Both the treadmill and the bike are universal pieces of cardio equipment found in even the most basic of gyms. Both of these options are excellent for cardio workouts, whether you are looking to burn calories, improve muscle flexibility, support other forms of training, or just get moving.
My clients often ask me, "Which machine is better for a cardio workout?" The answer to this question often depends on your personal preference and fitness goals, as well as the amount of effort you put into your cardio session.
Both machines deserve credit for improving cardio fitness, but let's take a closer look at each and discuss their cardio benefits.
The treadmill is an excellent piece of cardio equipment because you can control your speed and incline to match your fitness level. Unless you intentionally change the intensity, it will remain the same throughout your treadmill workout, forcing you to keep up your pace and preventing you from mindlessly slowing your run.
Not a runner? Not a problem. Walking on a treadmill can torch just as many calories as running at a moderate pace would, as long as you crank up the incline. In addition to promoting endurance, walking on an incline also targets your glutes and hamstrings for an extra lower body benefit.
Treadmills offer several benefits including
- Convenience: If your workout program relies on you using treadmills, you’re in luck since this is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of equipment. You can find treadmills at most commercial gyms and at most hotel gyms. And if you prefer to exercise at home, they even make treadmills to accommodate for smaller spaces.
- Variety: Another benefit of treadmills is that you can do a variety of workouts on them, from walking to sprinting. Want to simulate running up a hill? No worries, just ramp up the incline. Because you can control the speed and incline of a treadmill, you’re able to constantly change the intensity of your workouts.
- Measurable: Treadmills usually come equipped with displays that show you the time, distance, speed and calories burned. This makes them an easy way to keep track of your progress so that you’re accountable for each workout.
The bike can be a very effective form of cardio—whether you’re in the gym on a stationary bike or outside on the open road. However, the stationary bike is easy to skimp on intensity. More often than not, I see people aimlessly pedaling away while they read a newspaper during their cardio session. Their workouts look lifeless and they barely break a sweat. Although you can adjust the resistance level on the bike, your speed is directly related to how hard you push.
That being said, a low-intensity bike workout certainly has its time and place, especially if you are recovering from an injury or are brand new to the gym.
Bikes offer several benefits including
- Strengthening The Lower Body: In addition to training your cardiovascular system, cycling workouts heavily engage your lower body muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. If you ride at a high intensity, whether it means uphill during outdoor cycling or with a heavy resistance on a stationary bike, these rides can strengthen your lower body.
- Low-Impact: cycling is an activity that is easier on your joints than other more weight-bearing forms of cardio. If you’re already doing other forms of exercise in your routine that leave you sore, cycling can be a helpful alternative when you want to train your cardiovascular system without adding extra stress to your joints.
- Scenic or Convenient: outdoor cycling can provide a scenic workout environment that allows you to enjoy nature. While stationary bikes offer a great deal of convenience because they’re found in most commercial gyms and even some hotel gyms.
Both the time you spend working out and the intensity with which you work out should be high priorities when choosing a cardio machine. You always want to be as effective as possible in your workouts. Regardless of which machine you choose, you must challenge yourself. I'm talking elevated heart rate, sweat, and an inability to have a full conversation. This is the key to an effective workout- if you don’t give it your all, you won’t see results on either machine.
Crafting Your Perfect Cardio Workout
To sum it all up, if you hate the treadmill or can’t stand the bike, go with the machine that you prefer. Just push yourself. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because you spent 60 minutes on a cardio machine that you burned a ton of calories.
Here are three sample workouts:
- Warm up with 5-10 minutes at a slow pace
- Increase the speed for your work set. You’ll be doing jog intervals for 20-30 minutes, gradually increasing the intensity and duration over time. These intervals will have you speed jogging at an intensity of 70% for 30 seconds followed by a slower-paced jog for 1 minute 30 seconds at an intensity of about 50%.
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes of walking at a slow pace
Stationary Bike Workout:
- Warm up with 5-10 minutes of easy pedaling
- Increase the resistance and pedal at a moderate pace for 20-30 minutes, gradually increasing the intensity every 5 minutes and over time you can increase the duration of your workouts.
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy pedaling
Treadmill and Stationary Bike Combined Workout:
- Warm up with 5-10 minutes of walking at a slow pace on the treadmill
- Switch to the stationary bike and pedal at a moderate pace for 5-10 minutes.
- Ride the stationary bike at an intensity of 70% for 10 minutes
- Return to the treadmill and jog for another 10 minutes at an intensity of 50%
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes of walking at a slow pace on the treadmill Check yourself after 5-10 minutes. Are you feeling out of breath, or are you going for a leisurely stroll?
If you notice that you‘re slacking, kick it up a notch!
About Jen Jewell
Jen Jewell is the bubbly meets badass fitness personality who takes a versatile “fun with fitness” approach to training. Although she is a fitness pro, she isn’t overly restrictive with her nutrition and workouts. She loves yoga, hiking, and outdoor workouts. She actively coaches people around the world who want to get healthy and fit. Follow Jen on her journey.
For an extra push during your next training session, check out all of our workout-boosting supplements before you hit the treadmill or the bike during your high-intensity cardio workout.