by Sofia Alves
There are so many options to choose from when it comes to cardio. Running, cycling, swimming, sprinting… However, today we will be comparing and contrasting exercise bikes and elliptical machines. What works best for you might not be the best choice for somebody else so choosing the winner in the exercise bikes vs ellipticals contest is not simple.
Now, both of these are valid, fine cardio machines. They will get you the workout you want, with excellent benefits for your bones, your cardiovascular system, and your overall health. However, they do differ. For this reason, we have analysed the advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons of both stationary bikes and cross-trainers. Our review can be found below.
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Exercise bikes – Advantages and disadvantages
First things first – both exercise bikes and elliptical machines will help you lose weight, get in shape, improve your cardio, get some muscle, and all in all, make you healthier. This means that any advantage and disadvantage found in the article below will be within the context of comparing these two machines.
Now, an exercise bike has many benefits. First of all, it’s a non-impact non-weight bearing exercise. This means that there is much less pressure and damage done to your knees, ankles, your lower and upper back compared to an elliptical. You are basically on a cushion for an hour, peddling away. Essentially, even people with bad knees or backs can ride a stationary bicycle and reap all the benefits, like losing fat, burning off calories, and just getting in better shape.
Furthermore, an exercise bike is fantastic for building up your legs, especially your quads. If you want to build some extra muscle and get more muscular legs, then biking is the cardio system for you. However, there is a disadvantage to be found here as well.
With cycling you only workout out your legs (to any significant and useful degree) which means that your back, your glues, your shoulder and everything else isn’t activated at all. Now, this might not be an issue for some, but it’s still important to point out.
This also means that you won’t burn as many calories as you would with ellipticals and you won’t really be able to strengthen your bones during the workout. That’s because although impact heavy exercise can hurt your joints, it can also improve bone density.
Another disadvantage of cycling on a stationary bike is that you end up with a less challenging workout for your body since you can push your quads only so much.
Cycling can also be either very boring or very fun, depends on how you look at it. However, at the same time, it’s rather easy to multitask when cycling. You get to watch TV, for example, simply because you don’t have to focus on standing up and not falling over.
- Lower injury risk
- Easier for multitasking
- Most people can do this
- Great for lower body muscles
- It burns fewer calories compared to ellipticals
- The workout is less intense
- You don’t get to strengthen your bones as much
- Burns fewer calories
- Almost no upper body work
Elliptical Benefits and Disadvantages
Ellipticals are fantastic machines that can give you a very powerful workout. They can help you burn a lot of calories in a short period of time, helping you break into a sweat in no time. Furthermore, they use most of your body. While the main focus is on your legs and your glutes, you can also expect a solid amount of work to impact your shoulders, arms, as well as lower and upper back.
You need to stand upright if you want to use this machine and while this may not sound like much, for older individuals, or just anyone with some back issues, an elliptical can allow you to really strengthen the muscles around your spine and lower back. Cross trainers are great for your core as well, the muscles that keep your body upright.
Of course, this also means that people who have severe back issues won’t be able to use them. There is a sweet spot between activating these muscles and making your joint and back pain worse. Also, compared to bicycles, these do put more pressure on your back and knees. While they are made in such a way as to minimize any damage and pressure, it’s still there, in trace amounts.
Now, an elliptical also takes up a lot of space. This may not sound that important, but for people in small apartments and cluttered houses, this can be a very vital piece of information.
You can also expect your posture to improve when using an elliptical for some time. Furthermore, you will most likely tone up your legs and behind as well. Ellipticals also give you more options, since they allow you to use them in reverse, thereby targeting different muscle groups in your legs (hamstrings and calves mostly).
- Stronger core training
- Different leg workouts on the same machine
- Provides a weight-bearing workout
- Full body exercise
- Burns more calories
- Less focus on legs
- Puts pressure on your knees and back
- It takes up much more space
Do you burn more calories on a stationary bike or elliptical?
The best way to explain which one burns more calories, and what actually happens, is remembering that calories are fuel, and perceiving our bodies as machines that need fuel. It stands to reason that the more you use a machine, and the more activities it does, the more fuel it needs.
Calorie burning (per hour) is composed out of three core factors – the intensity of your workout, the percentage of your body used in a workout, and the exact state your body is in during the said workout.
