Point: Elliptical or Treadmill?

by Jilian Gundling | 2/27/09 5:02am

The historic battle between the elliptical machine and the treadmill can be resolved by one quote from Marilyn Monroe: "I'd rather be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring."

There is no doubt that the elliptical machine is ridiculous -- some may go so far as to call it a joke. But even with its arm-flailing, unnatural movements, it will always be better than the exercise machine version of monotony -- the treadmill.

Using the treadmill is the equivalent of embracing old age before you are out of college. Those who long for the days of Mom jeans and socks pulled up too high are well-suited for this option. But if you want your life to be somewhat spontaneous, verging on spastic, get on and elliptical your heart out.

A main part of the definition of running involves moving from point A to point B. Running in place on a treadmill is a form of anti-running. You are engaging in a contradiction at its worst.

What would happen in a horror film if the main character jogged in place to get away from an axe-wielding psycho killer? Nothing good. Does the hero in a romantic comedy stationary-run as the heroine's cab drives to the airport? No. Was "Chariots of Fire" filmed on a treadmill? No.

I think you get it.

The treadmill takes away the most enjoyable aspects of running so that you are left with only the unpleasant aspects. It robs you of fresh air and scenery, while leaving you with the repetitiveness and pain. If you want to run you should throw on some extra layers, embrace the sex appeal of full-length spandex and run outside.

Unlike the treadmill, which is a watered-down version of a run, the elliptical machine is not trying to imitate any known movement. A mixture of skipping, dancing, skiing, skating and four other sports that have not yet been discovered, the movement made on an elliptical is an entity all to itself. The only place you are free to pump your legs and arms wildly, like a gazelle on speed, is on the elliptical or at a dance party, when you are so lit up with pong and punch that the room is spinning. Since dance parties don't usually happen at three in the afternoon, the elliptical is a welcome outlet.

Also, who has ever gotten injured on the elliptical? No one.

In fact, everyone has seen those elliptical stars, who are somehow able to juggle books, type up term papers, paint pictures, maybe even eat a salad, all while pumping their arms and legs vigorously. Furthermore, from a more technical standpoint, the elliptical is a non-impact machine, making it perfect for those with bad legs or knees.

The treadmill, however, is another story. Let me tell you about something I saw at The Sports Authority when I was six -- a vision that has scarred me for life.

I was standing in the aisle, looking at these neon pink shoes that I thought would be oh-so-awesome for gym class. All of the sudden, I heard panting and turned to look at the end of the aisle where there was a cluster of several workout machines. A boy from my elementary school, Jimmy, who was three years older than me, was running on the treadmill. Jimmy had ignored the sign that said, "Don't touch the machines." Instead, he kept pushing the buttons to increase the level of speed, and the machine belt moved faster and faster.

"Woah, he is amazing," I thought to myself.

I was in love.

But then, wham! Jimmy pushed the level up one more time and ate it. He slipped off the treadmill and landed face first, smacked his nose and started crying. He avoided my glance in the hallways for weeks.

To my knowledge, the elliptical has never caused such embarrassing or painful accidents.

If the elliptical was a song, it would be "Don't worry, be happy," and the treadmill would be "I've been working on the railroad." In the words of British comedian Eddie Izzard: "cake or death?" The treadmill is death and the elliptical is cake. Make your choice.

Now maybe I am under-qualified to even be making these comparisons. I am a former varsity athlete turned non-exerciser, and my only trips to the gym in the last couple years have been for P.E. classes. But I can tell you that on those rare occasions I do venture upstairs, I would choose the ridiculous elliptical before the treadmill any day, because it is original and whimsical enough to be interesting.