Battle of the BeatBurns


Choosing the right machine for you

Just as a calorie is not a calorie, one cardio workout is not the same as another. That’s why we built three different BeatBurn apps to give people the options they needed for their individual goals. Any type of cardio will help you burn fat, build endurance, improve your metabolic profile, and ultimately make you healthier, but working on a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical trainer will provide different benefits and drawbacks.

Treadmill Training

While the treadmill is probably the most commonly used cardio machine and the one beginners seem most comfortable starting with, it is often the last one new exercisers should jump on. The treadmill’s biggest benefit is also its biggest drawback; it requires you to bear all your weight during the workout and it delivers the highest impact throughout your body. We all know that high impact can be rough on your bones and joints, but why is it also a benefit? Our bodies adapt to what we throw at it and it attempts to rebuild itself stronger so it can better endure these stressors in the future. So while high impact can stress the joints and bones, it also forces your body to strengthen these support systems. High impact training early in life sets your body up to have strong bones later in life, and adding impact for older people can slow and even reverse age-related bone loss.

The fact that you have to bear your weight also increases the amount of calories burned during every workout. As you bear less weight, you burn less calories. People that need to protect their joints due to injuries or arthritis should make the choice to burn less calories (it really isn’t that significant a difference if you do it right) and pick exercises that bear less weight. People that have been sedentary for a long time and/or are obese might also want to chose another piece of cardio equipment to get back into shape. As I mentioned in the shin splints article, one of the biggest problems I see with new exercisers is that they want to make up for all that time spent on the couch, so they jump to an intensity that their body isn’t ready for and they hurt themselves. While shin splints are the most common injury from hitting the treadmill too hard, you can also injure your feet, knees, ankles, and hips.

That said, beginners can still hit the treadmill and get an incredibly effective workout. The key is (like in life) you have to learn to walk before you can run. While walking workouts won’t burn the same amount of calories as jogging or running, they can still add up to significant calories burned (especially when incline is added). The calories you burn today don’t matter nearly as much as the calories you burn the next day, or the next week, or the next month. If you can’t stick with the program, it doesn’t matter how hard you worked that one time. When people ask me to sum up how to lose weight in one sentence, I say, “Stop eating sugar and walk five miles a day.”

Walking works, so don’t write it off as ineffective. One of the benefits of working on a treadmill is you don’t need to walk five miles to get the same effect. Because the belt never stops, you are forced to keep going at an intensity level you otherwise might not chose on your own. By alternating high and low intervals like in BeatBurn, you can squeeze the metabolic improvements and fat burning effects from that same 5 mile stroll into an intense 30 minute workout.

Treadmill Pros:
  • Forces you to push your intensity to keep up with the belt

  • Even surface means you’re less likely to hurt your ankles than you are outside

  • Greater impact improves bone health

  • Higher weight bearing means higher calorie totals

  • More natural movement

  • Helps strengthen your core

Treadmill Cons:
  • Greater impact can hurt joints

  • Higher weight bearing can strain a deconditioned beginner

  • Temptation to go too fast too soon can lead to injuries

  • Possible to slip and fall during workout


Elliptical Training

Elliptical trainers were created as a way to incorporate the weight bearing benefits of a treadmill and a bike’s advantage of zero impact workouts. As an added benefit, many elliptical machines have handles that allow you to work your upper body along with your legs. The end result is that the calorie burn is similar to the treadmill without any of the impact. As I mentioned above, this is both good and bad. If you have joint problems to worry about, it’s a good way to get in some weight bearing exercise without inflaming bad joints, but you deny yourself the positive adaptions to your bone density.

The movement on the elliptical is also a bit more unnatural than normal walking or running. This means the machine will focus the effort on your quads and glutes and will place less emphasis on the calves and hamstrings. This can lead to slight imbalances that can strain your lower back. Fortunately, there is an easy remedy for this; simply switch your direction every now and then to swap which muscles are worked. This is the reason why we routinely change direction in the BeatBurn program.

