Why elliptical machines and cross trainers are better than treadmills

Elliptical machines activate more muscles in your legs than other machines like treadmills, according to this study

Elliptical machine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the big advantages of going to the gym is you've got a wealth of exercise machines to choose from, but the best elliptical machine tends to win out. From treadmills to cables, leg presses to exercise bikes, you've got plenty of choices when it comes to finding your preferred workouts, but cross trainers are consistently some of the most popular fitness stations in the gym.  

If you want to cut out the middle man and purchase an exercise machine to keep in your home, why choose the elliptical? One study has found elliptical machines offer the best benefits when it comes to real-world applications of exercises, such as improving our walking ability. 

That's because elliptical machines combine the best of both cardiovascular exercise and total-body resistance training. However, if you decide you simply enjoy the running machine more than the elliptical, you can always check out our best treadmills guide. 

The study, conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, looked at the effects of four different kinds of training: overground walking, treadmill walking, stationary cycling, and elliptical training.

Examining muscle activity and stimulation in the legs, the study found elliptical machines "demonstrated greater quadriceps activity and greater quadriceps/hamstrings coactivation than all other conditions", even the inclines on the best treadmill. However, lower muscles like the hamstrings weren't worked as hard as the quadriceps, although this was true in all training conditions.

Group of people hiking

(Image credit: Unsplash)

This kind of training is great for rehabilitation, helping people regain strength in their legs, or simply to assist already-healthy individuals prepare for hikes and more overground walking. Although the study was designed for rehabilitation purposes, it's useful to know in order to activate those leg muscles, elliptical machines are your best bet.

Thanks to the handles included on elliptical machines, the apparatus also trains your arms, creating a full-body cardio and resistance training workout. This not only builds up muscle and cardio fitness, but it also makes the machine great for weight loss, as the combination of exercise styles makes the body work harder, raising your metabolism and heart rate to help you shed pounds. 

It's also very low impact, making it safer on your joints than running on roads or a treadmill. If you're taking up exercise for the first time, you might be nervous about exercises like running, which can damage your joints if you overdo it. Using the elliptical machine to get your cardio fix is a great way to get started.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.