Exercise Bike vs. Elliptical

When you’re looking to get a workout machine to use at home, it’s vital that you choose one that will help you to get the best possible results for your fitness goals. For that reason, it’s a good idea to know what each machine can offer you.

The elliptical and the exercise bike are both incredibly popular machines that work somewhat differently. Each has their own pros and cons.

In this article, we’ve considered some of the main differences between the exercise bike and the elliptical. We’ve thought about things such as the space needed, how easy they are to use and maintain and how much they’re going to cost.

Of course, we’ve also considered how they target different muscles and the sorts of health benefits they’re going to give the user.

If you’re considering buying one of these machines, here are some of the key things that you need to keep in mind.

Which One’s Better?

Ultimately the answer to this question depends on the person in question. It can largely come down to your personal preference. Maybe you’re really fond of an exercise bike but your partner prefers to work out on an elliptical trainer. It’s an individual thing.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the health benefits that you can get from both options are actually rather similar in many respects. They differ in terms of how they are designed but in terms of the rewards you get, you’re likely to get rather similar results.

In an article such as this, it’s often best to break the information down into categories, so that’s precisely what we’ve done. In doing so, hopefully you can make an informed decision about which one is the better choice for you. But first, here are some of the pros and cons of each option.

Pros and Cons of an Elliptical Machine

Pros

An elliptical trainer is very low impact. This means that your feet aren’t going to be hitting the floor in a manner that can cause potential issues for your joints. For this reason, the machine is very good for your bones and your joints, making it suitable for individuals that struggle with physical pain.

Not only that, but your elliptical trainer can give you a fantastic aerobic workout so long as you put in the effort. The health benefits are boundless. If you want to you could probably even use it while watching TV, so you’re killing two birds with one stone!

The calorie burn from an elliptical trainer is pretty impressive. For instance, let’s say that you weigh around 185 lbs. In that case, you may find yourself burning as much as 400 calories in the space of 30 minutes. 

Naturally, the amount of calories that you burn can vary depending on factors such as your height, weight and age, and also the amount of effort that you put into the exercise. You should keep that in mind when making a decision based on the calorie burn.

The problem with many exercise machines is that often they are designed only to train one part of your body. With an elliptical trainer, you can work your arms in addition to your legs. 

You just need to use the arm handles and you can use them to help propel you along through your workout.

An elliptical trainer is fantastic for working particular leg muscles, as long as you select the correct workout. You can even improve your balance!

Cons

Some people may find it difficult to adapt to the motion when they’re first starting to use an elliptical trainer. 

Your arms and your legs move in a way that differs from how you would run, and for some people that’s a little bit much to handle. If you stick it out you can usually get used to it, but it can sometimes be a little off putting.

Unfortunately many elliptical machines feature a fixed width and stride on the footrests, and this is a little uncomfortable for some people. This isn’t always the case, however, since you can sometimes adjust these on certain machines.

Pros and Cons of an Exercise Bike

Pros

An exercise bike is a great way to burn calories and torch off the fat! Not to mention, you don’t need to go outdoors to ride an exercise bike like you would with a real bike, so you don’t need to worry about bad weather interrupting your workout.

There are a number of seating styles that are available for exercise bikes. For instance, you can get indoor cycles, recumbent bicycles and upright bicycles. This can make them comfortable for a wide demographic of people.

Using an exercise bike is a great way to build the muscles in your legs and hone your strength. It can even be suitable for the elderly population since it’s not strenuous. This is a fantastic form of low impact cardio that the vast majority of people can enjoy.

Cons

In some cases, it can occasionally make you feel rather sore to sit on a bike seat for long periods of time.

Sometimes you may find that working out on a spin bike can cause some issues for your lower back, causing you to experience more pain in that area.

If you don’t put a great deal of effort in, you may find yourself burning fewer calories when you’re using the exercise bike than you would for less effort on an elliptical machine.

Exercise Bike vs Elliptical

Now, onto the similarities and differences between these two machines! 

We’ve combined the following information based on some of the key health benefits that you may get from an elliptical machine. We’ve also covered a few things that may be more important for certain demographics.

It’s worth mentioning in advance though that in most cases you get out what you put in – if you’re slacking off then you’re not going to get results that are nearly as good, regardless of what machine you buy.

Amount of Calories Burned

So, let’s start from the beginning. As we’ve previously touched upon, the calories burned from exercise can massively be affected by parameters that are out of your control such as your height and your gender.

