Spin bikes and treadmills both can be used to get very good cardio workouts in the home or at the gym, they can get your heart rate up, help with your fitness training and burn those calories off.
They can be a good substitute for training or exercising outside when you can’t do it because of the weather or time or other reasons. And they are great just in themselves too – there is no traffic, no uneven surfaces etc.
There are differences between the 2, obviously one is for walking/running type exercise and the other is designed to give you cycling style workouts. Many of the advantages and disadvantages of each over the other are from the differences you experience from the action itself but there are some that come down to the characteristics of the equipment itself.
In comparing and contrasting treadmills and spin bikes I looked at 3 areas:- the equipment features, the type of exercise and the pricing to give a full understanding of how they measure up against each other.
While the advantage of both is that you use them inside and can avoid the bad weather, uneven surfaces and traffic you also miss out on the benefits of the outdoor such as fresh air, challenging terrain and a variety of scenery.
Keeping The Intensity Up
With motorized treadmills you can set how hard you want to run and the moving belt helps to keep the pace up so you get intensity you want. Many of them also have workout programs that can help you with intervals and hill running.
The ability to have the speed of the belt set at the optimum speed you’ve decided for your workout can help in burning more calories than you would on a spin bike. It is estimated that this can be up to 25% more than you can get on a spin bike due to this help with intensity plus you are continually carrying your full weight and moving your arms and torso.
The main muscles used are hamstrings, quads, shins, calves and to a certain extent your glutes and to a smaller extent your core and arms.
Spin bikes mainly are manual in this respect and it is up to you to keep your intensity up to where you want in terms of speed and pushing against the resistance. There is no help from the bike itself Many people use music and spinning DVDs to keep their cadence (RPM) up to the level they want to get the workout intensity so as to burn the calories. Even so, it can be difficult to keep on track as it can be difficult not to drift away and reduce intensity.
The spin bike targets a number of the same muscles as a treadmill with your calves, shins, glutes, quads and hamstrings all getting a workout. It also works your core, triceps, biceps and lats when you are standing up out of the seat.
Although you can burn more calories on a treadmill the amount you burn will in the end depend on how often and how intense you go when you do use the equipment. Of course, this also decides how fit you are as well.
Impact and Injury
A spin bike with a heavy flywheel provides a low impact form of cardio which is easy on the joints so can be great if you are recovering from an injury or you just want something that doesn’t jar you too much.
Even with padding a treadmill will result in impact on your joints and back that if you have an injury especially maybe too much. It may be less than running on pavement but it will still be harder on the joints than a spin bike with an aligned heavy flywheel.
The other thing to consider here is that you do need to be careful on treadmill that you don’t lose your footing as a misstep can see you falling off and hurting yourself.
With a spin bike the risk is lower but you do need to be careful of the pedals when you are wanting to stop as they continue to be pulled through by the flywheel as most have a fixed gear. You have to slow them down by gently applying pressure with your feet or applying a the emergency brake.
Running on a treadmill once you’ve got used to the moving belt is fairly comfortable and natural.
Whereas with spin bikes you need to get used to the seat which is just like an outdoor bike and can cause some pain and discomfort while getting used to it especially when you are doing long sessions. You can cover the seat with a gel seat cover or wear padded bike pants to help with the discomfort.
Treadmills can be pretty noisy pieces of exercise equipment with both the noise of motor and the running on treadmill generating a lot of noise. It makes them difficult to use when others in a home are sleeping or wanting to watch TV etc if your are training in the same room or nearby. It also makes it difficult to use in apartments because the pounding can be heard through the floor if not the motor itself.
The noise spin bikes make is fairly quiet which makes them a good piece of equipment for apartments. How much noise they make depends on the type of drive and resistance employed. Those that have magnetic resistance and a belt drive are almost silent (like Keiser M3 plus or Ironman H-Class 520) so can be used at anytime day or night and be unlikely to disturb anyone.
The least quiet ones use friction resistance for increasing intensity and a chain drive. With these bike you’ll hear a low whooshing sound from the friction pad rubbing on the flywheel and a quiet clinking sound from the chain as it moves across the sprockets. Neither of these are loud and are unlikely to disturb others in another room.
