Question: I recently started going back to the gym and would like to know which machine provides the best workout, the treadmill, bike, elliptical or the Stepper?
Answer: This is actually a very common question which has both a simple and more complex answers. The simple answer is no, there isn’t a difference but that answer still comes with a * next to it. A lot is going to depend on a person’s goals as well as their physical condition and this is where the complexity comes into play. If the goal is simply burning calories, then there is no real difference. If you work out with your heart rate at 150 on a treadmill, you will burn the same amount of calories as if you did it on a bike or a stepper. It’s not the machine but the intensity level that matters and here is where it can get a bit complicated. A treadmill is great because you can’t really cheat. When a speed is set, you must keep up with it so you can get your heart rate up quickly and keep it there. On an elliptical or a bike, you can adjust the pace more easily than a treadmill so a person has to be really motivated and push themselves to reach the desired intensity level that they want. The stepper is somewhere in between as you can cheat a little bit but the stepper focuses so much on the legs that sometimes the legs will fatigue prior to reaching the desired time commitment.
A person’s physical condition also plays a role in deciding the right piece of equipment. Someone with knee or hip problems will probably be better suited using an elliptical as it provides an impact free workout when compared to a treadmill. A person with severe calf pain will likely not want to use the stepper as it will exacerbate the problem. If there are no physical injuries then take goals into account. If you are looking to build leg power then a stepper of treadmill will be best. If you are going to run a marathon then a treadmill is probably best and the same can go if you plan on a biking vacation. If there isn’t a set goal then it really comes down to personal preference. At the end of the day, fitness is a significant portion mental and if you don’t like a particular piece of equipment, you are going to be unlikely to keep it up. Just make sure that you are able to keep your heart rate up and you’ll be fine.
Treadmill: It’s high impact so it’s not good for those with joint pain or injuries. It’s the most functional of the machines because it mimics a real life movement. Hard to cheat with a treadmill so most people find it to be more intense than the others.
Bike: Low impact and the resistance can be adjusted. It can be easy to fall into a comfort zone so a person needs to push him or herself a little when using it. Safe on the joints. Lower body focused so fatigue in the legs is a possibility.
Elliptical: A great total body machine. Very low impact for people with joint problems. Very easy to fall into a comfort zone so like the bike, proper motivation is required to get a good workout.
Stair master: Very lower body focused to it’s possible to fatigue quickly. Can be very intense to it’s great for intervals but it’s hard to sustain an intense level for 30-45 minutes. Not good for people with lower leg tightness or hip problems.