Home » Stationary Bike vs. Elliptical – Which is Better for What?

Stationary Bike vs. Elliptical – Which is Better for What?

by Mike
Stationary Bike vs. Elliptical

When it comes to cardio workouts and burning fat, there aren’t many machines that come to mind, but two of the most popular are elliptical trainers and stationary bikes.

Both of those pieces of equipment are excellent choices when it comes to cardio and calorie-burning, which can make it hard to pick the right one for you.

So, which would be better for you, a stationary exercise bike or an elliptical trainer?

Well, it depends.

On what, you ask?

Keep reading to find out!


What Is an Elliptical?A young woman standing next to an elliptical

An elliptical trainer is a stationary workout machine used to simulate stair climbing as well as running and walking. What’s unique about this piece of equipment is that it doesn’t cause excessive pressure on the joints, thus making it suitable for those with some injuries as it decreases the risk of impact accidents.

Just like other workout machines, an elliptical trainer offers different levels of intensity based on the speed of the exercise as well as the resistance set by the user.


What Is an Exercise Bike?A young woman standing next to an exercise bike

A stationary bike is just that, an exercise bike that is stationary. It’s a machine that includes saddle, pedals, and handlebars to offer the benefits of cycling all from the comfort of your own home gym.

Similar to elliptical trainers, exercise bikes put little stress on the joints while still providing an excellent aerobic workout.

Exercise bikes come in three types, which I’ll detail below.

Types of Exercise Bikes

Recumbent Exercise BikeA woman using a Recumbent Exercise Bike

This is by far the most comfortable out of all types of exercise bikes. Recumbent exercise bikes usually have a large, cushioned seat along with a backrest – both of which are positioned back from the pedals, thus providing all the support your upper body, back, and joints need.

If you’re an older adult, one with limited mobility, or suffer from any joint injury or back pain, a recumbent exercise bike is the way to go.

Upright Exercise BikeA woman using an Upright Exercise Bike

The upright exercise bike has pedals positioned just under the user’s body, which is why it can be used standing or sitting.

Unlike an indoor cycle bike, an upright exercise bike uses electromagnetic induction that slows the flywheel to increase or decrease resistance.

An upright exercise bike is an excellent machine if you want to strengthen your core and legs, but its upright design can be inconvenient for some as it puts pressure on the hands and wrists.

Indoor Cycle Bike / Spin Bike

An Indoor Cycling Bike

This is the closest you’ll get to an ordinary bicycle. Indoor cycling bikes, A.K.A Spin Bikes, are also similar to upright exercise bikes, but their resistance is given in different ways.

These machines are called spin bikes, and they owe their name to the weighted flywheel they feature, which is connected to the pedals through a transmission system.

That setup, along with the direct-contact brakes, makes this type the most challenging to ride. On the bright side, it also allows this bike to provide an authentic cycling experience.

To tackle the resistance on such a bike, all you have to do is turn a small knob.


Elliptical vs. Exercise Bike – Which Is Best for What?

Which Is Best for Losing Weight and Burning Fat?A young woman stretching her old jeans after she lost some weight

Let’s start with the million-dollar question: which is better for losing weight and burning fat, the elliptical trainer or exercise bike?

Well, theoretically, an elliptical trainer will allow you to burn more calories compared to a stationary bike.

That makes sense, considering that elliptical trainers are designed to train the whole body, whereas exercise bikes are geared towards the lower body.

The matter is a bit more complicated than that though, as how fast you’re going to put off pounds will ultimately depend on how comfortable you are with the machine you use as well as the intensity of your workouts.

After all, the comfier you feel using a machine, the more effort you’re going to put when working out with it, which will let you burn more calories. If a machine feels awkward, on the other hand, achieving your desired weight loss goal will prove to be a daunting task.

That said, it’s mainly the intensity that will determine how many calories you’re going to burn. Following a very intense workout on an exercise bike, no matter its type, will yield better results in terms of weight loss than practicing quietly on an elliptical trainer.

All in all, the elliptical trainer is the winner when it comes to weight loss potential, but the difference between the two machines isn’t that huge, and you can achieve your fitness goals with either of them if you work out regularly with suitable intensity.

Which Machine Is Best for Bad Knees?A man with a bad left knee

If you have bad knees, or any other joint issue for that matter, you ought to stick with an elliptical trainer or a recumbent exercise bike.

