We test and review fitness products based on an independent, multi-point methodology. If you use our links to purchase something, we may earn a commission. Read our disclosures.

Are you looking for a cardio machine for your home gym and you are stuck between a treadmill or recumbent bike? Maybe your fitness goals include weight loss or a calorie burn, maybe you are just looking for a low-impact cardio workout. 

As a certified personal trainer, I know a thing or two about fitness equipment. Let’s dive into the meat and potatoes of the treadmill vs recumbent bike debate. Keeping in mind your fitness goals, space, and personal preferences, hopefully this article will give you some insight into which cardio equipment piece is best for you. 

A Quick Look at Each Machine

So, how does each machine work, and what makes them unique?

NordicTrack X22i Treadmill in use

Treadmill

A treadmill is ideal for someone who is looking to walk or run without worrying about the outdoor elements getting in the way. The basics of this piece of exercise equipment are the deck and a moving belt. The belt loops around the treadmill deck to keep your feet moving, while your body stays in the same place. 

There are different types of treadmills, the two main categories being manual and electric (using no outside power source, or requiring electricity/batteries). Either way, there are tons of different options out there if you are looking to purchase a treadmill for your home gym. 

Using the ProForm Hybrid Trainer XT as a recumbent bike

Recumbent Bike

The recumbent bike falls under the category of stationary bikes, which provide an indoor cycling experience. When looking at recumbent bikes, you can expect to find a bike that allows you to sit straight up (with back support!), a cushioned seat, and pedals in front of the seat instead of underneath the way traditional bikes are set up. 

These bikes offer tons of recumbent bike benefits, like creating a stable cycling experience or aiding people in recovering from injury. Even though you are sitting, you can still get a cardio burner workout to boost your cardiovascular health.  

RELATED: Best Recumbent Bike

Muscles Worked

Since you stand on a treadmill and sit on a recumbent bike, you may think that there are different muscle groups that these cardio machines can target. However, as noted below, you can see that the two lower-body dominant machines essentially use the same muscle groups. The main difference that you will find is that a treadmill is weight bearing and a recumbent bike is non-weight bearing. This means that a treadmill produces a little more strain on the body.

Muscles Used on a TreadmillMuscles Used on a Recumbent Bike
QuadricepsQuadriceps
HamstringsHamstrings
Glutes Glutes
CalvesCalves

Which Is Best for Weight Loss?

Just about any piece of cardio equipment can aid in weight loss, because doing cardio burns calories. For most people, the difference in the number of calories you burn and the calories you consume is what leads to losing weight. 

If you’re strictly looking at using a recumbent bike or a treadmill, the amount of time you spend on each one and how intensely you exercise dictates how many calories you burn.

A Harvard Health study offers the following insight for how many calories a 155-pound person would burn doing 30 minutes of the following exercise:

Stationary BikeRunning
Moderate Intensity252 calories360 calories (10-min pace)
Vigorous Intensity 278 calories562 calories (6-min pace)

Based on this data, if you’re looking for a quick calorie burn, a treadmill may be the best option for you. You can still burn calories with a stationary bike, especially if you increase resistance levels, or perform a HIIT workout. 

Which Is Low-Impact?

A recumbent bike isn’t weight-bearing because you’re in a seated position, so your bodyweight isn’t loading your legs and feet. Therefore, it creates an environment perfect for low-impact exercise. If you are recovering from leg injury but still looking for a lower-body workout, this piece of equipment could be valuable in your fitness routine. 

This being said, running on a treadmill is lower impact than racking up miles outside on the pavement and concrete. While the risk of injury is a bit higher on a treadmill, if you take proper precautions like utilizing incline controls and wearing the right shoes.   

