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Running Vs Elliptical for Weight Loss

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Running Vs Elliptical for Weight Loss
Woman running on treadmill Photo Credit Estudi M6/iStock/Getty Images

When your exercise goal is weight loss, you often seek out the exercise that burns the most calories. While this is an important consideration, other factors influence what exercise is ultimately the best for you to drop pounds. Running and the elliptical trainer are two popular modes of exercise that help you burn calories, and both have specific advantages. It is up to you to determine which best serves your needs.


Running may be done indoors on a treadmill or outdoors on a track, trail or the streets around your neighborhood. Running engages the largest muscles of the body and, as a result, is an effective calorie burner. A 155-pound person going 6.7 mph burns about 409 calories in a half hour. Running requires little skill and little in terms of equipment, just a good pair of shoes. You can increase your calorie burn by climbing hills and going faster.

Elliptical Trainer

The elliptical trainer is a stationary cardio machine that combines the movement of running with stair climbing without impact. The machine features pedals that glide along rails and some come with arm poles to incorporate an upper body workout. Calories burned on an elliptical are comparable to running when working at the same intensity levels -- 335 in a half hour for a 155-pound person, according to the calories burned calculator on Harvard Health. You adjust the difficulty of your workout by increasing the resistance against which you pedal, raising the height of the gliding rails and increasing the rate of your pedal stride.

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If you are new to exercise, an elliptical may be preferable for weight loss. The machine is easy to use and the movement comes naturally. You are able to hit an intense level that burns calories sooner on an elliptical than when you are when running. Running requires training, usually a few weeks or months of walking and jogging to allow your body to adjust to the impact involved. Going too fast, too far or too long too soon can cause injury to your shins, heels and knees. That training period burns significantly less calories than a workout on the elliptical. In a half hour, a 4 mph walk for a 155-pound person burns about 167 calories -- and even working up to a light jog of 5 mph burns only 298 calories.

Special Needs

Running is too stressful on some people's bodies. If you suffer from joint problems, back pain or arthritis, the pounding of running can be unbearable. People who are carrying a lot of extra weight may find the pounding of running to be uncomfortable. The elliptical’s smooth movement may be a better choice for weight loss in these situations.

Advantages of Running

You might wonder why anyone would endure the pounding of running when the elliptical offers a comparable, less stressful alternative. Running is more versatile than the elliptical. Running outdoors puts you in touch with nature. Running is also a more social activity -- running clubs offer camaraderie and races give purpose to your workouts beyond calorie burn. The elliptical trainer may become boring over time, and as a result may affect your adherence to your exercise program. If you dread your workouts, they are going to be less effective at helping you to lose weight.

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