I'm absolutely perplexed.

People always say there's a difference between running on the ground vs. running on a treadmill vs. running on an elliptical.  There is ...

People always say there's a difference between running on the ground vs. running on a treadmill vs. running on an elliptical.  There is a different load on your body during each exercise, and each exercise has a benefit the other doesn't have. 

However, in American Fitness, "Treadmills vs. Elliptical Trainers," Jul/Aug2002, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p9, Thomas Altena, a professor of nutritional and exercise physiologist of the University of Missouri-Columbia measured oxygen retention, lactic acid build-up, heart rate, and perceived rate of exertion to compare treadmills and elliptical trainers.  He writes ""In this study, the physiological responses associated with elliptical exercise were nearly identical to treadmill exercise."  ((and if this is the case, why do so many people I know with bad knees insist on running on a treadmill because it burns more calories?))

Okay... so riddle me this:  why does my body crap out on me (mainly a tightness in my chest and a lactic acid buildup) when I run 10 minutes on a treadmill, but I can run the same pace on an elliptical for 60 minutes?  I expect the elliptical to be a little bit easier, but I didn't expect there to be such a dramatic difference in my ability.  Who knows, maybe I have some sort of mental block/prejudice against treadmills.

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6 comments

  1. I admire you for being able to do that on the elliptical!! I can't last on those things for more than 3 minutes (going at a good pace). The treadmill is MY friend. :)

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  2. I use the elliptical because (1) I don't feel like I'm going to die and (2) it's easier on my back.

    What do you start feeling at the 3-minute mark?

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  3. I have to agree with you that there is a difference between the treadmill and the elliptical, even if it is only perceived. But at the Y I can see a digital read out of calories burned on whatever machine I am on. The elliptical burns way more calories, but I can only do it for a minute or two no matter how easy I try and take it. I am building up my ability to run on the treadmill and right now I do a combination of walking and running. It burns less calories, but I can DO it for 30 minutes. Maybe it is a mental block, but it sure doesn't feel that way to my body.

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  4. I think the long and the short of it is that for people trying to build healthy patterns, it's about finding what works for you and what you enjoy....

    we'll leave the serious debate up to the professional athletes.

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  5. I note that they measure "intensity" by oxygen consumption. As you know, I'm a competitive runner who uses ellipticals (and other devices to cross-train when I'm injured. I've found that my muscles need to work much harder on the elliptical to maintain the same breathing pattern and heart rate than they do when running, so my perceived exertion is higher for the same heart rate (and conversely, the same perceived exertion gives a lower HR and easier breathing).

    I believe this is due to the fact that the elliptical is non-impact and bears part of your weight (there's not the "push-off" that you get when running). You see the same thing to a much greater degree when cycling -- I can be absolutely dying from a perceived exertion standpoint, but the heart rate and breathing rate remain much lower than they would for running.

    FWIW, I have found that I lose fitness when I'm forced to train on the elliptical, and regain it when I swap to running again. I cross-train to slow the decline, not because I think it will improve my fitness.

    I'd also caution very strongly against relying on the calorie counts provided by machines. Those are notoriously inaccurate -- in particular, the arc-trainer at my gym gives me ludicrous calorie counts (I'd guesstimate it's over by 50%). Machines are frequently miscalibrated, and also don't take the biomechanical efficiency of the user into account.

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  6. I think they are talking about V02 max tests (they strap a mask over the subject's mouth and nose to measure how efficiently their body is at using the oxygen they breathe in). The less oxygen you breathe out, the more your muscles are using those molecules. You'd probably do very well on that test, and I'd do pretty poorly.

    You mention heartrate and cardiovascular fitness -- and that makes me think that while my heartrate is lower (on the elliptical), it might be more efficient than when my heartrate is higher (on a treadmill). That might be something to invesitgate.

    I would like to run, but right now I think it's not practical for my back.

    As per the comment about the accuracy of the calorie counts on machine, I completely agree. I rarely look at it, especially because the BodyMedia Fit device I wear is 90% accurate when measuring my caloric expenditure.

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<3 Robby