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Cardio comparison: Stationary bike vs treadmill

Last Modified: March 03, 2023

Sports & Exercise


This post was written by Lindsey Derby, human performance specialist, Parkview Sports Medicine.

It’s a popular question: Which form of cardio delivers more bang for your buck? This commonly comes down to biking vs. walking/jogging. And since winters in the Midwest often bring cold temperatures and messy conditions that keep athletes off the roads and in the gym, it’s safe to focus on stationary bikes and treadmills, for the sake of this discussion. If the goal is to maintain your cardiorespiratory fitness, which machines should you lean on? There’s going to be a lot of subjectivity in this post, so I’ll explain the pros and cons of each piece as succinctly as I can and let you decide what’s in your best interest.


Let’s assume you simply want to know which piece of equipment will most efficiently help you burn fat and lose weight. The basis of this is simple: Which movement will burn the most calories?

Running or jogging on a treadmill will use more of your total body than a stationary bike will, thereby increasing the caloric need, which means burning more stored fuel. If you have pre-existing injuries that prevent you from turning up the speed or incline on a treadmill though, biking may be a better bet, as long as you can keep the intensity high. This could mean committing to a longer duration or making it more challenging by standing up out of your seat. If you want to see more precise numbers for calories burned, check out this Harvard Health Publishing article.

Injury risk

If we look at the risk of injury though, the stationary bike is likely the better bet. In general, running is much harder on your hips, knees and ankle joints. Therefore, if you’re new to an exercise routine and you’re carrying extra weight that you’re trying to lose, it might be safer to start with biking or combing walking on a treadmill with higher intensity stationary biking. Additionally, if coordination isn’t your forte, treadmills can be a little scary when you start increasing speed or the incline, so be cognizant of that as you make these decisions.

Other factors

There are numerous considerations when deciding which piece of equipment to utilize. If you’re looking to purchase one for your home, space and enjoyment are huge factors. Both treadmills and stationary bikes are now coming with subscriptions to recorded and “live” classes that make the time spent exercising more enticing. Bikes typically take up less space in potentially limited areas in your house. Additionally, you might want to work specific muscle areas as well as improve your cardio fitness. The stationary bike is going to tax your quadriceps (front thigh muscles), hamstrings and calf muscles, while the treadmill will get all your lower body muscles, and your core and shoulders. A steeper incline on the treadmill will also engage your glutes even more.

No matter which piece of equipment you choose, both avenues will increase your overall fitness, thus improving your health and wellness. Luckily, if you try one thing and decide it’s not for you, there’s another option out there, so, don’t get discouraged if you lose interest or aren’t seeing the results you want. Just take that as a reason to try something new and go from there.

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