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Elliptical vs. Running: What Are the Differences?
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Elliptical vs. Running: What Are the Differences?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 August 8
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7 min

We’ve looked at the similarities, as well as the differences between these two popular exercises, so you can choose the one that is right for you.

elliptical vs running

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Although running is a popular exercise, the effects of elliptical workouts are less well-known, which might not be a good thing considering its many benefits. 

Although these two exercises are similar in their movements, they vary in their level of impact and are therefore a better fit for some more than others.

In this article, we will be weighing the benefits of these two popular exercises, helping readers to choose the workout that will ultimately help them get one step closer to their fitness goals. 

Elliptical vs. Running

Exercising on an elliptical machine involves more or less the same movement as running. It differs in that running on an elliptical machine involves basically no impact, so it puts very little stress on the joints.

On an elliptical machine, you have the option to adjust the incline and resistance to imitate running, walking, or climbing stairs without the same jarring impact that you would experience doing any of these exercises outdoors.

Generally, elliptical machines are chosen as a less intense option to get more or less the same workout as you would running, although running tends to burn more calories and prepare the body for more functional movement than exercising on elliptical machines.

Budget Comparison

Running will always be the cheapest and most accessible form of exercise because it requires nothing more than a pair of running shoes.

An elliptical workout requires access to an elliptical workout, which means either investing in a gym membership or a machine for you to use at home. 

If you are trying to decide between purchasing an elliptical machine and a treadmill, there is no large price difference between the two. 

They have similar designs with more or less the same level of function and will run you between $150–3000 depending on the level of quality you choose to invest in. If you are on a tight budget, you might consider looking for something used. 

Burned Calories

Running will always be regarded as one of the best exercises for burning a high number of calories. 

Since elliptical workouts are more or less the same action as running, the calorie burn will be about the same. 

Especially if you do most of your running on a treadmill since it’s believed that you need to run 15% faster on a treadmill to burn the same amount of calories as you would running outdoors.

30 minutes of running at a moderate pace will bring you to around 360 calories burned, depending on your weight. This number is just a little higher than doing an elliptical workout at the same level of output, which burns around 324 calories. 

Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, either of these exercises will be a viable option. 

As mentioned in the previous section, both elliptical training and running for 30 minutes a day are a quick way to burn calories a high amount of calories and can be helpful in reaching any weight loss goals you set.

Since both exercises burn more or less the same amount of calories, the important difference between the two will be the enjoyment factor between both workouts.

You will always have a better workout and be more consistent with your training when you enjoy what you are doing, so picking something that you feel excited to do every day or even just dread a little less will provide better results in the long run.  

Muscle Gain

Both running and elliptical training are more or less lower body workouts, neither are great for improving upper body strength.

The action of running, which is also performed on the elliptical machine, tends to work out the glutes, hamstrings, and quads with a small amount of stabilization happening through the core muscles.

If you want to quickly increase your muscle strength and make your movements more upper body and core-focused, try doing interval training, specifically sprints and hill workouts, either outdoors, on a treadmill, or on the elliptical machine. 

What Are the Benefits of Running?

Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, and for a good reason. 

#1 Increases bone density

Although running has been thought to be bad for the bones, it is actually even better for bone health than cycling, according to this study

This improvement in bone strength and mass is in part due to the high level of stress that it puts on the bones and the need for them to adapt by becoming stronger.

They grow to meet this new demand in part due to the muscles around your bones contracting when you run. This action squeezes blood into the blood vessels around the bones, helping them to absorb calcium and other important minerals from your bloodstream.  

#2 Can improve mental health

Since running can be done outdoors, it has the upper hand over training on cardio machines since using them can only be done in an indoor space.

Being in green spaces is scientifically proven to improve our concentration, lower stress, and anxiety, and even help us to improve our mood and feel more motivated.

Getting outside to spend time around other people can also stave off feelings of loneliness and depression. 

What Are the Benefits of Elliptical?

Some of the benefits of using an elliptical machine might surprise you. 

#1 Low-impact exercise

Whether or not an activity is considered low or high-impact depends on the amount of stress it puts on your bones and joints while you do it.

Elliptical machines are considered low-impact because even though you are doing the movement of running or stair climbing, which tends to be more impactful for the joints, you are doing so with your feet firmly planted on the pedals, which glide through the air.

Anyone who is heavier in body weight, dealing with injuries, or over 50 is a good candidate for using an elliptical trainer since they need to be more mindful of the stress exercise can put on their body.

#2 Can be done indoors

Although running can also be done indoors on a treadmill, the number of workouts you can do on a treadmill is limited. Unless you’re willing to get winter running ready, ellipticals make for a better workout since you’re able to do them year-round. 

Working out on an elliptical machine, on the other hand, can include stair workouts, uphill training, and more and can be done year-round. 

Rowing and Running Similarities

These two exercises have a lot of similarities, meaning that they will help users experience many of the same benefits, including the ones below.  

#1 Improves cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular health refers to the health of your heart and blood vessels. It is benefitted through doing cardio training, which is basically anything that elevates your heart and keeps it elevated for a long period of time.

Both running and elliptical training are exercises which cardio benefits, which means that they can help prevent cardiovascular disease—things like heart attacks and strokes— which is the leading cause of death worldwide

Most heart disease is caused by a narrowing of heart arteries, which cardio exercise can prevent by increasing blood flow and preventing further plaque buildup in the arteries.

#2 Supports healthy immune function

Any moderate exercise will help to strengthen your immune system, making both running and using an elliptical trainer a perfect way to help support healthy immune function. These improvements in immune function happen for a number of reasons, some of which may surprise you. 

As you exercise and breathe heavily, you help to flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, and the increase in your body’s temperature also acts similarly to a fever, which might prevent bacteria from growing.

Aside from that, a decrease in your levels of stress can help create an environment where white blood cells thrive. These cells are responsible for detecting and fighting off any disease in the body.

FAQs

What burns more calories, running or elliptical?

Regarding burning calories, both running and elliptical have similar results. Running is a slightly better exercise, burning up to 35 more calories during a 30-minute workout, but the difference is nearly negligible.

Is an elliptical a good workout?

An elliptical workout is on par with running, which is thought to be one of the best exercises for losing weight and improving cardiovascular health. The added benefit to using elliptical trainers is that they are lower impact than even treadmill running.

Is an elliptical the same as running?

Although using an elliptical machine is a similar movement to running, it is different in that your feet stay firmly planted on the elliptical pedals throughout your workout.

A Word From Our Coach

The key difference between using an elliptical and running is simply the amount of stress that both of these exercises put on the body. 

From a weight-loss standpoint, it’s hard to say which is the better workout since the energy expenditure and, therefore, the amount of calories you burn is relatively similar. 

The deciding factor in which of these exercises you choose to do should be related to your fitness goals. If you want to get back into exercise after suffering from an injury, then using an elliptical machine is a better choice.

If you want to try your hand at a half marathon, then your time is better spent hitting the pavement and getting your body ready for longer outdoor runs. 

Beyond this, what you decide to do will more or less be personal preference, and either way, you can’t really go wrong. 

Bottom Line

In the battle of elliptical vs. running, it’s hard to choose a clear winner.

Using an elliptical machine is a lower impact activity, so it will be less intense on the bones and joints, but it also won’t have any major improvements on bone density.

Running is a slightly better workout when it comes to burning calories, though elliptical workouts are a close second.

Both exercises are great for reducing stress, improving immune function, and keeping your cardiovascular system strong and healthy.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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