Why?

Because although both stationary bikes and elliptical trainers are designed to go easy on your joints thanks to the low-impact exercises they offer, the latter option offers almost zero impact, since you won’t even have to lift your feet off the footpads.

Granted, you don’t have to lift your feet off the pedals when using a stationary bike either, but when training on such a machine, your knees will keep moving from a straight to a very bent position, which can be taxing to your joints.

I also mention that recumbent exercise bikes are also a good option and this is because recumbent bikes have a totally relaxed seating position that allows you to sit and lay back. This style of seating position allows you to keep the weight off of your joints and allows you to focus on pedaling.

In fact, recumbent exercise bikes are great for knee rehabbing.

Which Is Best for Seniors?Seniors using exercise bikes

For older people trying to stay fit, a stationary bike, especially a recumbent one, would be more suitable than an elliptical trainer.

Recumbent bikes have been the go-to machine for senior citizens, overweight people, as well as rehab patients and people with balance problems for ages, and for good reason. After all, these machines are comfortable and easy on the joints due to their unique design, making them just perfect for those who cannot use treadmills, elliptical trainers, and upright bikes.

Which Is Best for Runners?A man running on a road

If you’re a runner, you ought to get a machine that can increase your cardio capacity. In other words, you need a piece of equipment that can engage as many muscles as possible during your workout sessions as that will teach your body how to use oxygen efficiently.

Both the elliptical trainer and the exercise bike can be suitable for that, as you can adjust the intensity of the workout on them to get more of your body engaged in your training sessions.

That said, stationary bikes are a bit limiting in this regard as they primarily target your lower body along with a bit of your core. Elliptical trainers, on the other hand, engage both the upper and lower body along with the core, thus giving you unlimited possibilities and the most comprehensive workout when it comes to cardio capacity gains.

Furthermore, elliptical trainers have a near-authentic running position and experience compared to stationary bikes, and they’re easier on the knees than treadmills, thus giving you the best of both worlds in this aspect.

Which Is Best for Building Muscle and Strength?An Illustration of which muscles do the Elliptical and the Exercise Bike work

The right choice here will depend on which muscles you want to tone and strengthen.

There’s one thing that you need to keep in mind, though. The exercise bike and elliptical trainer are both cardio machines, not strength building pieces of fitness equipment. In other words, they can help you tone some of your muscles, but they won’t help you double your gains.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s know which machine is best for which muscle group!

If you’re looking to target your lower body, both the elliptical trainer and the exercise bike can work just fine for you. After all, both will allow you to train your thighs, quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for more of a full-body workout, then an elliptical trainer would be a better choice, considering that it can help you train not only your lower body muscles but also your arms, pecs, back muscles, and core.

Finally, if you want to strengthen your core and get a six-pack to impress the ladies, get a stationary bike. To tone your abs using an exercise bike, tighten the handlebars and contract your stomach muscles while cycling. You can also try interval training, which is a sure way to get your core muscles to the next level.

Stationary Bike vs. Elliptical – Which Costs More?A magnifying glass pointed at a price ticket

Depending on the type, exercise bikes can cost anywhere from $400 to $2000. The price of elliptical trainers, on the other hand, can cost from less than $500 to over $3,000.

It all depends on the model, of course, and although you can probably get more bang for your buck purchasing an exercise bike, both machines are pretty similar when it comes to the average price.


Stationary Bike vs. Elliptical: Advantages & Drawbacks

Benefits of Ellipticals

Provide Full Body Workout

This is one of the top perks of getting an elliptical trainer, and it’s the reason it’s called cross-trainer or X-trainer.

Thanks to its handlebars, the elliptical trainer can provide a dual-action workout that engages most of the major muscle groups in your body, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, pecs, triceps, biceps, and core.

Remember, the more muscles you engage, the more calories you’ll burn, which makes this machine superior compared to lower-body-only exercise machines, which is the case for most exercise bikes.

Keep in mind that, to get the most out of such a dual-action workout, you must distribute the resistance between your upper and lower body.

Low Impact

When walking or running outside or on a treadmill, every step you take puts pressure on your joints. Eventually depending on how long you run on the treadmill even if it has the most cushioned deck of any treadmill out there you will find that your joints will be quite sore after some time. Elliptical trainers, on the other hand, prevent that through the elliptical motion they provide.

