Elliptical vs Running – Which is a Better Cardio Workout?

Natalie Cecconi
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In recent years, the elliptical machine has become a very popular alternative to running for cardio workouts. There are many reasons for this.

Some people cannot run due to injuries or orthopedic issues – for them, the elliptical is a good solution.

And others just dislike running – they just don’t like or don’t know how to do it correctly.

The elliptical gives them the opportunity to get a decent cardio workout without suffering the stress and impact of running. The question now is, just how similar are these two machines?

The answer is – very similar. In fact, they are almost identical with only a few key differences.

This comparison will look at various aspects of their performances to see how they stack up in terms of impact, resistance, and intensity to determine which is a better cardio activity.

Let’s get that heart rate elevated!


Cardiovascular workouts are vital to our health and fitness. They help to prevent the build up of plaque in the arteries, reduce the risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure, strengthen the heart and body as a whole, and encourage weight loss.

The two top cardiovascular exercises are running and using the elliptical as they are both extremely effective and efficient. They each provide a great cardio workout (of different kinds) and have a number of common benefits. Let’s look at these benefits individually and then compare the advantages and disadvantages of each.


If there is one thing I hate about elliptical training it would be the chest pounding you can experience when your heart rate surges. Of course, the same sensation can be achieved while running or weightlifting, but at least there you are not stuck on a machine.

On the other hand, elliptical training is all about convenience – from setting up the machine in your home to working out, you don’t need to leave your home. It makes your daily exercise routine easy to complete without having to deal with the risks of uneven terrain and seasonal weather changes. Also, elliptical machine users are able to engage more muscles at the same time as compared to walking or running because that’s how it is designed.

So which workout burns more calories the elliptical machine or the running machine?

While both elliptical trainers and running machines burns calories the question is which one burns more?

Ellipticals or Running? Which is a Better Cardio Workout?

Everybody knows that running is a superb workout for your body. You can improve your endurance, boost your fat burning potential, and prevent injury. Here’s how running works:

As you run, your body burns calories to support the movement. You also get toning benefits from the muscles you use on a run.

But if you don’t like to run, you don’t have to. There are plenty of cardio options available to you. One alternative to running is the elliptical machine.

Elliptical machines are easier on your joints than running, making them ideal for people who have had joint injuries or poor joints. And on top of that, the movement on an elliptical machine allows your calves to tone up.

So are ellipticals better than running?

Here are some general guidelines:

If you want to tone your legs, elliptical machines are a better option.

If you want to improve endurance and build a stronger heartbeat, running is the better choice.

Running gives you more natural endorphins than an elliptical. This is beneficial to anti-depressant effects.


Burned By Elliptical Or Running?

The elliptical trainer and the treadmill are great cardio machines and deliver the sort of workout you look for. Taking the two pieces of equipment on side-by-side, however, it’s easier to see which works best for your immediate needs.

The Elliptical

The elliptical trainer was made with high-intensity workouts in mind. So what two indicators are important to make sure that you are getting the most out of your workout?

First, a high number of strides per minute signals that you’re working out with intensity. The number of strides per minute is based on the type of elliptical being used. For example, some ellipticals move more when you push the pedals forward than when they return. This takes some time to get used to, but many people find it works well for their sport-specific training.

You also want to know your strides per minute. This is ideal for workouts and running when you are aware of the number of strides you are taking with each stride. This allows you to know how fast you are running and also how your effort level is increasing with each passing minute.


Jogging is a great aerobic workout, but when the budget is tight, a workout session can get quite long: 30 minutes all-out is not uncommon for those who jog or who are in training for a road race or marathon.

The popular elliptical on the other hand, with a variety of different levels of intensity, allows a person to burn a lot of calories in half the time.

The average intensity used for an elliptical workout is a medium-level setting which burns calories quickly and has a medium amount of impact force. Average it out and you have a calorie-burning workout that is perfect for cutting calories. The average calorie burn for an average elliptical workout is higher than that of the average runner.

The downside is that the impact can be more intense and can increase the risk of a knee injury. Jogging also emphasizes a natural stride, which increases endurance.

An elliptical workout can also be quite monotonous, as the stride is pretty much the same with each foot.


If you are looking to keep fitness costs down while getting a great cardio workout, an elliptical exercise machine may be the perfect piece of equipment for you. It costs a lot less than a treadmill and can be easily used by pretty much anyone.

If you have joints or mobility issues, an elliptical can be a better option for you as it can be easier on your joints than a treadmill.

Both machines can be effective at burning fat, building strength, and improving cardiovascular health. However, one may be a better choice based on your personal circumstances.


To answer this question, let’s take a look at the biomechanics of running vs. elliptical workout.

Running is a full-body cardio exercise. It requires ample strength from your core and arms to augment the movement of your legs. The elliptical on the other hand is a lower-body muscle workout. The elliptical requires less arm strength and makes few demands on the core muscles.

The elliptical uses a machine to replace your legs, allowing for a higher heart rate to be reached due to the removal of gravity as a hindrance to performing the motion.

People who use the elliptical regularly report that it is easier on your joints than running is. In fact, many runners ditch running in favor of the elliptical for training. This is because the elliptical is more of a non-impact cardio exercise. Running, on the other hand, is an impact cardio exercise. This means you incur more stress on your bones and joints when you run, which is why many runners develop aches and pains as they get older.

Perhaps another reason people favor elliptical workouts over running has to do with their fat-burning potential. When you run you use what is called the “speed muscle fibers.” While this is the only muscle fiber that will improve your efficiency while you run, it is very difficult to engage with a high intensity and really burn fat.