Exercise bikes vs. treadmills: Which one should you use for your fitness goals?

exercise bike and treadmill

by Sofia Alves

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to gain some muscle, prepare for an athletic competition, or simply lose weight – cardio is important. It’s vital for the health of your cardiovascular system (hence the name), it is important for the reduction of heart disease and stroke risks, and it increases your lung capacity.

An athlete has to do cardio in order to build as much endurance as possible. A person looking to get some muscle needs it to keep his heart healthy and his workload at its maximum. Cardiovascular activity is also the best way for the average Joe or Jane to shed some pounds. Choosing the right type of cardio, however, can be something of a challenge.

Namely, the two most popular ways you can get your cardio in order is through either an exercise bike or a treadmill. These two machines can be found in every gym and sports store around. The exercise bikes vs treadmills debate centers on two very effective ways you can get your cardio done at home, giving you the benefit of not relying on the weather or on traffic if you want to exercise a little.

Both machines have their pros and cons, their advantage and disadvantages. The article below is there to help you make an educated choice.

Contents

Exercise bikes: Pros and Cons
Treadmills: Pros and Cons
Benefits of exercise bike versus treadmill
Exercise bike or treadmill: Which one burns more calories?
Exercise bike or treadmill: Which one is better for weight loss?
Exercise bike vs. treadmill for toning legs: Which one is better?
Final thoughts

Exercise bikes: Pros and Cons

Exercise bikes are excellent cardio machines, providing you with a very low injury risk, but also a lighter workout. Of course, all this is in comparison to treadmills.

Pros

  • Lower injury risk
  • Easier for multitasking
  • Most people can do this
  • Great for lower body muscles
  • Non-impact

Cons

  • Prolonged sitting can cause issues
  • Burns fewer calories
  • You don’t strengthen your bones as much
  • You’re not using your upper body at all

Treadmills: Pros and Cons

Treadmills are great for getting your blood pumping, offering various workout options. However, they put a lot of stress on your joints and lower back, so be cautious.

treadmill

Pros

  • Burns more calories
  • Workout variants (incline and speeds)
  • Can improve your posture
  • Strengthens your bones and feet
  • Uses more of your body

Cons

  • Greater impact on leg joints
  • Fall risk exists
  • Puts pressure on the lower back

Benefits of exercise bike versus treadmill

Both exercise bikes and treadmills are excellent cardio machines that will help you tone up, lose weight, improve the health of your heart, strengthen your body, and just generally increase your wellbeing.

However, they differ in many ways, and in degrees, so it’s up to you to decide which one is best for you and your needs.

Right off the bat, treadmills burn more calories than exercise bikes (more on that below). However, treadmills also pose a fall risk that exercise bikes simply do not have. People with medical issues, like inner-ear problems, senior citizens, or just individuals that don’t have full control over their legs and lower body, might slip and fall of a treadmill. The chance of that happening on an exercise bike is rather slim.

Treadmills (i.e. running on one) put pressure on your lower back, as well as on your knees and feet. This can have very strong benefits in terms of strengthening the bones and the joints of all of these areas. When you run, you force yourself to stand upright, to maintain your posture and proper running gait. This strengthens your back muscles and can improve your posture if done correctly. Of course, if you have issues with your lower back or knees then this will only cause trouble.

Exercise bikes are low impact, they put minimal pressure on your knees and feet when compared to treadmills. When you run, your feet bear your entire weight with every step. On the bicycle, however, you only push against the force exerted by the exercise bicycle’s mechanisms. Biking is excellent for osteoarthritis, for example, due to how easy it is on your knees.

Now, treadmills might present more of a challenge, since you use your entire body when you run. Furthermore, most treadmills offer an inline option. This not only makes the entire workout harder, but it also activates different muscle groups. The steeper the incline, the more your glutes and lower back are activated, for example. This can break up the monotony of the exercise, as well as giving you something to work towards.

On the other hand, bicycles can relieve boredom by making it easier to multitask. Since you just need to concentrate on moving your legs, and since it’s safer, you can easily watch TV, or focus more on an audiobook or podcast. Running requires you to focus on your gait, keep yourself upright, as well as try to avoid actually falling off the treadmill.

Exercise bikes can be done by people who need to find some sort of exercise, but due to medical issues or injuries, find running difficult or almost impossible. Practically anyone can ride an exercise bike. However, prolonged sitting can become annoying, and even painful, after a while.

Exercise bike or treadmill: Which one burns more calories?