After all, your feet never leave the pedals, which means that your body is supported all the time, making the whole experience similar to walking in midair.

With such a machine, you’ll never be able to use the “my knees hurt” excuse ever again!

So, if you find it hard to tolerate the jarring motion of walking or running because of your age, weight, or condition, you might want to stick with an elliptical machine.

Helps Prevent Osteoporosis and Recover from Injury

Unlike stationary bikes, an elliptical trainer provides a weight-bearing exercise that forces your body to work against gravity, which inhibits the onset of osteoporosis.

Moreover, if you’re recovering from an injury and still want to maintain a high level of fitness, getting an elliptical trainer would be ideal. That’s because although it’s a low-impact machine, this piece of equipment can still give you high-intensity workouts without going hard on your joints.

Cons of Ellipticals

Less Comfortable

To use an elliptical machine, you must be standing and moving throughout the whole workout.

That may be fine for the first couple of minutes, but the longer your workouts get, the less comfortable such position is going to become in contrast with using a stationary bike, which allows you to sit down in a comfortable manner.

Can Be Overwhelming

As I mentioned above, elliptical trainers target several muscle groups, including the glutes, thighs, hamstrings, pecs, back muscles, arms, and core.

Granted, that can be a huge advantage if you’re looking to get into shape fast or strengthen your muscles, but if you’re a senior citizen, an overweight user, or a total beginner, using an elliptical machine can be overwhelming and tiring.

There’s also the fact that elliptical machines have a steep learning curve. The movement they provide may feel unnatural at first, which is why such a piece of equipment may take some getting used to.

Their Size Can Be Problematic

One disadvantage that must be mentioned is that choosing the size of an elliptical trainer can be more problematic than picking the dimensions of an exercise bike.

Elliptical machine models vary vastly when it comes to the size, which means that you may end up with a unit that’s either too big or too small for you. Either way, such a machine would be uncomfortable or worse, bad for your joints. If you find yourself in such a situation, make sure to switch to an exercise bike.

Benefits of Exercise Bikes

They Allow for Interactive Live Training Workouts

Let’s face it; working out at home can be boring. After all, the scenery doesn’t change that much throughout the workout, and, for most machines, there aren’t many exercises to try, which is the case for the elliptical trainer.

Enter stationary exercise bikes with screens.

Many stationary exercise bikes come with screens that allow the user to try interactive workouts through apps like iFit, Peleton, Echelon, and Zwift. That way, you can join live classes led by professional trainers, which will help you get the most out of your indoor bike.

My Favorite is actually an interactive gaming app called Zwift. Buy a Zwift compatible exercise bike and away you can do to any destination in the world and go through virtual rides. It’s Extremely cool.

They Provide a Low-Impact Workout

Stationary bikes use smooth movements to help you strengthen your muscles as well as your bones and joints without putting them under too much pressure.

After all, your feet don’t leave the pedals throughout the workout, making these bikes capable of providing a challenging workout while going soft on your knees.

That makes these machines suitable for people with pre-existing joint issues and a better alternative to running, jogging, and jumping, all of which can put your joints under a lot of stress.

They Offer Endless Workout Possibilities

There’s more to do than to just sit and pedal on an exercise bike. After all, you can easily adjust the resistance, cadence, and stance. So, besides normal cycling, you can try doing a seated hill climb, standing hill climb, or sprints.

They’re Comfortable

Unlike elliptical machines, exercise bikes don’t force you to stand up throughout your workout sessions. Instead, you can sit comfortably on the bike’s seat and pedal!

The fact that you’re sitting also means that you can free your hands to pick a book to read, change the TV channel, or send an urgent text. Granted, that can be done on an elliptical trainer as well, but, in that case, you’ll have to struggle to maintain your balance and keep your head from bobbing around.

They’re the Best Option for Overweight and Elderly Users

Since they only target lower body muscles and offer a comfortable seating position, exercise bikes are perfect for senior citizens and overweight people. That’s especially the case for recumbent bikes, which are specifically designed for such users.


Verdict

Stationary bikes and elliptical trainers are two of the most widely-used cardio machines, and for good reason. They’re excellent for losing weight, toning muscles, and staying in shape, all while being low-impact and going easy on your joints.

Each machine has its own pros and cons, so there is no correct and wrong choice here, but rather the right option for each case.

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