How does using an elliptical compare against a treadmill and other similar cardio exercises?
This article explores and compares Elliptical Machine exercise against other similar popular forms of exercise:
- Understanding exercise and it’s effect on your body
- Other forms of exercise similar to using an elliptical or treadmill
- Elements of the body each exercise works
- Relative calories burned by each exercise
- Relative price to participate in each exercise
Understanding Exercise and it’s Effects on Your Body
Physical exercise can be grouped into 3 different types based on the kind of changes it makes to your body.
- Flexibility / Stretching
- Aerobic exercise
- Anaerobic exercise
Flexibility is the range of movement you have around a joint, your flexibility is dictated by some predetermined factors you have no control over
- Genetic joint structure
- Length of ligaments
- Length of tendons
Flexibility is also determined by a key factor, which you can change; the length of your muscles that surround your joint(s). Stretching involves slowly expanding your muscles near their maximum length, holding them at that length for a period of time then slowly letting them retract. Doing this repeatedly over a period of time gradually increases the length of your muscles, which in turn provides you with greater flexibility.
As you age you will generally become less flexible, this is caused by a combination of joint deterioration and shrinkage of muscle from lack of usage. While using an Elliptical machine will not increase your flexibility from current levels, it can help keep your muscles and joints active and prevent further the loss of flexibility, particularly in your shoulders, arms and hips.
Aerobic exercise otherwise known as Cardio, is movement performed at the relatively low intensity of 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. Aerobic exercise depends on the use of oxygen to meet your body’s energy demands during exercise. Aerobic exercise has the following effects on your body:
- Strengthening your heart, which improves the efficiency with which it can operate, resulting in lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure
- Increasing the number of red blood cells in your body, these transport oxygen to your muscles, so the more red blood cells you have the more you can work your muscles harder and for longer.
- Increased storage of carbohydrates and fats in your muscles, providing longer muscle endurance
- The creation of new tiny blood vessels within your muscles, which increase the blood flow to the muscles, in turn making them operate more efficiently
- Increased speed of your muscles’ aerobic metabolism, meaning a larger percentage of your energy during intense exercise is generated aerobically.
Your body is built in such a way that performing aerobic exercise improves your ability to perform aerobic exercise. The experience with any cardio exercise is similar, it will be difficult at the beginning, but as long as you are working out at least 20 minutes a session, 3 or more times a week, you will find it easier and easier as time goes on and will be able to push yourself even harder and longer. When using an elliptical machine the majority of your exercise will be aerobic.
Anaerobic exercise is where you heart is beating at 80% and above of it’s maximum. At this activity level your body can’t get oxygen to the muscles in time and at the level required to work aerobically so instead your muscles start using sugars stored within the cells of your muscles as a fuel. A by product of using these sugars as a fuel is the production of lactic acid, lactic acid works as your body’s safety throttle mechanism; as lactic acid builds up in your muscles it causes the anaerobic process to become less efficient forcing you to slow down to a point where your body can catch up and start supplying oxygen to the muscles again to work aerobically.
This means you will not stay in anaerobic exercise mode for long at any one period, typically from a mater of seconds up to 3 minutes, after that your body will move back into aerobic mode. The buildup of lactic acid is the burning feeling you experience in your muscles when you push them to your max. While using an elliptical machine if you push yourself you will start to perform anaerobic exercise in addition to aerobic for short periods of time, however the majority of the exercise will be performed aerobically.
Other Exercise Similar to Using an Elliptical or Treadmill
In comparing Elliptical exercise against other forms of exercise I’ll use the following other exercises, which are generally the most popular aerobic exercises:
- Circuit training
- Fitness classes such as Aerobics, Dance or Zumba
- Martial Arts
Stretching is often performed before any of these exercises, which can increase flexibility, for example during the course of a martial arts class stretching is often performed. However in general the performance of these exercises like using an elliptical machine, will not increase your flexibility levels but can prevent you from losing any more flexibility. Like using an elliptical machine, all of these forms of exercise can work your body aerobically and anaerobically depending on your intensity level.
Elements of the Body Each Exercise Works
Elliptical Machine Workout
When using the elliptical machine you are driving with both your arms and legs, engaging your shoulders and hips and then using your core muscles stability, this give you a full body workout.
(Take a look at the Elliptical Workouts Pal for your ideal workout, with over 100 to chose the easy to use selector will find the one right for you.)
A good circuit training session will be specifically designed to focus on different muscle groups, so as you complete the circuit you will be working all the major body areas.
During cycling your main level of effort and work is focused on your legs and hips.
