Exercise bike vs treadmill: Which is better?

In the realm of fitness, a notable contest arises between the exercise bike and the treadmill, prompting the question of which one provides the most efficacious workout experience.

Exercise bike vs treadmill: Which is better?

Exercise Bike vs Treadmill: Which One Is Better for Your Fitness Routine?

Exercise bike vs treadmill: Which will provide you with a more effective workout and increase your cardiovascular fitness? The fact is, whether you have one of the best treadmills or exercise bikes at home, both devices provide a useful approach to increase heart rate, boost metabolism, and burn calories and body fat.

An exercise bike is a low-impact option that is ideal for those who have joint pain or are recovering from an injury. Riding a stationary bike can help to improve cardiovascular health and burn calories, while primarily targeting the muscles in the lower body, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Additionally, many stationary bikes come with features such as adjustable resistance settings and heart rate monitors, which can provide a customized and effective workout.

A treadmill, on the other hand, is a great option for those who want to engage in weight-bearing exercise that helps to build bone density and strengthen muscles in the lower body. Treadmills also allow for a wide range of exercise options, including walking, jogging, and running, which can help to improve cardiovascular health and burn calories. Additionally, many treadmills come with features such as incline settings and heart rate monitors, which can provide a more challenging and effective workout.

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According to Helen O’Leary, a chartered physiotherapist, these two machines hold considerable popularity and ubiquity in commercial gyms, home gyms, and fitness classes. “Both machines target the cardiovascular system and are suitable for HIIT training or steady-state cardio, involving maintaining a consistent pace for an extended period.”

But how do these machines compare? Well, each one offers distinct advantages. O’Leary explains, “Exercise bikes are fantastic since they occupy minimal space, can be used by anyone, improve balance, and are low-impact. They prove especially beneficial for beginners and contribute to strengthening the legs. Moreover, they have been shown to enhance walking balance as well.”

Similarly, treadmills are an excellent addition to any fitness routine. O’Leary continues, “Treadmills are brilliant for cardiovascular workouts. Walking is a movement pattern we are already familiar with, which makes it easier to adapt to treadmill exercises. Additionally, treadmills provide a predictable surface, eliminating worries about tripping. They offer the flexibility to control speed and incline gradient, and often come with pre-designed challenging workouts. For those looking to build strength, treadmills can be of great assistance.”

Now, the question remains: which of these cardio machines does physiotherapist O’Leary consider the best? Let’s delve into the answer.

The pros and cons of treadmills

Treadmills have gained popularity as a common addition to any workout space due to their numerous benefits. However, it is crucial to consider that they also come with certain limitations and downsides.

Treadmill pros

  • allows you to run and walk in a controlled indoor environment
  • variable speed and incline provides excellent control of the intensity
  • accurate data tracking; setup of digital experiences like television to enhance the workout
  • useful as a rehabilitation tool for balance and other gait-related abilities

Treadmill cons

patterns of movement differ from running on normal surfaces.
If you don’t utilise the safety leash, you run the risk of being flung off the back.
On a treadmill, running at the same speed could require more energy.
compared to running on a regular surface
You won’t be able to experience nature or the outdoors while working out.

The pros and cons of exercise bikes

Stationary bikes bring forth numerous benefits when integrated into your fitness routine, yet it is crucial to be aware of the downsides they may entail.

Exercise bike pros

  • you’re not limited by environmental concerns like the weather
  • easy to measure, track, and adjust the intensity
  • relatively low impact and joint-friendly
  • significantly improves most fitness metrics
  • can improve gait and balance

Exercise bike cons

  • doesn’t build substantial muscle
  • offers less significant improvements in bone mineral density (BMD) than weight-bearing exercises
  • less appealing for people who like outdoor exercise

Comparing Workout Effectiveness

Cardiovascular Benefits

Both exercise bikes and treadmills offer excellent cardiovascular benefits. They elevate the heart rate, improve blood circulation, and enhance overall cardiovascular health. However, the impact on heart health may vary depending on the intensity and duration of the workout.

Calorie Burning Potential

Treadmills tend to burn more calories per hour compared to exercise bikes due to the weight-bearing nature of walking or running. Nevertheless, exercise bikes provide an effective and efficient way to burn calories without the impact.

Impact on Joints and Muscles

Exercise bikes are gentler on the joints and muscles, making them ideal for individuals with joint issues or recovering from injuries. Treadmills, on the other hand, may lead to more stress on the knees and joints, which could be a concern for those with existing joint problems.

User-Friendliness and Safety

Ease of Use

Exercise bikes are generally more user-friendly, making them suitable for individuals of all fitness levels, including beginners. They have a simple design, with most models offering adjustable resistance to control the workout intensity easily.

Risk of Injury

Treadmills carry a higher risk of injury, especially if the user loses balance or missteps at higher speeds. On the other hand, exercise bikes have a lower risk of injury due to their stationary nature and reduced impact on joints.

Energy Expenditure

To effectively achieve weight (or fat) loss, understanding energy expenditure is essential. It refers to the total number of calories burned in a day through physical activity and bodily functions. To reach your goal, you must be in a calorie deficit, meaning you burn more calories than your body requires.

Exercise is a potent method to increase energy expenditure, but determining the best machine for weight loss is a common question.