The maintenance requirements for spin bikes are relatively small. You need to keep it clean and ensure all the nuts and bolts are fully tightened up. If you have a friction resistance, every 12 months or so, depending on use the resistance pad will need replacing. If the bike has a chain drive that is going to need tightening and lubricating from time to time much as you would with an outdoors bike. All this can be done by the owner and doesn’t require any special technical skills or knowledge.
If the bike has magnetic resistance and/or a belt drive these don’t require regular maintenance but may need replacing or adjusting after a number of years of use and this is going to be need to be done with someone having the required knowledge and tools.
For the most part spin bikes do not need to be plugged in or a console to operate(see Diamondback 510Ic for exception). If the console breaks (if fitted) you can continue to use the equipment but you won’t have any feedback on your workout. The bike is manually operated just the same way as an outdoor bike is.
Treadmills have a bit more involved in maintaining them as they have an electric motor (except for manual ones) that needs to kept in good working order. As with spin bikes it is important to keep it clean and everything properly tightened. But in addition to this you need to maintain the electric motor and the console to ensure you can continue to use it requiring it to be cleaned and replacing brushes – you also need to be sure you don’t electrocute yourself.
The belt may also loosen and this involves a process of testing the tension and adjusting to bring it to the required tension and may need the help of a skilled technician.
Size and Weight
Treadmills can take up a lot of room with them being on average over 5 ft long and 2 ft wide. Whereas spin bikes are about 4 ft long and 2 ft wide needing a lot less room. This makes them easier to store out of the way.
There are smaller treadmills but they tend to have less powerful motors, narrower belts and shorter belt length which can make it difficult to use as it might cut your stride length down too much especially if you are going to use for running.
There are less adjustments needed for a full size treadmill to accommodate different size people.
This is different to a spin bike where you need to move the handlebars and seat to get the bike set up for each person. It doesn’t take long but it is an added step you don’t have with a treadmill when it is being used by different people. You also need to ensure the bike can be adjust for the different heights.
Spin bikes can weigh over 100 lbs and treadmills can weigh a lot more with an average of 170 lbs or more.
Spin bikes and treadmills can be easy to move around due to them having transport wheels at the front that you can tip the bike on to. These wheels take most of the weight so no lifting is required. To help in storage some treadmills can be folded up so they can be stored in a cupboard or under a bed.
Many spin bikes don’t come with a console at all. Those that do come with a console have a basic one that measures RPM, speed, calories burned, time elapsed, distance covered and in some cases heart rate. They don’t usually allow you to program in workouts (see Diamondback 510 Ic for exception) or upload the data to a fitness account (see Ironman X-Class 510 for exception ).
Treadmill consoles can provide much more data and flexibility with it possible to have workout programs in the console and have the information uploaded to a fitness account to analyse to track progress and share with others if you wish. You can plug in your MP3 player and have fans helping to keep you cool.
Generally speaking treadmills cost more than spin bikes as they have the electric motors, better consoles and can have a changing incline to add more intensity to a workout. It does depend on the model you are buying of course and a manual one can cost just over $100 but this one where you move the belt with your feet rather than having a motor do it for you, or one with a small 500W motor can be picked up for $200 but most reliable ones are over $400 and way beyond.
Although good spin bikes (such as Sunny Health and Fitness Pro Indoor Cycle) can be picked up for less than $300 you can also spend over $1000 for top of the range bikes like the Bodycraft SPX or Schwinn AC Performance Plus.
These are both good forms of exercise equipment to get a cardio workout in the home. They both do exercise the lower half of the body rather than the top half as they resemble running and cycling that you do outdoors.
The spin bike provides a low impact workout which makes it easier on the joints. The treadmill even with a padded running deck is harder on the joints but softer than running outside.
All things being equal you are likely to get a workout that burns more calories with treadmill because it is more weight bearing and it is easier to keep the intensity up as the belt turns to the pace you’ve set it to and you have to keep up.
Spin bikes are quieter and take up less room and have less maintenance needed to keep in top condition.
The best piece of equipment will depend on what type of training you enjoy the most and how you are physically (in terms of injuries etc) as you only get the benefit of a spin bike or treadmill if you use it.