Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Which Gives You The Best Workout?

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Although there are benefits to every type of exercise, and variety is ideal, you usually have to pick and choose what type of exercise you will do; therefore, it can be helpful to compare different types of exercise equipment to figure out how you can maximize your fitness improvements.

When it comes to the treadmill vs stationary bike, which gives you a better workout? Do you burn more calories on a treadmill or exercise bike?

In this article, we will discuss the differences between exercise bike and treadmill workouts, and look at various factors to consider with stationary bike vs treadmill workouts and purchasing decisions.

We will cover: 

  • Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Which Gives You the Better Workout?
  • Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Muscles Worked
  • Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Calories Burned
  • Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Weight Loss
  • Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Safety
  • Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Versatility

Let’s dive in! 

Treadmills and stationary bikes in a gym.

Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Which Gives You the Better Workout?

When you are surveying the cardio equipment at the gym, you’ve probably found yourself wondering if you will get a better workout on a treadmill or exercise bike.

There isn’t necessarily a clear-cut answer to this question.

If we define a “better“ workout as one that is more difficult, intense, and more likely to boost cardiovascular fitness, treadmills likely edge out stationary bikes. However, it’s important to bear in mind that you can modulate the difficulty of the workout on either a treadmill or exercise bike based on your effort level.

For example, it is possible to do a very low-intensity, easy workout on a treadmill by walking at a comfortable speed with little to no incline.

You can also do a very vigorous treadmill workout by running at a fast pace and ramping up the incline.

The handles of a stationary bike.

A similar scenario can play out with a stationary bike workout.

You can pedal an exercise bike with light resistance and a slow cadence, or you can engage in a demanding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout on an indoor cycle (spin bike) with bursts of very high-resistance climbs and a high cadence.

With that said, it is typically easier to get a better workout on a treadmill vs bike.

The high-impact, weight-bearing activity of running, coupled with the fact that it’s a total body exercise, increases the workload on your muscles, heart, and lungs compared with cycling, which is a non-weight-bearing, low-impact and mostly only a lower-body workout.

For this reason, it’s more difficult to get your heart rate consistently as high while using a stationary bike vs treadmill running, and you’ll get more of a full-body workout running on a treadmill vs riding an exercise bike.

Keep in mind that no matter what type of exercise equipment you use, you can increase the difficulty of your workout.

On a stationary bike, increase the resistance and pedal at a faster cadence, and on the treadmill, increase the speed and incline to increase the intensity of the workout.

A person running on a treadmill.

Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Muscles Worked

Running and cycling are both predominantly lower-body exercises, so there’s a lot of overlap between the muscles worked on a treadmill, and the muscles worked on a stationary bike.

Cycling and running both primarily target the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, as well as the hip flexor muscles.

If you are staying seated the whole time you ride an exercise bike, this will pretty much be the extent of the muscular involvement of the exercise.

However, if you are doing an indoor cycling workout on a spin bike that involves climbing up and out of the saddle and standing on the pedals, you will also use your abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, deltoids (shoulders), triceps, and pecs (chest) to some degree.

Running is a full-body workout, so you’ll work all of the major muscles of the core and upper body in addition to the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves of the lower body.

Additionally, unlike riding an exercise bike (in which your weight is supported on the seat, so you do not have to stabilize your body in the frontal plane (side to side)), running also uses the adductors and abductors of the legs, such as gluteus medius, adductor magnus, and adductor longus, for stability.

Bear in mind that if you hold onto the handrails on the treadmill while you walk or jog, you will negate the involvement of the upper body and core muscles.

Finally, increasing the incline on the treadmill will further strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain (back of the body), including the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

People on stationary bikes.

Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Calories Burned

One of the main factors that most people care about when comparing the exercise bike vs treadmill is the number of calories burned on an exercise bike vs treadmill. 

The number of calories you burn during a workout depends on numerous factors, including the type of exercise, the intensity of the workout, the duration of the workout, and your body weight.

Of course, you’ll burn more calories during a 45-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout where your heart rate is getting up to 85% of your maximum heart rate or higher than you will jogging one mile on the treadmill at a 12-minute pace.

With that said, minute by minute, trying to work out at a similar intensity on the treadmill, you’ll likely burn more calories on a treadmill than riding a stationary bike.

A person on gym equipment.

For example, 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.

On the other hand, 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.

This data suggests that 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 compared with 210 on an exercise bike
  • 133 calories for a 155-pound person walking vs. 252 on an exercise bike
  • 159 calories for a 185-pound person compared with 292 on an exercise bike
People running on treadmills.

Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Weight Loss

Because the number of calories burned on a treadmill tends to be higher than on a stationary bike, treadmills tend to lend themselves to faster weight loss. With that said, both stationary bikes and treadmills can help you lose weight and burn fat.

The effectiveness of a treadmill vs bike for weight loss depends on how many calories you burn in your workouts, which is dependent on the duration, intensity, and frequency of your workouts.

Increasing any or all of these factors will boost your caloric expenditure and the subsequent rate of weight loss.

Of course, your diet also plays a major role in your weight loss results, so it can be helpful to also consider if one type of exercise affects your appetite more than the other.

People on stationary bikes.

Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Safety

Riding an exercise bike is usually safer than running on a treadmill from an injury risk standpoint due to the relative decrease in impact forces on a bike and the fact that your weight is supported, so it’s less likely that you will fall off.

Treadmill Vs Stationary Bike: Versatility

If you are thinking about whether you should buy a treadmill or spin bike, or another form of exercise bike, it helps to think about the versatility of the machine.

The more varied the workouts could be, the greater the value of your purchase because you will have more options for use.

In terms of the versatility of stationary bikes versus treadmills, treadmills slightly edge out exercise bikes simply because you can walk or run on a treadmill. 

Furthermore, as long as you buy a treadmill with an incline, you can also change the gradient, which significantly changes the demands of the workout.

With that said, you can technically structure your workouts in a variety of different ways on either an exercise bike or treadmill. 

For example, even on an exercise bike, you can have some variety by doing a long, steady-state endurance workout one day and a HIIT or interval workout the next.

The wide range of speeds and inclines on a treadmill can help prevent boredom and allow you to work different muscles for greater fitness improvements.

As can be seen, there are many benefits to both treadmills and exercise bikes, but running on a treadmill tends to slightly edge out exercise bike workouts.

Need help buying a treadmill? Check out our guide for tips when making your purchase!

People on stationary bikes.
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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