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Does the stationary bike or treadmill provide a better workout?

Learn about notable differences between treadmills and stationary bikes

Man riding stationary bike and man running on a treadmill
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In a perfect world, you likely have enough money and space for the home gym of your dreams. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of us, and we have to have a personal debate about what equipment we want to prioritize for our homes — for example, treadmill vs. bike, while we ask the question: Is an exercise bike better than a treadmill? When it comes to cardio workouts, these two pieces of equipment are some of the most commonly used, so which is better?

Even people who have no plan of creating a workout space at home often want to understand how stationary bikes and treadmills stack up in terms of the workout they provide. After all, we all want to have the most efficient and effective forms of exercise in our workout programs in order to see fitness gains without feeling like our workouts are taking up all our free time.

While you can get a great cardio workout on a treadmill or a stationary bike, there are certain differences and pros and cons to both. Accordingly, one may be better than the other for your fitness goals and needs. Curious to see these two fitness equipment titans go head to head? Keep reading for our detailed comparison of stationary bikes versus treadmills, and head to your next workout or home gym purchasing decision with the power of knowledge.

A man in red T-shirt using an exercise bike, surrounded by several exercise bikes and other fitness equipment in a gym
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Which is better: A stationary bike or a treadmill?

To compare stationary bikes and treadmills to determine which is a better piece of exercise equipment, we look at the workout difficulty or intensity, the versatility of the exercise machines, the muscles worked on a stationary bike vs. a treadmill, the calories burned and fat loss potential, adjustability, the injury risk, the enjoyment, and the practicality for purchasing.

A man runs on ProForm Carbon TL smart treadmill.
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Workout difficulty

Ultimately, it’s difficult to compare the difficulty or workout intensity on a stationary bike versus a treadmill because it is highly dependent on the settings used. For example, doing a vigorous HIIT workout on a spin bike or indoor cycle with the resistance cranked up and the cadence high will be more intense than walking leisurely on a treadmill at no incline.

That said, in general, treadmill workouts have the potential to be more challenging than exercise bike workouts, particularly if spin bikes or indoor cycles are excluded and just basic stationary bikes are considered. Indoor cycles provide a more demanding workout than standard upright stationary bikes because you can stand up on the pedals, the flywheel is heavier and requires more power and strength to spin, and the riding position requires greater core and upper body activation.

To increase the difficulty on an exercise bike, the resistance and cadence (pedaling speed) can be increased, whereas, on a treadmill, the pace and incline can be increased. In general, most athletes find their heart rate gets higher at a similar level of effort on a treadmill because running and walking are weight-bearing activities and require nearly all major muscles of the body, while cycling is non-weight bearing and is mostly just a lower-body workout.

A man walking on a treadmill
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Versatility

When considering the versatility of stationary bikes versus treadmills, treadmills edge out exercise bikes in terms of the range and variety of workouts you can do. While you can structure your efforts similarly on either exercise machine (for example, a long, steady-state endurance workout, a HIIT or interval workout, etc.), the fact that you can walk or run on a treadmill and even implement an incline opens the doors to a wider range of exercises and workouts. This can help prevent boredom and allows you to work different muscles for greater fitness improvements.

A man's strong legs from rowing.
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Muscles worked

Stationary bikes predominantly work the quads, hamstrings, and calves, with the glutes to a lesser extent. Spin bikes also strengthen the shoulders, core, and back to some degree. Standing on a spin bike turns it into a total-body exercise. Walking and running work all the muscles in the lower body, as well as the core and arms, provided you don’t hold on to the handrails. Increasing the incline targets the calves, glutes, and hamstrings more.

A father and his son using exercise bikes in a gym on a sunny day.
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Adjustability

Most exercise bikes allow for seat height, handlebar height, and resistance adjustments. Some indoor cycles also permit additional adjustments, like fore/aft adjustments of the seat and handlebars and a greater number of resistance levels. The speed and incline on a treadmill can be changed, though the most basic treadmills often do not have an incline function.

Man on treadmill
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Which is better for weight loss?

Regardless of the type of exercise you do, the number of calories you burn depends on your weight and the intensity and duration of your workout on your exercise bike vs. Treadmill. In general, running on a treadmill burns more calories per minute than riding an exercise bike, and 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 the 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, and 159 calories for a 185-pound person versus 292 on an exercise bike).

Man doing best HIIT workout on the treadmill
Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels

Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Which is better to lose belly fat?

Should you use a treadmill or exercise bike for belly fat? Exercise bikes and treadmills can both support losing weight and burning fat. The more calories you burn, the greater the caloric deficit you’ll generate, which then translates to more weight loss. However, research demonstrates that HIIT training is the most effective way to burn belly fat and encourage weight loss because it boosts your metabolic rate even after your workout is over.

Building lean body mass 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 the incline on a treadmill to help build muscle.

A man has ankle pain during outdoor exercise. knee Injuries.
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Injury risk

Stationary bikes are typically safer than treadmills in terms of reducing the risk of injury. Cycling is a low-impact exercise, so it puts less stress on bones, joints, and connective tissues than running or walking on a treadmill. If you deal with chronic injuries and pain, an exercise bike may be a smarter choice.

Man riding a MYX II Plus bike
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Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Enjoyment

You can now find both exercise bikes and treadmills with integrated tablets for streaming immersive workouts or entertainment. Some people are naturally drawn more to walking and running, while others love cycling, so the matter of enjoyment when stationary bikes vs. Treadmills really come down to personal preference.

Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Footprint and purchasing considerations

Although the prices of stationary bikes and treadmills span a wide range, stationary bikes and indoor cycles are usually less expensive than treadmills. If you are on a budget, you’re more likely to find a high-quality exercise bike for the money than a decent treadmill. Cheap treadmills often have poor motors, a limited range of speeds, no incline, and a poorly cushioned deck. They may also lack onboard workout programs and durability. Plus, once the motor goes, the treadmill is rendered useless unless you’re going to spend a significant amount of money repairing it.

On the other hand, there are many good inexpensive indoor cycles and stationary bikes, and they have fewer parts that will wear out (no motor, etc.). Exercise bikes also take up less floor space, are easier to move around and assemble, and spin bikes often require no power.

Man running by mountains on a road
Pixabay / Pexels

Stationary bike vs. treadmill: Transition to outdoors

One final factor that you might want to consider when weighing an indoor bike against a treadmill is how easily the habits, muscle memory, and muscle groups that you will develop inside can translate to outdoor exercise. The treadmill is a good equivalent to an outdoor walk, jog, or run. The muscle groups worked while on a treadmill are very close to those worked while outdoors, and with the set workouts and programs that are often built into the treadmill, you can make for intervals of high and low intensity speed and work. However, unless you are willing to pay for a premium treadmill that can offer changes in incline, hills are not something you can train for indoors.

Exercise bikes, on the other hand, don’t offer as close an experience to the “real thing” as the treadmill. Outdoor cycling requires more work in your core and other parts of your body. Turns and keeping balance are not something that can be recreated for stationary indoor exercise. Hills on the other hand are more easily approximated on a stationary bike. By increasing resistance, the increased work required of your legs is like that of a period going uphill. In fact, the stationary bike might offer better than can be found in your local area, depending on the lay of the land around you. Hill exercises outdoors can be hard to find if you live in the plains, for example.

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Amber Sayer
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Amber Sayer is a fitness, nutrition, and wellness writer and editor, and was previously a Fitness Editor at Byrdie. She…
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