Walking, Treadmill, Elliptical: Which Is the Better Option?

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

trendmillHave you ever felt intimidated walking into a gym? I’d understand if so. After all—it often seems like it’s just filled with young, half-naked egomaniacs staring at themselves and grunting maniacally as they lift huge weights!

Navigating your way to the cardio equipment, however, can be a little more settling. This space is typically occupied by people who look more like you—the ones who’ve matured beyond the esthetics of exercise and are focused on heart health.

But the cardio room can present it’s own set of challenges. With so many options, how do you choose the best one for you? What are the benefits of each, and how do you even use them?

Two of the most popular cardio machines are the treadmill and the elliptical. The treadmill is great because it allows you to walk or jog just like you are outside, while the elliptical machine mimics the walking movement while getting your upper body involved. Although they are both effective modes to achieve a quality cardio workout, they offer different benefits.

An elliptical can be rather intimidating because of all the moving parts, and this might keep you away from it. A little later I’ll explain how to properly use one, but for now, let’s take a look at how it stacks up against a walk or a jog on the treadmill.

The biggest benefit offered by an elliptical is that it’s very easy on your joints. An elliptical is deigned to virtually eliminate the force applied to your joints, and is therefore extremely valuable if you’ve got aches and pains in your joints, have arthritis, or are simply concerned about avoiding wear and tear. When you simply walk, you’re generating force of about 110% on your joints with each step. When you’re on an elliptical, you’re only putting about three-quarters of your body weight on the joints.

You’ll also burn more calories on an elliptical, but just how many depends on the pace you’re moving at. If you’re working at a moderate heart rate, you will probably burn about 50 more calories per hour on an elliptical than a treadmill (for a 160-pound individual).

Although your arms are more involved on an elliptical, it really doesn’t provide much of an upper body workout. If you’re looking to develop stronger legs, calves, and hamstrings, walking is a bit better.

Now, how do you use an elliptical? It’s not as tough as it looks. Approach the machine and grab the stationary handle that’s closest to you on the inside of the machine, near the control panel. Hold it to steady yourself and step onto the pedal surface nearest to you. Grab the other handle and bring your other foot up and step down onto the far pedal surface. Feel free to grab the moving handles now if you wish. To get started, slowly begin to pedal, mimicking a walking/jogging motion. Make sure your heel is flat on the pedal surface during the entire motion. There are some machines that require your heel to come up at the back of the stroke; to determine this, you can simply ask one of the attendants inside your fitness facility.

During your workout, make sure you keep your torso upright and balanced over the hips. During the pedaling motion, make sure your knees do not come in front of your toes, thus relieving any tension from the knee.

If you feel the standard settings aren’t challenging you, check with your gym attendant on how you could change the settings to get more out of your workout. Each machine is different when it comes to the control panel, so if you’re unsure of how it functions, simply ask. They’re the experts on the equipment in that particular gym, so they’ll have the answers you’re looking for.

Personally, I like to mix my cardio exercises up. I’ll do the elliptical one day, treadmill another day, and then a fast-paced walk/jog around the block the following day. Each has its benefits for your body and can lead to a healthy heart and lifestyle.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Kaplan, Y. et al., “Referent body weight values in over ground walking, over ground jogging, treadmill jogging, and elliptical exercise,” Gait & Posture, 2014; 39(1): 558–62.
“How Much Am I Burning?” Mayo Clinic web site, November 15, 2014; http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/in-depth/exercise/art-20050999?pg=2.