My biggest complaint/concern with both elliptical machines and stationary bikes is that the momentum of the movement can cause people to basically “sleep walk” through their workouts. I see it all the time in gyms, people just zone out and mindlessly churn their legs in slow circles until some self-defined time elapses. I rarely see any of them break a sweat. It’s not that the machines aren’t effective, it’s that people aren’t using them effectively. People give me feedback all the time after using BeatBurn Elliptical or BeatBurn Indoor Cycling that they had no idea you could get such a good workout from these machines. Just as a bad workout is boring and doesn’t burn many calories, a great workout not only burns a ton of calories, but the enjoyment of it helps the time fly by. I’m not saying BeatBurn is the only way to get a good workout, but make sure you mix it up to keep it interesting and really push the machine rather than letting it drag you through the motion.

Elliptical Pros:
  • No impact

  • Decent weight bearing means high calorie totals

  • Optional handles work the upper body along with the lower body

  • Limited chance of falling during workout

Elliptical Cons:
  • No impact means no improvements to bone density

  • Unnatural movement means less focus on the calves and hamstrings which can strain the lower back (reverse motion periodically to prevent this)

  • Too easy to “sleep walk” and let the machine move you rather than you move the machine



As we work our way down the list, we work from high weight bearing to almost no weight bearing. It would seem like the stationary bike would be the least effective workout, but it is actually the one piece of equipment I recommend to brand new beginners as well as elite athletes. Let’s cover why it’s the best choice for beginners first.

Inactivity leads to atrophy of the muscles and the bones and joints that support them. Jumping into any kind of workout routine too quickly can lead to an injury. Don’t let your desire to make up for all those missed workouts make you try to stuff them all into one day. You wouldn’t run a marathon on your first day of training would you? Of course not, that sounds insane, but almost everyone thinks they’re in good enough shape to run for 15 minutes. Unfortunately, that’s rarely true, and people don’t realize that until it’s too late. For deconditioned beginners and people nursing an upper body injury I recommend using a recumbent bike (the kind where your legs stick out in front of you). It helps you stabilize the upper body and focus your attention on your legs. The added benefit of biking over the treadmill or elliptical is that it takes your leg muscles and joints through a much greater range of motion. This is very therapeutic for tight muscles and aching joints and this complete motion results in greater strengthening effects for your leg muscles. This is also the reason why I recommend cycling for elite athletes.

While mixing strength training and cardio is ideal for weight loss, it can actually negatively impact the results of those looking to build muscle or improve strength. Endurance training and strength training produce different adaptations within the body and your muscles must make compromises to adapt to both types of training. However, while working on the treadmill or elliptical has been shown to reduce the effects of strength training, cycling workouts do not. One study concluded that cycling is more beneficial towards muscle building because the increased range of motion more closely mimics the movements of exercises like squats. Basically, if you’re a beginner looking to rebuild strength or an athlete looking to maintain or even improve it, the bike is the machine for you.

Cycling Pros:
  • Best option for people with knee pain

  • Excellent starting machine for obese individuals

  • No impact

  • Recumbent bike is an excellent option for people with low back pain or upper body injuries

  • Does not interfere with a strength training or muscle building routine

  • No chance of falling off the machine

Cycling Cons:
  • No impact means no improvements to bone density

  • Immobile upper body means no core work

  • Too easy to “sleep walk” and let the machine move you rather than you move the machine

Why not try all three

As you can see, each has their pros and cons. This is why so many trainers recommend cross training with all three. It allows you to rest different muscles and joints while still working your endurance and improving your cardiovascular health. Changing it up is a great way to prevent overuse injuries. In addition, cross training keeps your workouts from becoming repetitive and boring. Just remember to push yourself. While the treadmill forces you to keep up, elliptical machines and stationary bikes can often lull you to sleep if you’re not careful. Use our BeatBurn apps to get the most out of your machines and you’ll hit your goal in no time.

Alexia S

What about us who use the stairmaster, what are the pro & cons?

Andrea B

I found the best calorie burner for me is the Arc Trainer!

Chris K

The stairmaster has a lot of pros and a few cons.

Pros: 1. High calorie burn 2. Less impact than a treadmill 3. Excellent glute and thigh muscle builder

Cons: 1. Can be hard on weak knees. Strengthen them first with assisted squats or cycling to rehab your knees. 2. Can be a bit monotonous. It’s harder to build variety into a stair program.

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