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Elliptical Machine Versus Exercise Bike

by Susan Lundman

Walk into any gym and you’ll see that both elliptical machines and exercise bikes are popular choices. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, stationary cycling has twice as many “core” participants than “casual” participants, while elliptical machines are the second-highest-sold exercise machines, bested only by treadmills. But you don’t have to choose between the two; cross-training, or varying your exercise routines and equipment, is your best bet for healthy, injury-free exercise.

Using the Machines

Both ellipticals and bikes use a cycling motion and provide a low-impact workout. Since you stand on the elliptical, you have slightly more weight-bearing exercise to help build bone density, an important consideration for women and older adults. Because most ellipticals have poles as well as pedals, you can exercise your arms to a degree. Ellipticals also allow you to pedal backward as well as forward, involving more muscles in your workout.

Cardio Fitness

Most quality ellipticals and bikes include settings to vary the resistance level and programs to vary the difficulty automatically. In both machines, you determine the speed by pedaling faster. In the gym setting, you can join an exercise class on a bike, where your workout will be intense and varied. A panel of fitness trainers and scientists discussed cardio fitness with "The New York Times" and gave the elliptical 80 points and the stationary bike 75. One panelist, Reed Humphrey, a professor of physical therapy, said researchers have not conducted conclusive studies on the cardio superiority of one machine over another.

Health and Safety Issues

The elliptical machine takes some getting used to, while the bike is familiar and easy to use immediately. According to Michael Berry, professor of health and exercise, people who have difficulty with balance need to take extra care on an elliptical. Both the elliptical and bike could cause overuse injuries if every workout, every day, consisted of just that one machine. The elliptical received a score of 76 from the Times' panelists on “wear and tear,” while the stationary bike received a 59.

Home Use Considerations

As of publication, ellipticals range from about $600 to $3,000 on Consumer Search and vary greatly in terms of quality; gym-quality models take up lots of household space but provide a more solid, safer machine. Stationary bikes range from about $100 to $2,400 on Shopping.com, and they take up far less space than ellipticals. On the other hand, consider the price for a gym membership, which would allow you to use both machines.

The Overall Experience

"The New York Times" panel rated the elliptical the “best all-around choice” as a fitness machine in large part because it was fun for people to use and seemed “effortless” to people, while the stationary bike felt “boring and ineffective.” The panelists gave the elliptical a total of 369 points compared with 313 for the bike.

Photo Credits:

  • George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.