Calories are essentially what our body uses as fuel, in a very basic manner. To put it simply, we eat food, it’s converted into calories, and we burn it as fuel when we use our bodies. There are three important points that need to be mentioned when it comes to calories. Namely, these are the intensity of your workout, how much of your body are you actually using during the said workout, and what state your body is in. And of course, this factors in that the duration of your exercise is the same.

Now, the main difference here, as far as treadmills and exercise bikes are concerned, is that you burn more calories when using the former, compared to the latter.

At the surface, it seems that you are using your legs for both exercises. And it is true, they are your primary movers.

However, when you are running on a treadmill you will notice that your entire body is getting fatigued along with your legs. You need to hold yourself upright, you are using your arms, your shoulders are moving, and your glutes are active more (especially if you’re doing incline running).

When on a bike, you are just sitting down, pedalling away.

Think of it this way – every muscle group is a machine you need to power separately. So even though you are going all out with your legs for both exercises, you still need to fuel your glutes, your arms and shoulders, as well as all the muscles keeping you upright when you are running. So, you get multiple machines that, even though aren’t at their maximum capacity, still need to get some energy.

You will also notice that an obese or older individual will need to exert more energy and concentration when using a treadmill. Namely, due to health issues or just generally carrying more weight, their upper bodies will be fatigued more.

A larger individual, whether they are carrying muscle or fat, will also have more pressure put on their leg muscles when running, since every step means pushing their entire weight forward. With a stationary bike, the force you push against depends mostly on the bike and its settings.

So, a male of medium height, build, and athletic ability will burn around 800 calories during an hour of medium-intensity biking. That same person can expect to burn around 1000 calories with medium-intensity running on a treadmill.

Exercise bike or treadmill: Which one is better for weight loss?

Now, the only way you can lose weight is by burning off more calories than you consume. There are of course factors that complicate this – your natural metabolism, your age, health, for how many years (if any) have you been working out regularly… Furthermore, your diet influences what kind of weight will you lose – compare losing fat with losing fat and some muscle mass.

What complicates the issue further is – what does “better” actually mean? If we are talking solely about getting the best results in the shortest timeframe possible, then a treadmill is better, since using one burns more calories. However, it also requires more exertion.

Treadmills are also, as we’ve already mentioned, more impact-heavy, and can be problematic for people with lower back or knee pain. Multitasking is more difficult on a treadmill as well, and this might also be a factor you should consider. This is highly individualized, and what is actually “better” or “the best” depends largely on the individual.

However, when it’s all said and done, a healthy adult with no severe medical problems will find the treadmill a better option for losing weight. A high protein diet with lots of veggies and fruit, along with regular exercise will help you lose fat. It’s just that you can do this more efficiently on a treadmill rather than on an exercise bike.

Exercise bike vs. treadmill for toning legs: Which one is better?

Toning your legs (and while we’re at it, your backside and stomach) is something of a myth. You can’t actually “tone” your legs, and you can’t really spot-reduce fat on your stomach. What you can do is lose weight (and fat) in general, and build muscle. Toning your legs can then be defined as building muscle and making that muscle a bit more evident through losing fat.

So, if toning is divided into losing fat and gaining muscle, let’s start with the former. In order to lose fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit, you need to burn more than you actually ingest. Then, the fat will dissolve gradually away from your body, with the actual places of fat loss (your backside, stomach, arms…) is largely dependent on your genetics. With this in mind, treadmills are the better option, since you will lose more calories.

However, as far as building muscle is concerned, things get a bit muddied here. Namely, in order to build muscle, you need to exert said muscle group through exercise. The more you do this, the more it will grow. Running activates your legs more evenly, as well as activating your glutes nicely.

Cycling on the other hand really works your quads and your hamstrings, not doing much for the rest of your body. So, you will most likely build more muscle in your legs while cycling, compared to running.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Both, a treadmill and exercise bike are very valid forms of cardiovascular exercise machines. However, choosing the right one depends on your goals, your health, and your general lifestyle. An exercise bicycle will protect your knees, put very little pressure on your lower back, and will help strengthen and build up your legs.

On the other hand, you can expect a more balanced physique through running on a treadmill. Treadmills are high-impact, meaning they will strengthen the bones and tendons of your legs and feet, as well as build some muscle in your glutes, but this also means they put a greater strain on your body.

To sum up, exercise bikes are a better option for people with joint and back pain, as well as people who are at risk of falling off a treadmill. Treadmills are perfect for people who want to get the most efficient, intense workout, burning the most amount of calories and fat in the least amount of time. The choice is, of course, yours, and we hope you this article helps you in making an educated decision.

Author Bio
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.

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