Walk into any gym and you’ll find a range of cardio equipment to choose from. But, which one is the best? Which is the right one for you?
I’ve looked at two of the most popular cardio machine choices for your home gym. Read on if you need help making the right choice between the treadmill vs recumbent bike.
Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike – Both cardio machines work the same muscle groups using different movement patterns. In terms of using a recumbent bike or treadmill for weight loss, a treadmill burns more calories and has more resistance options but provides higher impact and is much louder.
Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike
Before I look at the differences between a recumbent bike vs treadmill, let’s first look at a brief description of each machine so we know what they are.
What is a Treadmill?
A treadmill consists of a running deck and a moving belt that loops around the deck, allowing you to move your legs whilst your feet stay in the same position. This allows you to walk or run using a small gym space from the comfort of a commercial gym or your own home. Treadmills may also be used in rehabilitation settings such as in pediatric rehabilitation.
The two basic types of treadmills are manual and electric. Some treadmills may have other features including monitors, device holders, handles, and folding mechanisms.
A treadmill belt can reach different speeds depending on the motor used and offer different incline settings to simulate hill climbing. Different exercise modes include casual walking, hill climbing, racing, and normal running. Some treadmills also have built-in entertainment systems to provide an immersive running experience.
What is a Recumbent Bike?
A recumbent bike is a type of stationary bike that uses a design where the pedals stretch out in front of you rather than under your hips. Compared to a regular stationary bike, a recumbent bike involves a more reclined cycling experience which provides similar muscle activation.
Recumbent bikes usually consist of a large cushioned seat, padded handles that extend naturally in front, and pedals that extends out towards the flywheel housing. Other added features may include monitors, transportation wheels, and frame stabilizers.
If you are recovering from an injury, using a recumbent bike can provide an excellent low-impact exercise mode using a more reclined body position.
Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike - The Similarities and Differences
Both are popular pieces of exercise equipment but the different movement patterns make them better suited for different exercise goals. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences in more detail.
1. Muscles Worked
Whilst the movement patterns on a treadmill and recumbent bike are rather different, both target similar muscle groups. Both involve primarily the lower body musculature which includes quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Both machines also target the core and involve erector spinae which functions to keep the body in the correct position throughout the movement.
Increasing the amount of incline on the treadmill will place more stress on the glute and calf muscles. While it isn’t designed primarily to build strength, it will still provide a decent cardiovascular stimulus.
Increasing the resistance on a recumbent bike means your legs need to work harder, with more stress placed on all of your lower body musculature.
2. Joint Health
The level of joint impact is perhaps the biggest difference between the two machines.
On a treadmill, your legs and feet are weight-bearing when they make contact with the deck as you run along. This places stress on the surrounding ankle, knee, and hip joints. Some treadmills contain shock absorption software under the deck which helps to reduce the amount of joint impact felt when running.
Recumbent bikes involve pedaling in a circular motion which places little to no stress on your joints. Your feet stay fixed to the pedals whilst your muscles work to push the pedals around. This makes the recumbent bike a great way to recover from injury or work around mobility issues.
For these reasons, the recumbent bike is the better option for joint health and rehabilitation work.
3. Resistance Options
Both machines offer resistance options using slightly different methods. A treadmill allows you to change the belt speed and the incline percentage to increase or decrease the difficulty as you see fit. A recumbent bike uses a flywheel with different resistance mechanisms applying varying amounts of pressure to change the force needed to turn the bike pedals.
4. Calories Burned
Due to the higher impact nature of treadmill running, the treadmill is the clear winner when it comes to calories burned.
With treadmill running, your body needs to work harder to support your weight. Whilst this comes at the cost of joint impact, it does allow you to burn more calories.
Saying this, the recumbent bike does still offer an excellent method of burning calories and may be more comfortable to use for longer periods.
A recumbent bike uses a belt drive coupled with a resistance mechanism that operates fairly quietly at each resistance. On a treadmill, the motor for moving the belt is also fairly quiet but you need to add the noise produced by your feet hitting the belt as you run.
This makes the recumbent bike quieter to operate meaning it may be the better option if you want to exercise in a super quiet at-home gym environment.
Both machines usually come part completed due to shipping purposes. This means there is some assembly required for both of them.
Both machines tend to be fairly straightforward to put together, with pedals, arms, consoles, and feet usually among the main parts to add to the frames.
Both machines offer a wide range of pricing options, with the basic versions offering a simpler design and fewer added features.
Affordable treadmills may be powered solely by the movement of your body whilst recumbent bikes have to use a similar drive mechanism whatever the price point.
Treadmill vs Recumbent Bike - Summary
Both the treadmill and recumbent bike work your lower body musculature including your hamstrings, glutes, quads, and calves. They also require your erector spinae and core muscles to work together to keep your body correctly aligned when exercising.
In terms of joint health, the recumbent bike offers a low-impact exercise option whilst a treadmill uses your whole body as your feet impact the running deck. A recumbent bike is also quieter to use making it well-suited for quiet home-gym environments.
If you’re looking to burn more calories, the treadmill is the way to go. A treadmill also offers a much wider range of resistance options, with different belt speeds and incline percentages to choose from.
