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Cardio exercise is incredibly important to maintain heart health. And while it’s easy to immediately turn to running outdoors or on a treadmill, your cardio options aren’t that limited.
Both elliptical machines and stationary bikes offer great cardio workouts and can be better suited for you than a treadmill or plain running. With that being said, ellipticals and bikes have similar benefits, they also have several distinguishing features. If you’re interested in learning more about these two machines, continue down below where we offer a glimpse into their similarities, differences, pros and cons.
Elliptical vs. bike: muscles worked
While ellipticals offer a full-body workout by targeting both your upper body and lower body at the same time, a stationary bike provides a more targeted workout that engages your lower body. Both elliptical machines and stationary bikes boost your cardiovascular endurance and help tone your muscles.
A stationary bike mainly targets the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. The bike's pedal motion mainly focuses on the leg muscles, you can adjust the resistance level to make pedaling harder, which targets the lower body muscles more intensely. While stationary bikes don’t engage the upper body as much as the elliptical machine, some models (like air bikes) have movable handlebars that can engage the biceps, triceps, and shoulders to a lesser extent.
Elliptical machines, on the other hand, work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. They target the lower body, including the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. The machine has foot pedals that require you to pedal back and forth which engages the core muscles, including the abdominals and lower back. Additionally, your arms get involved in the workout as you hold onto the handles and move them back and forth in coordination with the leg movements, which engage the biceps, triceps, and shoulders. This full-body workout makes the elliptical machine a popular choice for those looking to tone multiple muscle groups while burning calories.
Impact on joints
The effect on your joints is an important consideration when it comes to choosing a cardio workout. Both elliptical machines and stationary bikes offer a low-impact cardio workout that’s gentle on your joints and reduces the amount of stress compared to higher-impact exercises like running.
Elliptical machines have pedals that you slip your feet into during the duration of the workout and move in a smooth back-and-forth motion that imitates the motion that your feet perform when walking or running. However, as your feet never leave the pedals, the movement is designed to be easy on your joints and reduce the impact on your knees, hips and ankles. Most elliptical machines also have handles which provide additional support that reduces stress on your shoulders and back. If you experience joint pain or are recovering from an injury, an elliptical workout is an ideal choice in comparison to higher-impact cardio.
In a similar way, stationary bikes offer a low impact workout that is also easy on your joints. This exercise machine also has pedals which are designed to be gentle on the knees, hips and ankles. Stationary bikes also have a degree of adjustability that allows you to customize the amount of resistance. This means that the machine provides the flexibility for you to adapt your workout depending on your level of fitness and joint comfort.
Elliptical vs bike for burning calories
If losing weight is one of the goals of your workouts, then both elliptical machines and stationary bikes can help you achieve this. Both pieces of exercise equipment offer effective cardiovascular workouts to help you burn calories and increase your level of fitness.
As mentioned, ellipticals provide a full-body workout that can help you burn a significant amount of calories. Since your feet are pedaling at the same time as you’re pumping the handles back and forth, you’re engaging multiple muscle groups at once which increases the amount of energy your body expends, causing you to lose a high number of calories. The exact amount of calories burned per workout will depend on several factors including your age, weight and the intensity of your workout. On average, you can expect to burn anywhere between 270 to 378 calories per 30-minute workout.
A stationary bike workout provides a similar advantage and is likewise effective in burning calories. The exact amount of calories burned on a stationary bike will also depend on the same factors — namely, your age, weight and level of intensity. In a 30-minute workout session, you can expect to lose somewhere between 210 to 440 calories. Of course, the more you increase your intensity (the speed at which you’re pedaling and the level of resistance), the higher in this range your calorie burn will be.
Elliptical vs bike for adjustability
Customization is an important part of a decision to purchase a workout machine. Over time, you’ll notice your endurance increase and your fitness level improve, which will encourage you to increase the intensity of your workout. In addition, if more than one person is using this machine, you’ll need to adjust it in order for it to be comfortable and safe for everyone who plans on using it.
Ellipticals provide a high level of adjustability that will allow you to customize your workout to individual needs. You can change the level of resistance which will cause the workout to be either more challenging or easier to complete. You can also adjust the incline of the machine’s pedals and the handles of the cardio machine, which will help you target different muscle groups. Some ellipticals offer you the ability to also adjust your stride length allowing people of different heights to comfortably use it. With that said, if this is an important consideration, be mindful of the fact that not all kinds of ellipticals offer this feature.
Exercise bikes also offer a high degree of adjustability. Similar to ellipticals, the resistance on a stationary bike can also be changed to accommodate for higher-intensity workouts. Many workout bikes offer more customization options than those available for ellipticals. For instance, most stationary bikes are equipped with an adjustable bike seat so that the workout is comfortable regardless of your height. Additionally, many of these bikes come with handlebars that provide additional support.
Best home gym option
Both ellipticals and exercise bikes are excellent additions to a home gym because they both offer a great cardio workout. Your choice between them will depend on personal preference, budget and available space. Typically, stationary bikes are more affordable than elliptical machines, making them a great choice for those who cannot afford more expensive cardio equipment. The average price range for a stationary bike is between $400-$500, although they can range to $1500+, depending on the brand and its features. Ellipticals, on the other hand, can be anywhere from $400-$1000.
Apart from price, stationary bikes tend to be more compact in size than ellipticals. This means they’re easier to store and may be a better fit for those who don’t have extra room (with high ceilings) dedicated to a home gym. There are different types of stationary bikes such as an upright bike and recumbent bike, which offer different features and levels of comfort. Generally, upright bikes take up less space and are usually the more affordable option. Ellipticals are typically larger, though it’s possible to find ellipticals that are smaller in size to accommodate those with limited space in their homes.
Pros and cons of elliptical vs bike
To summarize what we’ve discussed and provide a little more insight into the benefits and downfalls of a stationary bike vs an elliptical machine, we’ve included the various pros and cons of both an elliptical machine and an exercise bike below:
Pros of elliptical machine
Easy on your joints, including knees and ankles
Versatile and customizable based on your fitness level
Cons of elliptical machine
Not as good as other forms of exercise for building bone density and improving balance and stability
Higher price tag than bikes on average
Can take up a lot of room in the home
Pros of stationary bike
Helps build muscle strength in the lower body
Customizable to different fitness levels
High calorie burn in short amount of time
Less costly than ellipticals on average
Take up less space than ellipticals
Cons of stationary bike
Not a full-body workout
If you enjoy higher impact exercises, a bike may not be for you
Is an elliptical or bike better for weight loss?
The calorie burn on an elliptical versus an exercise bike is comparable for a 30-minute workout. This means that they are equally effective for the purpose of weight loss. Inevitably, however, the amount that you lose will depend on your age, weight and intensity of your workout.
What burns more belly fat, an elliptical or a bike?
Although both an elliptical and an exercise bike will help with calorie burn and promote weight loss, neither machine targets belly fat specifically. The most effective way to lose belly fat is a combination of cardio exercise, strength training, and a healthy diet. With that said, ellipticals have the benefit of being a full-body workout that engages your core, which can help with toning your stomach, whereas an exercise bike is exclusively a lower-body workout.
As we’ve seen both an exercise bike and an elliptical are effective cardio machines with their distinct set of pros and cons. Ultimately, your decision regarding which machine to use or purchase will depend on your goals, personal preferences and available space. You may enjoy the activity that biking provides. On the other hand, getting a full-body workout may be a bigger priority for you, so you may be more drawn to ellipticals. In both cases, you’ll be getting a great cardio workout, while improving your endurance and cardiovascular health.