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

Whether you’re looking to add a piece of cardio equipment to your home gym or 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.

The top factors to consider include:

— Calorie burn.

— Your level of experience.

— Your mobility.

— Risk of injury.

— Your goals.

— Cost.

— Exercise classes.

— Space in the home.

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 conditioning,” says Jess Brown, 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. However, 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, Brown 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, adds Matt Camargo, regional director of sports performance at ProSport Physical Therapy and Performance in Southern California.

You can burn around 600 to 800 calories in an hour on a treadmill versus about 400 to 500 calories in an hour on a bike, he says. “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,” Brown adds.

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

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 machine use 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. 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 group fitness franchise 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.

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


Another factor to consider is your own ability to work out on a particular machine. For example, if you have arthritis in your knees, riding a bike might be easier than walking on a treadmill; on a bike, 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.

Specific health conditions can also impact your choice. Karena Wu, a doctor of physical therapy and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy, a practice with locations in New York City and Mumbai, India, says she recommends clients use the bike “when they cannot tolerate weight-bearing forces through the hip or knee.”

However, she says, “if they have low back issues, like disc herniations, then I recommend the client uses a treadmill and only walks, and walks with an incline to emphasize the low back extension.”

Still, 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 the space between the treadmill and the 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 were, 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.

Although 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 not weight bearing and has 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: Peloton vs. Echelon — Which Exercise Bike Is Best?]


Even without preexisting mobility issues, the 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 exercises — such as increased bone density — overexercising or improper form can risk injury to the knees and back.

Your feet stay firmly inside the pedals when you use an exercise bike, so biking is considered a low-impact exercise. This 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.”

Your Goals

Your goals are another factor to consider when using home exercise equipment. Ryan Olson, a doctor of physical therapy and clinical director at Capitol Physical Therapy in Madison, Wisconsin, explains that “a treadmill is great for a relatively healthy individual — someone with no significant joint pain or cardiovascular problems — who’s looking to really improve their cardiovascular fitness and endurance.”

Brown adds that “a treadmill is good for belly fat loss, strengthening the heart, muscle toning and bone strengthening.” It can also offer some upper-body workout benefits too; your core must be engaged to keep you standing upright, and you can pump your arms as you walk or run or add resistance bands to create a full-body workout all at once.

On the other hand, “the stationary bike provides more of a workout for the glutes, calves and thighs,” Brown 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.

Think about what you really want to do with this machine. If you’re training for a marathon run, for example, a treadmill may be the more directly helpful purchase. Plus, Olson notes that if you live in a colder climate like Wisconsin and are training for a running race, a treadmill can help you do that without the risk of injury or exposure to extreme cold outside.

If you’re into triathlons, either machine is good. The exercise bike can help simulate the biking portion of the race, while the treadmill can keep your training on track for the running portion. Both build overall fitness to help you endure longer athletic efforts.

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.

If you’re looking to age well, then either machine can help. Julia Connolly, a doctor of physical therapy with Fusion Wellness and Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, notes that a treadmill offers a highly useful workout that can help keep you “moving in our most functional task — walking. As we age, it is important to maintain our capacity to move around in the world without difficulty, and treadmill training is something that is easily understandable to many folks who may be newer to gyms or exercise in general.” Because they’re highly adjustable in speed and incline, these machines can be comfortable for a large majority of people.

Olson adds that if you can tolerate a treadmill, “the benefits of utilizing a slightly greater array of muscles in a weight-bearing, upright position is my preference. The act of walking on a treadmill directly mimics the daily activity of walking, and there is great research that shows the faster you walk as you age typically correlates with a longer lifespan.”


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.

Brown 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,” she says. Keeping up that maintenance may require some additional money later on as the machine ages.

Exercise Classes

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 provide 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, such as 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 can be heavy, so you have to make sure your home can withstand the weight of the machine and the wear-and-tear of you pounding away on it.

Exercise bikes tend to have a smaller footprint than most treadmills, but not always. Although 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,” she explains. That’s not usually possible with most traditional treadmills or exercise bikes.

Before You Get Started

Camargo recommends working with a fitness professional, such as a trainer or 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.

Final Decision-Making

At the end of the day, the better machine “is the one that you enjoy and the one you’ll use most consistently,” Connolly says. “Saying one is better inadvertently defines the other as inherently bad. The truth is every human body is unique and you should choose what feels best and what is most accessible.”

Whichever machine you can see yourself using day in and day out over the long term is likely the better choice for you, Brown adds, because “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 cardio 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, Brown 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

Update 02/08/23: The story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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