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Elliptical Vs. Treadmill

Hello everyone. I have a question.

I have been running on a treadmill for years. My goal is to one day run a marathon. My problem is that by the time I get in that kind of shape, I don't think my knees will last.

I have never used an elliptical. How does it match up against the treadmill and will it bring me closer or further away from my goal?

Fri. Feb 22, 3:54pm

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The thing about the elliptical is that it is easy to misuse...but if you use it correctly it is a very powerful cardio tool. Make sure you aren't leaning on the rails, try and balance yourself and only use the rails when you need to steady yourself. I found it much more difficult to push myself hard on the elliptical than the treadmill, but like you the impact makes it a more desirable machine for me. Good luck!

Friday, February 22, 2008, 4:03 PM

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I agree with the last post. The only other thing I would add is to make sure that you set the resistance high enough to challenge yourself on the elliptical. I see it every morning, there is always someone who thinks they are getting a great cardio workout just because they are going fast. Without the resistance it's really a waste of time.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 4:21 PM

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PP - I do agree that you should use resistance because you burn more calories, but if you don't add resistance, overall you're still burning calories. You'd have to do a longer workout if the resistance is low that if it's a higher resistance.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 4:43 PM

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Your are absolutely right. You are still burning calories without the resistance turned up. If it's a matter of calories, you want to burn the most calories you can in your workout to maximize you results. In this case it's being used as a training tool for a marathon. I guarantee that running on a treadmill is a better workout than just spinning the wheels on an elliptical with no resistance.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 5:03 PM

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People who run properly are much less likely to have knee problems. Knee problems result from impact when your knees are out of alignment- which many people's are.

Ellipticals have constant pressure on your knees, and more often than not, your knees are out of alignment while on them. They have no impact, but they are NOT good for your knees. And, they can be damaging to your back if your are spending an hour working out with you hips and shoulders out of alignment.

I refuse to use an elliptical. I have had knee injuries from a fall, plantar faciitis, and a sprained ankle, and I always always stick to the treadmill, no matter what. When I sold fitness equip while going to university, I had customer's who couldn't figure out why their chiro's told them not to buy ellipticals, until I explained and demonstrated everything to them.

You will rarely ever see anyone who is involved in functional fitness advocate an elliptical, because all an elliptical helps with is some fat loss. They don't make you much better at anything. And they certainly don't help you run better.

Personal opinion, the elliptical is the biggest sham going on in the fitness industry now, and a misinformed public is just lapping it up.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 5:09 PM

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If you are looking for a low impact way to effectively train for running I would recommend swimming over the elliptical. And I <3 my elliptical, so I'm not saying that lightly. I have health issues that require me to be very, very careful about impact and the elliptical is one of the few conveinient, no fuss options - just hop on and you can get a good low-impact workout. However it is a little unnatural for body movement - you have to be very vigilant about form to keep from stressing hips and knees. I am simply grateful that I have a low-impact way to do cardio and you can get a good cardio workout no doubt, but it's not that much like running.

However before that I used to run, and swimming is an excellent low-impact conditioner for running. The breathing, upper and lower body strengthening and coordination plus the cardio conditioning can't be beat. Plus you can 'run' in the pool with a float belt and get a great workout because you're pushing against the resistance of the water. Swimming definitely helped my running get to a whole different level. I don't swim often now because I don't have a pool in close proximity, but if you do, I'd definitely go for swimming over ellipital as conditioning for a marathon.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 5:58 PM

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I've also had problems with the elliptial. I have narrow hips and the feet plates on ellipticals are always too far apart for me. I can use it for about 30 minutes before my toes fall alseep and get all tingly. I'm not sure what causes that but I figure it can't be good.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 6:10 PM

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PP - same here...can't use I just walk out side going up hills...eventually down them too :)

Friday, February 22, 2008, 6:27 PM

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6:10 PM
I have back problems & my physical therapist said that my toes get tingly because of the pain in my back, it just gets that bad that it goes all the way down to my toes. They feel like pins & needles all the time.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 6:32 PM

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I agree with everything above (even the part about my feet falling asleep on the elliptical -- so weird!). I would just add for the OP that in case you haven't done so yet (but you probably have if you're a serious enough runner to consider a marathon), it's definitely worth going in to a good running store and being "fitted" for running shoes. The places I've been to, the people really know what they're doing. The first time I got the proper shoes, it made a LOT of difference on my knees because they corrected for my improper alignment. The shoes are usually priced up a bit, but you can memorize the name/look of the shoe and then order online if you want.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 8:10 PM

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FYI, Shoes can certainly assist in keeping proper alignment, but shoes are not often enough. One has to ensure hip to knee to ankle alignment. This means your feet must be pointing straight, and not slightly askew.

Friday, February 22, 2008, 8:59 PM

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You aren't supposed to hold on to the railing things on an elliptical? I always do this throughout my workout.. what is the difference? Am I not burning very many calories this way?

Friday, February 22, 2008, 11:58 PM

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You will not burn as many calories holding the railings.

It is much better to use your own muscles to balance you while you are on the machine.

Saturday, February 23, 2008, 12:28 AM

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I use the elliptical every day for 60 min. I have bad knees and can't take running on the treadmill anymore. I don't hang on the rails anymore, at first this may seem akward but if you do it enough it feels fine. Whenever my toes feel numb or tingly I reverse and go backwards for awhile, it always goes away after that. Hope it helps.