So, for instance if you’re a man in your 60s that weighs around 185 pounds and measures 6 feet and 2 inches tall, you may burn 954 calories from moderate activity for one hour on an exercise bike. 

With a little more effort on the elliptical bike, you can burn the exact same number of calories. With less effort, you may expect to burn as much as 588 calories on an exercise bike with one hour of work. This is a lot of calories to burn.

Now, which one is better in terms of calorie burn? The elliptical certainly wins this one, but the difference is rather marginal. If you prefer to use an exercise bike though, don’t let this put you off. 

The exercise bike has a bunch of other benefits that are important to consider, and calorie burn doesn’t give you the full picture of the kinds of results that you will get from a certain activity.

Benefits of Losing Belly Fat and Losing Weight

For many people, the whole point of an elliptical machine or an exercise bike is for burning calories. Why would someone want to burn calories? Why, to lose weight and burn off some stubborn belly fat, of course!

As previously discussed, both the exercise bike and the elliptical trainer can provide you with some rather impressive calorie burn. What helps is that both of these machines are fairly low impact, meaning that you can lose belly fat and weight effectively without the risk of injuring your joints.

It should come as no surprise that, based on the information above, you have the same capabilities for losing weight on both the exercise bike and the elliptical.

If you wish to tone your muscles – which can give you that ‘toned’ look that many people are actually looking for when they are losing weight – then changing the resistance settings on both of these machines can be very beneficial, since it will mean that your muscles have to work harder to perform.

If you have more muscle then you usually burn more calories, even when you’re not exercising, so this is incredibly advantageous for you if you’re trying to lose weight.

There’s one very important thing to keep in mind, however. While exercise is crucial for your general wellbeing, it’s not the only thing that causes you to lose weight.

You may not want to hear this if you’re losing weight, but here it goes. If you want to lose weight, then you need to change your diet, too.

If you want to lose weight, it all comes down to a simple equation. You need to be burning more calories than you consume. 

It’s all a matter of energy input versus energy output. If you’re eating or drinking more calories than you’re burning then you’re going to put on more weight, and the opposite is also true.

That doesn’t mean that you should restrict your calories though. It means trying to have a balanced diet throughout the course of a week. 

If you can manage to combine a healthy diet with plenty of exercise, you are more likely to see results with your weight loss than you would from exercise alone.

Cardio Benefits

You will get similar cardio benefits from the elliptical and the exercise bike. With both you are going to get some fantastic cardiovascular benefits. 

For instance, when you perform cardiovascular activities you can often combat common health issues such as anxiety, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, falls and more.

You may also experience improved mood and energy. Ultimately, it’s a good idea to get some physical activity into your day for the sake of your cardiovascular health. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but these are both great potential options.

Muscle building

Health guidelines dictate that you should get at least two strength or resistance based activities into your routine per week. 

Of course, elliptical trainers and exercise bikes are both made more for the purpose of boosting your cardiovascular activity, so it’s important to note that they are not going to give you the kind of strength based results that you would get from doing a strength based workout.

With that being said, if you are looking for the option that will give you the best results for building muscle, it’s much better to go with a stationary bike since this can work the muscles in your legs. To do this though, you will need to make a little bit more of an effort while you’re pedaling.

Okay, so what about the elliptical? Thankfully, it’s also possible to build muscle on the elliptical too. If you want to build muscle with the elliptical, it’s better to ensure that your arms are engaging during the exercise too. Don’t leave them limp – give your arms a workout as well as your legs.

If you’re looking to build muscle, it can be helpful to increase the resistance level too. This will get your blood pumping a lot more since your body will need to make more of an effort to keep up with your movements. In addition to that, your muscles will need to work harder, which means that you can improve your strength a little if you do this.

In short, out of the two it’s a lot better to get an exercise bike if you’re prioritizing strength. If you truly wish to tone your body though, it’s better to balance your cardio workouts with a few strength based workouts each week. Building muscle is just as important as burning fat, after all.

Strengthening Bones

As you get older your bones start to weaken more, so it’s important to do everything that you can in order to keep them in their prime condition as you get older. This means doing things like resistance training or higher impact activities.

Unfortunately, the elliptical and the exercise bike are specifically designed to be low impact. As such, you most likely won’t reap the great bone strengthening benefits from using either of these machines. At least, not as much as you would from doing other things like jumping, running or walking.

