treadmill vs. elliptical
April 9, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Mr. hellbound and I are going to buy either a treadmill or an elliptical. Please recommend models of either machine and describe comparative advantages of having one vs. the other.

I was a runner for many years and I now suffer from moderately painful chondromalacia so I was leaning towards the elliptical until I realized that if I am on a padded surface and concentrate on absorbing impact in my hips, butt, and hamstrings- I can handle some long term jogging.

Our budget is around $1,000- $1500.
posted by hellboundforcheddar to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Precor elliptical trainer now (out of your price range, but for reference). My father has a treadmill. I used to go over to his house and walk on his treadmill in the dead of winter when it was seriously dark and ridiculous outside. Aside from the impact-related stuff that other people will surely mention about an elliptical being great vs. treadmill, I very much appreciate not having to put on specific shoes to do the elliptical workout. Your feet don't leave the treads, so you can wear Crocs or even sandals. As I am 8 months pregnant, anything that relieves me of the obligation to bend over is welcome.

Also, yes it's a large machine that could hurt you if you put a foot in the wrong place while it's spinning, but in those America's Funniest Home Video mash-ups you never see kids clowning around on an elliptical and being thrown through a wall as a result. Not so for the treadmill.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2009

My one suggestion is buy one used; we also own a Precor elliptical and bought a six-month-old model for about half the listed price- it was summer and the seller had bought it that past January and never used it. It's fairly easy to find a barely-used machine (still under warranty too!), so that would mean more bang for your buck :)

There's the noise factor too; if you live in a complex or have little ones in the house an elliptical is definitely the way to go. I've always been an avid runner, but the elliptical is simply more practical for indoors. I concur with the advantage of not having to wear special shoes, but I still prefer to wear old runners or something similar. I haven't found a treadmill to necessarily be lower impact than running outdoors, but I believe that has a lot to do with the belt that you choose... I think you can buy different thicknesses and so on.
posted by variella at 9:19 AM on April 9, 2009

I recently came across this, which might help.
posted by logic vs love at 9:21 AM on April 9, 2009

as far as bang-for-your buck goes, I've found I burn a lot more calories with the elliptical (if you can really value that).
posted by agentwills at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2009

I greatly prefer my elliptical to the treadmill I used to own. It's the only form of cardio I find really palatable. I have a NordicTrack SpaceSaver. I like it, and it's been good for me. It seems a little wobbly at first, but I've never had a problem with it. It folds up, partially, and folding it up is easy, so it doesn't take up the whole garage. It doesn't do inclines (only increased resistance), so, if that's a factor, look elsewhere. It also lacks any sort of iPod holder, which would be nice, and the water-bottle holder is a little too low for my tastes. And I can't really speak to the electronics, as all I ever pay attention to is the timer and the calorie counter. It's the only elliptical I've owned, so I can't really compare it to others, but I've been happy with it. I got mine new, but in a damaged box, at Play It Again Sports, which cut the price considerably.
posted by wheat at 9:29 AM on April 9, 2009

Elliptical gets more of your body involved than a treadmill and burns a helluva lot more calories in an hour of equivalent exertion than a treadmill. I don't have a specific recommendation since I use the ones at the gym but I think its also important to consider why you want it; if you are or want to be a runner maybe the treadmill is better vs. if you want to maximize your workouts vs. most "bang for the buck" etc.
posted by zennoshinjou at 9:31 AM on April 9, 2009

I have both in my living room and I vary workouts between them so I don't get bored and stay motivated (my feet start to feel weird after awhile on the elliptical, and my knees can only take so much jogging). Seconding the Precor and NordicTrack brands, but also, look for refurbished gym equipment that may be cheaper in your area than buying the "home version" new from, say, Sears or whatever. Most of them come with a service warranty and delivery agreement for a few pennies extra.

My negatives for the elliptical: You can't really read while you're on one, they wiggle too much and the holder is down really low; however, the treadmill takes up half my dining room area and isn't very mobile, i.e., can't hide it when company comes over, so if it's one or the other, I'd go elliptical.

Anecdote: I originally had a stair climber that I loved to death (read: broke 3 of them under warranty and was refused a fourth by the company). Let me add, I broke them because they were "not for industrial use" (I sheared the steel stabilizing bar in half on one from using it 2.5 hours a day, 6 days a week when I got off antidepressants). My legs, back and butt were in amazing shape, I could stick it in the corner of the bedroom and work out with the door closed, it was relatively quiet, I could read magazines on it or watch TV, and it was fairly easy to move room-to-room with a dolly from Home Depot. I realize most people don't like these, but they burn a hell of a lot of calories and aren't nearly as difficult to use/maintain as people think.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2009

FYI, if you are a heavy 'puter user with any wrist issues (as I am), I lasted 20 minutes on an elliptical before my hands went completely numb. If that's not an issue, the elliptical is a great machine.
posted by liquado at 9:59 AM on April 9, 2009

I don't have a comparative story between the two but I can say that Landice makes a great treadmill. They are tanks and built to last. They also have a lifetime warranty on parts.
posted by mmascolino at 9:59 AM on April 9, 2009

I've been using a NordicTrack Ski Machine for ~20 years. It's a great total body low impact aerobic workout. If you look around you can usually find them used for ~$100-$200.
posted by torquemaniac at 10:20 AM on April 9, 2009

Treadmill - You'll have to wear shoes and they are fairly noisy- you'll need headphones to listen to music or watch TV/movies.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:32 AM on April 9, 2009

FYI, if you are a heavy 'puter user with any wrist issues (as I am), I lasted 20 minutes on an elliptical before my hands went completely numb.

You don't have to use the upper limb attachments.
posted by grouse at 10:59 AM on April 9, 2009

Response by poster: This is great- thanks for all of your thoughtful responses. Keep em coming. I'll post our final decision and follow up if anyone is curious...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 11:50 AM on April 9, 2009

I'd say an elliptical is the better use for the money. If you want to run on something springy, you can always go to the park. But there's no easy substitute for the gliding motion of an elliptical.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:16 PM on April 9, 2009

Ellipticals do not burn more calories for a workout of the same intensity, despite what their inflated "calorie counters" might tell you. There are reasons one might like an elliptical trainer but ease of calorie burn should not be one of them. Personally I hurt my knee using an elliptical trainer and I find running to translate somewhat better to overall fitness, so I prefer treadmills. I think it is harder to be lazy on a treadmill since you are forced to either keep up or slow down the belt.
Another option you might want to consider would be a C2 rower. It looks like you can get them new on their website for less than $1000 and rowing is a helluva workout. The equipment isn't that big or noisy and is probably more solid than your treadmill/elliptical options given your price range. This might not be much easier on your knee than running though.
posted by ch1x0r at 3:21 PM on April 9, 2009

I bought a Sole from a local sporting goods chain. The model doesn't seem to be available any more. I'm happy with it. A tiny piece of metal popped off but it's been working fine for months that way. All the other models at the store felt like toys. I was prepared to buy a different model based on the reviews from Consumer Reports. I also tried a Precor model that I saw on Craigslist. It also felt kinda like a toy. Of course, I've used Precors at fitness centers all over the US and those were all great machines but as mentioned above their far above our price range.

So my recommendation would be to do extensive personal testing.
posted by stuart_s at 6:24 PM on April 9, 2009

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