We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Stationary bikes and treadmills both offer heart-pounding cardio workouts, but which one is better depends on your preferences and goals.

If you’re trying to choose a machine for your cardio sesh, should you take a spin on the stationary bike or a run on the treadmill?

Both gym mainstays help you build stamina, torch calories, and get your heart pounding. Depending on your goals, fitness level, and lifestyle, one of these pieces of equipment may be better than the other.

Let’s settle the battle of stationary bike vs. treadmill once and for all.

stationary bike and treadmill Share on Pinterest
Courtesy of Brands

There’s no clear winner! Whether it’s better to use a treadmill or a stationary bike depends on your personal preferences and fitness goals. Some considerations:

  • Level of workout experience. Both types of equipment work for beginners and fitness buffs alike.
  • Mobility and risk of injury. Cycling is gentler on your joints than running. Folks with limited joint mobility might do better on an exercise bike than on a treadmill.
  • Cardio potential. Both treadmills and exercise bikes are good for your heart.
  • Fitness goals. Running usually burns more calories than cycling, but there are ways to tweak resistance and position so that you’re blasting calories and fat on a bike too. If you’re looking to build muscle, a stationary bike might be better.

Bottom line: Pick the equipment that’s more enjoyable to you. You’re likely to stay active and see results if you choose an activity that makes you happy.

Stationary bikes and treadmills are the workhorses of the gym (or a home gym!). They may be a little boring to some, but they’re hella consistent at offering a solid workout to folks of all fitness levels and backgrounds.

If this is your first time trying either machine (welcome!), a treadmill might feel a little more intimidating than a bike. The moving belt requires a little more balance and coordination than taking a walk down the block. If you’ve ever taken a bike ride, the stationary bike might be slightly more beginner-friendly.

Training for your next triathlon? Unfortunately, you might find both of these classic steeds a bit ho-hum. But stationary bikes and treadmills offer a killer cardio session for experienced fitness buffs who vary the treadmill incline or bike resistance.

A treadmill offers a more balanced workout (👍) without much muscle-building potential (👎).

Exercise bikes, on the other hand, have more muscle-building potential (👍), but primarily for your lower body (👎).

Stationary bikeTreadmill
Main muscles workedquads
hamstrings
calves
core
quads
glutes
hamstrings
hip flexors
How to work more musclesStand while pedaling to fire up your glutes, core, back, and shoulders.More incline = a deeper burn in your leg muscles and more demand from your hip joints.

Bottom line: Both stationary bikes and treadmills offer a whole-body workout, but a treadmill naturally uses a wider variety of muscles. You can vary the muscles worked by changing your position or the machine settings.

You can find dozens of stationary bikes and treadmills on the market. In place of a head-to-head comparison of each model, we’ve rounded up the basics.

Stationary bikeTreadmill
Common featurespulse monitors, screen, resistance range, preset exercise programspulse monitor, incline range, speed range, preset exercise programs
Common typesupright, recumbent, air bikesstandard, foldable, curved
Common screen dataresistance/work level, power output, cadence, calories, distance, speed, heart ratepace/speed, distance, incline, calories, heart rate
Live class options?yep! (and it’s not just Peloton)yep! (iFit, anyone?)
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi?on some modelson some models
👍 PerksStationary bikes come in a variety of forms — upright vs. recumbent, for instance.Walk, run, jog … it’s all possible on a treadmill!
👎 ConsOnce you’ve settled on a bike style, you’re stuck working out in that position.Fewer treadmills than stationary bikes offer live classes and workout variety.

Bottom line: It’s 2022, y’all. If you want feature-packed equipment for your home gym, you can find it in a stationary bike or treadmill.

Again, it depends on the model!

Most exercise bikes let you adjust:

  • seat height
  • handlebar height
  • resistance

And most treadmills offer adjustments for:

  • incline
  • belt tension (if necessary)

It’s easier to adjust the fit of a bike than a treadmill, but then again, you don’t *need* to adjust a treadmill’s fit since it’s not touching multiple body parts during a workout.

If you’re curious about the pros and cons of your local gym’s stationary bike vs. treadmill, keep scrollin’. But for folks building a home gym, space and budget matter.

Here’s how these MVPs stack up.

Budget

Prices for gym equipment vary wildly. But in general, stationary bikes tend to be easier on the wallet.