A comparative study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the calorie-burning capabilities of running on a treadmill and using an exercise bike. The results showed that running on a treadmill burned approximately 490 to 646 calories per hour, while an exercise bike burned around 478 to 628 calories during the same duration.

However, it’s crucial to consider your personal exertion level. Simply strolling on a treadmill won’t burn as many calories as participating in a vigorous spin-style class, according to O’Leary.

Muscles Used

Both exercise machines, the exercise bike and the treadmill, offer benefits for muscle building, but the speed and progress of muscle growth hinge on the intensity and frequency of your training.

According to O’Leary, using an exercise bike primarily engages muscles such as the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps to propel and pull the pedals. Additionally, utilizing the handles works the upper body muscles, including the biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

On the other hand, when using a treadmill, the main muscles involved are the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, calves, and glutes. Maintaining an upright posture engages the abdominal and back muscles, while the arms, shoulders, and pectorals swing forward and back, albeit at a lower intensity.

Adjusting the incline on the treadmill can target specific muscle groups. Leaning forwards engages the glutes, hamstrings, and calves further, while slowing down and increasing the incline intensifies the workload on the calves. During running, the abdominal and oblique muscles also come into play.

O’Leary points out that determining which machine is better depends on the individual. For those who are fit and healthy without any injuries or medical conditions, the treadmill may provide a more challenging workout. However, individuals who are deconditioned, recovering from injuries, have balance issues, or medical conditions that could affect exercise progression may find the exercise bike to be a better option. The bike offers more support with less strain on the joints.

Cost and Space

Exercise bikes typically have a smaller footprint compared to treadmills, making them a space-efficient choice. Moreover, they are relatively affordable, especially the budget-friendly options that often fold down to save even more space. These budget exercise bikes can be purchased for approximately $200, making them accessible to a wide range of users.

On the other hand, treadmills come in various versions, including under desk models without arms or handles, which are generally more affordable. However, if you desire additional features like incline/decline options and an accompanying app, the cost is likely to increase, especially if the brand enjoys a dedicated following like Peloton.

When considering a treadmill, it’s essential to ensure that your floor is stable enough to handle the impact. Ideally, treadmills should be placed on a ground floor or a reinforced floor if located upstairs. Since treadmills are not typically moved around frequently, it’s advisable to invest in a model that suits your needs and is suitable for long-term use.

Additional Benefits

Exercise bikes offer the advantage of being gentler on the joints, making them a suitable choice for those concerned about impact-related issues. They also require less space and provide a low-impact workout. However, it’s worth noting that exercise bikes may be less effective at enhancing bone density compared to treadmills, and significant muscle growth might be more challenging to achieve with cycling workouts when compared to running.

On the other hand, treadmills offer the convenience of walking or running in a controlled indoor environment, eliminating concerns about inclement weather. They can also serve as valuable tools for rehabilitation and aid in improving balance and gait.

O’Leary suggests that running is not a prerequisite for using a treadmill, as a slower, high incline walk can still deliver an effective workout. Another benefit of using a treadmill is the impact it provides, which is beneficial for building stronger bones—a significant advantage for individuals with osteopenia or osteoporosis.


Choosing between an exercise bike and a treadmill as the better cardio machine is not a straightforward decision, as it depends on individual circumstances, says O’Leary.

For individuals who are fit and in good health, O’Leary suggests that a treadmill might be more suitable. Treadmills offer a comprehensive full-body workout and contribute to building bone density, which is particularly important for women over forty, who have a higher risk of osteoporosis (weak bones). With the option to train at various speeds and inclines, treadmills provide an excellent cardiovascular workout.

On the other hand, if someone has experienced an injury, has arthritis, or deals with pain, O’Leary recommends opting for an exercise bike as the primary choice. Using an exercise bike allows individuals to engage in physical activity without placing undue stress on their bodies, making it a safer option.

Regardless of the machine chosen, the most crucial aspect is engaging in regular exercise of any kind. O’Leary emphasizes that any form of exercise is better than none, and the key is to find an activity that one enjoys to maintain consistency in their fitness routine.


Ultimately, the choice between an exercise bike and a treadmill depends on your personal preferences, fitness goals, and health considerations. If you seek a low-impact workout with lower injury risk, an exercise bike might be the ideal choice. On the other hand, if you prioritize calorie burning and intense cardiovascular workouts, a treadmill could better suit your needs.

Regardless of your choice, remember that consistency and dedication are key to achieving your fitness objectives. Always consult with a fitness expert or healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or concerns.

FAQs – Exercise Bike vs. Treadmill

Are exercise bikes suitable for weight loss?

Yes, exercise bikes can aid in weight loss by burning calories and improving cardiovascular health.

Can treadmills be harmful to the knees?

Treadmills can be hard on the knees, especially if used at high speeds or with pre-existing knee issues. Proper warm-up and form are crucial.

Which machine is better for beginners?

Exercise bikes are generally considered more beginner-friendly due to their low impact and ease of use.

Can I use a treadmill if I have joint problems?

It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine if using a treadmill is suitable for your specific joint condition.

Are there interactive workout programs available for treadmills?

Yes, many modern treadmills come with interactive workout programs to keep users engaged and motivated.

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