Treadmill vs Elliptical For Toning

Treadmills and elliptical trainers are traditionally used as cardio machines rather than for toning but that does not mean they cannot fulfill that role.

Although both treadmills and elliptical trainers have been designed as cardio machines with the right exercises and approach they can double-up as toning machines. However, if you use them in the traditional way you can’t expect to get overall body toning as these devices only target specific muscle groups. Let’s look at how you can use these machines for muscle toning and see which one can do that job the best.

treadmill vs elliptical for toning

Using a Treadmill For Muscle Toning

The treadmill was designed as a cardiovascular exercising machine that emulates road and track running.treadmill running female - treadmill vs elliptical trainer

Instead of running on hard surfaces, such road running, a treadmill offers you the same great cardio workout while being much more gentle on your joints and muscles.

As a treadmill is designed to emulate running on roads or a track it is not designed to tone your entire body.

Regardless of what some websites say you cannot get an effective overall body workout using a treadmill.

However, a treadmill is a fantastic way to tone your legs and buttocks and it is probably the best cardio machine you could use to do that.

Using a good quality treadmill is also a great way to get fit and to burn excess fat from your body. But that is about as far as it goes.

There are upper body exercises that you can use with a treadmill but they are in no way dependent on the machine and can be done without one. If you intend to use a treadmill at the gym then such exercises are just impractical.

A Treadmill Tones Thighs

Although walking and running on a treadmill are cardiovascular exercises designed to strengthen your heart and burn body fat, the muscles of your lower body contract and tone in response to the repetitive motion when using one.

toned butt- treadmill vs elliptical trainerWhen you add an incline on the treadmill, to emulate steep terrain, you then enhance the work your legs must do.

The contraction to your hamstrings is increased as your leg muscles must work harder to climb as well and this is increased further if you maintain your same speed as you incline the treadmill while running.

A Treadmill Tones Buttocks

The muscle contraction that occurs while using a treadmill is not limited to your legs. Contraction also occurs in your glutes (buttocks) as your muscles work harder to climb.

This makes a treadmill a great machine for shaping and toning your butt.

So increasing the incline while you use the machine has the double effect of toning your legs and your butt.

How to Use a Treadmill to Tone Your Legs and Butt

You should always start with a warm-up exercise as launching into toning exercises before a warm-up increases your risk of getting an injury.

The Warm-Up

Begin with a simple 5 minute warm-up routine that involves only slow-paced walking on the treadmill.

Start with a speed that feels very easy. This will usually be somewhere between 3 MPH and 3.5 MPH.

Walk without holding onto the handrails.

At this point the the incline should be set to zero.

Increasing the Pace & Incline

After the 5 minute warm-up has been completed gradually begin to increase the speed of the machine from 3 MPH to 5 MPH in gentle increments.

incline running treadmill.pgStart to jog on the treadmill as you reach 5 MPH.

Continue this for several minutes but no longer than 5 minutes.

Then start to raise the incline about 3 to 4 percent. As you do this try to maintain your speed. You will see that you need to put in more effort to do this.

Continue at this incline and speed for about 5 minutes.

Then start to adjust the incline higher.

Raise the incline to a level about 2 or 3 percent higher and again try to maintain your speed. You will start to feel this in your legs.

Continue this for as long as is comfortable or for as long as you can fit it into your training timetable.

As you get fitter you can raise the incline up to about 8 or even 10 percent and increase the speed of the machine to really give your legs and buttocks a good workout.

The Warm-Down

Just as you warmed-up you should also warm-down.

This is as easy as simply reversing the order of the warm-up.

Gradually decline the treadmill down 2 or 3 percent while maintaining your speed.

After about 5 minutes decline the treadmill to zero and continue running for another few minutes before reducing your speed back to the starting speed of about 3 MPH.

Walk on the treadmill for a few minutes before stopping.

Congratulations, you have just completed a leg and butt tone-up, as well as a very good cardio, exercise routine.

Take it Easy at The Start

If at any stage during the workout you feel that breathing is getting difficult you should reduce your speed and/or incline and if it gets very tough you should stop!

Remember you are not in a race and getting fit takes time so don’t overdo it.

There will be opportunity enough to push yourself when you reach the type of fitness levels where this is good for you rather than a risk to your health (as it could be at the very beginning of your fitness journey).

Simple Jogging Treadmill Routine for Muscle Toning (video)

Using an Elliptical Trainer For Muscle Toning

Just like a treadmill an elliptical trainer is primarily used for cardiovascular exercise. However, like a treadmill it has the secondary function of toning certain muscles groups.

elliptical machine muscle groups workedUnlike a treadmill however an elliptical trainer is not just restricted to working your legs and butt.

All good elliptical machines have handles that move in sync with your legs as you use the machine. This means your arms and entire upper body are getting toned at the same time as your legs and butt.

