Getting the right equipment is essential when you're setting up your at-home gym, looking to add a new fitness station to your office, or starting a new exercise regimen.
We've already looked at the differences between indoor fitness bikes and static ones and the differences between exercise bikes and treadmills. In this post, we're taking a closer look at the two kingpins of cardio: exercise bikes versus cross-trainers. Which one is better and why? Or does it just boil down to personal preference?
What are Exercise Bikes and Cross Trainers?
An exercise bike is easy to spot in the gym. It resembles a road bike and has a wheel (or wheels), pedals, handlebars and a saddle. Exercise bikes are stationary and can be used individually or in a class alongside others. There are several different indoor bikes that you may be familiar with, and whilst the basic design hasn't changed too dramatically over the years, the technology and the way we use them has.
For example, indoor cycling bikes are commonly used in instructor-led classes in gyms and fitness studios and, more recently, as part of online programs. They're known for their calorie burn and intensity because the flywheel tends to be heavier, requiring more effort to rotate it. The handlebars are also lower than traditional upright bikes and are almost level with the saddle. Riders must lean forwards as they would on a road bike. Indoor cycling bikes also allow riders to stand up for increased intensity to simulate hill climbs. The technology inside fitness bikes is also becoming more advanced and to the rider's benefit. Take the electricity-generating RE:GEN bike, for example. It captures the clean power generated during a workout and then stores it inside a portable battery unit.
Another type of static bike is the upright. These are the more traditional indoor bikes found in gyms and homes. With these, the rider's knee sits closer to the higher handlebars, and there's no need to lean forward. Some upright bikes are very basic. Others have embedded technology or can pair to an app and provide real-time data about a workout.
Recumbent bikes are another popular piece of equipment. Riders pedal from a reclined seat that's low to the ground, pedalling with their legs out in front of them. These bikes are popular in aiding rehabilitation and recovery.
Cross trainers are a type of elliptical. Reviewed.com writes that ellipticals 'mimic the gait cycle, which is how the body moves when it walks'. The equipment is so-called because of the oval shape that a person's feet and legs make as they move on the large pedals. Ellipticals simulate walking, running, and stair climbing and traditionally have a static bar to place the hands. Cross trainers are the same as an elliptical below the waist, but they have two vertical bars that move in opposition to the pedals. Users hold onto these bars, which creates a push-pulling action similar to skiing, allowing for an upper and lower body workout simultaneously.
What are the Pros and Cons of an Elliptical vs a Bike?
- There are some key similarities between a cross trainer and a bike. Firstly, they both offer low-impact but high-intensity workouts. You'll get an excellent cardiovascular workout without putting a lot of pressure on the joints. This distinguishes cross trainers and bikes from another popular piece of gym equipment: the treadmill. While running is great for cardio, it's also classed as a high-impact exercise, making it less suitable for those with weaker joints.
- One of the most significant benefits of a stationary bike is that it's automatically familiar to most people. It's easy to use and one of the least intimidating pieces of gym equipment you can use or buy. This isn't always true with cross-trainers. Initially, an elliptical movement will feel less natural than a bike. It's no big deal once you're used to a cross trainer, but it can put first-time gym users off (at least initially).
- But clearly, one of the significant advantages of the cross trainer is that it also provides an upper body workout. By pushing and pulling against the moving bars, you're working out your shoulders, chest, biceps, triceps, quads, glutes and hip muscles. Compare that to the static bike, which solely focuses on the lower body (quads, hamstrings, core, glutes and calves). Cross trainers also have the advantage that the user is standing up. This means that the heart has to work harder. Standing up for a workout is also a good idea. We already spend so much of our time sitting down that it questions how much we should be doing it during exercise. Several scientific studies have highlighted the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle on our health.
- And it's one way of getting around the uncomfortable saddle problem. Anyone who has ever taken an indoor cycling class will tell you that those first few sessions can be brutal for the backside. Most people will get used to the saddles within a few weeks, but it can be off-putting for beginners. There's no aching bum on a cross-trainer as it doesn't have a saddle or a seat. If you find that your at-home bike is too uncomfortable, check to see if it has a universal post because then you can swap the saddle out for a different one more suited to your weight, gender or posture. But for some people, sitting down may be a more appropriate way of exercising. Those rehabilitating from illness or injury will find a seated position more comfortable and manageable. This is why occupational therapists often use a recumbent bike for patients and clients requiring a low-impact form of exercise.