Saturday, February 23, 2008, 4:43 PM

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I have no idea physiologically what the difference between a 30 min workout on the elip. v. the treadmill is for me - but I FEEL like I am working WAY harder on the treadmill and even though the "calories burned monitor" will read about the same for the two, i lose weight much easier when i am doing the treadmill more and elip. less.
I shou add that i have really bad knee probablem and can not even extend my left leg fully. I can only run 40 min /day - 3 days in a row before i get really bad back and knee aches, but i still do it because it is such a great workout compared to everything else (besides swimming).

Saturday, February 23, 2008, 10:48 PM

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Hi there,
I work with a woman who used to be an Olympic runner and she HATES running on a treadmill. Her reason is this: Treadmills are designed to absorb some impact and energy, therefore it actually takes MORE energy to run on a treadmill than it does to run on a hard surface.... (Think about how much harder it is to run in sand vs. on concrete-- the sand absorbs a lot of energy, so it takes more to get you airborne again...

I guess it has to do with your body's muscles being able to recoil better when the surface is firmer.... If I remember correctly, she told me that when she does occasionally have to run on the treadmill, she adjusts it to a more rigid tension.

I only walk on my treadmill, but I do notice that when I am running, I tend to tire out quicker than running outside....

I only use my elliptical every so often--I prefer how my hips and legs feel on the treadmill.

Sunday, February 24, 2008, 12:21 AM

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For me (OP) who is attempting to run a marathon, wouldn't your friend's comments actaully be benificial for me? According to what you are saying... if I can run 10 miles on the treadmill, I should be able to run 15 on the street. Wouldn't that in fact be saving my knees?

Monday, February 25, 2008, 10:51 AM

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tingly feet

I saw someone (orthoptist??) about this ....toes get numb and tingly because of incorrect shoes and insufficient arch support.....proper shoes take that away...

Monday, February 25, 2008, 10:59 AM

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Way to stay on topic! Great thread!

Kudos to ALL of you members posting information pertaining to the subject matter in this thread! Great exchange of information in answer to OPs question! :) :) :)

Monday, February 25, 2008, 11:58 AM

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PP- why don't you go away? You're NOT on topic, and I find your comments to be of the Captain Obvious variety, which I find insulting to anyone with intelligence. So don't ruin a good thing- your cheerleader praise isn't needed.

Monday, February 25, 2008, 2:50 PM

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Oh sheesh...

12:21 I find the opposite true. I always seem to find it easier to run on a treadmill than outside. I always figured it was easier to have the ground move under me than have to move myself over the ground. Maybe it's just what ever your used to. I started out on the treadmill and have only recently started running anywhere else. Either way, I prefer running to elliptical.

Monday, February 25, 2008, 3:13 PM

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PP - don't you think that was a bit mean-spirited? Pick your battles :) And smile. :)

Monday, February 25, 2008, 3:19 PM

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I'm not 2:50, but only because she beat me to the comment. Someone is hopping on a handful of threads and trying the "applaud good behavior" tactic like we're a bunch of first graders. She should just stick to the etiquette thread.

Now, back to the topic at hand...
Google "best running surfaces" and check out a few articles on how they compare - I've linked one below. It also helps to have shoes that are suited to the certain surfaces.

The elliptical is fine for maintaining your cardio capacity (just make sure your heartrate is the same as it is when you're running), but doesn't completely prepare you for real running. Running is very hamstring intensive, and I believe the elliptical is skewed a bit more towards the quads, especially if you ramp it up. You definitely need to do it without holding on to make sure you are engaging your inner thighs and abs, because when it comes to endurance running, these are the last soldiers fighting to keep you vertical.


Monday, February 25, 2008, 11:55 PM

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Eliptical vs Treadmill

My opinion as an experienced personal trainer is for you to run outside as much as you can. Treadmills are great if the weather is too inclimate, and it helps to increase your cardio fitness. In order to really build up your leg muscle endurance and strength it's BEST and necessary to train your body to run outside, since marathon's are held outdoors. With elipticals you don't have the impact forces on your joints like you get with running (good for knee and ankle problems). I think a better option for you would be to do some strength training vs. using an eliptical though. Research has proven that it helps your conditioning/endurance. One important thing though is about your knees. If you don't think they will last in a marathon, is it really worth it to you to cause damage to your body that you will live with the rest of your life, just for one race? Also, you could have knee, ankle or hip alignment issues that will only worsen if you continue to run. Well, I could go on and on, sorry, but I hope I helped.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008, 9:04 PM

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Treadmills v. Ellipticals

There is a good article on exactly this topic at

Both treadmills and ellipticals can be found at


Thursday, March 18, 2010, 10:37 PM

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A good article? A 5 year old could write a better article. The fact is holding on to elliptical arms does nothing, as they move in tandem with your feet. Moreoever, the article completely ignores the way ellipticals put the body out of linear alignment (which can lead to injuries) and that proper walking or running does work the back and arms.

Further, having worked in fitness stores for 5 years, pro-form was Nordic Tracks entry level line, and they were crap. I would never trust anyone who recommended them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010, 11:41 PM

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Thursday, September 23, 2010, 9:19 AM

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i prefer the elliptical

i have been using the elliptical for the last three years and i love it.
i definitely think it burns calories and shapes my legs.
my legs are definitely toned and sculpted, it works the butt, abs and arms.
i prefer the elliptical versus the treadmill.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011, 8:53 PM

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team elliptical

i use both in my workout everyday but i prefer the elliptical
it feels easier on my knees than the treadmill
pumipng my arms burns more calories, and i also use 3 pds weights on the elliptical for more arm toning
it helps me work on my balance
i can go faster on the elliptical than the treadmill

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