Zumba Fitness Classes
Within a Zumba Fitness class or other form of dance / fitness class the sessions are choreographed with the intention of giving you a full body workout. Some individual sessions may focus on one body area rather than another but over time you should be engaging all major muscle groups.
In a martial arts class you focus on different body areas as you perform different techniques. Kicks will concentrate on your hips and legs, blocks and strikes work your arms and everything will build your core either engaged for balance or in order to drive techniques from waist rotation.
Rowing is a full body exercise, simultaneously pushing out with your legs and pulling with your arms engages all those muscles as well as your core for stability.
During a running session you will be working your hips and legs and relying on your core for balance and stability. Although you may be moving your arms when running, this offers no resistance and the impact is fairly negligible.
Depending on the stroke being used you can focus your swimming muscles on one area more than another but in general swimming is a good all round body exercise, engaging your shoulders and arms to pull you through the water, your hips and legs to push you and your core muscles to keep your body flat and streamlined in the water.
Walking similar to running will primarily be focusing on your hips and leg muscles, while also using your core for balance and stability.
Relative Calories Burned by Each Exercise
Here’s a comparison of the calories burned during performing all the aerobic exercises from above. At first reading of this you may think the elliptical workout is one of the worst for you to use, but lets explore some of the finer points of this. A number of the exercises towards the left require a considerable amount of expertise before you could even hope to perform them at that level.
- Martial Arts
Comparing Attainable Calories Burned During Aerobic Exercises
Now you can see the number of attainable calories burned through one hour of aerobic exercise is broadly similar, so it now becomes a decision about which one works best for you.
Relative Price to Participate in Each Exercise
Here’s a look at how the relative prices of the exercises compare against each other, both taking the budget approach to each and the deluxe approach to each.
Running / Walking
- Grab a pair of running shoes and go road running for $50 – $100
- Cheap treadmills like the Phoenix 98510 Easy-Up Manual Treadmill will cost you around $150
- Medium priced treadmills such as the Proform 505 CST Treadmill will go for about $600
- Top of the range treadmills like the LifeSpan TR 1200i Folding Treadmill will set you back in the region of $1,000
- Do it at home on your own with something like Zumba fitness home workout for $70
- Zumba classes are typically $5 – $10, so 3 times a week 48 weeks a year would cost you between $720 – $1,440 for the year.
- Basic indoor rowing machines like the Stamina 1050 Body Trac Glider Rowing Machine cost around $100 – $150
- You can pickup a kayak for between $100 – $500
- The deluxe Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine typically goes for about $900
- Use the rowing machine in the gym with average monthly membership of $55 this rolls out at $660 per year
- An at home exercise bike such as the Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Bike will cost around $120
- A mountain bike like the GMC Topkick Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike will cost you $250
- Do it yourself at home with an exercise step for $90 and dumbbell Set $65, total cost $155
- Take classes at $10 per class 3 times a week for 48 weeks of the year will cost you $1,440
- Or go one to one in your classes for $200 per month running out at $2,400 per year
- Pick up a budget elliptical machine such as the Exerpeutic 1000 for $160
- Grab a deluxe model like the Sole Fitness E35 for around $1,000
- If you live by a river, lake or sea this is the cheapest of all cheap exercises it’s FREE
- Community swimming pool access is typically around $5 per session, so 3 times a week, 48 weeks a year would cost around $720 per year
- Building your own cheap pool at home would cost between $1,500 and $5,000
- Joining a martial arts club will usually cost around $65 per month so that’s about $780 per year
- Personalized tuition will be double so $1,500 per year
So in summary; we looked at the areas of the body which will be worked by an elliptical vs treadmill or other exercise types, we found using an elliptical machine will work your whole body, as would Zumba, martial arts, circuit training, rowing and swimming, whereas cycling, or using a treadmill for running or walking will only work your legs, hips and core.
You could expect to burn a similar number of calories with an elliptical machine as rowing or cycling, more calories than walking or starting martial arts and slightly less than running, swimming, Zumba or circuit training.
When taking the budget approach to exercise, buying an elliptical machine is broadly similar cost to running, walking, Zumba, rowing, cycling or circuit training and much cheaper than swimming or martial arts.
When taking the deluxe approach to exercise buying an elliptical machine is more expensive than cycling, similar price as running, walking Zumba or rowing and much cheaper than circuit training, swimming or martial arts.
All in all if you want a calorie burning aerobic exercise which works your whole body and is relatively cheap whichever route you take, budget or deluxe, you have three main options:
- Elliptical Training
- Zumba or other dance / aerobics
If you’ve decided you want to buy an elliptical head over to our Elliptical Machine pal to find which one is right for you.