Treadmill vs Cross Trainer

Cardio is in its own category in the fitness world with its town stream of questions.

When to perform it? For how long? Should it be done before or after weights? And of course —what cardio machine is the best?

Treadmill and cross-trainer together

The treadmill and cross trainer are two popular machines you’ve most likely seen or tried at your gym. It’s hard to say which machine is best since they both have their strengths and weakness.

But if you’re trying to decide what will best suit your fitness goals, continue reading to learn what differentiates these cardio machines.

What are the differences between the two?

Benefits of the Treadmill

A treadmill is most likely the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word cardio. It’s a fantastic machine for training your heart and lungs. The speed and incline can be adjusted with the push of a button, mimicking the sensation of sprinting on flat land or hiking up a steep hill.

Note: You can buy non-motorised versions. You can check out our reviews of some of the best manual treadmills available in the UK.

You can target your leg muscles and burn fat

Treadmills offer a great lower body and depending on how you choose to use it; it can target different leg muscles.

For example, if you stick to jogging or running on a low incline, your quadriceps will get all the love and feel the burn. The quads are the largest muscle group that make up the front of your thighs, thus running frequently will give you those much desired and defined ‘runner’s legs.’

By increasing the incline and decrease the speed, you’ll be able to target your glutes and calves. You can increase the burn in your glutes by reducing the speed and swapping out steps for deep lunges.

If you’re looking to increase the strength in your legs while burning fat and improving your stamina, the treadmill will help you achieve all of these goals in no time.

You can use the treadmill for a warm up and cool down

You can even utilize this machine for your warm up and cool down on non-cardio focused days. Even if you consider yourself an avid runner, weight-bearing exercises are essential to incorporate to prevent arthritis and osteoporosis.

A five minute warm up on the treadmill can help prepare your body mentally and physically for exercise.

After a good weight lifting session, a five to ten-minute cool down after can help lessen the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness, return your heart to its resting heart rate, and return your muscles to their resting lengths.

You can incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

Another advantage of selecting the treadmill as your cardio machine of choice is that high-intensity interval training comes more naturally. You can complete a session by cycling through bursts of sprints and light walking by just pushing a button. HIIT cardio has been said to burn more calories than Low Intensity Steady State cardio, abbreviated as LISS cardio, for this main reason:

It keeps your heart rate elevated even after you’ve hopped off the machine, meaning you’ll burn more calories throughout the day as your running errands or getting work done at the office.

The treadmill also offers a lot more in terms of functionality. If you’re training for a race, marathon, or any other kind of athletic event, the treadmill will be your best shot at improving your performance. It’s a useful tool that can enhance your athletic ability while melting body fat to give you the body of your dreams.

The Benefits of the Cross Trainer

A cross trainer varies from a treadmill in many ways. It’s not designed for intense running or jogging. Instead, this machine mimics the sensation of climbing by having you stride forward using the lower peddles and upper handles.

The cross trainer works out the entire body

With the way this piece of equipment is designed, you’ll be performing the exercise and burn calories, but you won’t feel fatigued once you’ve completed a session. Unlike the treadmill, the cross trainer works out your entire body. The foot petals train your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings while the top handles zone in on your biceps, triceps, lattisimus dorsi, and pectoralis major. The cross trainer is extremely efficient since it offers resistance training on top of cardio.

Cross trainers are safer

Cross trainers are also safer. This is what draws many beginners to this machine as their preferred form of cardio. Treadmills can lead to serious injury if you’re not careful. We’ve all heard of those humiliating and painful horror stories of people flying off the treadmill. Pace yourself, and you’ll be fine, but if this still concerns you, give the cross trainer a try.

The cross trainer is perfect for Low Intensity Steady State cardio (LISS)

The most significant difference between the two of these machines is their impact on the body. Treadmills can be tough on the knees. The cross trainer, on the other hand, is low impact and safe for anyone to use. Though you can do high-intensity interval training the cross trainer, the machine is best suited for low intensity steady state cardio instead. An hour on a treadmill might feel uncomfortable and exhausting to some, especially if you have flat feet or weak joints. An hour on the cross trainer, however, can feel challenging, but comfortable.

They are easy to use

The cross trainer is a perfect piece of equipment for the new gym goer. Athletes and more experienced individuals may find the treadmill to be more challenging and prefer using it over the cross trainer to suit their own unique goals. But if you’re trying to lose weight or get comfortable in your new gym, the cross trainer would be an excellent option.

