Elliptical vs Bike vs Treadmill – Which is the more holistic option?

Technology has innovated ways for people to do outside things inside. They have improvised training machines designed to strengthen and tone the human body. If you had to pick your go-to equipment, which training between the elliptical, bike, and treadmill is more holistic?

Hi, I’m Jason and I’m a fitness trainer. I’ve been in the industry going on 4 years now. While I love all the cool equipment in the gym, I get clients asking me about these three popular alternatives. Here is my detailed opinion based on my experiences.

Which training concern does elliptical, bike and treadmill rule?

Training Concern
Which equipment rules?
Stronger Leg Muscles
VO2 Intake
Building Abs
Cardio Workout
Strength Training
Calories Burned
Elliptical at 680 calories
Least risk and danger
Best for terminal Illness
Best for muscle or joint injury


How the Elliptical, Bike and Treadmill Differ

Calories Burned 

To burn the most calories within a workout session, you need to get all muscles engaged and flexing them hard. Calories are burned when you exert pressure on your muscles, joints, and limbs to move training equipment. The more you weigh, the more calories you will burn.

The elliptical is the only training equipment that engages upper and lower limbs and this why training on it could help you burn more calories than the other two. To put it into context, a 155pound individual working at a moderate to high pace with medium difficulty or resistance can potentially shed about 680 calories per hour. This is a significant number and translates to a pound lost every 8 days you work on the elliptical.

While running on the treadmill, an individual with 130 pounds running for an hour at a 5mph pace, will lose about 578 calories and if you weigh 200 pounds, you will burn about 1080 calories.

If the same two individuals decide to go cycling instead and at a 12-mph pace, the one weighing 130 pounds will lose about 500 calories compared to the one weighing 200 pounds who will lose about 800 calories per hour.

With all three equipment, you can get some calories shredded but to get the most out of your workout, you must maintain the right posture, speed, and accuracy in the movement to keep you from injury or strain mid training.

Muscles Worked 

Treadmill vs Bike

Strength training consists of you working against resistance and this is what grows and strengthens your muscles. Of the three training options, the treadmill offers the lowest resistance and so you don’t expect to grow your muscles here.

While your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors get a good stretch, the result is a leaner look overall because of the muscle loss. It may be a good option for those trying to shed off excesses around these muscles.

To build muscle strength on your quads and hamstrings, the bike is your best option because its main focus is on the lower body. The elliptical will work out all your muscles both upper and lower body.

The moving handlebars on the elliptical machine engage your arms in a resistant swing motion as you pedal. This movement works out your back, chest, arms, quads, core, hamstrings among others.

By inclining the elliptical, you can better engage the glutes muscles in a stair climber fashion which is great for toning your bum.

So, in terms of which machine gives you the best strength training, it has to be the elliptical because it is holistic in that it flexes both the upper and lower body.

Joint Impact

In terms of impact, it could be present in two forms; low impact and high impact. Low impact exercises are those that keep your feet off the ground in training. High impact exercises like running on the treadmill, bear weigh on your joints and muscles.

These high impact exercises can help strengthen bones and increase their density. However, on the flip side, they induce more pain to knees, back, shin, and ankles. This is why they are not advisable for anyone who suffers from chronic pain in these areas and for anyone who is training to heal broken or damaged joints and muscles.

While the bike is considered low-impact, the rapid and repetitive movement of your knees from a straight to bent position can grind up your knee joints. So, be watchful for that.

The elliptical is the most ideal for low impact exercises compared to the bike or treadmill. Your feet remain securely on the footpads removing the strain of having to step it up.

This is the preferred and highly recommended exercise routine for all who are in recovery mode or who are too old to move their limbs on high impact equipment.


How much you can do on a piece of equipment is a huge factor for most people. If your training is not exciting, you will not feel energized to go to the gym regularly. In this factor, the elliptical machine wins again.

The elliptical gives you the ability to go backward and forwards either on a flat, shallow, or steep incline. You are also able to increase the level of resistance which gives your body new, exciting, and challenging frontiers to conquer.

Stationary bikes come in different types but they all provide great cardio and varying workout intensities. There are stationary bikes that stand vertically upright with no backrest. These are more of a challenge and they present an intense workout for your legs because you can pedal upright like on a real bike.

Then recumbent bikes have a backrest you can lean into and with the pedals placed further out-front allowing the user to ease into it in kind of horizontal alignment. These are advisable for anyone with back and knee problems because this form takes off the pressure.

You may also encounter a virtual bike that features LCD monitor, movable handlebars that encourage steering adding to the excitement, and several race track programs that will give you the rush and feel of cycling outdoors.

The treadmill can only allow you to run, jog, or walk on a flat or inclined plane in the simulation of uphill climbs. Most of these machines have heart rate monitors that will display your vital information that is gotten from the chest strap you have to wear. treadmills give great cardio and if done consistently right, increase bone strength in the hips, legs, and spine.


Why is elliptical training much harder than a treadmill?

This is because it provides some resistance as opposed to running on the treadmill. 

The elliptical machine simulates the motion of running but with low impact to joints and muscles giving the idea that it is easy. It provides holistic training. On the treadmill, you can walk, jog or run as fast as you wish and the impact will be high on your joints and muscles. However, it has no resistance to push against and it only trains the lower body.

Elliptical vs bike vs treadmill with lower back pain. Which is the best?

The elliptical is the best exercise option for anyone suffering from back pain because it helps soothe it.

Back pain is the worst kind of a pain to experience, after toothache, and the last thing you want is to make it worse.

The bike is said not to exert pressure on joints but no mention is made of muscles. If your muscles ache, the pain is flaming hot and unlike any other. You want to be on the smooth elliptical with movable handlebars where you can move about to get your entire body stretched out.


If this is your first time at the gym, you could try all three machines to see which one excites you the most. Start with the elliptical, then the bike, and finish with the treadmill. Once you find your happy medium, you will be eager to get to your training sessions each day.