5 Reasons to Swap Running for a Cross Trainer

By Matthew Green | Updated on

Are you thinking of starting a new home exercise program but aren’t sure whether a cross trainer is the right choice? Or do you often struggle to decide which cardio machine to use in a gym? Help is at hand!

The cross trainer causes more debate than almost any other type of exercise equipment. Some people swear by its low-impact and full-body workouts. Others think it’s nothing more than a “treadmill for lazy people.” Who’s right?

In this article, we’ll go through the main reasons why you might want to consider a cross trainer workout instead of running. We’ll also answer the much debated question “does a cross trainer burn more calories than a treadmill?”

1. Low-Impact Compared to Jogging

There’s no doubt about it: running can put a lot of stress on your joints.

When you run, your body is briefly airborne. This means you land with much greater force than you would when walking – up to 12 times in some cases. The impact first hits the ankle joint, before being transmitted through the knee, hips and into the lower back.

While the increased impact may not be as damaging to cartilage as many people think, it can cause a range of injuries. These include IT band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome and stress fractures. Anyone can develop these problems, but they are more common in people who are overweight, have poor running form or an existing biomechanical problem.

We talked about the low-impact nature of an elliptical trainer in our article on the benefits of using a cross trainer, but it’s worth repeating. As your feet never leave the foot plates on a cross trainer, there isn’t any impact force. You can still develop over-use injures – but the risk is lower.

2. Warm Winter Workout

It’s currently summer here in the UK, but during the winter months it’s hard to get the motivation to go running outside. A cross trainer is a great alternative, as you can get a similar quality workout without needing to leave the house.

Running is also more dangerous in wet weather. A combination of slippy pavements and sodden ground can increase the chances of a fall. On a cross trainer, you don’t need to worry about unexpected obstacles.

3. You Burn as Many Calories on a Cross Trainer

It’s probably fair to say working out on a cross trainer doesn’t look as strenuous as running. But is this really the case?

Not according to recent studies. The 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities showed that running on an elliptical trainer with “strong moderate effort” burns almost exactly the same number of calories as running at a pace of 13 mins/mile. If you’re running faster than this you’ll burn more calories, but the same could be said about using a cross trainer with a higher resistance or incline setting.

Another study by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse came to a similar conclusion. They asked volunteers to work out for 20 minutes and measured the quantity of calories burned, level of exhaustion and heart rate. Their conclusion was that the calories burned by a cross trainer and treadmill was very similar.

The bottom line is that a cross trainer provides a workout that’s just as effective as running on a treadmill – yet without the impact.

A cross trainer also feels less tiring. Which is certainly a bonus!

A word of warning though. Don’t trust the calories burned estimate on cross trainers, treadmills or other cardio equipment. They tend to overestimate the quantity!

4. Joint Impact Doesn’t Increase with Difficulty

There are two ways to increase running difficulty – run faster or on an incline. Both can increase the impact on your joints, which could potentially lead to injury.

With a cross trainer, you can adjust resistance depending on your requirements. This allows you to scale your workouts as you improve without putting additional forces through your joints.

It’s important to get a cross trainer with a wide range of resistance levels though. Poor quality models tend to have low maximum resistance, which can limit your scope for improvement. Check out our cross trainer page for more information.

5. Full Body Workout

One of the biggest advantages of a cross trainer is that you use your upper body more than when running. In fact, it’s estimated that a cross trainer works over 80% of your body’s skeletal muscles.

While it’s true that your arms also move when walking or running, the cross trainer provides resistance to these movements. Studies have shown that the an elliptical helps strengthen muscles in the lower back while activating the glutes.

You’re not going to get “swole” by using a cross trainer. But as you’re moving the flywheel with your arms, legs and back an elliptical workout doesn’t feel as difficult – even though you’re burning the same number of calories.

Is a Cross Trainer Always Better than Running?

We wouldn’t go that far!

The main point of this article was to dispel the myth that a cross trainer is the easy option. If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that burns plenty of calories, a cross trainer is the perfect choice.

That doesn’t mean running doesn’t have advantages too. Many people, for example, find outdoor running more enjoyable and varied. Treadmill running is also the best option if you’re training for a race, as it works the same muscles while slightly reducing impact.


A cross trainer is a great piece of equipment for improving your cardiovascular fitness. While the machine often looks easier than running on a treadmill, a high-quality elliptical can provide an effective workout for people of almost any fitness level.

If you decide to try a cross trainer, check out our article on how to supercharge your workout.

Leave a Comment