Is Running Better Than Training on the Elliptical?

The elliptical machine provides a no-impact cardiovascular workout.
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When it comes time to stop procrastinating and finally start your cardio workout, you have an array of activities to choose from. Pick the one that maximizes health benefits, giving you the most bang for your buck. Whether it’s better for you to run or ride the elliptical machine depends on what you’re trying to get out of your workout. Both burn calories and challenge your cardiovascular system, but they’re not equal in the calories they burn or the stress they put on your body.

Weight Loss

If your goal is to lose fat, pick the exercise that’s going to burn the most calories. Your best choice is running, according to Harvard Medical School. A 155-pound person burns about 335 calories in 30 minutes of riding an elliptical trainer. But, that same 155-pound person can burn 372 calories in that same amount of time if she runs at 6 mph. Losing body fat requires burning a greater number of calories that you take in, and every 3,500 caloric deficit you create equates to a pound of fat loss. Therefore, you can lose a pound of fat for every 10 30-minute elliptical workouts or nine 30-minute running workouts, as long as you’re also following a healthy eating plan.

Cardiovascular Health

Your heart and cardiovascular system are happy campers when you’re consistent with your cardio workouts. Regular bouts of cardio help decrease blood pressure, decrease bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and result in a stronger heart that pumps out more blood with each beat. Running and riding the elliptical are equal in their cardiovascular benefits as long as you make adjustments in the intensity of your workout so that your heart is beating within the target heart rate range. If you want to exercise at a vigorous intensity, exercise between 70 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. Find this range by subtracting your age from 200 and then multiplying that number by 0.70 for the low end of the range and 0.85 for the high end of the range. Kick up your running speed or incline on the treadmill and the resistance and incline on the elliptical machine for the intense workout.

Injury Prevention

When you're running, there's a moment between each step where you actually lose contact with the ground. When you land on your lead foot, all of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones handle the stress from the impact. If you're new to running, this is important, because your lower body is not accustomed to this stress. Going from not running at all to running consistently can cause discomfort and injury. When you're riding the elliptical machine, however, your feet never leave the pedals and you're engaging in a no-impact activity. Because of this, you might prefer the elliptical machine, or at least incorporate some bouts of elliptical exercise into your running training.

Bottom Line

Whether you choose running or riding the elliptical depends on your fitness goal. If you’re looking to lower body fat and lose weight, incorporate more running into your routine because of the increased calorie burn. If you aren't a regular runner, choose the elliptical until you have built up strength in your muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments to handle the stress of running. Choose the exercise that you can be most consistent with. If you dread running, don’t feel bad about riding the elliptical instead, even if your goal is to lose weight. If you don’t have time to go to the gym, throw on your running shoes and hit the pavement outside.

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