Treadmill vs Bike vs Elliptical – Which One Is A Full Body Workout?

 Your time in training is important to you and you aim to get the most out of each session. The best way to achieve amazing results is to do full body workouts.

When I first got into fitness about 13 years ago, I weighed about 278 pounds and I could barely get my body to move in the gym. I was so heavy that getting up the flight of stairs to the gym room took me three times longer than anyone else.

Over the years, however, I got better in my training and because of the great transformation that I have made, I now have many people who come to the gym to ask for my advice on which equipment will work for them.

I have always loved this three equipment and I highly recommend them based on one’s needs and fitness goals. Here is a short and detailed summary.

Which training concern does treadmill, bike and elliptical 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

Muscles Worked 

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 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.

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

Calories Burned 

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.

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.


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.

The treadmill can only allow you to run, jog, or walk on a flat or inclined plane in the simulation of uphill climbs. Treadmills give great cardio and if done consistently right, increase bone strength in the hips, legs, and spine.

Impact on joints

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 gym equipment for all who are in recovery mode or who are too old to move their limbs on high impact equipment.

Caution should be exercised while training on the bike because while it is considered low-impact, the rapid and repetitive movement of your knees from a straight to bent position can grind up your knee joints.

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.


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.

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.

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.


Al these machines work perfectly for many different people with varying needs. While the elliptical is more of a full body workout, it can’t quite tone the quads and glutes like you can on a bike and your bones will not be as dense and strong as they could be on the treadmill.