What do they have in common?

These machines both can get your heart rate up. A successful cardio session doesn’t mean you should leave feeling like your heart is about to jump out of your chest the entire time. It can be steady, prolonged and still benefit your heart and lungs.

Both machines are customisable and give you the ability to increase the amount of speed, resistance, or incline.

They are also both valid forms of cardio. Both machines can help lower your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Type II diabetes
  • Obesity

Which is best for the joints?

The treadmill is pretty tough on your body if you’re performing cardio for over half an hour multiple times a week. The way the belt of the machine moves under you is unnatural when compared to running outdoors. Your feet aren’t able to push off the ground, creating the proper amount of momentum your body would typically need to power your steps. Running on a treadmill is repetitive and offers little to no variety and can lead to weak joints and muscular imbalances. The treadmill also puts strain on the knees, forcing them to absorb the shock and possibly harm them in the long run.

The cross trainer is low-impact. It causes no harm to the joints and also focuses on strengthening your muscles, allowing you to protect your joints and build up your lattisimus dorsi to prevent low back pain as you age. Bottom line: the cross trainer the perfect substitution to the treadmill if your primary concern is protecting the integrity of your joints.

Tips to lessen the effects of running on a treadmill

If you enjoy the exhilarating feeling of running, but don’t want to experience any long-term problems from using a treadmill frequently, here are a few ways you can minimize the effects.

  • Keep your sessions under thirty minutes. If your cardio exceeds this time limit, switch over to the cross trainer for a prolonged session.
  • Raise the incline 1 or 2 per cent. This mimics the sensation of running outdoors and offers more of a challenge.
  • Please don’t skip the crucial warm up and cool down, since it helps to prep your entire body.
  • Try running outdoors during the warmer months. The varied and uneven ground is better for your joints.
  • Grasping onto the rails can damage your form by causing you to hunch or lean forward while running, eventually leading to muscular imbalances. Pay attention to your posture and strides while you’re running.

Which burns the most calories?

Both machines are great for burning up to eight hundred calories in an hour. Their effects on fat loss are relatively similar and depend on what kind of cardio you prefer doing. If you want to incorporate cardio into your preexisting lifting routine, high-intensity interval training on a treadmill after weights is perfect for preserving muscle mass and burning fat. A typical fifteen-minute session of HIIT on a treadmill will burn between 300-400 calories.

Since HIIT is so impactful on the body, it can only be done for fifteen to twenty minutes, making a treadmill workout session ideal for someone with limited time.

However, Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio can burn more calories if done for a prolonged amount of time—as the name implies.

LISS cardio is ideal for beginners. Though it takes longer to complete, it’s less stressful on the body.

So if you’re planning on devoting an hour to one machine, the cross trainer can help you burn up to 800 calories.

But which machine burns more?

This is a tricky question because both machines allow you to complete your cardio in different ways. Yes, LISS and HIIT don’t have to be done on the cross trainer and treadmill respectively.

The type of cardio you do depends on the intensity you’re comfortable with and the amount of time you have.

To summarize, the cross trainer burns more calories when used for a prolonged time— no less than one hour. However, a treadmill can burn more calories throughout the day after a session of exhausting HIIT.

HIIT, however, may be too taxing for someone recovering from an injury or just starting at the gym.


Now, you know the differences between these two cardio machines, you’ll be able to narrow down which one suits your specific needs. Though they are both useful, you might find yourself gravitating to one over the other.

The treadmill is a popular piece of equipment and can be found in almost any gym worldwide. If you’re new to the gym, overweight, or are recovering from an injury, start walking at a slight incline before you move on to light jogging and eventually running at a pace you can maintain. Again, intense workouts should not exceed 30 minutes. Athletes, however, enjoy the treadmill for its functionality and flexibility.

The cross trainer is great for the average person wanting to get fit, as it is low impact and also as effective as the treadmill at burning fat. If HIIT isn’t for you, keep your cardio sessions prolonged and steady with LISS.

The choice is yours. Cardio is a vital part of getting in shape living a healthier life. Your heart will thank you, regardless of what machine you end up going choosing.

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Team MT

Team MT is the editorial team of MuscleTalk. With over 20 years experience we write quality, evidence based, articles. In addition to creating original content, we also edit and fact-check any articles we feature by external writers.

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