Like a treadmill you can use an elliptical machine to do high-intensity interval (HIIT) exercises and also incline workouts.

An elliptical trainer works more muscle groups than a treadmill.

An elliptical machine is also easier on your joints than a treadmill.

An Elliptical Trainer Tones The Entire Lower Body & Butt

Although both an elliptical machine and a treadmill are primarily used to work the lower body muscles such as thighs, hips and butt, an elliptical machine is much more versatile and targets more leg muscles.

You can use specific elliptical machine exercises to work all your leg muscles including your calves; you can pedal backwards on an elliptical trainer to work-out your hamstrings and your calf muscles.

You can’t normally get a workout on calf muscles and hamstrings on a treadmill except with machines that have a decline function like the Freemotion 850 but you can work them on any elliptical trainer.

An Elliptical Trainer Tones The Upper Body

As an elliptical trainer has swinging arms that move as your walk or run on the machine. This motion works your upper body at the same time your legs are being worked.

The upper movement of the handles , when used properly, forces your biceps and triceps to engage while also working your shoulder muscles (when you do the push & pull motion described below).

elliptical trainer workoutThis handle motion, along with the leg workout, means an elliptical trainer gives you a much more overall body workout than a treadmill can.

An Elliptical Trainer Tones Chest & Back Muscles

An elliptical trainer also helps to work-out the back muscles and the chest muscles.

The muscles in your back that form the “V” shape are called the latissimus dorsi (known as lats). When you pull the handles these muscles (as well as your biceps) have to work.

Likewise when you push the handles your chest muscles, called pectorals (known as pecs) are worked (along with your triceps).

As your shoulders are also being worked with this to and fro motion this movement gives you a good overall upper body workout.

An Elliptical Trainer Can Also Help Tone Tummy Abs

While both a treadmill and an elliptical trainer engage the abdominal and lower back muscles the elliptical trainer does a much better job of it.

Having said that if you want to develop abs or get a flat tight tummy then will need to additional abdominal work as neither of these machines will do it on their own.

How to Use an Elliptical Trainer to Tone Multiple Muscle Groups

The Warm-Up

Start with the resistance level low so that you are moving at walking pace.

Keep this up for about 5 minutes.

Increase Resistance

After about 5 minutes start to increase the resistance level while maintaining your speed.

Every few minutes increase the resistance level on the trainer until you have reached a level where you can feel your entire body is getting a work-out.

Remain at this resistance level, while maintaining your speed, for as long as is comfortable or for as long as your work-out timetable will allow before starting your warm-down.

The Push & Pull

As you train on the elliptical be sure to actively engage your arms.

When you are pulling one handle make sure you put effort into it while you simultaneously push the other handle away with the other arm. Although it takes a little bit of co-ordination this is not difficult to do once you get the knack.

This push/pull motion ensures you work-out both the biceps and the triceps of each arm as well as your chest and back. You are working the biceps and back when you pull the handles and working the triceps and chest when you push the handlebars.

Working Your Calf Muscles & Hamstrings

To work the muscles at the back of your leg simply walk in reverse.

To do this mid routine will require you to slow down gradually and reduce the resistance level so you can start building-up the resistance while moving in reverse. For this reason may people wait until they have finished their routine before spending an additional 10 minutes working the back of their legs (so they don’t break their rhythm).

If you chose to work the back of your legs after your main routine then you obviously won’t have to do a warm-up but you will still have to warm-down. Simply start your hamstring and calf reverse exercise before you would normally do a warm-down.

The Warm-Down

With the warm-down just reverse what you did in the warm-up.

Every few minutes reduce the resistance level of the trainer and then for the final 5 minutes simply move at a walking pace.

Congratulations you have just completed a leg and butt tone-up and cardio exercise routine.

Take it Easy at The Start

Although you are less likely to injure yourself or overdo it on an elliptical trainer as you would be on a treadmill the advice for an elliptical trainer is the same – don’t over do it at first.

Build-up gradually over time as your fitness level increases.

What Muscles Does an Elliptical Trainer Workout (video)


For overall toning a good elliptical trainer wins hands down.


an elliptical trainer is best for whole body muscle toningBecause it can help you target much more muscle groups than a treadmill.

With a treadmill you can only tone your legs and butt while you raise your heart-rate, for a very effective cardio workout. And, although a good quality treadmill is better for leg and butt toning it won’t give you a full body workout.

On the other hand an elliptical trainer can help you achieve the same results you would get with a treadmill but offers the capacity for working other muscle groups as well.

With the correct approach to exercise an elliptical trainer can offer the additional benefits of toning the back of your legs, your arms, back, chest and tummy muscles.

So, if you want to tone all the muscles in your body then an elliptical trainer is your best bet by far.

We do advise that regardless of which machine you go with you also try some at home muscle toning exercises to maximum the time you spend exercising so you can get the results you really want.