Stationary Bike Vs Treadmill: Which Gives The Better Workout?

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Although any fitness routine should be well-rounded and include numerous types of exercise and styles of workouts, most of us don’t have time to do it all. Therefore, when trying to maximize your workout time, you probably look for the most efficient workout.

When it comes to the benefits of an exercise bike vs treadmill, there are several factors to consider, such as the muscles worked and the calories burned.

In this article, we will consider the differences between stationary bike vs treadmill workouts, and we will look at the pros and cons in a head-to-head matchup of the treadmill vs bike.

So, whether you are trying to decide if you should buy an exercise bike or a treadmill, or simply want to know which piece of cardio equipment you should be using at the gym, keep reading to see our thoughts on the exercise bike vs treadmill. We will cover: 

  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Which Gives a Better Workout?
  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Muscles Worked
  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Calories Burned
  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Weight Loss
  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Injury Risk
  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Adjustability
  • Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Enjoyment

Let’s dive in! 

Stationary bikes.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Which Gives a Better Workout?

Although it might seem simple enough to compare the difficulty of a treadmill vs bike workout, it’s actually not very easy to determine which type of cardio equipment gives the better workout.

Workout intensity or difficulty is largely dependent on the settings used on the stationary bike or treadmill.

For example, the treadmill can be used for both walking and running, so it’s conceivable that you could do a treadmill walking workout at little to no incline that is much easier on the body than a vigorous HIIT workout on a spin bike. 

The converse could also be true: you could pedal an exercise bike on a low resistance setting at a slow cadence for a very low-intensity workout, while you might run close to your VO2 max pace on a treadmill, which would be much more challenging.

A person running on a treadmill.

With that said, when you try to do an apples-to-apples comparison of which gives a better workout between a stationary bike vs treadmill by trying to maintain a similar effort level on each, the argument can be made that you typically get a better workout on a treadmill.

Running is a total-body exercise as well as a high-impact, weight-bearing exercise.

This means that you naturally use more muscle mass, and the workout is more cardiovascularly-, metabolically-, and muscularly demanding than riding a bike, wherein your weight is supported by the seat of the bike, and your upper body and core are minimally involved in the activity.

However, if you crank up the resistance and cycle with a fast cadence, it’s certainly possible to get a great workout on a stationary bike

Furthermore, if you are using an indoor cycle (commonly referred to as a spin bike), any time you climb out of the saddle and stand up on the pedals, you are transforming the cycling motion into more of a total-body exercise.

Keep in mind that with either a treadmill or stationary bike, it’s possible to modulate the difficulty of the workout.

On an exercise bike, you can make the workout more vigorous by increasing the resistance and/or cadence, while you can increase the speed and incline on a treadmill to increase the difficulty.

People on stationary bikes.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Muscles Worked

The muscles worked on a stationary bike, and the muscles worked on a treadmill aren’t all that different, as both cycling and running are predominantly lower-body exercises.

Cycling primarily works the muscles of the legs, such as the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles, to a lesser degree.

If you are riding a spin bike and coming up and down out of the saddle, you can also activate your core, shoulders, arms, and chest somewhat, but the bulk of the workload is certainly focused on the legs.

Running also primarily works the muscles of the lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

However, compared to riding the exercise bike, treadmill running or walking is much more of a total-body workout, also engaging your core muscles (abs and lower back), arms, shoulders, and upper back.

It’s important to mention that if you hold onto the handrails on the treadmill, you will negate the involvement of the upper body and core muscles.

Incline walking or running on the treadmill will further strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

People running on treadmills.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Calories Burned

The calories burned on a stationary bike vs treadmill depend on the duration and intensity of your workout, as well as your body weight.

No matter what type of exercise you are doing, the longer and more vigorous you are exercising, and the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn.

With that in mind, running on a treadmill typically burns more calories per minute than riding an exercise bike, but riding an exercise bike burns more calories than walking on a treadmill.

Harvard Health Publishing reports that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity stationary biking burns about 210 calories for a 125-pound person, 252 calories for a 155-pound person, and 292 calories for a 185-pound person.

A 30-minute vigorous stationary bike workout burns approximately 315 calories for a 125-pound person, 378 calories for a 155-pound person, and 441 calories for a 185-pound person.

For comparison, running for 30 minutes at 6 mph (10-minute miles) burns about 295 calories for a 125-pound person, 360 calories for a 155-pound person, and 420 calories for a 185-pound person, so jogging at a moderate pace will burn about as many calories as a vigorous stationary bike workout.

Finally, 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace of 3.5 miles per hour (17 minutes per mile) burns about half the number of calories of riding a stationary bike at a moderate intensity:

  • 107 calories for a 125-pound person walking versus 210 on an exercise bike
  • 133 calories for a 155-pound person walking versus 252 on an exercise bike
  • 159 calories for a 185-pound person versus 292 on an exercise bike
A person on a stationary bike at home.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Weight Loss

Will you lose more weight on a stationary bike vs treadmill?

Ultimately, stationary bikes and treadmills can both be used to help you lose weight and burn fat. The more calories you burn, the more significant the caloric deficit you’ll generate, which then translates to more weight loss.

Therefore, when trying to determine if you will lose more weight on a stationary bike vs treadmill, think about which type of exercise you can do more intensely, for longer periods of time, or more frequently.

Increasing any of these factors will increase the number of calories burned and the resultant rate of weight loss.

Additionally, increasing your lean body mass (building muscle) is also an effective way to lose body fat because muscle tissue is more metabolically-active than fat tissue.

Therefore, crank up the resistance on an exercise bike or ramp up the incline on a treadmill to help build muscle.

People running on treadmills.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Injury Risk

In most cases, the risk of injury is lower on a stationary bike versus a treadmill.

Cycling is a low-impact activity, so it is easier on the joints and bones, whereas running is associated with high-impact stresses and forces.

Additionally, if you have balance issues, it is often safer to be weight-supported on an exercise bike than running on a treadmill.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Adjustability

There are different ways to think about the adjustability of an exercise machine.

Exercise bikes can be adjusted for both size and workout difficulty.

In terms of size, most exercise bikes allow for adjusting the seat height and handlebar height, if not also permitting adjustments of the seat and handlebars in the fore/aft directions. This helps you accommodate riders of different sizes.

As previously mentioned, the difficulty of the exercise done on a stationary bike can be adjusted by changing the resistance and your cadence, which refers to how fast you are pedaling.

People at a gym on bikes.

Treadmills cannot be adjusted for size. The belt length determines the maximum user height.

For example, if you are taller than 72 inches (6 feet), a treadmill with a belt length of 50 or 55 inches will probably be restrictive for your stride length and very uncomfortable for running, but you will be unable to adjust it.

The treadmill speed and incline can be adjusted to alter the difficulty of the workout, usually in increments of 0.5 mph and 0.5% grade.

Stationary Bike vs Treadmill: Enjoyment

The importance of enjoyment shouldn’t be overlooked, so of course, it is a matter of personal preference. 

If you prefer the exercise bike over the treadmill, there’s nothing wrong with focusing your efforts on stationary bike workouts, and the same can be true of the treadmill.

Ultimately, both exercise bikes and treadmills can provide fantastic workouts. If it is possible to incorporate both into your fitness routine, you’ll be that much better off.

Looking to purchase a treadmill but need some assistance? Check out our treadmill buyers’ guide for help.

People on treadmills.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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