Elliptical vs. Bike: 13 Important Considerations

Woman using elliptical beside another woman riding a stationary bike

If you’re looking to get a thorough cardio workout at home, you may be facing a tough decision: should you get an elliptical trainer or a stationary bike? Which of these two cardio machines will provide a better workout?

You’re not the first to get stuck on these questions. Honestly, there are multiple factors to consider ranging from cardiovascular benefit and muscle toning to cost and space available.

In this article, we will discuss 13 crucial components in the bike vs. elliptical debate.

Overview

We put these two machines in a head to head comparison across 13 different categories. We rated each category on a scale of 1-5 with five being the best. We based all ratings on current research after consulting with our top fitness expert. The following two charts depict the winner in each category.

A multi-bar graph comparing the effectiveness of ellipticals and exercise bikes in a variety of categories
Another multi-bar graph comparing the effectiveness of ellipticals and exercise bikes in a variety of categories

Breaking it all down

Now that we have an overall rating for each category, let’s get into the details and explain why we gave each piece of equipment the score it received.

Calories Burned

When it comes to how many calories you can burn, the score is pretty even. Both devices offer features like resistance or incline controls that allow you to increase the workload.

Your level of effort contributes quite a bit to calories burned during a workout on either of these machines. You have the potential to burn a little more on the elliptical trainer because you’re using both your upper body and lower body. You will also be in a standing position during the workout, instead of seated like a stationary bike.

If you want a baseline estimate of what you can burn, several calculators are available on the internet. Here are a couple of my favorites:

WebMD Exercise Calculator

MyFitnessPal Calories Burned Calculator

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 4.5/5


Fat Burning Potential

When you exercise, your body burns calories for energy. Calories consist of macronutrients, which are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Different types of exercise burn these macronutrients at varying speeds.

So which one burns more fat, exercise bikes or elliptical machines? Like calories burned, it is 100% based on your effort and how you utilize your chosen equipment, both in terms of its resistance and its incline features. 

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5


Weight Loss

No one ever wants to hear this, but weight loss is a straightforward calculation. It is calories in vs. calories out. When considering the weight loss benefits of a cardio machine, it’s essential to consider other elements ( comfort, enjoyment, etc.).

These factors are meaningful because they will determine how long you stay on the machine. The longer you stay on an exercise machine, the more calories you burn. Burn more calories than you consume, and you’ll lose weight (assuming no medical conditions or medications are preventing this from happening).

The winner in this category is simple: whichever one you’ll stay on longer!

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5


Cardiovascular Benefits

Two people exercising on stationary bikes in a gym

Cardiovascular exercise helps increase the amount of oxygen your body can use and also strengthens your heart. Each person has different needs in terms of cardio training.

For example, a person with high blood pressure and at risk for heart disease will benefit from steady-state heart rate training. While a person looking for athletic performance and an increase in oxygen uptake would benefit more from High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The good news is, you can do both of these types of exercise on both machines.

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5


Muscle Toning

Toning is really about the definition of your muscles. The elliptical has an edge on the stationary bike in this category because it uses the muscles in the upper body and the lower body.

Most elliptical machines have dynamic arm handles that move in tandem with the foot pedals. Ideally, you’ll use these grips to actively push and pull throughout the workout. In that case, you will activate the muscles in your arms and upper body.

RATING: Elliptical: 4/5; Exercise Bike: 3/5


Bone-Density Building

To build bone mineral density, you need to include weight-bearing exercises into your routine. In many cases, using your body weight in activities like walking, running, or aerobics can be enough to build stronger bones. However, the resistance of free weights and cable machines is more effective.

Cardio workouts on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer are not an efficient way to build bone density. Neither machine gets a stellar rating in this category. Although they are fantastic for heart health and building endurance in the leg muscles, the elliptical vs. bike showdown won’t come down to either machine’s ability to contribute to stronger bones.

