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Treadmill vs Cross Trainer: Which One Should You Use?

Blog post comparing treadmill and cross trainer

Differences | Treadmill Pros & Cons | Cross Trainer Pros & Cons | For Weight Loss | For Strength | For Fitness | Workouts

Performing aerobic exercise regularly is an important part of staying healthy and keeping fit. There are plenty of ways to get your cardio in each week, and today we're comparing two of the most popular cardio machines in the gym: the cross trainer vs treadmill.

Read on to learn about the differences between the two, and get answers to common questions about which machine is better for different goals.

Treadmill vs Cross Trainer: What's The Difference?

Cross trainers and treadmills have quite a few similarities to each other:

  1. Both simulate a walking or running motion, the treadmill by a moving belt and elliptical by encouraging you to pedal your feet in a circular motion. The cross trainer also has handles for the arms which can be pushed back and forth.

  2. Both engage muscles through the entire body.

  3. Both can be used to burn calories and boost cardiovascular fitness.

  4. Intensity can be adjusted manually for both – the treadmill by incline and speed, the cross trainer by resistance, speed, and incline on some machines.

However, they also have some key differences which may make either the treadmill or cross trainer more suitable for your goals.

Treadmill vs Elliptical Cross Trainer: Pros & Cons

Table comparing pros and cons of treadmill vs cross trainer



  • Easy to control the intensity and lots of variety. There is a lot of different speeds and inclines to choose from, as well as pre-set training programmes, which mean you never have to have the same treadmill workout twice. Steady running, incline walking, sprint intervals, are just some of the many ways you can work out on a treadmill, all of which can feel very different to each other.

  • Easier to achieve high intensity workouts. Running is a high impact, high exertion activity which means it's 'easier' to achieve high intensity workouts and burn more calories than on the cross trainer in the same amount of time.

  • Strengthens legs, hips, and glutes. Running builds lower body strength and can even help with bone density and joint health.


  • High impact. While running isn't automatically bad for your joints, it is a high impact activity and it does carry some risk of injury, particularly if you push yourself too hard too soon or have muscular imbalances, poor gait, or previous injuries.

  • Less engagement of the upper body. While running does involve the core, shoulders, and arms to a small extent, it’s much less than the cross trainer does.

Cross Trainer


  • Low impact. Because your feet stay flat on the pedals as you move, the cross trainer has very little impact on the joints. This makes it a great option for beginners, anyone who struggles with injuries, or anyone at a higher weight.

  • Strengthens the upper body and core. Like the treadmill, the cross trainer works the leg muscles. However, thanks to the arm handles, using the cross trainer also works the shoulders, chest, upper back, and arms, and the core is used more due to the cyclic movement. Using a high resistance on the cross trainer can help to build full body strength as a result.

  • Intensity can be adjusted. While the cross trainer is low impact, it doesn't have to be low intensity. Cross trainer machines can have the resistance adjusted, and some can have the incline adjusted too, to make it more or less challenging. The speed is also fully controllable -- to move faster, pedal faster.


  • Takes a while to get used to. Walking and running are second nature to most people, which makes the treadmill an easy option. While the motion is similar on the cross trainer, it can feel strange or uncomfortable at first. Most people will find they get used to it within a few sessions, however it may take a little longer to build endurance.

  • Builds less lower body strength. While the cross trainer is better for overall body strength, running has more potential to build leg strength.

Is The Cross Trainer Or Treadmill Better For Burning Fat And Weight Loss?

Both the treadmill and cross trainer can burn calories, which can help assist with weight loss alongside a calorie deficit. The number of calories burnt depends on a few factors, including intensity of the workout. It's typically easier to do a higher intensity when running on a treadmill than it is on a cross trainer, so you may burn more calories like for like on a treadmill.

However, the difference is unlikely to be large enough to make a noticeable impact on weight loss. We'd recommend opting for the machine you find more enjoyable, as you're more likely to keep this up, and controlling your calorie intake for weight loss.

You can find more weight loss advice here.

Cross Trainer Machine Vs Treadmill: Which Is Better For Strength?

The cross trainer and treadmill are both predominantly cardio machines but do help to strengthen some parts of the body. The treadmill can help to strengthen the legs and glutes, however the cross trainer is better for strength overall as it also works the shoulders, chest, upper back, and arms. You can also increase the resistance to make it even more of a strengthening workout. While it shouldn't be used as a replacement to strength training, it can give an added boost while getting your cardio in.

We have plenty of ideas for strength based workouts here.

Which Is Better For General Fitness: Cross Trainer Or Treadmill?

While there may be slight differences in which is more strengthening and which will have bigger aerobic improvements depending on which you use, both the cross trainer and treadmill are great options for improving your overall fitness. If this is your main goal, we'd recommend picking the one you enjoy most and will keep up with, or adding both into your weekly routine.

Treadmill And Cross Trainer Workouts

We've shared some beginner cross trainer workouts here and some HIIT treadmill workouts here to try, or you could try the following formats on either cardio machine by using speed and resistance to change the intensity.

10 Minute HIIT

This workout involves 10 minutes of HIIT intervals, and comes to 16 minutes with a warm up and cool down. For the treadmill, increase intensity by upping the speed or the incline, and for the cross trainer increase the intensity by adding resistance and increasing speed.

The workout:

  • Warm up (0:00 -- 3:00): moderate intensity, 5/10 effort

  • Intervals (3:00 -- 13:00):

    • 30 seconds high intensity, 8/10 effort
    • 30 seconds recovery, 4/10 effort
    • 10 rounds
  • Cool down (13:00 -- 16:00): light intensity, decreasing from 5/10 effort to 3/10 effort

20 Minute Hill Intervals

This is a walking workout that uses an incline or increased resistance to create high intensity intervals.

On the treadmill:

  • Pick a speed you can walk comfortably at (4/10 effort) with no incline and keep this speed throughout
  • For the hill intervals, select an incline of 15
  • For the recovery intervals, select an incline of 1
  • Avoid holding onto the handles

On the cross trainer:

  • Find a pace you can pedal comfortably at (4/10 effort) with no resistance and try to keep this speed throughout.
  • For the hill intervals, select a resistance of 12
  • For the recovery intervals, select a resistance of 2
  • Actively push and pull the arm handles

The workout:

  • Warm up (0:00 -- 3:00): moderate intensity, 4/10 effort

  • Intervals (03:00 -- 21:00):

    • 3 minutes hill work
    • 1 minute recovery
    • 5 rounds
  • Cool down (21:00 -- 24:00): light intensity, decreasing from 5/10 effort to 3/10 effort

LISS Workout

If you hate the idea of intervals, low intensity steady state cardio, or LISS, is a great way to boost your fitness and burn calories over a longer period of time at a lower intensity.

For this type of workout, simply choose a speed and resistance or incline that is around 5-6/10 effort level and maintain this for 30-60 minutes. As your cardio conditioning improves, you can increase the speed or resistance for these workouts - just remember to keep the effort level the same.


While there are differences between the cross trainer and treadmill, both are great options for boosting cardiovascular health. If you're serious about high intensity workouts or building speed, running on the treadmill is a better choice, whereas the cross trainer is more suitable if you prefer a low impact workout. If neither of these are important, choose the one you prefer or opt for both.

You can find your nearest gym here to join and start using our huge range of kit straight away.

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