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Treadmill vs. bike

Expertly reviewed by Judd Nesmith

Which is better: a treadmill or an exercise bike?

A single piece of decent cardio equipment is all you really need to maintain or improve your fitness at home, but should you buy a treadmill or an exercise bike? For some people, the choice is obvious, but others need to think more carefully. 

Treadmills arguably offer a better workout in a shorter time, but require greater levels of fitness to get started. Exercise bikes give a more manageable start to people at a lower fitness level but don't engage the upper body unless users are mindful about form.

This article was reviewed and approved by Judd NeSmith, the BestReviews Fitness Expert.

Treadmills

Treadmills are used for walking and running at home. While they offer an excellent form of exercise, they can be off-putting for people building their cardio fitness from scratch because it takes weeks of training to be able to run for a solid 15 to 30 minutes.

You can find treadmills for $300, but they aren't always of the highest quality. Spending $600-$1,000 for an entry-level model or up to $4,000 for a high-end commercial-quality treadmill may be a better long-term choice. 

Treadmill pros

  • Running on a treadmill engages core muscles and muscles in the upper body, as well as leg muscles, so it works out more of your body than cycling on an exercise bike.
  • You can set a treadmill to a comfortable speed for you, so you can start with walking and gradually increase your pace.
  • Treadmills are excellent for runners in training when it isn't possible to run outdoors because of adverse weather. If you're training for a big race and live somewhere with harsh winters, a treadmill will let you keep going without interruption.
  • Some treadmills offer an incline option for a more intense workout, the equivalent of walking or running uphill outdoors. 
  • Although calorie-burning isn't the most important goal of exercising, an hour of running on a treadmill burns significantly more calories than an hour of cycling on an exercise bike.

Treadmill cons

  • You can simply walk or run outside without any additional equipment, so some people find buying a treadmill for home use to be unnecessary. 
  • Treadmills are larger and more expensive than exercise bikes, making them a less practical choice for use at home, especially if you have a smaller home.

Best treadmills

NordicTrack Commercial Series 2950

If you're looking for a top-of-the-line treadmill and money is no object, you can't get much better than this one. It runs quietly, features incline control of up to 15%, has cushioning to reduce joint impact and sports a 22-inch screen with live workout options. 

Xterra Fitness TR Folding Treadmill

This excellent mid-range treadmill is great for runners of all levels. It features three manual inclines and 12 preset programs, and it has a 5-inch LCD display.

Sunny Health & Fitness Folding Treadmill for Home Exercise

This affordable treadmill might not be as sturdy or feature-rich as higher-end options but it performs well for casual use. What's more, it's great for smaller spaces because you can fold it away to store it.

Bikes

Exercise bikes are stationary cycles for home use. They offer an effective cardio workout and are easily accessible for people of all fitness levels, so they're a great place to start if you're building fitness from scratch or returning to exercise after a break. 

Inexpensive exercise bikes start at less than $100, but you'll get a much better one if you can stretch to at least $300. High-end studio-quality bikes can cost up to $2,000, but there's no need for casual users to spend this much. 

Bike pros

  • Cycling on an exercise bike is a lower impact activity than running on a treadmill. You're less likely to suffer injuries, especially to the knees, which are often a weak spot for runners.
  • Exercise bikes are significantly cheaper than treadmills of comparable quality, so you can expect to spend about half as much as you would on a similar treadmill. 
  • You can change the resistance on an exercise bike to make your workout harder and it's possible to really build your leg muscles at higher resistance levels. 
  • They're more compact, so it's easier to find space in your home for an exercise bike than a treadmill. 

Bike cons

  • You need to make an effort to stay straight and engage your core if you want any impact on your upper body. 
  • Cycling on an exercise bike burns fewer calories than running on a treadmill for the same length of time. 

Best bikes

NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle

This studio-quality exercise bike for home use comes with a screen. You can use it to follow live or recorded workouts, so there's no need to leave the house for that spinning class. With incline control of up to 20%, it gives you the option to make your workout tougher.

Cyclace Exercise Bike

This affordable exercise bike is compact yet stable and durable, with a 36-pound flywheel and adjustable friction resistance to tailor your workout. It's easily height-adjustable to suit adult users of most heights.

Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike

If you'd prefer to cycle in a more relaxed recumbent position, this is the exercise bike for you. Don't let the laid-back position fool you, though. You can get a great workout from it, with 25 levels of resistance.

Should you get a treadmill or an exercise bike?

Both are excellent pieces of exercise equipment with their own strengths and weaknesses, so neither is objectively better than the other. If you're building a home gym, you might choose to buy both. 

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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