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If you choose the wrong machine for your fitness goal, you may end up with less results than you planned for.

This is part 1 of a three part series.

I will start with the treadmill, since that is one of the most popular pieces (although I have been known to trash treadmills, they certainly have their place in the gym and deserve a fair comparison). Click here and here to read my attack on the misunderstood and often misquoted treadmill.

People often get confused as to which is the better option for their workout – treadmill, elliptical or bicycle. The decision can be difficult to make without the right information.

Mimes. Easily confused, but not as creepy as clowns.

Here is the answer I like to give when asked for preferences (and no, I am not open to offers from equipment companies to bribe me – although I do really like the StarTrac total body trainers – the variety on those things is awesome!!)

The answer I like to give whenever asked “what is the best equipment/exercise band/workout video/lycra spandex catsuit” is always the same:

“it depends”.

It depend on what you are after, it depends on what your history of exercise is, and it depends on what injuries you might have and sometimes it just depends on how you feel on the day.

Live in Denver?  Go to WWW.FITNESSBYATLAS.COM to get a free pass to one of our classes

Before I get into the major differences, here is something to consider. If we can work more muscles then we will burn more calories.

However, we need to make sure that our joints do not get overloaded at the same time. A key phrase to remember when deciding what to use, is the phrase ‘repetitive patterns’.

Repetitive patterns can be a major cause of joint pain, muscle imbalances and unfashionable sweaters from your Granny at Christmas.

Repetitive patterns of movement can wear your joints out faster- repetitive patterns in sweaters are just destructive to your sense of fashion… Seriously – is that guy wearing…. a leather kilt?!

When I select a machine, I am always careful to make the workout on it just a little different than last time (which is why you need a workout program) – whether it be foot position, incline, speed, stride length or just mixing up the programs. I want to make sure I am giving my body a different input – and I do this for the folllowing reasons:

By mixing up the variables on any given machine, you can improve your results in the following ways:

Increased overall cardiovascular ability – if we continue to do the same program our level of cardio can become stagnant, even decrease.

Decreased chance of injury – by training in different ways, I give key muscles a chance to rest while other neighboring muscles have a chance to work – this allows my body to recover partially while working a variety of muscles in different ways.

Reduced boredom – lets face it, we all want to enjoy our workouts more. The only way to keep things fresh… is to keep things fresh! Mixing up the programs at least keeps us guessing – and if we can make sure we feel the burn at the end of it all, then we are on track to improve our results but also on track to make sure we are motivated to turn up for the next workout!

The major differences between the ‘big three’:


When you take a step on a treadmill, every step is just a little bit different. You can reduce the range of your steps or increase them if you are jogging/running. It also means that different muscles are being worked and a variety of muscles means better results when compared to a locked position (such as you would find with an elliptical or a bicycle). however, it means that if you are tight in the hips, you might be walking with a reduced range as opposed to an elliptical making you take longer strides which would lengthen out your hips (and so the paradox unfolds). So if you have tight hips I might recommend spending more time on the Elliptical – or to tackle the problem at the source, try doing some hip flexor stretches (this gal does a great job or explaining what your hip flexors are and how to stretch them).

I like:

I like that you are able to self-select your own stride and I also like that it means you are working your body in a slightly different way with each step.

I like that you can do a large variety of things on the treadmill like walking and running (which may not seem like a bunch, but the action of walking, jogging and running are all thoroughly different movement patterns with different muscles and loads

I don’t like:

I don’t like that people crouch over the treadmill as if they are about to make out with the start button.

I don’t like that people hang on to the rails as if they are about to get pulled under the moving belt.

Major advantage: Your body uses more lower body but also rotates as you walk/run which means more muscles worked and more calories burned for your time spent watching Ellen/Oprah/That guy from the money channel who just yells and smashes things all the time.

Major disadvantage: Higher impact than bike or elliptical means joints get more of a pounding compared to a bike or elliptical which means you must be more careful with your program variety as you progress.


The treadmill is an excellent piece of equipment – although misunderstood by many.

