When you think of cardio, I bet the two pieces of equipment that immediately come to mind are the treadmill and the stationary bike.
In fact, when you walk into a gym, the treadmills and bikes take up half the space! The rest of the equipment pales in comparison.
Treadmill vs bike…they both are great workouts, so how do you know which one to use?
There are advantages and disadvantages to using each machine. So, in order to figure out which one is best, it’s better to ask yourself which one is best for you.
To do that, take a look at the pros and cons of each machine. Which one will meet your needs better?
Treadmill vs Bike
Many runners use the treadmill, simply because it mimics outside running. But beyond that, what is great about the treadmill?
Well, for starters, it burns more calories per minute than the bike does. This is because it also works out a larger group of muscles than the bike.
When you are running on the treadmill, you need to engage your entire body. When you are riding on the bike, you mostly use your legs.
For this reason, the treadmill also provides a better cardio workout than the bike does.
But all of those benefits don’t come without risk – the treadmill has a higher chance of injury.
When deciding which machine to use, you need to consider what you want to get out of the work out and your current health status.
The treadmill is better for calorie burning
Generally speaking, a treadmill will burn more calories per minute than a stationary bike will. But there’s a lot that goes into how many calories a person will burn.
For instance, heavier people tend to burn more calories than lighter people, as do people with more muscle.
Men typically burn more calories than women, according to the Mayo Clinic, because they generally have less fat and more muscle.
A person weighing 155 pounds will burn 288 calories running for just 30 minutes on the treadmill at a moderate pace (12 minute mile) while the same person would only burn 252 calories with moderate biking.
Of course, the intensity of the exercise also plays into how many calories you burn. If you run or cycle hard, you’ll burn more calories, as evidenced by this Harvard study, than you would at a moderate pace.
The following chart is an excerpt from Harvard Medical School, comparing a 30 minute workout on both pieces of equipment.
125 pound person
155 pound person
185 pound person
5 mph (12 min. mile) 240 calories
5 mph (12 min. mile) 288 calories
5 mph (12 min. mile) 336 calories
6 mph (10 min. mile) 495 calories
6 mph (10 min. mile) 360 calories
6 mph (10 min. mile) 420 calories
7.5 mph (8 min. mile) 375 calories
7.5 mph (8 min. mile) 450 calories
7.5 mph (8 min. mile) 525 calories
moderate pace 210 calories
moderate pace 252 calories
moderate pace 294 calories
Vigorous pace 315 calories
Vigorous pace 378 calories
Vigorous pace 441 calories
A treadmill burns more calories because running is a weight-bearing activity. This means you are supporting your own weight while you work out. Weight-bearing exercises use more muscle mass than non-weight-bearing exercises, such as cycling.
The treadmill has a higher chance of Injury
Okay, so the treadmill wins on calorie burning. But which one has a higher risk of injury?
Chalk another up to the treadmill.
Treadmills cause more accidents than bikes, simply because they are more complicated to use. You can slip and fall off of a treadmill, spraining an ankle. It’s harder to slip and fall off of a stationary bike.
But treadmills also put your body at a higher risk for injuries because you are running on a hard surface.
This can cause shin splints, stress fractures, and ankle sprains. Other common injuries include “runner’s knee” (pain at the front of your knee, surrounding the kneecap), plantar fasciitis, and Achilles’s tendon injuries.
All of these injuries are common among runners, however, whether they run outside or on the treadmill.
In fact, shin splints are most common in downhill running. But a treadmill actually mimics downhill running.
When your heel hits the treadmill, it is drug backwards by the belt, pulling the front of your foot down faster than if you were doing it yourself.
This motion is similar to the motion your foot goes through when running downhill.
If you don’t have strong muscles surrounding your shins, this repetitive motion could potentially induce shin splints.
With prolonged treadmill use, you may increase your chances for many of these runner’s injuries.
However, the bike is not without injury either.
The most common bike injuries are lower back, shoulder and knee injuries. This comes from leaning forward, hunched over the handlebars. But your knee is in a constant circular motion, which puts strain on the knee as well.
Both pieces of equipment run the risk of injury. But, if you are just coming off of an injury or are prone to injury, you may want to choose the bike over the treadmill.
The treadmill offers the best “cardio” workout
Alright, so far, technically it’s a tossup. The treadmill burns the most calories, but it also comes with the highest risk for injury.
So, which one provides the best cardio workout?
Again, the treadmill takes another win.