Advantages of Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike

Treadmill BenefitsRecumbent Bike Benefits
Workout versatility Seat can help with back pain 
More calories burned in shorter amount of time Lower impact exercise 
Speed and incline controls Quiet exercise machine 
Easily transferable to outdoor raceGreat for beginners

Disadvantages of Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike

Treadmill DisadvantagesRecumbent Bike Disadvantages
May be more expensiveCan be hard to get a high-intensity workout in 
Running on a treadmill can be loudMinimally transferable to an outdoor bike
Doesn’t work your upper bodyNot a whole-body workout
Larger footprintLarger footprint than other bikes

What to Think About When Purchasing a Cardio Machine

There are a few key factors to take into account when you’re thinking of buying a cardio machine, whether it’s a treadmill, bike, or elliptical:

Footprint

Check out how much space that you have. Keep in mind that the footprint of the machine alone is not the total space you’ll need. Add about 6 to 12 inches on each side of the machine so you can easily get on and off it. If you don’t have too much space, consider compact machines.

Health and Wellness Goals

Take into consideration your previous health as well as your current fitness level. If you are coming off a lower body injury, know that you have to take precautions when running on a treadmill, or maybe a recumbent bike may be the better option to protect your health. 

Fitness goals vary from person to person, but make sure whatever cardio machine you choose aids you in reaching your goal. If you want to run a 5K, then a treadmill is your best bet. If you are training for a triathlon, a stationary bike might be a good option. 

using monitor on bike iFit

Built-in Programming

Just about all modern cardio equipment comes with workouts. Depending on the piece of equipment, this could be workouts built into the machine, or app-based programming that hooks to your smart device and syncs with the equipment, like on a treadmill with a built-in TV screen!

Your Preferences

When it comes down to it, make sure you are getting a cardio machine that plays into your likes and dislikes regarding physical activity. Hate running? Maybe a treadmill isn’t for you. We want your workout to be fun and something you enjoy. If you pick the wrong piece of equipment, it may hinder you in reaching your fitness goals. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, these are two great pieces of equipment. When you are choosing which to purchase, make sure you keep in mind your fitness goals, price, and preferences. While the two cardio machines sound like they would target different muscle groups, they actually work the same parts of your lower body. 

  • The recumbent bike is lower impact.
  • A treadmill workout typically burns more calories.
  • Both machines can be used for weight and fat loss.
  • Neither machine is intended to work your upper body muscles.

FAQs Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike

Is a recumbent bike as good as a treadmill?

A recumbent bike and a treadmill target the same muscle groups in your legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves). A recumbent bike is lower impact, a treadmill workout program typically burns more calories. Both can be used to build muscle endurance and improve cardiovascular fitness.

RELATED: 30 Minute Treadmill Workout

Is a recumbent bike as good as walking?

Supplemented with a healthy diet, either of these forms of movement will help you reach your fitness goals. Comparing these two forms of exercise is like comparing apples and oranges. A recumbent bike is not weight-bearing, which means that it does add the pressure of your body weight on your joints while you exercise. When you walk, your lower body absorbs the impact of your weight through your steps.

Which is better for losing weight: a treadmill or an exercise bike?

Along with a healthy diet, both of these cardio machines can help with weight loss. A treadmill and exercise bike are both great avenues to get the heart rate pumping and create a calorie burn. Typically, people burn more calories running than they do cycling, but it depends on the intensity of the workout. For example, over the same amount of time, sprints or interval training will burn more calories than simply walking.

Which is better for seniors: a treadmill or recumbent bike?

A recumbent bike lends itself well to seniors with its pedal placement and relaxed seat. If walking is difficult, a recumbent bike may be the best option for seniors. However, some seniors will have trouble sitting down, which would mean that a treadmill at a slower speed level may be more beneficial. 

Further reading

Benefits of a Home Gym for Families Cover Image
Benefits of a Home Gym for Families

Although a home gym is great for reaching your mental and physical goals, they're also great for parents and families to grow closer to one another. Will McNeely describes how his home gym has helped him grow closer to his family and become a better father through the usage of his garage gym. Read more

Incline Treadmill Benefits: Why You Should Try Walking or Running on an Incline Cover Image
Incline Treadmill Benefits: Why You Should Try Walking or Running on an Incline

Fitness experts explain what incline treadmill benefits you can reap by walking up hills, indoors or out. Read more

Reebok CrossFit Nano 7.0 First Look Cover Image
Reebok CrossFit Nano 7.0 First Look

Reebok releases their latest CrossFit shoe, the Reebok Nano 7.0. Read more

Get Equipped to Train Clients Outside the Gym Cover Image