Do not confuse the action of walking/running on a treadmill with the action of walking/running on real ground (again, Click here and here if you are interested to know why). It may look the same to our untrained eyes, but your body knows the difference – just like my wife knows a fake gucci.

I couldnt tell you the difference even if you showed me the ‘made in china’ label (made in China means they are fake, right?), but with one glance – she knows.

I’m not sure what is worse – buying a fake gucci or making ‘mans best friend’ wear a high fashion backpack. I bet all the other dogs beat him up as soon as he gets to doggy daycare.

Your body knows the difference between being on ground and the treadmill. It doesnt mean it isnt good for your body and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it every now and then. But it does mean that if you are doing it so you can go on a hike or go running in a triathlon that you should consider

Elliptical: to be continued

Bike: to be continued

What do you think? Am I missing a piece of equipment that you totally love?

Send me your equipment name and why you love it and I will write a review on it for all to see.

Jamie Atlas

Live in Denver?  Go to WWW.FITNESSBYATLAS.COM to get a free pass to one of our classes

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  • giz Jul 11, 2008 Reply

    Jamie, what’s your opinion on rowing machines (eg Concept II)?

  • […] which is best: treadmill, bicycle or elliptical? […]

  • jamieatlas Jul 15, 2008 Reply

    Concept2 Rowing machines are great! They are (as you probably know) the gold standard in rowing machines – Concept2 actually organize indoor rowing competitions that are quite popular. The rowing community is kind of an underground resistance – dont be suprised if you show up to one of these events and find the place packed (if you need it, the password is ‘the eagle has landed’).

    Good luck and happy rowing!

  • Regan Patroni Jul 21, 2008 Reply

    Hi Jamie,
    It’s your sis here Regan thanx for the email and blog site i’m studing to be a personal trainer at the moment and am lacking motivation after school holidays. You have got me going again hope I get to train with you one day that would be awsome.

  • Yam Jul 23, 2008 Reply

    What do you think about Stepmills? (e.g. the Stairmaster 7000PT StepMill) I tried one at the gym out of boredom a few weeks ago and it really kicked my butt. Just like treadmills, it seems that there are a lot of variations you can do, like skipping steps, or going backwards, etc. The more I’ve been using it, I think my body is adapting and it’s not as draining as it originally was, which proves your point about variety and repetitive patterns, but I’m still curious about your thoughts!

  • jamieatlas Jul 23, 2008 Reply

    Hey Yam – you are correct, the stepmill is an excellent machine. I think that it is better suited for people that have a good base of cardiovascular and muscle but once you have been working out regularly for more than 3-4 weeks I would definitely recommend adding it into your routine. I think a whole post is needed to give my thoughts – thanks for the inspiration!


  • […] Treadmills, Ellipticals and Bikes – part 1 of this article here […]

  • […] which is best:  treadmill, bike or elliptical? […]

  • […] which is best:  treadmill, bike or elliptical? […]

  • […] which is best:  treadmill, bike or elliptical? […]

  • Robert Braun Oct 8, 2009 Reply

    This is one of the most thoughtful articles on exercise equpment I have seen. What I would add is that, since quitting exercise routines is the most common problem with exercise routines, the best machine is the one that the user enjoys the most. All other considerations are secondary.

  • frenchyrowing Jun 27, 2010 Reply

    I just wanted to add on to the rowing machine conversation. These in my opinion are the best machines when it comes to cardio but also the worst. Every time I am in the gym I cringe when I see the technique being used. Unless you have the time and patience to spend towards learning how to properly use these machines then don’t bother. (It can be a long and frustrating process)
    Once you learn how to actually use a Concept 2 it can literally be the most difficult workout that you do so you need to be mentally prepared to work hard if you want the benefits out of this.
    Also, beware of lower back pain as you can also become a victim of this if you use poor technique

  • triathlonbike Jul 29, 2010 Reply

    “Treadmill, Bicycle or Elliptical machine? pt 1 the Treadmill” is one of my favorite post. Its also informative information.

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