With that being said, some evidence does suggest that you can get enough resistance from pedaling downwards, and as such this can be good from strengthening the bones in your leg. If you’re looking for the better choice for strengthening your bones, you should go with the exercise bike.

Opportunities for HIIT Workouts

When it comes to torching calories, High Intensity Interval Training is a fantastic choice. HIIT comes with a range of extra benefits, and it’s especially good at helping to reduce belly fat. 

Some information has suggested that it can even reverse the aging process. As such, it’s a great way to exercise regardless of your age.

Thankfully, you can actually use stationary bikes and elliptical machines for HIIT. If you look online you can even find a bunch of guided workouts to show you how to do it. They are both equally as good for HIIT workouts too, so it doesn’t really matter which one you end up buying.

Low Impact Compatibility

One of the benefits of ellipticals and exercise bikes is that they are designed to be low impact. For many people, machines like treadmills or other high impact activities just won’t do, and can cause more harm than good for the joints.

But what exactly does it mean when we say that an activity is ‘low impact’. Well, it basically means that both of your feet remain on the ground while you’re exercising. This is in contrast to activities like running or aerobics. 

As such, these activities are much better for the joints and the bones in many respects, since there’s no impact between the floor and the feet.

Both of these machines are fantastic if you’re looking for a low impact way to exercise, so you don’t need to worry about choosing one over the other in this respect.

Risk of Injury

Any kind of physical activity comes with the risk of injury. With that being said, you are far less likely to suddenly injure yourself on an exercise bike or an elliptical machine than you would be if you were doing something like running or another kind of activity.

These machines are supposed to stay in one specific place. This means that you’re not necessarily moving in motion, making it less likely that you’ll encounter things that can cause things to go wrong, such as potholes or traffic. 

You’re also less likely to injure your joints, as mentioned previously. You’re not likely to be falling off the machine, which means that your risk of injury is much lower.

Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule. If you overuse the machines and exercise too much, you’re always going to run the risk of causing repeated strain injury to your knees and joints. For instance, if you don’t move in tandem with the machine you could find that your knees begin to hurt.

You could also end up hurting your back from leaning forward on the machines. If you’re using an exercise bike you run the risk of injuring your knees, back or wrist if you stay in one position on the bike for too long.

It’s unlikely that you will encounter either of these issues when you are out on the bike, however, so you most likely won’t need to worry about this. Just make sure that you practice good form while exercising and you will be good to go.

Comfort

Sure, you’re exercising, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be uncomfortable! Again though, this can sometimes come down to personal preference since we’re all different.

First let’s start with the exercise bike. These machines can come in a range of different forms, from the upright bike, to the recumbent and the spin cycle. As such, you can have three different levels of comfort.

For many people the recumbent bike is significantly more comfortable as you’re reclining while sitting down. Your back is rested against the back of the seat, and your legs are right out in front of you, making it more natural for your body. The upright bike isn’t quite as comfortable, and the spin bike is the least comfortable of all.

On the other hand you have the elliptical. Find the best Elliptical strides that fits you the best. These are all designed differently, and as such the comfort level can vary a lot.

Ultimately, the comfort depends on your own preferences.

Maintenance

It’s important to note that you’re not going to need to maintain an exercise bike nearly as much as an elliptical, though it depends on the price of the model that you buy. 

A bike will generally come with far fewer moving parts and as such there is less to fix. It’s also easier to fix an exercise bike for many people, which is certainly advantageous.

Cost

Cost can be a huge deciding factor when it comes to choosing a machine for exercising. As you can probably imagine though, you can get both of these machines for a range of different prices depending on things like the manufacturer and the features that it comes with. 

It’s a little hard to put an exact estimate on how much each machine is going to cost.

In general though, you will usually find that the exercise bike costs less money than the elliptical. You will often get more bang for your buck with an exercise bike too, since it’s a higher quality than an elliptical of an equivalent price since there are fewer moving parts.

Amount of Space Needed

The obvious winner here is the exercise bike, since it doesn’t take up a lot of room. 

There are many models that can even be folded out – the exception being a recumbent bike or a heavy duty bike. 

Ellipticals are significantly larger, so these may be a better option if you have a home gym.

Summary

In general, both of these exercise machines come with their own advantages and disadvantages. 

What you choose depends on your preference, but you will get a fantastic workout with both of these choices. Which will you choose?

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Article by:

Daniel DeMoss

I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.  

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