The fitness industry is constantly evolving, with innovations appearing all the time. Despite this, the old tried and true machines continue to be the most popular. When it comes to cardio training exercise machines, the old standbys are the treadmill and the exercise bike. They've both been around from the very start of the gym movement and they're both still the most used aerobic exercise machines for losing weight, cardio fitness, and increasing lower body strength.
But which is best? Who wins in the exercise bike vs treadmill match up?
In this article, we pit the treadmill and the exercise bike head to head in a challenge for cardio supremacy.
Exercise Bike Overview
An exercise bike simulates the on-the-road cycling experience indoors. It allows you to get a very effective lower body muscular workout while also burning through the calories. A control knob will allow you to adjust the resistance level to make it harder or easier to pedal.
Exercise bikes are available in three types:
A recumbent stationary bike is ideal for people who are elderly or who have lower back problems. Spin bikes are designed for high-intensity training and better simulate road racing than the other two types. The upright stationary bike is most commonly found in gym cardio rooms.
The treadmill is the most popular piece of exercise equipment found in gyms and sold for home use. People love to use a treadmill because it is easy to use, allows you to train indoors when the weather is inclement, and provides lots of feedback through the console.
Treadmills are a form of weight-bearing exercise that does a good job of burning calories for weight loss. They allow you to choose your training intensity from a casual walk to a sprint. A good treadmill will also allow you to exercise on an incline, which will further ramp up the intensity level.
Best for Weight Loss - Treadmill
Both the cycle and the treadmill do a good job of burning calories for weight loss. However, the treadmill will burn more calories. That is because exercising on a treadmill is a weight bearing activity while sitting on an exercise cycle is not. Weight bearing activities expend more calories than non weight bearing activities.
According to research, exercising on the treadmill will burn more calories than an exercise bike, between 8 and 11 calories every minute, depending on the speed of your running. In comparison, an exercise bike will consume between 7 and 10.5 calories per minute. That is not a huge difference, but it does add up over time.
Best for Injury Rehab - Exercise Bike
Something to note in the treadmill vs exercise bike debate is that the treadmill is an open chain while bikes are closed chain exercise equipment. That means that your foot comes off the surface when you are on the treadmill but not when you are pedaling on the bike. As a result, there is no jarring on your joints when you are pedaling on a bike. This makes the exercise great for those with bad knees.
The very fact that you are seated during stationary cycle exercise means that pressure is taken off your hips, back, and abdominals. If you are coming back from an injury, either to the upper or lower body, you will be far better off in a seated position.
Best for HIIT Training - Tie!
If you really want to boost your cardio exercise to lose weight, you need to be doing high intensity interval training (HIIT). This involves performing a short, intense sprint and then having an even shorter rest before repeating for a number of cycles. The original HIIT protocol has the trainer do a 20-second sprint followed by a 10-second rest.
Interestingly, the original HIIT training study involved working out on exercise bikes. This was shown to significantly ramp up the calorie burn during the workout. More importantly, it boosted the metabolism for 24 hours after the workout was over.
For a HIIT workout to be effective, you need to be able to instantly go from top speed to rest. You can do this easily on a bike by stopping pedaling. You can also do it on a treadmill by throwing your legs out to the sides of the running belt.
As a result, both treadmills and exercise bikes are good options for HIIT workouts. I suggest alternating between the two (you can also add in the rowing machine) to inject some variety into your training program.
Best for Low Impact Training - Exercise Bike
Exercise cycles are better for low-impact training than treadmills. As mentioned, the open chain nature of treadmill exercise means that it causes some degree of jarring on the ankles, knee, and hip joints with every step you take. In comparison, there is no impact to these joints on a bike because you do not lift your feet off the pedals.
Treadmill workouts are also a weight bearing exercise. So, even when you are standing, you are putting pressure on your lower body joints. Non weight bearing workouts will not do that.
Best for Muscle and Strength Development - Exercise Bike
Both treadmills and stationary bikes will deliver a complete workout to the leg muscles. Neither of them will do much for your upper body muscles. The exercise cycle, though, will do a better job of building strength and muscle through the quads and calves.
The bike provides more concentrated exercise on your quads and calf muscles. When running on the treadmill there is more involvement of the rest of your body in your exercise action. But when you push down on an exercise bike pedal, it is all quads and calves. You can also increase the resistance to ramp up the intensity of quad and calf muscle activation to build muscle mass.
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Best for Full Body Workout - Treadmill
Neither the treadmill nor the exercise bike will bring your major upper body muscle groups into play. However, the treadmill will more fully engage your whole body than the exercise cycle. That's because your entire body is in motion during the exercise, compared to just your lower-body muscles on the exercise bike. The treadmill will also do a better job of activating your back and abdominal muscles.
Weight bearing exercises such as treadmill walking or running will help to increase your bone mass.
Best for Variety - Treadmill
Let's face it - if we find an exercise boring, we'll stop doing it. While both the exercise cycle and the treadmill can be quite monotonous, the treadmill offers the most potential for variety. It allows you to ramp up the intensity by adjusting the incline or decline of the machine. Most treadmills will also provide more inbuilt workout programs than exercise bikes, giving you more variety in your training options.
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Exercise Bike Pros
- No impact on the joints
- Closed chain
- Effective aerobic exercise
- Builds strength and muscle in the lower body
- Good calorie burner
- Comes in upright and recumbent models
Exercise Bike Cons
- Non weight bearing
- Lack of variety
- Burn calories at a higher rate
- Weight bearing workout
- Improves bone density
- Variety through incline, decline function
- More joint stress
- Open chain
Both treadmills and exercise bikes are effective exercise machines to help you lose weight, improve cardiovascular health, reduce belly fat, strengthen your lower body muscles and provide other health and well being benefits. As we've seen, each is better for specific purposes, with the treadmill being the best option to lose weight, fully engage your body, increase your bone mass and add variety to your workout.
For a low impact cardio machine workout that also builds strength and muscle through the lower body and abdominal muscles, however, the exercise bicycle is the better way to go.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your particular situation and what you enjoy doing the most. After all, that's the exercise that you will stick to.
Ready to make your buying decision? Check out the sharpest prices on treadmills and stationary bikes here.
Is the treadmill or bike better for losing weight?
The treadmill is better than a stationary bike for losing weight. Studies show that, when you exercise at the same moderate pace, you will burn about a hundred more calories on a treadmill than on an exercise bike in a half hour session. That is because you are exercising in an upright rather than a seated position. This activates more muscles of the body and, therefore, requires more calories.
Which is better, bike or treadmill, for people with lower back problems?
The stationary bike is better than the treadmill for people with lower back problems. That is because you are in a seated position and you are performing a closed chain exercise where your feet remain in contact with the pedals all the time. That means that there isn't any jarring going on.
For the best lower back protection, you should exercise on a recumbent stationary bike. This puts you in a more biomechanically ideal horizontal pedaling position, while also providing a greater level of back padding and support than a standard upright bike.
Is the exercise bike good for building calf muscles?
Yes, the exercise bike is an excellent form of exercise to build calf muscles. During a 10 minute session, you will probably push down on the pedals around a thousand times. Much of the force for that push is generated by your calf muscles. That's why cyclists have such well developed calf muscles.