Treadmill vs. Elliptical: What’s the Difference?

Within the English language, a multitude of words exist that are phonetically similar, yet they convey distinct concepts. This is the case with “treadmill” and “elliptical,” two terms related to exercise equipment that are often used in fitness discussions. Despite seeming synonymous at a glance, they actually denote two different types of machines, each with its own specific features and benefits. This article intends to delineate the distinctions between a treadmill and an elliptical, presenting illustrations that will assist in determining the appropriate context for each term.

The Main Difference between Treadmill and Elliptical

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: What's the Difference? Pin

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Key Takeaways

  • Treadmills offer a high-impact workout with a focus on running or walking.
  • Ellipticals provide a low-impact alternative that targets both lower and upper body muscles.
  • Choosing between the two depends on personal fitness goals and joint health considerations.

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: The Definition

What Does Treadmill Mean?

A treadmill is a stationary exercise machine that has a moving platform with a conveyor belt driven by a motor. As we walk or run, the belt moves under our feet, which allows us to achieve a cardio workout that mimics the experience of moving over the ground.

What Does Elliptical Mean?

An elliptical, also known as an elliptical trainer or cross-trainer, is a stationary exercise machine that facilitates a smooth, low-impact motion. It simulates stair climbing, walking, or running without causing excessive pressure on our joints, reducing the risk of impact injuries.

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Usage and Examples

For treadmills, the predominant use is for walking, jogging, or running. With a motor-driven belt, it mimics the natural movement of these activities. We often find treadmills equipped with various incline and speed settings, allowing us to replicate hill workouts or interval training. Here’s how we might use a treadmill:

  • Warm-up: A brisk 5-minute walk to get the blood flowing.
  • Interval training: Alternating 1-minute sprints with 2 minutes of walking.
  • Hill training: Increasing the incline every few minutes for a challenging climb.

In contrast, ellipticals are more low-impact due to their gliding motion, which can be easier on our joints. While providing a cardio workout, they often have movable handles, which means we can engage our upper body for a full-body workout. Here’s a typical routine on an elliptical:

  • Steady-state cardio: A 30-minute set at a moderate pace.
  • Cross-training: Using the handles to work the arms while pedaling.
  • Lower-body focus: Focusing on the legs by holding onto the stationary bars.

Tips to Remember the Difference

Movement Pattern:

  • Treadmill: Mimics natural walking or running.
  • Elliptical: Provides a gliding motion with less impact on the joints.

Muscle Engagement:

  • Treadmill: Primarily targets our legs – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
  • Elliptical: Engages both the upper and lower body due to the arm components.

Intensity and Impact:

  • Treadmill: Allows us to adjust speed and incline for varied workout intensity; higher impact on joints.
  • Elliptical: Typically lower impact; resistance adjustments can increase intensity with less strain on our joints.


  • Treadmill: More versatile with the ability to walk, jog, or sprint.
  • Elliptical: Limited to gliding motion but often better for steady-state cardio.

Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Examples

Example Sentences Using Treadmill

  • “We decided to increase our cardio workouts this week by incorporating 30 minutes on the treadmill every morning.”
  • “Our trainer recommended we use the treadmill’s incline feature to simulate hill running for a more intense session.”
  • “As we prepared for the marathon, we included long-distance treadmill runs to work on our endurance.”
  • “We noticed that the treadmill’s impact can be tough on our joints, so we alternate with lower-impact exercises.”
  • “During our workout, we used the treadmill’s preset programs to add variety and challenge to our routine.”

Example Sentences Using Elliptical

  • “We chose the elliptical for our low-impact workout days to reduce stress on our knees.”
  • “Our gym just got the latest ellipticals that include arm handles for a full-body workout.”
  • “To make our elliptical session more challenging, we increased the resistance and added some high-intensity intervals.”
  • “We love how the elliptical machine gives us a cardio workout without feeling like we’re straining our legs.”
  • “Since we’re looking to engage more muscle groups, we use the elliptical’s cross-trainer settings for our workouts.”

Related Confused Words

Treadmill vs. Exercise Bike

A treadmill enables us to walk, jog, or run indoors on a moving belt, which can help improve our cardiovascular fitness and build bone density. On the other hand, an exercise bike requires us to sit while pedaling, targeting different muscle groups primarily in the lower body and providing a low-impact workout suitable for those with joint issues.

  • Muscle Engagement: Treadmills engage the whole lower body including glutes, hamstrings, and quads; exercise bikes focus on quads, hamstrings, and calves.
  • Impact Level: Treadmills can be high-impact, whereas exercise bikes offer a low-impact alternative.

Elliptical vs. Stationary Bike

The elliptical machine offers a low-impact, full-body workout where we stand on pedals and use handles to mimic a natural running motion without significant joint strain. The stationary bike focuses more on lower body endurance and can be ideal for intense cardio sessions with minimal pressure on the joints.

  • Full-Body Workout: Ellipticals involve arms and legs; stationary bikes concentrate on the legs.
  • Calorie Burn: Both can offer a significant calorie burn, with the exact number depending on the intensity and duration of the workout.

Elliptical vs. Rowing Machine

An elliptical provides a standing workout that simulates running with reduced impact. In contrast, a rowing machine offers a seated workout that engages both the upper and lower body, with an emphasis on the back, shoulders, and arms as well as the legs, making it an effective full-body workout.

  • Cardio Focus: Ellipticals are primarily for cardio; rowing machines offer cardio plus strength elements.
  • Posture: Ellipticals promote an upright position; rowing machines require a seated, forward-leaning posture.