Whether you’re looking to add a piece of cardio equipment to your home gym or you’re trying to decide which machine at the gym is worth your time, both the treadmill and the exercise bike can offer a great workout. But the positives and negatives associated with each machine depend on you, and what exactly you want to get out of your workout.
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.
Top factors to consider include:
— Calorie burn.
— Your level of experience.
— Your mobility.
— Risk of injury.
— Your goals.
— Exercise classes.
— Space in the home.
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 conditioning,” says Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City-area certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit, a personal training service.
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.
Your Level of Experience
If you’re new to working out, here’s some good news: The treadmill and the exercise bike are very beginner friendly — both in terms of ease of use of the machine and the workout they provide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week to avoid chronic illness. While that may sound intimidating at first, breaking that down to a daily, 30-minute brisk walk on the treadmill or light bike ride is a very practical way to start exercising.
“Typically for a walker or leisurely rider the calories burned per hour will be roughly the same,” says Jenny Harkins, a certified group fitness instructor and owner of Treadfit, a fitness facility in Chicago. “However, a difference occurs when the walker becomes a runner. Running on a treadmill will beat a stationary bike any day on calories burned.”
So again, it comes down to whether or not weight loss and calories burned are part of your fitness goals. And as with any new workout, ease in slowly to avoid injury.
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-dry, 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 co-founder 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 physical activity 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.” 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.
Even without preexisting mobility issues, risk of injury should be a concern for all active adults — and the treadmill and exercise bike both have different risk levels.
Running, including running on a treadmill, is considered a high-impact exercise. The repetitive motion of your feet hitting the ground puts stress on your joints. While there are benefits to high-impact exercise, like increased bone density, over-exercising or improper form can risk injury to the knees and back.
Because your feet stay firmly inside the petals as when you use an exercise bike, it’s considered a low-impact exercise. That means that even during a high-intensity exercise, the smooth, circular motion trains your muscles without putting too much pressure on your joints.
“Injury can come from any type of exercise,” says Harkins. “It is important to make sure that you have good form and stay at a pace that is comfortable for you on both the treadmill and stationary bike.”
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, unless it’s a version with an upper-body component.
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 fit without putting too much impact on your feet and knees, an exercise bike is probably the better choice.
The cost of an exercise bike varies widely. While you can find some bare bones models around the $200 price point, more tech-savvy models cost a few thousand dollars. For some bikes, you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to unlock all features and classes the machine has to offer.
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.
Both exercise bikes and treadmills are one-person machines, but that doesn’t mean you have to exercise solo. For the price of a bike and the monthly fee of its adjoining app, Peloton, for example, offers live-streamed and prerecorded spin classes, which provides the group exercise class experience at home. The company NordicTrack offers a similar model for the treadmill.
“There are many benefits to a class environment,” Harkins says, like accountability and a positive, high energy environment. With that, if you’re not ready to take the plunge and purchase such a large piece of exercise equipment yet, you can always check to see if your local gym offers cycling or treadmill training classes.
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. 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 have a smaller footprint than most treadmills, but not always. Though they often weigh less and take up less room, they 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 it’s 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 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.”
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.
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
Update 12/15/21: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.