Exercise Bike vs. Elliptical – Advantages and Disadvantages

The decision between getting an exercise bike vs. an elliptical is a matter of personal choice, budget, comfort level, and perhaps a few things you have not considered before.

Pros and Cons of the Stationary Bike

The main advantage of riding an exercise bike is that most people can. In fact, recumbent bikes are used for overweight people, senior citizens, rehab patients, and people who have balance problems who cannot use a treadmill, elliptical, or even an upright bike.

On a bike, there is more to do than just sit and pedal. You can adjust resistance, cadence, and even your stance – riding normal as if you were on a flat road, or doing a seated hill climb, standing hill climb, and sprints.

Another big pro to the exercise bike vs. an elliptical, is that you are seated while exercising, with your hands free for reading a book, sending text messages, or watching TV. You can also do that on an elliptical trainer, but you work much harder to maintain your balance. But this seated advantage is also a disadvantage as the bike is not a weight-bearing exercise, so there is little benefit provided to the bones which need to be strengthened just like muscles do.

There are two other cons to an exercise bike: one is the uncomfortable seat on an upright model which many people are not able to tolerate. Twenty minutes on a bike seat and your tush will be numb. You can try a gel pad or cushion, but nothing completely alleviates the problem.

The second issue is the fatigue of the quadriceps muscles while pedaling. This is caused by a build-up of lactic acid especially when dialing up higher resistance levels on the flywheel. It’s those painful memories of “tired leg muscles” when riding a bike uphill as a kid that keeps a lot of folks off an exercise bike. However, this fatigue in the quads will go away once you build up your leg strength.

Pros and Cons of the Elliptical Trainer

The elliptical is a low-impact cardio machine that allows you to select different resistance levels to make the workout more or less strenuous. Many machines also have an incline ramp to make it more like an uphill climb.

Also, ellipticals with moving arms provide a total body workout, which gives the advantage to the elliptical vs. the exercise bike.

Elliptical workouts are weight-bearing exercises, meaning you will not only improve muscle strength, but bone density as well. This type of exercise is important to stave off osteoporosis later in life.

One con that must be mentioned is that the size of the machine is more problematic than with a bike. Elliptical stride lengths vary in size from model to model, and you may end up with a trainer that is either too big or too small for you. If it is uncomfortable to workout on, or it puts stress on your knees, then a stationary bike would be a better choice for cardio exercises.

Price Comparison

While there are a number of good ellipticals that sell for $700 to $1000, that is the minimum price you will have to pay for a decent machine.

A comparable exercise bike can offer the same or better value in the $400 to $600 range.  So you can definitely get a better quality bike for the money.

Which Offers the Best Calorie Burn?

The average moderate workout on an exercise bike burns around 300 calories an hour, while a typical workout on an elliptical can burn from 300 to 500 calories an hour.

That changes obviously if you use one of the bikes with movable arms, which will definitely ramp up the calorie burn.

The results are not typical for everyone. As with any exercise, you get out of it what you put into it.  So you can shed a ton of calories on any cardio machine if you really put the effort in.

What's the Bottom Line?

So which fitness machine is best for you? Personal preference will make the final decision. The most calorie burn, price, maintenance issues, and other factors aren’t as important as how much you personally enjoy working out on an exercise bike vs. an elliptical machine.

Whichever one you will stick with on a regular basis is the one to go with.

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