If you are trying to decide whether to get a cross trainer or a treadmill for your home gym, there are several factors to think about. They are both an excellent way to improve your fitness but they each have unique advantages, and understanding their differences will help you make the right choice.
Both machines have their perks, but it ultimately depends on your own fitness goals, preferences, and physical needs. Also make sure to test some different models at your local gym if you have never used either before.
The key to consistency in any fitness routine is finding an activity that you enjoy and can maintain over the long term, and for this it’s important to have a machine that you are comfortable using.
Understanding Cross Trainers
Benefits of Cross Trainers
Cross trainers (sometimes called elliptical machines) provide a whole body workout, targeting your arms and legs at the same time. So for anyone who wants to strengthen and tone their upper body, a cross trainer may be the best choice. Also cross trainers have the following benefits:
Low impact exercise: Since your feet remain on the pedals throughout the exercise, there won’t be any impact on your joints. This is ideal if you have issues with your ankles or knees.
Challenging workouts: It’s a common misconception that cross trainers aren’t challenging, you can change resistance levels, incline and set your own pace to push your limits.
Less risk of faults: Cross trainers tend to have a lower fault rate than other machines. They also don’t use a motor which is something that we have often seen wear out over time.
Designed for Safety: Cross trainers are one of the safest fitness equipment types. You are less likely to trip or fall thanks to the hand grips and foot pads, and there is a lower risk of injury if you do fall compared to a treadmill at high speed.
- Variety of workout options: There are many types of workouts that you can do using a cross trainer, including high-intensity interval training (HIIT), low intensity interval training (LIIT). You can also change the direction that you move the foot pedals to hit different muscles.
Related: The Best Home Cross Trainers UK
The Downsides of Cross Trainers
When compared to treadmills, cross trainers do have a few minor drawbacks such as:
Learning curve: Most cross trainers move in a circular motion that can feel slightly unusual to new users. There are also cross trainers that have a more upright position which can take some time to feel comfortable when using. However after several workouts most people adjust quickly.
- Space requirements: Cross trainers tend to take up more vertical space when being used, and can be an awkward shape for storage when folded, especially when you compare it to folding treadmills. They can also take a bit longer to fold up compared to treadmills, but it does depend what model you have.
Related: 7 Cross Trainer Benefits
Treadmills are probably the most ubiquitous piece of gym equipment and you would expect to see in pretty much any commercial gym. They provide an effective way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and increase your lower body strength. Just like cross trainers, they also give a great cardio workout and will mainly focus on your lower body.
Benefits of Treadmill
Calorie Burn: Treadmills are particularly good at burning calories, which is ideal for anyone looking to focus solely on losing weight.
Customisable: Just like cross trainers, treadmills can give a variety of workouts by adjusting the speed and incline ,allowing different users to get a good workout no matter what their fitness level is.
Lower Body Strength: While not as effective as weight lifting, a treadmill will help to increase overall leg strength, especially if you ramp up the incline. It will work your quads, calves hamstrings and also improve their flexibility.
- Natural Movement: The movement of walking and running is natural to most people and this makes treadmills easy to adapt to compared to other equipment.
Potential Drawbacks of Treadmill
Impact on Joints: Running or walking will always have some level of impact on your joints, which is why treadmills are considered higher-impact compared to other equipment. Even with running shoes and a padded running surface this can still be an issue for people with joint issues or who are recovering from injury.
Limited Upper Body Engagement: Even with the natural movement of your arms when running or walking, your upper body will be doing much less work than your legs, which isn’t ideal if you want to tone/develop your upper body muscles too.
Risk of Injury: We’ve all seen funny videos of people falling from treadmills and while most are harmless, it’s possible to get significant injuries to ankles, knees and friction burns. Make sure to take extra care on a treadmill and follow the safety advice in the manual, such as using the emergency brake clip.
- Monotony: All fitness equipment can be boring at times, however treadmills have a reputation for being particularly monotonous. It’s likely because running and walking can easily be done outside without the need for a treadmill so many people find using them boring in comparison. Although this can be somewhat improved with interactive workout apps.
Which Should You Choose?
If you have specific requirements and aren’t sure whether to get a cross trainer or treadmill, in the next section we will cover a variety of factors and give a recommendation based on each one.
If your only consideration is burning as many calories per hour as possible then the treadmill comes out slightly ahead. However if you want to burn calories and engage the muscles in your upper body too then the cross trainer wins.
If you have other equipment to do upper body exercises with then the treadmill is a great choice, if not, then you will likely do better with the full body workout from a cross trainer.
Impact on Joints
If you want to reduce the impact on your joints, whether you have existing joint pain or you want to prevent any future issues, then the cross trainer is the best choice hands-down.
Variety in Workout
Both machines offer some variety in the form of resistance, incline and speed, so they are relatively equal in this regard. The only difference is that cross trainers can easily give users the option of going backwards which can target your calves and quad muscles instead of hamstrings and glutes. Walking backwards on a treadmill is possible but is not as simple compared to a cross trainer.
Something that is often overlooked is how prone a piece of equipment can be to faults. We have many years of selling fitness equipment and treadmills do tend to experience more faults, particularly with motors failing - something that cross trainers don’t have. Treadmills can also get issues with the running deck such as belt alignment and do need regular lubrication.
Related: Cross Trainer Maintenance
There isn’t a huge amount of difference in price, but you will normally expect treadmills to cost a bit more than cross trainers which is mostly due to the added cost of the electric motor. It’s also worth factoring in the energy usage of the treadmill which will be higher than a cross trainer. Overall if you want to spend a bit less then cross trainers are probably the cheaper option.
Overall the cross trainer probably comes out on top in terms of versatility and comfort, but the treadmill is still just ahead for burning calories, so the choice is yours!
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