Elliptical vs Running Outside– Which is the better alternative?

While they both burn a significant number of calories if consistently worked on, which one between the elliptical vs running outside is the better alternative?

Hi, my name is David. I love to us the elliptical in training because of its versatility. There is so much to do on it. Running is a great training alternative that works hand in hand with the elliptical to give me the results I have today.

They are both ideal training techniques that serve a different and sometimes similar group of training enthusiasts. They do work out similar muscles and joints but they impact them differently. So, the choice between the elliptical machine and running outside will depend more on your goals, limitations, and preference.

Elliptical vs Running Outside Comparison Summary

Training Concern
Which technique rules?
Stronger Muscles
VO2 Intake
Running Outside
Building Abs
Cardio Workout
Running outside
Strength Training
Calories Burned
Running Outside at  900 calories
Least risk and danger
Best for terminal Illness


Which burns more calories? Elliptical or running outside?

Elliptical vs Running Outside

Running outside in moderate to high intensity, you could burn up to 900 calories compared to 680 calories with the elliptical.

You can only use an elliptical whilst indoors which removes the scenic advantage that is abundant when running outside. It may seem like a little to bargain but the psychological effects that fresh air and the aesthetic outsides provide to the individual help them train longer and harder.

While peddling on the elliptical, 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.

If you can manage to keep that up, take the necessary days off training and maintain a low-calorie diet, you should have effectively lost no less than 3 or 4 pounds by the end of the month which is awesome.

Running outside, on the other hand, is super exciting, it lifts your spirits instantly and the cool air helps to open up your lungs and clean out toxins effectively. If you can run at a moderate pace like say 5 miles per hour, you could potentially burn about 900 calories if you weigh the same 155pounds.

For both training techniques, calorie-burning could be somewhat similar in number but to increase the burn you can add the difficulty, the duration, and intensity of the workout.

Incorporate a little mix in your routine going from high intense energy bursts to low intensity and controlled breathing breaks.

Which muscles are worked when you train on an elliptical and when running outside?

Lower body muscles of the legs, hips, thighs are targeted when using the elliptical and while running outside.

Both training techniques are leg focused making them a great choice for developing and strengthening leg muscles. For both exercises, they target the hamstrings, quadriceps, hips, calves, and glutes which when worked out raise the body’s temperature.

As the temperature rises, more oxygen is used up and heavy breathing is adapted to take in more air and expel more carbon dioxide. More air pumps into the bloodstream and circulation are faster and more seamless through the arteries and veins.

Running outside is advisable for all runners who are training for a big marathon or the Olympics or just your local community annual run. It is more engaging and has a greater impact on the bones with the diverse terrain available outside.

The elliptical machine helps runners keep form and train especially in the event of a risk of injury or an incident that could discourage their running achievements. Running is high impact and has a great effect on damages to the bones and in muscle strains and joint sprains.

Working out on the elliptical helps to strengthen the strained muscle without putting too much stress on the knee or other joints or muscles. It also gets your heart rate pumping which is good for all bodily organs.

Elliptical vs running outside for cardio exercise

Running outside burns more calories and naturally will give you a better cardio exercise compared to the elliptical.

Any exercise that gets your heart rate rise and your heartbeat pumping quickly, is considered a cardiovascular exercise. Quite obviously named so because of the effect it has on our heart and is operations, cardio is necessary parts of a workout regimen designed to achieve any weight or shape goal.

Raising your heart rate gets your blood pumping faster and opens up your veins and arteries by the warmed-up temperatures caused by all the jumping up and down. In working out outside running or in the gym peddling on an elliptical machine, you will considerably achieve a good cardio workout.

While running outside is high impact and presents a lot of conditions to your knees and leg muscles due to the heavy pounding of your entire weight against your feet. It is highly effective in terms of cardio because, in less than a minute, you already feel the raised temperatures and the heightened heartbeat.

The fresh air outside coupled with the heavy breathing all works to expand and clear out your breathing canal by increasing the volume of oxygen intake you can handle in a breath. This is great for your overall desire which could be to lose calories or to gain muscle.

On the elliptical machine, you could either use handlebars or go hands-free. On the hands-free mode, you are focusing your energy on your legs and your core muscles which is what is developed eventually. If you prefer to use the handlebars as well, this adds an upper body workout that stretches out your arms and twists out your waist and back muscles.

To get as much a cardio workout from the elliptical as from running outside, you could incline your machine, use the handlebars, and increase your intensity every few weeks to give yourself new frontiers to conquer.

Elliptical vs running outside for injured knee

Though the elliptical might put a small strain on your knee, it is not nearly as unbearable as if running on an injured knee.

For those who may have a knee injury or who have some not so strong bones that are easily susceptible to injury, it may be wise for them to skip the running routine. Running is brutal on your joints and your entire lower body because of your upper body weight which is supported by the vulnerable knee.

The last thing you want to do if you have an injury is to put more strain on it. While it may be tempting and easier to lie down on the couch with a foot raise, a cold press, your favorite snacks, and the longest TV series you could find, it’s not ideal for the healing of your knee.

As an already active individual, you should continue to work out in as many alternative ways as you can find. This is important to keep your training momentum going and to maintain the progress achieved so far in your fitness journey.

Since running is currently off the table, you could go on the elliptical machine instead. The low0impact movement provides a good and safe amount of resistance that strengthens your knees. The technique doesn’t put stress on the injured knee, your back and your hips as well.

