Elliptical machines (also known as cross-trainers) and stationary exercise bikes are among the most popular pieces of cardio exercise equipment available, both at home and in the gym. The different machines both offer a great cardio workout, supporting fitness goals, such as weight loss and improved endurance. They are also arguably easier on the joints than other cardio machines such as treadmills.
Though similar, both kinds of cardio equipment differ in the type of exercise they offer as well as in their respective pros and cons.
Here's everything you need to know about an elliptical vs. stationary exercise bike when it comes to cardio training, so that you can decide which exercise machine is right for you.
What is an elliptical machine?
An elliptical machine (also known as a cross-trainer) can be used for walking, stair-climbing or running without putting too much pressure on your joints. This is because an elliptical trainer is a low-impact, weight-bearing cardio machine. It even features handlebars to help those with upper body issues maintain their balance.
An elliptical workout not only helps you to burn calories and lose weight, but it is also great for strengthening muscles and improving cardiovascular health. It engages both the lower and upper body muscles, providing a whole body workout.
Elliptical trainer pros
Elliptical trainer: great way to burn calories
Elliptical training is a good way to burn calories and lose weight. Exactly how many calories you'll burn depends on a number of factors, including your age, weight, and gender, as well as the intensity of your workout. According to the Harvard Medical School, a 155-pound person will burn 324 calories in a 30-minute elliptical workout.
Elliptical trainer: works the upper and lower body
If you engage your core and pump your arms using the handles of the elliptical machine, you will get a total-body workout, targeting the upper body and lower body muscle groups.
The elliptical can also be used in a backward motion to target different muscle groups.
Elliptical trainer: offers low-impact cardio
Love running but suffer from knee or ankle pain? Elliptical machines replicate the motion of walking and running but without as much stress on your joints – your feet never even leave the pedal.
Elliptical trainer: ability to customize your workout intensity
You can adjust resistance and stride length on most elliptical machines to further challenge yourself and enhance your exercise routine.
You can also push yourself as little or as much as you like, making the elliptical suitable for anyone from those in rehabilitation to those looking for an intense workout.
Elliptical trainer cons
Elliptical trainer: getting used to the movement
The elliptical machine has a unique movement pattern, somewhat like a gliding motion, which can take some getting used to.
Unlike exercise bikes, the elliptical does not replicate any motion in real life, meaning that you can’t use it to train for any particular activity.
Elliptical trainer: limited challenge
Another limitation of the elliptical machine is that most do not have adjustable incline levels, meaning that for some it can be difficult to get a really challenging workout.
What is a stationary bike?
Stationary bikes consist of a seat and pedals that mimic the motion of cycling and often come with adjustable resistance levels.
Exercise bikes provide a low impact cardio workout that burns body fat and can be used to target different muscle groups.
The two main types of exercise bikes are the recumbent bike and upright bike. Recumbent exercise bikes are designed for users to cycle in a reclined position, thus featuring a more traditional seat rather than a saddle. The upright bike, in contrast, is more like a standard road bike, where the pedals are below your center of gravity and you can lean over the handlebars.
Stationary bike pros
Stationary bike: offers low-impact cardio
While the elliptical reduces pressure variations on the joints, the exercise bike eliminates pressure completely, as the bike seat supports your body weight while training. This is known as a non-weight bearing exercise, which, as studies have shown, make exercise bikes a good option for people with joint pain or age-related stiffness
Stationary bike: good lower body workout
All that pedaling on your exercise bike is going to provide an excellent lower body workout. However, this exercise doesn't only target lower body muscles – you can also build or strengthen muscle in your back and core.
As if that wasn’t enough – pedaling in a standing position on your exercise bike turns it into a total body workout.
Stationary bike: ability to customize your workout intensity
You can increase or decrease speed and resistance levels on an exercise bike, allowing you to make continuous progress in your workouts.
By increasing the resistance, your workout will be more challenging. This way you will build muscle mass and burn more calories in the same amount of time it would take you with a lower resistance ride.
These adjustable levels also allow riders to build HIIT (high-intensity interval training) into their training plan, which, as studies have shown, improve a variety of important health parameters, including VO2max, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and cardiovascular function.
