Exercise bike vs treadmill: Which one is for you?

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Exercise bikes and treadmills are both highly effective pieces of equipment for cardiovascular exercise at home. After all one of the most important things about exercise is consistency and being able to exercise in the comfort of your own home – especially during winter when it is dark and often raining or snowing is essential.

However most people do not have the space for both an exercise bike and a treadmill. Each machine has their own advantages and disadvantages, read our comparison post find out which is best for you.

Space

The amount of space and the ease that it can be packed away is often an important attribute of an exercise machine, especially for those without dedicated gym rooms. Exercise bikes are generally easier to manoeuvre and take up less room than a treadmill.

There are treadmills on the market that are specially designed to be foldable so they can be stored under a bed or in a large cupboard, but they are either far more expensive than a normal treadmill or have sacrificed stability and ergonomics to achieve it.

Whether or not this is an influencing factor will depend on the size of your exercise room.

Multitasking

The general recommendation of 150 minutes of cardio exercise can really eat into your limited free time after work and sometimes it can feel like you are literally wasting your time by running or cycling on the spot without going anywhere.

Multitasking is a great way to get some things done while you are getting fit. Audiobooks and podcasts are a great way to increase your knowledge and can be listened to on either machine. Another great way to pass the time is to watch an interesting movie or documentary, I like to save the movies that I am really looking forward to as treats to watch while I am on my bike.

It is much easier to watch a movie on a stationary bike where your upper body does not move much, I found the constant bobbing up and down as I jogged on the treadmill made it difficult for me to stay focused on the screen and get into a movie. I know some people that even use the time on the bike to get through their emails, though I can’t say that I have mastered typing while cycling just yet.

A stationary bike is far better for watching tv or movies, there is really no contest. I also find it slightly better for listening to audiobooks or podcasts as it is slightly less noisy, though you can definitely still listen to things while on a treadmill.

Training and gamification

Some treadmills and most stationary bikes will come with a basic built training plans. For treadmills increasing the difficulty is done by increasing the slope that the treadmill is at, motors underneath the treadmill actually lift the front section up to simulate running up a hill. This is very realistic but it does take a while for the treadmill to raise and lower which means that quick changes in resistance, such as hill sprints are not easy to simulate.

Exercise bikes on the other hand use magnets to vary the resistance, this can be done much faster but does not actually alter the bikes elevation at all which makes it feel less representative of the real world.

Besides the basic built in functions there are also a host of third party training plans that are available for exercise bikes such as Sufferfest, which emulates a spin class from the comfort of your own home. If you upgrade to an exercise bike that can broadcast power via ANT+ or bluetooth there are even more options available. One of my personal favourites is Zwift, an online cycling game that regularly has more than 3000 people cycling at the same time around both fictional and real world maps and has group rides every 20 minutes or so which cater for users from complete beginners to professional riders (in fact you will often find a professional rider or two wizzing past you).

When it comes to running on the treadmill your options are a lot more limited, there are a multitude of virtual walking videos – many of which you can find on Youtube (and are available for exercise bikes as well) but not nearly as many spin class equivalent videos.

There are many virtual scenery videos available for treadmill users but not many with instructors like you would find in a spin class.

If you do decide to splash out on a Zwift compatible treadmill or get a bluetooth foot pod then the world of Zwift also becomes available to you, but there are far fewer runners than cyclists on this platform.

Overall there there seems to be more 3rd party training for exercise bikes, but thats not to say that it is impossible to find them for treadmills.

Exercise efficiency

Using a treadmill is much more efficient for burning calories, I have found through personal use that jogging on a treadmill burns calories almost twice as quickly as an exercise bike.

Your milage may vary and it is obviously dependant on the resistance of the exercise bike but in general because running uses more of your body and is a weight baring exercise, it means that you burn more calories.

This can be a big factor if you do not have a lot of time to exercise. A 20 minute run can burn as many calories as a 40 minute cycle, giving you back 20 precious minutes. Often 20 minutes can be the difference between getting in that early morning run before work or deciding to skip it so the importance of efficiency cannot be understated.

Weight and injuries

Cycling is much better if you are struggling from injury or are overweight. One of the most common injuries that occurs from starting jogging when you are a few Kg’s overweight is shin splints. As someone who has had shin splints I can tell you it’s no joke and is a great way to destroy your running routine.

If you are fairly overweight then it is safer to use a stationary bike as cycling is not a weight baring exercise – just make sure that you select a seat that is comfortable.

Another option if you are overweight is to walk on an incline on a treadmill, this burns more calories than walking but also avoids the high impact on your bones and joints from jogging. Then as you start losing weight you can begin to intermittently jog/walk until your body has adjusted.

Noise

If you live in an apartment block with neighbours close by or your gym room is adjacent to a family member’s bedroom, then noise can can be a factor – especially if you are planning to do some early morning or late night exercise.

Exercise bikes with their whisper quiet magnetic resistance make far less noise than treadmills. There is also no impact of feet hitting the belt which may transfer though the floor to people below you.

The Choice

So there you have it, each machine offers slightly different pros and cons. Personally I use and exercise bike and go for the occasional weekend outdoor run if the weather is good. Whichever option you choose the most important thing is to train consistently.