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When you need to get a good sweat on a machine, chances are you think of the Big Three to debate your options: elliptical vs treadmill vs bike. 

So which piece of exercise equipment will help you meet your fitness goals? As a certified personal trainer who has owned all of these at one time or another, I know the pros and cons of each. Whether you are looking to purchase a piece of cardio equipment or trying to decide which exercise machine to hit at the gym, I am here to help. 

A Quick Look at Each Machine

Before we dive into which cardio machine is best for you, let’s take a look at the basics on each piece of equipment. 

Sole E55 Elliptical

Elliptical

When it comes down to it, an elliptical is a mix between a treadmill and a stair climber. You somewhat mimic the movement pattern of running, though depending on the stride length and incline, you might end up doing more of a stepping motion.

If you are looking for a full-body workout, an elliptical machine stands out as the only machine to engage your arms and legs at the same time (with the exception of an air bike). 

An elliptical trainer is highlighted by its low-impact nature, but it can still kick your glutes into overdrive while increasing your cardiovascular endurance. This makes it a great piece of gym equipment for somebody looking to target the upper body and the lower body, without causing too much strain on your joints. 

Caroline looking at monitor on Echelon EX 8 bike

Exercise Bike

This type of cardio machine is diverse—there are so many different types of exercise bikes. Looking for a low-impact bike? A recumbent bike may suit your needs. Want to mimic the feel of the wide open road? Chances are, you can find a stationary bike to help you recreate that high-intensity, high-adrenaline style of cardio workout. 

Since the machine itself is so versatile, just about anybody can benefit from an exercise bike. Your typical exercise bike will help you feel the burn throughout every inch of your leg muscles, from your quads to your hamstrings. If you choose an air bike, which has moving handles, then you’ll get an upper-body and lower-body workout. Some styles of bikes are found in physical therapy offices to help patients recover from lower-body injuries like strains or knee pain.

Woman doing a treadmill arm workout

Treadmill

The treadmill: the bread and butter of indoor cardio. A treadmill can take fat-burning to a whole new level. This piece of equipment is ideal for anybody looking to get the heart rate up without having to deal with the fuss of pedals or handlebars. All you have to do is throw on a pair of shoes, and the treadmill belt will handle the rest.

This piece of cardio equipment is a fan favorite due to its simplicity as well as versatility. Its variable speed and incline controls you can do slow and steady cardio like the 12-3-30 workout, or challenge your heart rate with sprints and HIIT workouts. This really makes the treadmill great for anybody who has healthy knees and lower-body joints. 

Which Is Best for Weight Loss?

According to a Harvard Health study, if you were to take a 155-pound person and have them work out for 30 minutes doing each of these activities, here’s the calorie burn they would have:

  • Running on a treadmill at a 10-minute mile pace: 360 calories
  • Cycling at a moderate pace: 252 calories
  • Using an elliptical: 324 calories

So, we could surmise that it’s possible that running on a treadmill has the potential to burn the most calories.

Ultimately, if weight loss is your goal, any of these machines can help you on your journey when used appropriately and paired with a healthy diet. Different machines will help you reach aerobic fitness goals at different speeds, however, one may not be specifically better than the other in terms of weight loss. 

Which Is Low-Impact?

If you are concerned about the impact of these machines on your joints, the elliptical or stationary bike may be the best choice for you. Since both of these cardio machines have pedals, you eliminate the high impact that comes with having your foot strike your ground every time that you move. 

However, when using a treadmill, it is important to consider that the treadmill belt does create less strain on your joints than running outside on the pavement or cement. Studies suggest that using a treadmill on an incline can simultaneously put less pressure on the knee and strengthen it. 

Advantages of Elliptical vs Treadmill vs Bike

EllipticalTreadmillStationary Bike
Low-impact workout Highest calories burnedMost customizable because of the different types of bikes 
Full-body workoutIncline and decline features Can be helpful for injury recovery 
Allows you to pedal forwards or backwards Highest opportunity to improve cardiovascular healthLow-impact exercise
Resistance levels allow for muscle development Transferable to foot race endurance Typically the cheapest option
Can be helpful for injury recoveryEasy to track progress towards different fitness goalsSmallest footprint

*Calorie burn estimates taken from Harvard Health study

Disadvantages of Elliptical vs Treadmill vs Bike

EllipticalTreadmillStationary Bike
Can be expensiveLarge footprintLowest calories burned per hour in comparison 
Burn less calories than the treadmillCan be tough on the lower body joints Can be hard to navigate which type of bike is best for you
Large footprintCan be difficult to use if you have knee pain or back pain Not a ton of variability on the machine itself 
Not transferable to any outdoor race Offers little resistance to help you build muscle No arm training 

*Calorie burn estimates taken from Harvard Health study

Considerations for Buying a Cardio Machine

There are a few key factors to take into account when you’re thinking of buying a cardio machine:

Fitness Goals

What are you trying to accomplish? If you have a specific goal in mind, then narrowing down your option becomes easier. If you want to run a race, a treadmill is the way to go. If you need something low-impact that hits the most muscle groups, then choosing an elliptical is best. 

Space Constraints

How much room do you have to store cardio exercise equipment? If you are looking for compact exercise equipment, a bike typically has the smallest footprint and is easiest to tuck away into a corner. A foldable treadmill or compact elliptical is possible, though still might take up quite a bit of room.

RELATED: Best Compact Elliptical

Cost

Just like any other home gym equipment, there is a large range on the price of cardio machines. You’ll find each of the machines on this list ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. However, based on our research, exercise bikes tend to be the most affordable while still maintaining high quality. 

RELATED: Elliptical vs Bike

Final Thoughts

Still trying to decide which is best for you? Here are some considerations we would like you to leave with: 

  • All of these cardio machines can help you reach your fitness goals. 
  • If you don’t have a ton of space, a bike may be your best option.
  • Recovering from an injury? Maybe consider a bike or elliptical. 
  • A treadmill burns the most calories in the least amount of time. 
  • There are many different types of bikes to choose from, making a bike the most economical option. 
  • The treadmill offers tons of variability due to its speed and incline controls for some great treadmill workouts.

At the end of the day, what cardio machine best suits your needs may not be ideal for your neighbor. Each of these pieces of equipment have their pros and cons that ultimately you have to decide which is the best for you given your background and fitness goals. 

FAQs About Elliptical vs Treadmill vs Bike

What’s better, elliptical or bike or treadmill?

All of these machines can help you reach your fitness goals! If you are coming off a lower-body injury, you may want to consider a bike or elliptical. If you are training for a marathon, a treadmill would be your best bet. Take into consideration your goals, fitness background, and physical health when deciding which cardio machine is best for you. 

Which is better for weight loss, bike or elliptical?

According to a study conducted by Harvard Health, you will burn more calories going at a moderate intensity on the elliptical in comparison to a moderate ride on the bike. 

Does an elliptical work better than a bike?

Research suggests that a moderate pace, an elliptical will burn more calories than a bike. However, an elliptical is larger and typically more expensive than a bike, so it depends on your priorities. 

Further reading

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