The treadmill works out your heart and lungs better than the stationary bike. It also provides better overall endurance.
A study from the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found that the treadmill gives you a better cardio workout than any other piece of gym equipment.
This is because the treadmill requires you to expend higher levels of energy during your workout.
If your goal is a great cardio workout, the treadmill is your best bet.
And if you are looking to build endurance, the treadmill is still your better option.
In a study of 16 inline-skaters, the Journal of Sports and Medicine found that those who participated in a running program built up better endurance than those who participated in a cycling program.
When you run on a treadmill, you are working hard. You are lifting your body up off of the treadmill with each step you take. You are moving your body up, against gravity.
This provides the best cardio workout.
Which one is better for me?
Treadmill vs bike….which one should you use?
It all depends on your health and your goals.
If you are a new runner, are injured or prone to injury, or are not in the best shape yet, you may want to consider the stationary bike. It offers a safe, less intense workout.
If you want to lose weight, feel like you are in pretty good health, or normally run outside and can’t, then a treadmill might be your better option. Don’t dismiss stationary bikes though – they are still great for warmups, cool downs and to target certain muscles, such as your quads.
When to use stationary bikes
A stationary bike provides a low-impact workout but doesn’t burn the most calories. They are a great choice if you are recently injured and still healing but want to ease back into working out – unless, of course, you suffered a knee injury.
You can also use a stationary bike as a recovery workout after a hard run. It will loosen you up and help ease your muscle pain.
And because a stationary bike targets specific muscles in your legs, you can always use it for that purpose: to build stronger calves, hamstrings and quads. It’s great for cross-training.
When to use treadmills
A treadmill provides a high impact workout that is great for your cardiovascular system. It burns more calories than any other machine, helping you to lose weight faster.
A treadmill is better for building endurance as well. But it is pretty harsh on your joints.
So, use a treadmill if you are trying to lose weight or if you feel pretty healthy and aren’t worried (as much) about injury.
You can also use it if you usually run outside but can’t for some reason.
Other factors to consider if purchasing
So, if your goal is to lose weight, build cardiovascular endurance or have the option of running indoors when you can’t outside, a treadmill might be a better for you.
But, if you want something to warm up with, cool down with, or cross train with, then a stationary bike might be the better option.
But what if you are in the market to purchase a piece of equipment? Aside from your workout goals, what else should you consider? How do you know which one to buy?
A good place to start is with price, space and general maintenance.
Treadmill vs bike…which is better to buy?
Consider the cost
Generally speaking, a treadmill is more expensive than a stationary bike. Of course, you could buy a cheap treadmill or a very expensive bike, but on average, the treadmill costs more.
A treadmill typically costs anywhere from $149.00 to more than $4,000, depending on what features you want. Manual treadmills are cheapest, of course, but have way less features.
Or you can find high-quality, used treadmills for around $500.
Bikes, on the other hand, cost anywhere between $200 and $2,000. They are by far easier on your pocketbook.
Consider the footprint
A stationary bike also takes up less space in your home. They have a smaller ‘footprint’ because they are generally smaller.
Treadmills are quite large, and unless you have a room dedicated specifically to working out, it’s hard to fit them into your home. They can look awkward or out of place, especially in living rooms and bedrooms.
But you could always go with a treadmill that folds up, as long as you have the room to unfold it for your run.
Treadmills also require more general maintenance than a stationary bike. This is because they have so much more that could go wrong with them! Treadmills have a motor, a belt, an incline, an electronic display and a computer mother board.
Stationary bikes do not have all of these features, and very rarely break down.
Of course, user intent always needs to be factored in. If you are hard on your machine, regardless of what piece of equipment you purchase, it has a higher risk of break downs than if you are gentle with it.
When figuring the cost of a machine, you need to consider how much it will cost to maintain it.
Which one is best for me?
So, there you have it! When deciding between a treadmill vs bike, there are many factors to consider. It is no one-size-fits-all kind of answer.
You really need to consider your goals, your current health and your pocketbook.
If you want to lose weight, train for a race, or build cardiovascular endurance, a treadmill may be the best option.
But if you are just getting started with regular exercise, are coming off of an injury, or are looking for a cross-training workout, then the stationary bike might be your better choice.
Of course, a treadmill costs more, takes up more space, and requires more maintenance. So, you need to consider that as well, if you are looking to buy gym equipment.
In the end, you need to find the machine that works best for your goals and your lifestyle.