Both machines are fairly easy to assemble and range from simple, budget designs to top-of-the-range models with high-tech features.
Pros and Cons of a Treadmill
The different belt speeds and incline options offer a decent range of workout versatility
The treadmill running motion transfers well into real-life running performance
Treadmill provide a great indoor training method without having to worry about the weather
Treadmills burn more calories per hour compared to other exercise machine options
Could be better:
Running on a treadmill is high impact due to the constant belt contact as you run along
The deck motor operates fairly loudly
Treadmills tend to take up a larger surface area
Pros and Cons of a Recumbent Bike
The cycling motion provides a low-impact exercise option
Recumbent bikes may be better suited in rehabilitation settings or for those with lower back issues
The flywheel resistance mechanisms used tend to operate very quietly even at higher intensities
The initial learning curve is small making them beginner friendly
Could be better:
Recumbent bikes tend to not transfer that well to outdoor bike performance
Recumbent bikes have less workout versatility compared to other cardio machines
Recommended Treadmill: ProForm City L6
The ProForm City L6 Treadmill is an entry-level folding treadmill with a space-saving, simple design. Compared to the usual folding mechanisms, the L6 folds to the floor allowing you to store it under a desk or table.
Under the 47" L x 18" W running deck, ProForm has used its patented ProShox cushioning to reduce the joint impact when running. With a frame constructed using alloy steel, the L6 can support up to 250 pounds of user weight.
Photo by @fitnessdeals.online
The 5" LCD monitor tracks your speed, time, distance, and calories burned. On the side, the quick-press controls provide an easy way to change your speed from 0-8 mph.
ProForm includes a free 30-day iFit membership which uses Bluetooth to give you a fully immersive workout experience with thousands of live and on-demand trainer-led workouts.
Recommended Recumbent Bike: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RB4850
The Sunny Health & Fitness Recumbent Bike is a programmable, low-impact cardio option that comes at an excellent budget-friendly price point. At the front of the bike, the performance monitor has 24 pre-set workout programs and 16 resistance levels to choose from giving you a huge range of options. If you want to customize your workout, you can program the monitor accordingly with the easy-press buttons underneath.
The recumbent bike features a wide cushioned seat with a meshed back to give you a comfortable cycling experience. The non-slip handlebars have built-in pulse sensors to monitor your heart rate, with the heart rate graph above the monitor providing a good reference point concerning the different workout zones.
Photo by @jsms0283
Made from alloy steel and finished with a black powder coating, the bike frame can support up to 300 pounds of user weight. It measures 59" L x 26" W x 47.5" H meaning it should be able to fit into most normal gym spaces.
Both the pedals and seat can be easily adjusted via two straps and an easy seat adjuster at the side. Added features include a water bottle holder, device shelf, floor stabilizers, and transportation wheels.
Is a Treadmill or Recumbent Bike Better for Weight Loss?
Due to a treadmill being a higher-impact exercise, your body needs to work harder to use it correctly. With this, you will burn more calories compared to a recumbent bike.
Both exercise modes provide great ways to burn calories and lose weight when used regularly.
Is a Recumbent Bike Better Than a Treadmill for Back Pain?
Suitable exercises for those with back pain should be low-impact and provide support for the affected area. Recumbent bikes are lower impact and provide excellent lumbar support where needed to make them the ideal choice.
Treadmills and recumbent bikes are two popular cardio machine choices that can be used to accomplish a wide range of health and fitness goals.
Both machines are operated using the same lower body muscles but differ in their movement pattern. Treadmills burn more calories and have a wider range of resistance options but are higher impact and louder to operate. Recumbent bikes provide a great low-impact exercise method but burn fewer calories.
Which one is your favorite cardio machine? Perhaps you use a combination of both? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
- Everything You Need to Know About Cardio // Verywellfit: https://www.verywellfit.com /everything-you-need-to-know-about-cardio-1229553
- Which Is Better: Treadmill or Recumbent Bike? // Livestrong: https://www.livestrong.com /article/223301-which-is-better-treadmill-or-recumbent-bike/
- A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Treadmill Training and Body Weight Support in Pediatric Rehabilitation // LWW: https://journals.lww.com /jnpt/Fulltext/ 2009/03000/A _Systematic_Review _of_the_Effectiveness _of.4.aspx
- Which Is Better: Treadmill or Recumbent Bike? // Citeseerx: https://t.ly/Y-m_
- Physical and Emotional Benefits of Different Exercise Environments Designed for Treadmill Running // MDPI: https://www.mdpi.com /1660-4601/14/7/752
- ELECTROMYOGRAPHY DURING PEDALING ON UPRIGHT AND RECUMBENT ERGOMETER // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pmc/articles/ PMC3924611/
- Knee loads in the standard and recumbent cycling positions // NCBI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov /15133932/
My name is Ihor and I have been a professional weightlifter since 1996. With over 20 years of competition experience, my resume includes European Champion in 2009 and the silver medalist at 2011's Senior World Championships – 105kg division.
I competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.
After hanging up my own competitive lifting shoes, I decided to share my huge background as a coach. I am currently coaching multiple athletes who are competing at national and international competitions.