Treadmill vs. Exercise Bike: Which Is a Better Workout for You?

If you’re looking to add a piece of cardiovascular fitness equipment to your home gym, you may be considering whether to purchase a treadmill or an exercise bike. Both are great for offering variable intensities of workouts that can help you build strength and stamina to get healthier.

But there are some important differences between the two types of gym equipment, and there are several factors you should consider when looking for the right one for your needs and budget.

— Calorie burn.

— Your mobility.

— Your goals.

— Cost.

— Space in the home.

— Talk with a trainer.

— Consistency is key.

Calorie Burn

For many people, a top consideration for selecting a piece of fitness equipment is how many calories you can burn while using it. With treadmills versus exercise bikes, “both machines are great for burning calories and muscle building,” says Jessica Mazzucco, an NYC-area certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit.

You can achieve similar burn rates on either a treadmill or an exercise bike, but because a traditional treadmill means standing up and bearing your own body weight, the actual calorie burn may be a little higher.

For example, if you’re running about 5 or 6 miles per hour on a treadmill, Mazzucco says you can expect to burn about four to six calories per minute. If you’re cycling on a stationary bike, “depending on your resistance and how fast you’re performing,” you can burn about three to six calories per minute, she says.

Over an hour, those calories can really add up, says Matt Camargo, director of ProSport Performance at ProSport Physical Therapy and Performance, with locations across southern California.

“Individuals can burn around 600 to 800 calories in an hour with a treadmill,” versus about “400 to 500 calories in an hour on a bike. But that’s with the big caveat that calorie burn rates vary greatly depending on your age, genetics, weight, gender and other factors.

And “calorie burn rates depend primarily on the effort you’re putting into them,” Mazzucco adds.

[Read: Peloton vs. Echelon — Which Exercise Bike Is Best?]

Your Mobility

Another factor to consider is your own ability to do a workout on a particular machine. For example, if you have arthritis in your knees, riding a bike might be easier than walking on a treadmill because you’re seated and the activity is not weight-bearing. Similarly, if you have problems with your feet, such as plantar fasciitis, sitting on a bike might be a better option than the full weight-bearing aspects of walking or running on a treadmill.

“The exercise bike is typically better suited for geriatric populations due to the ability to be in a sitting position while exerting energy,” Camargo says. By comparison, a traditional treadmill is probably the better option for people with no injuries or mobility issues and those wanting a more intense workout.

“Treadmill work is more dynamic since you are not just sitting, meaning more energy is required to be effective during movement,” Camargo says.

However, it’s not always a cut-and-dried, either-or decision when it comes to finding the right machine for your mobility needs. Newer devices have begun to crop up in that space in between treadmill and exercise bike as a sort of hybrid of both. Namely, treadmills that you can use while seated have surged in popularity as many people pivoted to working from home during the pandemic.

Joanna Medin, CEO and cofounder of Onthemuv, Inc., the Silicon Valley-based maker of the miniTREAD seated treadmill, says their portable treadmill was originally designed to help older adults with mobility problems get some exercise where they are in a gentle and efficient way.

However, during the pandemic, the company, which had been using a business-to-business model to sell to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other congregate living facilities, pivoted to sell their small device to the throngs of people now working from home.

Though the miniTREAD was originally designed to fit under a wheelchair, those dimensions have made it ideally suited to fit under a desk for people looking to squeeze a little more fitness time into their busy workdays or while homeschooling.

“Because you’re seated, the stretch (in the legs) is more like what you’d feel on a bicycle,” Medin says. “You’re engaging your hamstrings and your quads.” But she says the calorie burn rate is similar to a traditional treadmill. And because you can sit on the couch or in a comfortable chair and use it, that eliminates the sometimes-uncomfortable bike seat. It’s a good option for people with limited lower limb mobility because it’s non-weight-bearing and minimal impact.

No matter your specific situation, when selecting a piece of equipment, think about what movements you’re able to do and what will help you achieve fitness without exacerbating existing mobility limitations or other health conditions.

[Read: What Is the 12-3-30 Treadmill Workout?]

Your Goals

Another factor to consider is your goals in adding a piece of home exercise equipment, Mazzucco says.

“A treadmill is good for belly fat loss, strengthening the heart, muscle toning and bone strengthening.” Running on a treadmill is a high-impact exercise, so it places more strain on your knees and other joints. It can also offer some upper body workout benefits too.

On the other hand, “the stationary bike provides more of a workout for the glutes, calves and thighs,” she explains. “It’s also good for muscle toning, weight loss, strengthening the heart and increasing lung capacity.” A stationary bike typically doesn’t offer much in the way of upper body exercise, so that’s something to consider.

If you’re training for a marathon run, a treadmill is probably the more directly helpful purchase. If you’re into triathlon, either machine is good. If you just want to get fitter without putting too much impact on your feet and knees, an exercise bike is probably the better choice.

[Read: Treadmill vs. Elliptical: Which Is Better?]

Cost

Cost can vary a lot within each category from simple stationary bikes that cost around $200 up to high-end connected bikes that cost more than $2,000. With this variability in mind, it all comes down to features and the brand backing the piece of machinery.

Still, bikes tend to be a little less expensive than treadmills on average. “Bikes can run in price around $200 to $800, while treadmills typically range from $200 to $2,500,” Camargo says.

Mazzucco also recommends considering machine durability and maintenance. “The treadmill is more likely to need some type of servicing as there can be issues with the motor, belt and incline.” Keeping up that maintenance may require some additional money later on as the machine ages.

Space in the Home

You also have to consider where you’re going to put the machine and how much room it’s going to take up. Exercise bikes tend to have a smaller footprint than most treadmills, but not always.

Traditional treadmills tend to be very heavy, so you have to make sure your home can withstand the weight of the machine and you pounding away on it.

Exercise bikes tend to weigh less and take up less room, but still need a designated area in the home.

For the smallest spaces, Medin says the miniTREAD is ideal. It weighs less than 25 pounds, so is much more portable than a traditional treadmill. “If people are coming over and you don’t want to leave it out, you can tuck it in your coat closet.” That’s not usually possible with most traditional treadmills or exercise bikes.

Talk With a Trainer

Camargo recommends working with a fitness professional, such as a trainer or a coach, to help you develop reasonable fitness goals and a detailed training plan. This can help you figure out which machine can offer you the best bang for your buck and which will help you meet your goals most efficiently.

Consistency Is Key

At the end of the day, the best machine for you is the one you’re going to use consistently. Whether that means getting up for a spin class most mornings on your connected bike, logging steps throughout the day on a seated treadmill, or running miles on a full-sized treadmill in the basement in the evening, the machine you enjoy using regularly is the best one for you.

“The key to making the right purchase is thinking about what’s right for you and which machine you’ll use consistently,” Mazzucco says. ” Staying consistent will help you accomplish your fitness goals more quickly.”

Medin notes that for some people, a treadmill can become an expensive clothes rack as enthusiasm for workouts on the machine can wane over time. A machine that you can use while watching TV or engaging in another activity is one way to avoid that kind of boredom and encourage consistent use.

Lastly, Mazzucco notes that you don’t have to use just one kind of workout either. “I would recommend incorporating different types of workouts into your routine, not just cardio training. Try integrating strength training, flexibility training and other types of exercises to target different muscle groups. Using only a stationary bike or a treadmill for fitness without any weight bearing exercises doesn’t provide a well-rounded fitness routine.”

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Treadmill vs. Exercise Bike: Which Is a Better Workout for You? originally appeared on usnews.com

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