Working out on an elliptical machine can burn as much fat as running, depending on the level of intensity each exercise entails. How much fat you burn depends on the caloric deficit you achieve. Generally, regular vigorous exercise and a healthful diet are sufficient to achieve a safe rate of weight loss, which is roughly 1 to 2 pounds per week.
A woman who weighs 155 pounds can burn 335 calories in half an hour on an elliptical trainer, according to Harvard Medical School. To burn the same number of calories, that same woman instead could run at 5.2 mph for 30 minutes. Or, she could burn more calories by running at a faster pace of 6 mph and burn 372 calories, or at a 6.7 mph pace and burn 409 calories.
Running on a treadmill and exercising on an elliptical trainer led to similar fitness improvements after 12 weeks of training, according to research cited by the book, “Running Well: Run Smarter, Run Faster, Avoid Injury!” by Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors. However, the authors note that other researchers found that people report higher perceived effort after using an elliptical trainer, meaning that elliptical exercise might feel more strenuous than treadmill running even when the actual energy outputs of each activity are roughly equal.
The key to burning more calories is to work harder. For example, to maximize the weight-loss benefits of an elliptical workout, push against the pedals rather than letting inertia take over. Avoid mid-workout pauses. The longer you exercise, the more calories you’ll burn. Grab the arm handles of the elliptical trainer to incorporate upper-body movement as well, which will help you burn more energy than moving the foot pedals alone. On a treadmill, hold the rails if you must for balance, but don’t rest your weight on them.
Adjusting the resistance involved in your workout also increases the calorie-burning benefits. If you use a treadmill for running, choose a more difficult incline setting. If you run outdoors, find terrain that challenges you, such as a hilly area. For a workout on an elliptical trainer, increase the machine's resistance to make your leg and arm movements more difficult.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.