It’s a common dilemma among many gym rats -- you can’t decide whether to run on the treadmill or use the elliptical machine, and wonder which is the best exercise. There is no simple answer because many factors come into play, largely dependent on your fitness goals. Figuring out the best aerobic exercise for you depends on what you are looking for in your workout.
Aerobic exercise is a workout of relatively low intensity that you can perform for an extended period of time. Doing aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and muscles while improving circulation and respiration, among other benefits. If aerobic conditioning is your goal, then either running or the elliptical will work for you.
When it comes to weight loss, the elliptical is the best aerobic exercise. Running a 12-minute mile -- a moderate pace -- burns approximately 596 calories per hour for a 155-pound person, while the elliptical burns approximately 670 calories per hour at moderate intensity. Try running outdoors for even greater benefits, because you burn more calories creating your own forward momentum instead of having a treadmill do it for you.
If you’re concerned about the impact on your joints, the elliptical is probably the better aerobic exercise for you. Considered a low-impact exercise, the elliptical causes less stress on your hips, knees and back than running on a treadmill. The elliptical is much less stressful than running on a hard surface such as cement or asphalt. Used correctly, an elliptical shouldn’t cause you knee pain. If you have a knee condition, however, you may still experience knee pain with the elliptical.
Running is the clear winner if you’re on a budget. While elliptical machines usually cost somewhere between $200 and $1,400, all you need for running is a quality pair of running shoes, which may cost you anywhere from $50 to $120. It’s important to shop for your running shoes at a specialty shop that will fit you with a pair that complements your gait and level of pronation. If you opt for running on a treadmill, however, it may be more expensive than an elliptical -- quality treadmills range in price from $1,000 to $2,000.
Many runners choose to complement their runs with exercise on an elliptical because it mimics the motion of running and is easy on the joints. But because the elliptical uses some different muscles, it will not replace running when it comes to training for a race. For this type of training, you must work the proper muscles with ground impact by running on a treadmill or outside. To really get your body ready for race day, the ideal location to run is outdoors.