- Calorie burn is generally considered to be higher on a cross-trainer. According to the Harvard Health website, 30-minutes of general use on an elliptical for a 155-pound person burns around 324-calories. In contrast, the same person doing 30-minutes of vigorous activity on a stationary bike will burn around 278 calories. A cross trainer offers a calorie burn closer to the treadmill, making it an effective way of achieving weight loss without the same impact on the joints. Beginners often ask whether an elliptical or a bike is better for burning belly fat. The truth is that whilst both provide a decent calorie burn, it's not possible to spot-reduce or to target stomach fat specifically. Nor will it reduce belly fat if you're consuming too many calories through food. But as part of a general fat loss program, both the elliptical and the bike can provide an excellent means of weight loss. If you're struggling to burn calories on a static bike, then try taking an indoor cycling class at your local gym or via an online app. You may benefit from a workout at greater intensity.
- But it depends on the person and the effort going into the exercise. It's easier to ramp up the intensity on an indoor fitness bike, especially if you're taking a class with an instructor who controls the resistance digitally. Technology has made it so indoor cycling can provide key fitness metrics to support long-term training goals and short-term fitness resolutions.
- There are now bikes that provide significant amounts of data to help athletes and professional cyclists track their progress. Some of this technology has also spilt over into the at-home market, measuring critical metrics like functional threshold power (FTP) to make exercising more efficient. For example, the RE:GEN uses a colour-zoning system on its portable battery unit to ensure that riders workout at their maximum potential. The app's AI also builds bespoke workouts to ensure that whatever time you have available, whatever calorie burn you need, you're staying on track to smash your fitness goals. Compare that to the basic disposable battery-operated (and often guessed) metrics that used to be standard for at-home static bikes.
- Smart fitness bikes are growing in popularity. You're far less likely to see a cross-trainer class led by an instructor. This makes using ellipticals more of an individual pursuit without the atmosphere that an in-person or live digital class can have.
- Cross trainers do tend to be quieter, though. This may be a deciding factor if you live with other people or have neighbours directly above or next to you.
- Cross trainers and exercise bikes are both priced similarly. The lower-end models with a basic frame and set-up are relatively cheap. The price increases the more sophisticated the technology or more durable the frame.
Is a Cross-Trainer Better than an Exercise bike?
There's no right or wrong answer.
It depends on what you want to get out of your gym equipment. For example, if you're going to incorporate an upper-body workout into your regimen, a cross-trainer will be more suitable. Make a list of the things that are personally important to you and your fitness goals before buying any equipment, and then review each point and consider which piece of equipment will help you achieve those goals more quickly.
Summary of Pros and Cons
- Exercise bikes are more familiar and less intimidating for new users. They also make exercise more accessible for those with injuries or chronic illnesses. What's more, smart fitness bikes are now more common and can track a wide range of data points to help support your training goals.
- Both exercise bikes and cross trainers are low-impact, so they don't put undue pressure or stress onto the joints.
- The cross trainer has the advantage of also providing an upper body workout. It also gives a higher calorie burn, although not significantly enough that it should be your only consideration. It's quieter than an exercise bike, and making the user stand up helps create a more vigorous cardiovascular workout.
- You can also buy a 2 in 1 cross trainer and elliptical bike. This is a static bike but with an additional set of pedals and moveable vertical handlebars. For some people, it's the best of both worlds. The cheaper models aren't exactly beautifully designed, but this may not matter to you.
If you're interested in generating clean electricity from your workout, take a look at the RE:GEN.
It's a power generating indoor fitness bike that captures the energy generated by your workout before turning it into clean, renewable electricity that powers your electronic devices. Of course, it's also a superb fitness bike. Paired with the Energym app, users can access on-demand and live instructor-led classes or access bespoke AI-built workouts. There are games and challenges, and the RE:GEN is also Zwift-compatible so that you can ride in online environments against friends, family, and strangers worldwide.