Stationary bike cons
Stationary bike: lower body focussed
While you’ll get an excellent lower body workout using an exercise bike, generally your upper body will be less engaged. That said, different training techniques can help you to work the core and upper body as well. Engaging your core while riding, for example, helps to tone your midsection, while standing on a spin bike provides a full body workout.
Stationary bike: risk of injury
Sitting on a stationary exercise bike for extended periods of time can cause discomfort and may result in lower back pain if the correct posture is not maintained. Stationary bikes, however, are considered low-risk and suitable for those of all fitness levels.
Elliptical and stationary bike vs. CAROL bike
Developed by leading exercise researchers, the CAROL bike gives you the most effective, time-efficient workout possible. Here's what sets it apart from ellipticals and regular exercise bikes:
CAROL uses AI to calculate the right amount of resistance for you, meaning that resistance is applied automatically as soon as you begin your exercise routine, ensuring that you are pushed to your limits.
CAROL knows exactly how hard to push you to get results — just like your own personal trainer!
Nearly double the cardiorespiratory fitness improvement
Cardio fitness can be measured by VO2max – the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use during intense exercise. In an eight-week study, participants improved their VO2max by 12% – nearly double the cardiorespiratory fitness improvement of steady-state exercise - in only 10% of the time.
Shorter, smarter workouts
The basis of the science behind CAROL is REHIT (Reduced Exertion High-intensity Interval Training). It’s a new, improved form of HIIT (high-intensity interval training).
Studies have shown that doing three REHIT workouts a week will give you double the health and fitness gains of five 30-minute moderate per week at a moderate intensity.
Read more about the science behind CAROL here.
Elliptical vs. stationary bike to burn calories?
Ellipticals and exercise bikes are great in supporting your weight loss and fat burning goals, whatever your fitness level. But which is the best workout when it comes to calories burned?
Ellipticals are thought to burn about 15% more calories than stationary bikes, because they work the upper and the lower body at the same time, and your upright position expends more energy.
This figure of course depends on how you use the equipment. How many calories you burn, both on the elliptical and the exercise bike, depends on the intensity and duration of your workout. If you zone out at a slow pace on the elliptical, you’ll surely burn fewer calories than if you do a high-resistance cardio workout on an exercise bike.
Elliptical and stationary bike vs. CAROL to burn calories?
While you might burn more calories on an elliptical than on a stationary bike, CAROL’s REHIT workouts are scientifically proven to burn twice as many calories per minute than traditional exercise.
CAROL will also help boost your metabolism too. A recent study shows that you will continue burning calories long after you finish your workout. Thanks to afterburn (or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), you’ll burn 60-70% of your total calories from a CAROL workout once you’re back at your desk. Now that's what we call multitasking.
Elliptical vs. stationary bike to tone your muscles?
These exercise machines are not designed to build muscle mass, however both are a great option for toning your body.
The elliptical machine engages your upper and lower body at the same time and thus gives you a whole body workout, whereas the stationary bike provides a more targeted workout for the lower body, including the hamstrings, quads and glutes.
Elliptical vs. stationary bike: other things to consider
When it comes to the elliptical vs. bike, generally elliptical machines are much larger and bulkier, so if your space is limited then the exercise bike is the superior of the two cardio machines.
When it comes to the elliptical versus bike, both exercise machines provide fairly similar results. So if you're choosing just one machine, give them both a try to determine which you enjoy the most.
Should you get a stationary bike or an elliptical?
Both the elliptical and exercise bike would be great additions to your home gym. They provide a wide range of health and fitness benefits, such as exercising your cardiovascular system, improving endurance, toning muscles and helping you to lose weight. Ultimately the decision comes down to personal preference.
The results you achieve with an elliptical or exercise bike depend less on any notable difference between the two pieces of equipment and more on how much effort you put in. It's your effort that determines the calories burned and overall cardio fitness benefits you reap.
The most effective machine for helping you achieve your fitness goals will ultimately be the one you use regularly. So when it comes to choosing between the elliptical and exercise bike, think about which you enjoy using the most.
Want the exercise bike that gets you fittest, fastest? CAROL delivers the most effective cardio workout ever, and is proven to give you the benefits of a 45-minute run in as little as five minutes.