Working out on the elliptical as well as cycling on a stationary bike are some of the best and most medically advised options for working out vulnerable knee joints and torn muscles. Keeping a 5-day schedule and working out for about 30 or 40 minutes on a moderate intensity will help your leg gain some strength and the movement will increase blood circulation that will shorten the healing process.

Elliptical with stationary handles vs movable handles

Both these machines work the same muscles overall, the only difference is the one with handles works out arm muscles too.

The stationary handles of elliptical machines are only there to help you gain your balance as you begin to work out or as you get used to the machine. If you find yourself using them too much, your workout will not give you your desired outcome.

The stationary handles will take your mind away from working your feet and you may get complacent and comfortable working at the same level of challenge never ready to switch it up. They might help you stay in balance and thus stay on longer but that’s counterproductive.

The aim of using the elliptical is to build your body’s balance and strength overall. Be brave enough to let go of the handle and to keep increasing the difficulty of your training in step number and incline angle. If you can train your heartbeat to about 80 percent of your maximum, you know your workout is worthwhile.

The movable handles on the elliptical, help the body get an upper body workout as well. The peddling on the elliptical seriously tones the leg muscles leaving out the arms. On the movable handles of the elliptical, you can significantly raise your temperature and increase the difficulty of the training.

However, this may be counterproductive for most who may be unable to multitask as is required or that you may end up focusing on one more than the other which will not give you flattering results at all. If you don’t get and keep the right form throughout your training period, you may end up with an uneven body either top heavy or bottom heavy. You don’t want that.

To get a significantly good workout every time on the elliptical, keep an eye on your strides per minute, and maybe focus on your legs only if you are unable to multitask. If you do, go hands-free and add some incline to increase the challenge. Your bones, glutes, and hamstrings will thank you later.

What are the chances of injury when using an Elliptical vs when running outside 

running outside

On the elliptical, tripping is possible due to problems like slippery or loose fitted straps on your foot to pedal.None such technical failures are associated with running.

However, these are manageable by wearing the right training shoes and using well-managed machines

You may be so afraid of falling that you end up strapping your foot on too tightly to the pedal which will reduce the blood circulation to your feet causing you to be numb and you could lose your step, rhythm, and trip.

Another common possibility of injury could be brought about by overtraining. In the initial days of your training journey, you may be very eager and ready to shed more weight than anyone ever has in the shortest time possible. This is natural and expected.

However, whether you are new to this or you have some experience, keeping a consistent and quality time aside for elliptical every 5 days a week and about 60 minutes in moderate-intensity is enough training for one person. Though the elliptical does not exert damaging pressure to the legs or knees, it tends to cause lower back pain.

For running enthusiasts, they know very well that injury is a possible impact of their workout and they prepare accordingly. As it is a high-impact and full of energy-demanding training technique, a lot of weight in mass is shed so if you are looking to retain weight and build muscles, refrain from running.

Anything from knee pain to Achilles tendonitis is a possible injury associated with running. Incorrect shoe sizes, types, quality could contribute to these injuries. Also, poor running form, too much running, and lack of hydration will further contribute to the wear and tear of muscle and tissue.


How many miles do I need on elliptical to lose weight?

To get the most out of your training in about a month or two, you need to aim for training for about an hour on the elliptical which translates to about five or six miles depending on your speed and intensity.

As a low-impact exercise technique, the elliptical works your body as hard as you work it. The longer you stay on it, the more challenges you try and the faster you go on it will all translate at the end of a few months.

After a good elliptical training session for about sixty minutes, an average-sized individual can lose up to 650 calories per session. This means that in about a week, you should have lost about a pound of weight. That’s impressive!

Can I go backward on elliptical?

Yes, you can.

What a lot of people do not realize or dare to try is peddling backward. There was previously thought to be no difference in the targeted muscles whichever way you peddled but new research confirmed that backward motions on the elliptical work out the calves and quadriceps.

That’s not all as it will help you with your posture and engage your core and back even more than when performing a forward motion. Your heart rate rises and this increases your VO2 capacity which is perfect for muscle development.

Does elliptical work the back?

Yes, though a bit too hard.

The elliptical is a great body that works out that shapes and tones your legs, thighs, and arms giving strength and form to your upper and lower body. It is created to provide a low impact body workout for those who appreciate the challenge.

With movable or immovable handles, one has the choice of what to focus on more. Ellipticals are associated with a lot of lower back pain due to the twisting motion in their technique.

This is why you need to keep your form right when doing them and avoid the elliptical if you already suffer from back problems.

How long should you work out on the elliptical?

The advised timeline to work out on the elliptical machine is 30 to 60 minutes every three or five days of the week. Take the time off to allow your body time to rejuvenate and recover from the tough work out.

If you are a beginner, you may be tempted to go long and hard on your first day because it is fairly easy to do but refrain from doing so. Aim for about ten to twenty minutes tops every 3 days at the gym with added alternatives in resistance training.

Whatever your ideal figure or size is, the elliptical needs to be complemented with other training forms to give you the desired results.

Are miles on elliptical accurate?

No. Based on your machine and the settings installed, the steps needed to reach a mile differs.

Miles on the elliptical may read similar to real-life miles and they may consider as many naturally occurring factors as possible but they can never be a match with the real thing.

Miles are measured by steps that have been set on the machine by inches and the number of revolutions.

Find out information regarding the specific machine that you are training to figure out how many miles you run every 30 minutes or so. Knowing this number helps you stay motivated and empowered to train harder.


It is clear that both these training techniques work mostly the same muscles and can burn a somewhat similar number of calories based on how intensely and often the individual works out. All the best!