Elliptical Training: The Advantage Over a Treadmill


The treadmill perseveres as one of the most popular workout machines in gyms or home use. It requires little skill and offers all fitness levels an opportunity to burn significant calories in a short amount of time. A newer exercise machine, the elliptical trainer, provides many of the same benefits as the treadmill and may actually be a better choice for certain populations.

Features of the Elliptical Trainer

An elliptical trainer combines the forward movement of running or cross country skiing with the feeling of climbing stairs. Some models of elliptical trainers come with arm poles which you move in conjunction with your legs to increase the aerobic challenge. You alter the machine’s intensity level by changing the resistance which dictates how hard it is to move the legs, the cross ramp or angle of the leg and hip movement and the speed at which you pedal.


People often flock to the treadmill, believing that no other workout can burn as many calories or challenge them as much aerobically. Like any workout, the amount of calories burned and cardiovascular effects you achieve while using an elliptical trainer depends on your intensity. Thomas Altena, professor of nutrition sciences a the University of Missouri at Columbia, notes in a February 2002 publication from the Idea Health and Fitness Association that a treadmill and elliptical provide almost identical health benefits, when approached with the same intensity level.


Because your feet never leave the pedals, you do not experience the same impact that you do when running—or even walking—on a treadmill. This makes the elliptical trainer easier on the hip and knee joints. Although speed and hill drills on a treadmill effectively build leg strength, you can more precisely isolate the calf, hamstring, quadricep and gluteal muscles on the elliptical trainer by altering the cross ramp. Using an elliptical trainer with arm poles provides an upper body workout along with your leg workout—something than cannot be achieved on a treadmill.


If you suffer from arthritis or joint replacement, the elliptical trainer is a better choice because it is a low-impact exercise program and less likely to aggravate your condition. People with back problems also benefit from the upright position assumed when using the elliptical trainer. The elliptical trainer also appeals to overweight and obese exercisers who find the impact of running or walking uncomfortable. These populations are also more vulnerable to injury on the treadmill.


Even if you are a competitive runner, you will benefit from incorporating elliptical work into your routine. By challenging different muscles, cross training on the elliptical decreases the chance of developing overuse injuries. Beginners who are interested in running can use the elliptical to build their aerobic stamina without incurring potential injuries such as shin splints that often curse people who start training too aggressively on the treadmill.

About this Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.