on an elliptical trainer.

Do keep in mind that your diet plays a big role in whether or not you will lose fat. Exercising is no guarantee for losing body fat.

Which one is right for you?

The answer to exercise bikes vs treadmills vs ellipticals depends on your personal situation.

If you want to lose a lot of weight and you are not injury sensitive the treadmill is probably your best choice. If you are injury sensitive the exercise bike and elliptical are most likely better choices.

If you want to tone your legs you should give weight lifting a try.

You also need to keep in mind that your choice of workout isn’t only about how many calories you can burn in the shortest amount of time. Your personal preference also plays a role.

If you don’t like your workout plan, it becomes harder to stick to it. The exercise that doesn’t get done doesn’t burn any calories and doesn’t offer any health benefits.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.