Quick Jump To List
If like most people, you only have room for one exercise machine in your home, then your choice is probably going to boil down to a cross trainer or a treadmill. Here’s a quick guide to how they compare to help you work out which is best for you.
The basics of cross trainers and treadmills
Both cross trainers and treadmills work out the lower body. Cross trainers use a pedalling movement but from a standing position and treadmills are for running (or walking or jogging).
Cross trainers can also give the upper body a thorough workout whereas treadmills really only workout the arms and then relatively lightly. That said, there are plenty of other options for working out the upper body without spending a lot on exercise equipment.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - protecting your joints
If your main priority is to exercise without damaging your joints (or aggravating any existing damage) then the cross trainer is the clear winner. Your feet stay on the pedals throughout meaning that there is zero impact. A treadmill, even with excellent cushioning, just can’t compare.
As a bonus, the fact that cross trainers are powered by your own energy rather than by a motor means that it’s effectively impossible to fall off them the way you can fall off a treadmill. Having said that, falling off a treadmill happens more often in comedy shows than in real life.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - exercising quietly
One of the big differences between home fitness and going to the gym is that at home you have a far higher likelihood of needing to think about the noise. If this is you then cross trainers are also the clear winner, mainly because they don’t have a motor but also because the fact that your feet stay on the pedals means that you don’t have the sound of them hitting the deck.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - storage space
Another big difference between home fitness and going to the gym is that at home you probably have to give a lot more thought to how much space an exercise machine uses both in and out of use. In our opinion, this is a clear win for treadmills.
You can buy foldable cross trainers but what this means is that the top section folds back over the flywheel. This means that it takes up the same amount of horizontal space but uses less vertical space.
We suppose this might be useful if it meant that you could store your cross trainer under a bed, but we don’t think the average bed would have space for a cross trainer underneath it, even folded, and we wouldn’t fancy having to put away a cross trainer after each use and then drag it out again when we were ready for another workout.
With treadmills, by contrast, you generally just fold up the deck after use, thus clearing up the floor space which is probably what matters to most people these days. Also, we’d say that most treadmills would fit under a bed if necessary and while getting them in and out might not be a fun task, we reckon it would be a whole lot easier than moving a cross trainer.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - cardio/weight loss
Various people have tried to crunch the numbers of this. Some people come out with treadmills being slightly the better option. Some people come out with cross trainers being slightly the better option. Pretty much everyone agrees that there’s really very little in it either way. In short, both cross trainers and treadmills can offer a great cardio workout.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - workout flexibility
If like many people, you are on a fitness journey, you might be less interested in how far you can ultimately go and more interested in how much flexibility you have regarding how you get there. It’s hard to say whether cross trainers or treadmills have the edge here.
With cross trainers, you can adjust the level of resistance and choose whether or not you want to use the arm handles. You can also choose different workout plans for both intensity and variety.
With treadmills, you can vary the speed and (usually) the incline. There isn’t really anything special you can do with your arms. You could carry weights or put on weighted armbands but you may not find this comfortable.
Many treadmills come with at least a few pre-programmed workout choices. Most of these will involve varying the speed of the running deck. At the premium end, they may also vary the incline with the deck adjusting itself automatically while you are still on-board.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - training for runners
This is an unsurprising win for treadmills, probably, but it can be helpful to understand why. On a treadmill, you have to flex your foot and lift it off the platform. This makes your calves work in the same way and to the same extent as they would if you were running outside. On a cross trainer, you will definitely work your legs, but you will not work your calves in the same way because your feet stay on the pedals.
The reason why this win is a probably rather than a definitely is that this point is probably only going to matter to people who are really serious about running. If, however, you just enjoy running outdoors because it’s a fun and affordable way to keep fit and you’re essentially looking for a way to get the same sort of cardio indoors, then a cross trainer might actually be the better option.
Using a cross trainer will give your joints time out from the pounding they take when you run (even on a cushioned deck) while allowing you to keep your leg muscles in shape and also work out your upper body if you wish.
Cross trainers versus treadmills - HIIT training
With cross trainers, to adjust the intensity of the workout, you simply adjust the resistance on the flywheel, which you can generally do very easily while you are still on-board, and the cross trainer will respond immediately.
With treadmills you adjust the intensity of the workout by adjusting the speed and/or incline and for HIIT, it’s really likely to be the latter to get those muscles engaged. More affordable treadmills generally require you to adjust the incline manually and even if the treadmill can adjust the incline with you on board it usually takes longer than simply changing the resistance on a flywheel.
If you add this to the fact that cross trainers also give the option to work out the upper body, then this has to be a clear win for cross trainers.
Cross trainers are very versatile pieces of equipment. They’re great for anyone looking for a simple, convenient and quiet way to get a thorough workout. Treadmills, however, are a better choice for serious runners and also for anyone short of floor space. Noise can be an issue, but if you look for a model with a quality motor, you can keep the noise to a minimum. It can also help to put your treadmill on carpet, a rug or a rubber mat to help absorb the sound.
At the end of the day, unless you have joint issues (in which case you definitely want a cross trainer), the best choice is the one you enjoy most. This means that our advice is to try out both options and see which one you like best. We’d love it if you dropped us a comment below to let us know which one you picked, why and what you think of it.