Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical vs. Running: Which Is Better for You?

Looking to maximize your cardio routine? There are many ways to improve your endurance and get your blood pumping.

Using an elliptical and running are two of the most reliable options.

But what’s the difference?

We compared elliptical vs. running based on various factors to determine the better workout.

Let’s dive in.

Overview of Elliptical

Overview of Elliptical

An elliptical machine, also known as a cross-trainer, is a low-impact stationary exercise machine.

It has two suspended foot panels that move over an “elliptical” track. Most elliptical machines also have movable handrails.

Users grab the handrails and move their feet in a circular motion, which simulates exercises like walking, running, and stair-stepping.

Elliptical training can give you an effective cardio workout WITHOUT the strain of running on hard surfaces.

You can simply increase the speed or resistance level if you want more intense training.

It also provides all the benefits of cardio exercise, such as:

  • Contributing to weight loss
  • Strengthening immune system
  • Improving metabolism
  • Enhancing endurance

The best elliptical machines keep your feet remain on the foot pedals, making them gentler on the knees, joints, and muscles.

It’s safe and easy to use for EVERYONE.

That said, doing an elliptical workout comes at a cost: you have to either get a gym membership or buy a machine.


  • Easy to use
  • Allows for a longer workout
  • Safer for the joints and muscles
  • Provides lower and upper body workout


  • Takes a longer time to see the results
  • Less calorie burn
  • Comparatively more expensive

Overview of Running

Overview of Running

Running is a basic aerobic exercise that can be done virtually ANYWHERE — especially if you have a good pair of running shoes.

Alternatively, you can also use a treadmill.

A treadmill is an exercise machine with a continuous belt that allows users to walk, run, or jog in place. You can run flat on the belt or mimic a hill by adjusting it into an incline.

Running requires greater energy expenditure than an elliptical because you’re using your OWN body weight to propel yourself forward.

As a result, running helps you burn more calories and build muscle strength easily.

Running outdoors also has the added benefit of vitamin D exposure, helping with bone and immune health.

It’s a high-impact exercise that targets the lower body, especially the leg muscles, glutes, and hamstrings.

However, running puts pressure on the muscles and joints, posing a greater risk of injury. As such, it’s NOT an advisable workout for older adults or individuals recovering from an injury.


  • Running outdoors is free
  • Has mental health benefits
  • Versatile
  • Burns more calories


  • Higher risk of injury
  • Higher chance of muscle soreness
  • Road running safety must be ensured

Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Side-by-Side Comparison

Elliptical vs. Treadmill

An elliptical workout and running are similar in many ways. Both exercises can help improve physical fitness, strength, and stamina.

To help you compare elliptical vs. running, let’s look at various aspects of each exercise.


An elliptical machine provides a smooth, low-impact workout that is gentle on the joints.

It has foot pedals and handles that mimic walking or running WITHOUT the hard impact force.

The lower-intensity workout of an elliptical trainer is beneficial for those with joint problems or arthritis.

In contrast, a high-impact exercise like running requires time and training to get used to.

You’ll have to pace yourself if you don’t want to get injured while running. Running can also be hard for people with a few extra pounds.

Elliptical workouts are great for building strength and stamina for more intense exercises. You can get a great workout and burn calories at the rate you’re comfortable with.

WINNER: Elliptical machine

Muscles Worked

The common denominator between elliptical vs. running is their cardio benefits.

However, they primarily differ in the muscle groups they target.

The muscles worked in treadmill workouts are primarily the LOWER body — specifically the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

If you’re looking for a lower-body workout or preparing for race day, running outdoors or on a treadmill is the way.

Meanwhile, elliptical training is a full-body workout. It engages no less than the following muscle groups:

  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Abdominals and obliques
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads

Both can give a good cardio workout, but you stand to benefit MORE with an elliptical machine.

WINNER: Elliptical machine

Calories Burned

The amount of calories burned when using a treadmill or an elliptical depends on many factors, such as body composition, weight, and exercise intensity.

Nevertheless, research shows that the energy expenditure, oxygen consumption, and heart rate when doing elliptical workouts and treadmill running are nearly IDENTICAL.

It means that the same amount of calories are burned when the exercise intensity is the same.

So, whether you use an elliptical, a treadmill, or go for an outdoor run, you can effectively lose body fat.

The difference lies in the time it takes to burn calories.

