The Treadmill or the Elliptical?

What to do when at an equipment-fork-in-the-road

By Lisa Cleary
|  Friday, Mar 11, 2011  |  Updated 7:46 AM EDT
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The Treadmill or the Elliptical?

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You walk through the doors of the gym, and you reach an equipment fork-in-the-road.  There, to the left, are the ellipticals and to the right, the treadmills.  Like a contestant on "The Bachelor," each one is screaming, “Pick me! Choose me!”

Each piece of equipment burns calories, no doubt.  And helps to shed those unwanted pounds, too.  But, what’s ultimately the best with which to build a lasting relationship? 

Not to worry, gym rats.  We’ve gathered two top local fitness experts, who are here to answer your equipment-relationship questions.

Let’s get started:

Fitness Consultant Bryan Nelson of Fitness First recommends that you initially take into account your overall health when deciding what piece of equipment might be best.

“I personally use the elliptical, because they are all low-impact machines that are easy on the ankles, knees and hips.  I have had three ankle surgeries in the past, and I have to preserve what I have left,” said Nelson.

On the other hand, Lisa Lipscomb, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, personal training manager of Vida Fitness at the Verizon Center, prefers using the treadmill because she’s more apt to run. 

“I use both depending on how I feel that day.  However, when my knees feel tender or if the day before I’ve had a hard run or weighted workout, I like to use the elliptical.  That way I don’t have an excuse one way or the other,” she said.

Next, if you’re wondering which piece of equipment will be faster at burning off last night’s pizza, well -- it depends on the settings of the machine. 

“I would say that when all settings are equal, you will burn around the same amount of calories, so there really is no difference in this category,” said Nelson.

Alternatively, Lipscomb argues that the treadmill is more efficient at burning off calories, because it’s a higher impact activity.  Still, a faster running speed isn’t always best, though.  If you have knee injuries or arthritis, she advises that lighter impact activity, combined with the right intensity, is better in the long run.

Regardless of which is faster at blasting fat, both machines promote general weight loss, especially when involving interval workout training.

“Both are great for weight loss,” said Lipscomb, “keeping in mind that you need to manage your heart rate and keep it in a productive range on either machine.  Working through a number of intervals of higher intensity, followed by lower intensity work, promotes fitness and fat loss the best.”

Nelson points out that if you’ve had any injuries to your lower body, refrain from using the treadmill, because it’s associated with high impact movement and can be hard on the joints. 

“Well, if you have had any injuries to your foundation -- lower body -- you should refrain from using the treadmill, because you will get burned out quick, due to the pain it will cause, which in return [will] deter you from doing cardio,” he stated.

Even though there are downfalls to the treadmill, there are perks, too.  In particular, treadmills are beneficial to those looking for a more realistic alternative to running.  For all of you treadmill newbies, Lipscomb advises to remember to set your pace at a comfortable speed.

“One mistake that a lot of new people make on the treadmill is hanging on for dear life.  You need to carry your own weight, try not to hold on.  If you think about it, you don’t hold on to anything to walk or run, so why do it when you exercise?” she asked.

Though the treadmill may mimic a runner’s stride, the elliptical incorporates more of a full body workout. 

“Newer models incorporate a three in one motion -- full stride, half stride and stair-stepper modes -- so you don’t have to get bored with one method and can switch it up on the fly,” Nelson said.

Finally, at the end of the day, when clients ask Lipscomb what piece of equipment is better, she explains that there’s no clear cut answer. 

The reason?  It just depends on the specific person.  

“I have clients that ask me that question all the time,” Lipscomb said.  “The answer is simply the one that you will do.”

The next time you’re at two roads, diverged in a gym, know this: it doesn’t really matter what path you take.  Just as long as you’re on the road to a workout, you’re on your way to The Land of Good Health.

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