Treadmill vs. Elliptical for Toning?

Treadmill vs. Elliptical for Toning
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Treadmills have been around much longer than elliptical trainers, and many people invested in treadmills for their homes so that they could exercise at home when and as they pleased.

Many joggers, runners, and walker started using treadmills instead of having to go on the road or to the local park. Why would you want to face the dangers of the world when you could train in the comfort of your home or gym?

A Quick Look at Elliptical and Treadmill Machines

Once the elliptical trainers started becoming more popular, more people were choosing the elliptical trainer over a treadmill. Elliptical trainers are less expensive than treadmills and more affordable and accessible than treadmills. Elliptical trainers have less impact on the joints, so it is often a more comfortable exercise choice for many.

With a treadmill you are simply running or walking on a moving belt, imitating the natural stride and impact of walking, or running. With an elliptical trainer, you have the motion of walking or running, but because your feet never leave the pedals, there is the very low impact on the joints.

top choices of cardio equipment

Both have their pros and cons and they are easily the two top choices of cardio equipment, especially for home use. Each has its drawbacks and its unique features, however, at the end of the day they are more or less the same; both target the lower body and are great for toning in the lower body area. What may just give the elliptical trainer the upper hand is that the trainers that have movable arms also target the upper body for a complete workout.

To conclude which is better for toning, we will need to take more of an in-depth look at the two machines and what they offer.

The Treadmill

The treadmill is versatile and mostly comes with preset programs and an automatic incline that adds to the intensity of your workout. When using the treadmill for either running or walking, you are emulating your natural movement and stride which could be more comfortable for some. The downside is the high impact that this has on your joints.

Running at a higher speed will give you more of a cardio workout and burn more calories than running at a lower more consistent speed. In order for the treadmill to be effective in weight loss and toning, you will need to be at a fitness level that allows you to run at a fast pace over a longer period of time.

Remember: If you are not feeling the burn you are not burning the calories.

The treadmill will only be a better option for you if you are a seasoned runner or jogger that can keep up the pace, without injury. Some people find it difficult to run or walk on a treadmill which could lead to injury.

elliptical trainer1

The Elliptical

With the elliptical trainer, you are still emulating the motion and stride of walking or running, the difference is that there is the very little impact on your joints. If you have a good elliptical cross trainer you have the added advantage of moveable arms.

This adds to the intensity of your workout and targets your upper as well as your lower body: a full body workout in one machine. Many elliptical trainers are able to pedal forwards as well as backward. The backward motion will again target a different group of muscles.

Another great feature of the elliptical is that it is safer to operate backward. If your model does not allow for backward pedaling, you can turn around and pedal backward by facing backward.

On a treadmill, this is extremely dangerous, but because the elliptical machine’s armbars are made to be moved with the machine, you can still grab on to them for support. In fact, this has the bonus of working an entirely different group of arm muscles and strengthening your core for increased stability.

Depending on the model of elliptical trainer you choose, they also offer preset programs offering you different levels of intensity and variety in your workout. The great thing about elliptical trainers is that you are training harder than you think you are because you have less impact on the joints you feel more comfortable than you would on a treadmill.

Treadmill vs Elliptical for Toning?

The elliptical trainer is extremely versatile when it comes to toning. Most models are capable of going both forward and backward. This works out different muscle groups.
Treadmills are great with inclines, but you are only able to move forward on them without running into issues with safety. As such, the elliptical machine tones more muscles.

Upper Body Muscles

The elliptical also offers more toning for your upper body. A treadmill can only allow you to swing your arms in terms of exercise. Unless you’re running with weights, this isn’t going to do any good for your muscle strength or overall fitness.
At most, it will increase the benefits of your cardiovascular activity. On an elliptical, the movable arms allow you to push and pull along with your legs, which will engage your biceps, triceps, and occasionally even your deltoids.

Lower Body Muscles

For toning legs, both of these machines will work well. The key to using them is to remember which one gets with each workout setting. On a treadmill, increasing the resistance is not very beneficial, but you will get a lot more oomph by increasing the incline.
On an elliptical, the incline is not likely to affect your workout very much, but the resistance has a significant impact on toning your body. The more resistance on the pedals, the harder they are to push. The harder it becomes to push, the better your toning workout will be.

Muscle Strength

When it comes to strength training, it seems as though the treadmill would win. They have the option for steep inclines and hills where you can push yourself pretty quickly to work out those muscles. The elliptical can surprise you, though.
These machines have some options for increased resistance that makes moving them harder. Alongside this, you can work out your glutes as well by mending your knees while you use the machine.
If you take it as an interval training, where you spend a few minutes using the elliptical as normal followed by a few minutes of using the handles to balance as you do squats while moving the machine, you will notice a major difference in your workout. Playing with this sort of training also increases your core strength and stability, which is not something that a treadmill can address at all.

In conclusion, I would have to say that the treadmill and the elliptical trainer are in many ways very similar and offer you similar muscle toning. What would set the two apart would be the model of the elliptical trainer that is best for you.

In some of the expensive and more feature-packed elliptical trainer models you get more of a full body workout than what you would get on a treadmill. However, an entry-level elliptical trainer that does not have moveable arms or the ability to pedal backward would be on par with your average treadmill and give you the same muscle toning.


A big part of which is more effective would also depend on personal preference. If you suffer from joint injuries, aches or pains a treadmill will just be too uncomfortable for you to use and the elliptical trainer will be a far better choice to use for muscle toning.

If you have the budget to spring for a really nice elliptical machine or have access to a gym that features these models, then the elliptical is probably the best bet for your needs. It will work on more muscle groups than a treadmill won't while still offering a great cardio workout.

Both are great machines and have many advantages, but the ultimate winner would come down to personal preference and what is best for you.

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