RATING: Elliptical: 1/5; Exercise Bike: 1/5


Risk of Injury

A woman exercising on an elliptical machine

Exercise bikes and elliptical machines score very high marks in this category. They have minimal joint impact and provide a great workout with a low risk of injury. Not only do they help you reach your fitness goals, but they also protect the knee, ankle, and hip joints in the process.

The highest risk of injury on either machine would be what we refer to as an overuse injury. This type of injury occurs when someone does the same movement in excess. Overuse injuries are more common on indoor cycling bikes than ellipticals because people often use them when training for triathlons and other fitness events.

Following the American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines for Physical Activity can help you get the right amount of exercise without overdoing it.

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5


Low Impact Rating

Both exercise machines score high marks in the low-impact category. Regardless of which one you choose, your feet will remain on the pedals at all times, which is particularly good for people with knee injuries, stress fractures, or recent surgeries.

When you’re dealing with ailments like these, impact exercises can be excruciating. This pain often leads runners to switch to using a stationary bike or elliptical for their cardio exercise.

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5


Interval Training

Maybe you’re looking for a more intense workout. If so, you should consider HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) on the fitness machine of your choice. Both will allow you to do this type of heart rate training by increasing and decreasing your speed and resistance throughout the workout. You can get a fantastic workout on a stationary bike if you follow a specific cycling format, similar to an indoor cycling class.

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5


Comfort

Your level of comfort on a piece of fitness equipment is honestly a matter of personal preference. Some individuals prefer the standing position of an elliptical cross trainer; others prefer to sit down on a stationary bike. The bike seat position varies in different models, so it’s crucial to consider that, as well.

If you have back pain, the elliptical could alleviate the stress on your low back muscles. However, if you have knee, hip, or ankle pain, you might be better off on a bike. In my opinion, the elliptical has a slight advantage on the bike in this category because sitting down for long periods can be taxing on your lower back, glutes, and hip flexors.

RATING: Elliptical: 5/5; Exercise Bike: 4/5


Price

Typically, you will spend less money on a stationary bike than an elliptical in the same price range. This difference is likely due to the complexity of an elliptical trainer. It requires more materials (because it’s bigger) and more electronics, in most cases. Exercise bikes tend to be more simplistic and thus less expensive.

RATING: Elliptical: 3/5; Exercise Bike: 4/5


Maintenance

Every piece of equipment will require upkeep at some point. Smart users will do regular preventive maintenance to keep it operating at its best at all times. In general, the bike is going to have a slight advantage over the elliptical in this category, as well.

Since bikes tend to be much simpler in design and construction, less maintenance is needed. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, especially if the bike in question is extremely high-tech. But in general, bikes will be easier to maintain.

RATING: Elliptical: 3/5; Exercise Bike: 4/5


Footprint

Finally, you want to consider how much space you have and what fitness equipment will fit in that space. The bike will beat the elliptical every time in this category. Bikes have a smaller footprint because they are not as long nor as wide as ellipticals. If you have a tight space, the bike is the way to go.

RATING: Elliptical: 3/5; Exercise Bike: 5/5

Conclusion

In summary, the debate between elliptical vs. bike comes down to preference. The best exercise equipment for you will be the one that helps you stay in your fitness routine. Whichever one improves your exercise adherence and keeps you coming back is the best. Just relax and choose the one that best fits your fitness needs!

If you’re in the market for an exercise bike or an elliptical, do not miss our in depth reviews and buying guides:

If you have a strong preference one way or another, let us know in the comments! We would love to hear if you consider other factors that helped you make a decision in this debate that we didn’t cover here.

Finally, we are a reader supported website; if you found this article informative, please help us out and share it with your friends!

About the author

Jenny Beadle

Jenny Beadle

Jenny is a fitness enthusiast and home product guru. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health & fitness industry. Having a Master's Degree in Exercise Science and Nutrition, she's provided services to clients in both exercise and healthy meal prep.

As a real estate investor with tremendous exposure to different homes and home products, Jenny brings a wealth of knowledge to this space. She is passionate about recommending her great finds right here on The Home Dweller.

You can contact Jenny via e-mail at jenny@thehomedweller.com.

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