Let’s start with your body. If you are an obese individual who is not accustomed to working out, you will find that every workout is essentially intense and that you will be breaking out in a sweat after some basic movements. There is no need to be ashamed – everybody has to start somewhere. This intensity is vital, it shows how much fuel your body needs at a given moment in order to function. However, the percentage of your body used during a workout is also important, since that influences how many segments need to be powered. Compare fuelling a car that has one engine with one that has several.
Now, this is tied to exercise bikes and ellipticals in a couple of ways. When you ride a stationary bicycle, you are sitting down. All the force you exert can mostly be found in your legs, specifically, your quadriceps. So, here there are only two engines, pushed to their maximum, while the rest are on standby.
An elliptical, on the other hand, provides you with a much more balanced, full-body workout. Namely, here you use your legs, your glutes, your back, arms, shoulders. While you won’t have one single muscle group focused as much as cycling does your quads, you will give your legs and glutes a very powerful workout, while still fatigued the rest of your body. Think of as having two engines on 80%, and many, many more at 30% to 50%.
All things being equal, you will burn more calories per hour and you will need more fuel, with ellipticals.
While the amount of calories burned depends on many factors, a 70kg heavy person will burn around 520 calories in an hour of moderately intense cycling. The same person will burn at least 670 calories when using the elliptical trainer for the same amount of time.
Exercise bike vs elliptical: Which one is better for weight loss?
Put very simply, weight-loss boils down to one singular concept – calories in vs calories out. You need to burn more fuel than you use. For example, let’s say you need 2500 calories to maintain your weight. If you want to lose some weight, you need to lower this by 10 to 25 per cent. Note, anything more than 30% can have negative health consequences, unless you are incredibly careful, or have the support of a doctor and a professional trainer. We should also point out that your diet will determine whether you will lose fat, muscle, or both. High-protein foods, lots of greens, lots of veggies and fruit will help you lose much more weight
Now, with that out of the way, and taking into account our previous point, ellipticals burn more calories in an hour, which means they will help you lose weight after. However, this of course also depends on what you mean by better.
So, if better means the most effaced use of your time, then cross-trainers will without a doubt be the best option. However, better might also mean a workout you can handle. If you have knee or back pain, cycling can be the better option for you since its low-impact.
Stationary bike vs elliptical: Which one is better for knees?
As we’ve mentioned above, ellipticals put a bit more pressure on your knees, when you compare them to bicycles. Now, they are both relatively low-impact, but there is a difference. Cycling is low impact because you are pushing against the resistance made by the machine. Ellipticals, however, use both the resistance of the machine, as well as your own bodyweight.
The exercise bike and cross trainer combined
Finally, you should keep in mind that there are machines that offer you both the functionality of the cross trainer, and the exercise bike. These dual-action machines allow you to basically do either of these exercises whenever you want. You simply have to do some minimal modifications and set up activities, and you are good to go. These also offer you the benefit of saving up a lot of space in your home, since having both would really clutter things up.
The core problem with these systems, however, is their price. Namely, while it will most likely be cheaper than a treadmill and an elliptical at once, you should know that it is more expensive than a single unit. Cheaper models are also a bit unstable and flimsy, so you need to take this into consideration as well. A veer intense workout on a cheap model can only spell disaster.
Know that both exercise bikes and ellipticals are very valid and very useful pieces of cardio equipment. In order to make a decision on which one is better, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself, your needs, your health, and your lifestyle.
An elliptical machine is great if you want a more intense workout that shapes your entire body.
Both machines will work your legs, but an elliptical also keeps your posture in line, as well as targeting your glutes, arms, and shoulders.
On the other hand, a good stationary bike will really give your quadriceps a workout. Cross trainers are more intense, but a bicycle allows basically anybody to workout since it’s easier on your back, knees, and ankles. Of course, which one is more fun is rather subjective. Basically, it’s up to you to decide which one suits your needs and preferences the most, just remember that both will give you results.
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Sofia Alves is a fitness enthusiast who loves running and motivating others to adopt and stick to healthy habits. She is always learning, searching and investing in further education to build her knowledge. She strongly believes the worst workout is the one you didn’t bother to do.