Exercise Bike Vs. Treadmill for Toning Legs: Which One Is Better?

If you’re trying to plan your home gym or simply want to know what equipment to use for toning your legs, you’ve come to the right place. 

So which is better: the exercise bike or the treadmill? 

The short answer is that the stationary bike is better for toning legs, but it is good to understand why. 

Keep reading to find an explanation and to get a few pointers on how to tone your legs with both pieces of equipment.

Key Takeaways

  • The exercise bike is better than the treadmill for toning legs, as it engages more lower leg muscles and relies on resistance rather than speed.
  • The treadmill is mainly used for general fitness, cardio training, and burning calories, but it can also help tone legs by using the incline function.
  • The exercise bike is low-impact, beginner-friendly, and safer to use than the treadmill, but it may be uncomfortable and burn fewer calories than the treadmill.
  • To tone legs with an exercise bike, keep a steady pace, increase resistance, and work out two to three times a week.
  • To tone legs with a treadmill, use the incline function, walk briskly, and work out two to three times a week.

Will an Exercise Bike Tone Your Legs Better than a Treadmill?

While treadmills and exercise bikes can help tone your legs, the stationary bike will ultimately help build more muscle.

The treadmill is mainly used for general fitness and things like cardio training, burning calories, and increasing lung capacity. 

Unless you’re running on an incline, it won’t push your muscles enough to lead to recovery and regrowth. 

The stationary bike, on the other hand, relies heavily on lower leg muscles to move the pedals, no matter the settings you choose. Cycling is like doing thousands of reps (repetitions); this is what you need to grow muscle.  

Exercise Bike vs. Treadmill: What Lower Body Muscles Do Each Build?

When it comes to the treadmill vs exercise bike, a good way to decide between the two is by looking at what muscles each piece of equipment works.

While you ultimately need to use weight-bearing equipment to build big muscles, these cardio machines can still help in this department.  

Exercise Bike

Stationary bikes are a great way to build lower body muscles and tone legs. While most exercise bikes can offer a full-body workout, this section will focus on the leg muscles.

  • Hamstrings. The hamstring muscle extends from the hips down to the knee joint at the back of your leg. This is one of the main muscle groups that cycling engages. Both the upper and lower hamstring is active as you cycle, the lower muscle engaging during the upstroke and the upper muscle engaging during the downstroke.
  • Calves. The calf muscle is located at the back of your lower legs. These muscles activate every time you push down on the pedal. Regular use of a stationary bike can help tone your calves. 
  • Quadriceps. Out of all the muscles worked, the quadriceps are the main muscle that cycling engages. The quads are just above the knee and below the hip at the front of the thighs. Much like the hamstrings, the quads engage every time you push down on the pedal. 


While treadmill workouts can help with weight loss, do they help to increase muscle mass as well? 

This section will review all the lower body muscles the treadmill engages, helping you understand what muscle groups you can target.  

  • Hamstrings. Just like on the bike, your hamstrings are the main muscle that works while you walk and run. Increasing the incline on your treadmill will push this muscle group even harder.
  • Calves. While simply walking will engage your calves, these muscles really work when you set the machine on an incline. You’ll know your calves are engaged when you feel a burn in the back of your legs.
  • Quadriceps. You don’t have to do much to activate your quadriceps. The simple motion of walking engages this muscle group. However, you mostly engage your quads when you run. Regular runs on the treadmill will build strength and endurance in these muscles.
  • Hip Flexors. While biking can work your hip flexors as well, you won’t get the full range of motion as you do with a treadmill. Walking on an incline helps to strengthen your hip flexors the most.

Exercise Bike Pros and Cons

When it comes to fitness, indoor cycling is an easy way to get in shape, manage body weight, and build some leg muscle. However, there are a few pros and cons to consider before making your final decision. 

Low-Impact Workout

Many people choose stationary bikes over treadmills since it is a low-impact exercise. While the treadmill can cause knee pain, you won’t experience much joint pain on your bike, no matter the workout intensity.

Beginner Friendly 

Another advantage of the stationary bike is that it is good for beginners. Unlike some gym equipment, bikes are simple to use. All you have to do is hop on and go. 

On the other hand, while most treadmills are also easy to use, knowing how to run properly is essential. You may experience some joint pain if you aren’t aware of proper running techniques.  