Since an elliptical workout is low impact, it’s less efficient at burning calories. It would take LONGER to achieve your desired weight loss goals.

On the other hand, outdoor or treadmill running may be the better fat-burning exercise because it expends more energy in a shorter time.

WINNER: Outdoor or treadmill running


You don’t need a treadmill to start running — you can run for FREE outdoors.

Meanwhile, you either have to go to the gym or buy an elliptical machine if you want to do an elliptical workout.

Elliptical trainers can cost around $700 at a minimum. If you’re looking for a truly good machine, it can go up to $2,000.

Additionally, the average gym membership costs around $50 per month or $600 per year in the US.

An advantage of going to the gym is that you have access to any cardio machine of your preference.

Nevertheless, when it comes to cost, running outdoors wins out.

WINNER: Outdoor running

Things to Consider When Exercising Using an Elliptical vs. Running

Elliptical vs. Running

Before settling on a workout program, consider the following to see whether elliptical vs. running is the best choice for you:

1: Fitness Goals

Different goals require different types of training. You have to determine what you want to achieve by exercising.

If you want a full-body cardio workout to tone your muscles, you can opt for elliptical training.

A lower-impact workout with an elliptical can work well if you simply want to maintain general fitness.

Preparing for a marathon? Running outdoors can give you the edge to strengthen your bones and connective tissues for a long race.

A running coach can help you develop a realistic goal with respect to your physical capabilities and needs.

2: Fitness Level

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” exercise that works for everyone. We all have different bodies that have different needs.

Beginners, older adults, or recovering runners can benefit more from lower-impact workouts that put less strain on the joints.

A study by an exercise scientist found that an elliptical is more similar to walking than running. It’s an effective way to burn calories without worrying about getting injured.

Experienced runners can go for high-impact exercises to further improve their strength and stamina.

Since they are not at risk of injury, they can MAXIMIZE their training.

3: Schedule

For many working adults, squeezing in a workout regime can be difficult if they’re already working 9 to 5.

However, this doesn’t mean that adopting an active lifestyle is impossible.

Planning a REALISTIC training regimen that aligns with your schedule and goals can help you stay committed.

If you have enough free time, you can try many types of exercises for a truly holistic workout.


If you’re still quite undecided, below are frequently asked questions about elliptical versus running that can further help you:

Will I Lose Weight on Both the Elliptical and Outdoor Running?

Any kind of exercise can help contribute to weight loss.

The more you work out, the more calories you burn since it translates to a greater caloric deficit that results in weight loss.

Running outdoors and using an elliptical burn roughly the SAME amount of calories when done with the same intensity.

Nevertheless, studies suggest that running burns more fat compared to elliptical workouts.

Is a Mile on an Elliptical The Same as Running?

A mile on an elliptical is NOT the same as a mile when running.

Elliptical machines don’t track the distance traveled the same way as you would running.

Instead, they track the number of revolutions you pedal around the elliptical path using stride per minute (SPM). That means it’s based on the stride length of your machine.

Most trainers have a stride length of 14 to 22 inches, which is why it takes LONGER to reach a mile with an elliptical.

How Long Should You Stay on an Elliptical?

If you’re simply using an elliptical to warm up, you should use it for 5 to 20 minutes.

However, if you want to maximize cardio benefits and achieve weight loss, you must work out for 30 to 60 minutes.

How Long Should You Run Every Day?

The recommended duration for a daily run depends on several factors, including your goals, pace, and overall workout regimen.

If it’s simply to improve your health, you can do 30 to 60 minutes of moderate running five days per week OR 25 minutes of intense running three days per week.

Final Verdict: Which Is Better?

We compared elliptical vs. running based on factors such as impact, calories burned, muscles worked, and cost.

Which type of workout stood out the best?

Choose the Elliptical If…

  • You experience joint pain
  • You are recovering from an injury
  • You are a beginner starting a workout routine

Choose Running If…

  • You are not at risk of injury
  • You prefer an intense workout
  • You want to be economical while staying fit

Final Thoughts

Choosing one exercise over another relies on many considerations.

This article breaks down how elliptical vs. running stack up against each other. Based on several factors, we found that it’s a TIE.

Both can give a good cardio workout with their own strengths and weaknesses.

At the end of the day, it’s about personal preference and which activity can help you best achieve your goals.