When we scoured the ’net for the best treadmills of 2022, our most budget-friendly pick still clocked in at more than $500. On the flip side, we found a dope stationary bike for less than $300.

In the land of gym equipment, more money means more features. Opting for budget-friendly equipment doesn’t mean your workout has to suffer — but it might mean giving up cool tech like live classes, pulse monitors, and screens.

Space

There are always exceptions to the rule, but bikes tend to have a smaller footprint than treadmills.

That said, you could opt for a foldable treadmill. Foldable models aren’t as sturdy, which might affect your workout intensity, but they sure fit into small spaces!

The number of calories you torch while using a treadmill or stationary bike depends on workout intensity, workout length, weight, age, and more.

Want to know how many calories you might burn by spending an hour on a stationary bike vs. a treadmill? Here’s a handy chart courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Exercise typeCalories burned for a 154-pound person
brisk walking (4.5 mph)460
running or jogging (5 mph)590
cycling (>10 mph)590

A very small 1996 study (old enough to drink, y’all!) found that treadmills required more energy expenditure than four other types of gym equipment. Running requires full-body momentum, while a stationary bike lets you sit through your workout.

TBH, sustainable, healthy weight loss requires a multipronged approach that includes a nutrient-rich diet, proper hydration, and regular movement.

Here’s how a treadmill could play into your weight loss journey:

  • Burns more calories. Running on a treadmill will probably burn more calories than pedaling a stationary bike. So running could boost your weight loss efforts.
  • Can build some muscle. Running isn’t a huge muscle builder, but if you’re a beginner, a treadmill workout can help you build leg muscle. Running on an incline will also help you build strength and muscle mass.

And here’s how a stationary bike stacks up:

  • Might burn fewer calories. If you’re sitting — or worse, slouching — during cycling class, you’re probably not burning as many calories as you would on a run.
  • Offers more strength training potential. Science says you might experience more long-term weight loss if you combine cardio and strength training. An exercise bike set on a high resistance does exactly that.

If your goal is to chisel your waist or flatten your stomach, treadmills and stationary bikes can help.

Strength training is the go-to method for losing fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. Building muscle helps you keep burning calories long after your workout.

TL;DR: A stationary bike can help you build lean muscle while burning calories (👍), while a treadmill might help you burn more calories in the short term (👍/👎).

Both are generally safe. And you might be able to reduce the risk of injury even more by warming up before you make a beeline for the equipment.

Running puts more pressure on your joints, so it might not be the best option for folks with ankle or knee problems. Treadmills can also be tough for people with balance issues, and running with poor form can lead to lower back pain.

Cycling is a more low impact activity, but using a stationary bike can still be difficult for folks with balance issues. It can also cause lower back pain if the bike is not positioned correctly.

It’d be nice to achieve your fitness goals by picking the perfect equipment. Sorry, fam, but it doesn’t work that way. No matter your goals, your best bet is to regularly move your body with a blend of cardio and strength training.

So, there’s no magic machine. But which goals do a stationary bike and treadmill align with best?

  • Weight loss. Both machines will help you burn calories, but running has the potential to burn more calories.
  • Fat loss. Again, they’re both great! But a bike is better at increasing muscle mass in your legs, and building muscle helps you get an afterburn effect.
  • Heart health. You’re speaking these machines’ language! Both a stationary bike and a treadmill offer great cardio workouts.
  • Full-body pump. Running on a treadmill will likely give your core and arms more of a workout.
  • WFH movement. You’ll save space (and maybe money) by putting a stationary bike in your home gym instead of a treadmill.
  • Fun fitness. It’s up to you! Running, jogging, cycling — pick the workout that makes you happiest.

Here’s the wrap-up, folks:

ProsCons
Stationary bike• budget-friendly
• smaller footprint
• easier on joints
• promotes weight + fat loss
• works fewer muscles
• might burn fewer calories initially
• can cause back pain
Treadmill• burns more calories initially
• offers a full-body workout
• easier for folks with balance probs
• less back pain
• bulky
• expensive
• less likely to build muscle
• harder on joints

Only you can decide whether a stationary bike or a treadmill is better for you. There’s a reason these two gym workhorses have stuck around for decades — both offer an accessible cardio workout with weight loss potential.