Difference Between An Elliptical and A Cross Trainer?

Updated on
Written by Mia Jozipovic

What’s the difference between ellipticals and cross trainers? Are they the same? While in many ways they are, one main feature sets them apart. Although the best thing is that both machines provide immense health benefits for your body.

The difference between an elliptical machine and a cross trainer is generally believed to be that the cross trainer has moving arms, unlike the elliptical. Although historically “cross trainer” is the term used in the UK and “elliptical” is the vocabulary of the US and elsewhere.

Let’s learn more about them and help you choose your fitness equipment.

What is an Elliptical Trainer?

An elliptical trainer works on your lower body while protecting your joints. Are running and walking your favorite training activities? Then elliptical trainer would be the perfect workout buddy for you!

girl's feet shown on an elliptical trainer

It features foot pedals that move in an oval pattern to simulate walking or running.

Also, it’s super flexible, allowing you to customize resistance levels and inclines. This feature ensures an optimal workout experience that suits your fitness level.

The Advantages of an Elliptical Trainer

  • Minimal stress on the spine and other joints and bones.
  • Provides an efficient cardiovascular workout.
  • Can help build muscle strength.
  • Enables customized workout experience.
  • Some models come with dual-direction foot pedals for more intense training.

The Disadvantages of an Elliptical Trainer

  • The training doesn’t involve your arms and upper body.
  • Some people may find the repetitive motion to be tedious.

What is a Cross Trainer?

Cross trainers let you exercise your upper and lower body muscles at the same time. Basically, it provides effective resistance training. 

Moreover, full-body movement helps you burn more calories. And ultimately, it makes the whole workout more challenging.

A blurred young girl on an elliptical trainer at home

The Advantages of a Cross Trainer

  • Engages both upper and lower body muscles.
  • Increased calorie-burning potential.
  • Adjustable resistance levels for a personalized workout.
  • Versatile movement options to target different muscle groups.
  • Improved cardiovascular health and endurance.
  • Enhanced muscle strength and tone in legs, arms, and core.

The Disadvantages of a Cross Trainer

  • May not be suitable for people with certain injuries or physical limitations.
  • Can become repetitive and boring for some users.
  • May require significant space for larger models.
  • Higher initial cost compared to some other home gym equipment options.

What is The Difference Between Elliptical and Cross Trainer?

As we said before, elliptical and cross trainers differ in their ability to work out the upper body although they are otherwise the same

So, how do cross trainers activate the upper body?

The answer lies in their moving handlebars. They set cross trainers apart from ellipticals that have stationary ones (more appropriate for beginners and older people to keep their balance).

And here’s a great tutorial showing the main differences:

Perhaps the best choice would be elliptical trainers with both stationary and mobile handlebars. These are the most common option these days in gyms and for home use as well.

Having both options means you can start with the stationary handles until you want to develop a bigger range of movement. You can then improve your workout by using the mobile handles and engaging your upper body.

How to Customize Your Training with Elliptical and Cross Trainers in Practice?

Let’s say your goal is to strengthen and tone your glutes and thighs. If you raise the incline on your trainer, you can activate more of these muscles and make them work harder.

You can also adjust resistance levels for an enjoyable yet challenging experience.

If you want to focus on your calf muscles, decrease the incline while speeding up strides. This will engage your calves more while strengthening and toning them simultaneously.

Here’s an extra tip: Even without moving handlebars, you can still engage your upper body. For instance, try adding bicep curls with or without dumbbells to your training. This is how you’ll effectively target your entire upper body.

Young girl on a elliptical trainer at home

Does it matter which one you go for?

Now you know the difference between elliptical and cross trainer. But, which one is right for you?

Well, it all depends on your wishes, and most importantly, abilities. Want full-body training? Then a cross trainer may be the best bet. 

If your primary goal is to work your legs and lower body, an elliptical trainer could be just what you need.

And remember – whatever option you choose, don’t push yourself too hard. Start slowly and increase duration over time.

Final Thoughts

With the invention of the elliptical or/and cross trainer (let’s call the original beast an “elliptical cross trainer”) a whole slew of variants and hybrids has been spawned.

The difference between a cross trainer and an elliptical machine is that the cross trainer has moving arms instead of or as well as static ones. And it’s one of semantics. In the UK it’s cross trainer, in the US, it’s elliptical.

Now we have the front drive, rear drive, gliders, recumbent ellipticals and more. They can be simple affairs or have a ton of moving parts. That can create a new set of problems. And the price ranges enormously.

I think it’s time for a look at the types of ellipticals.

Photo of author
I'm Mia, a 25-year-old fitness enthusiast who's on a mission to help people look and feel amazing. I live and breathe health and wellness, and you can often find me in the gym, trying out new recipes in the kitchen, or exploring the great outdoors. I love pushing myself to new limits and inspiring others to do the same.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.