May Not Feel As Comfortable

One downside is that exercising on an indoor bike may be uncomfortable. Beginner cyclists can feel discomfort in their back as they have to bend forward and hold onto the handlebars at an odd angle.  

You Won’t Burn As Many Calories

While you probably want to primarily use the bike for strength training to tone your legs, something to keep in mind is that you may burn fewer calories than you would on a treadmill. 

A treadmill workout engages your whole body. Try to think of what you look like while walking or running; your core and upper body move, as well as your legs, which ends up leading to more calories burned.

If you’re someone who wonders how many calories you burned at the end of every workout, you may be happier with the treadmill. 

Treadmill Pros and Cons

While the stationary bike has many perks, there are a few things to know about the treadmill before choosing the perfect equipment for your fitness goals.

Safer To Use 

While running outside has a lot of perks, like fresh air and new scenery, it can also come with some dangers. Depending on the terrain, it can be easy to trip over a root or a crack in the sidewalk. 

Getting your physical activity using a treadmill is safer than running elsewhere, as the moving belt is reliable and won’t give you any surprises.  

Similar Difficulty Level to Running Outdoors

While you may burn fewer calories running on a treadmill vs. outside, the difference is not as big as you think. Running outside is not necessarily the better workout. 

While some external factors like wind and hills can make a difference, you only burn an average of five more calories doing your exercise outside. 

Can Take Up a Lot of Space

Oftentimes the best treadmills end up taking up a lot of space. Compared to running machines, exercise bikes have a smaller footprint, making them more convenient. 

If you plan to work out at the gym, this won’t be a problem. However, this will be something to keep in mind if you plan to invest in a machine for home use. 

Harder To Build Muscle

While the treadmill may engage more muscles than you think, it is not actually the best exercise if you want your muscles to grow.

Many people choose running as their main physical activity as it increases heart health and helps with losing weight. However, treadmill workouts are not as efficient as exercise bikes or weight training for building muscle.  

How To Tone Legs With an Exercise Bike

Now that you know exercise bikes are better at toning legs compared to treadmill workouts, you may be wondering how to go about doing that. 

Read below for some tips on how to tone your legs with a bike. Not only will these pointers help you lose weight, but you will soon notice a difference in the look of your legs.

Keep a Steady Pace

The first thing to remember when you exercise on your bike is to keep a steady pace. The key is to set a pace that you can maintain for at least twenty minutes. This will help you lose calories and keep your legs slim, which is the first step to toning. 

Increase Resistance 

Once you get used to keeping a steady pace, start to increase resistance. This step is the key to building muscle. 

Keep your resistance levels as high as possible while keeping your pace steady. It is important to always warm up before boosting your resistance levels.

Here are a few extra tips on how to tone your legs:

How To Tone Legs With a Treadmill

While the treadmill burns belly fat extremely well, you can still utilize this machine for other workout purposes unrelated to weight loss, like toning your legs.

Here’s how to boost your fitness level and tone your legs using a treadmill.

Utilize the Incline Function

The only way to effectively tone legs with a treadmill is to use the incline function. It may surprise you that you can tone your legs just by walking on a treadmill.

Ideally, choose an incline level that feels tough. A good starting point will be a 4-6% incline. Try to keep your incline range as high as you can.

What you want to do is start off with a 0% incline and do a brisk walk for a few minutes. Keeping a brisk walk, boost up your incline and walk for two more minutes, going back to no incline after the time is up. Repeat this process for your entire workout.

If you want to prevent aches in your knees and other joints, try to avoid running while doing incline workouts, or be sure to at least stretch before you start. Furthermore, always make sure to warm up! 

Workout Two to Three Times a Week  

Make sure to work out two to three times a week on the treadmill. Muscle growth happens when you consistently push your muscles, leading to stronger regrowth. 

Remember that you will need to keep boosting your incline level to see results. 

Final Thoughts

Both the treadmill and exercise bike offer great workouts, but when it comes to the bike vs. treadmill for toning legs, the bike wins. 

While you may not burn more calories or get a solid whole-body workout with this piece of equipment, you’ll notice a difference in your legs quicker than you would on a treadmill.

Be sure to leave a comment if you enjoyed this article, and tell us whether you prefer an exercise bike or treadmill for toning your legs! 

Leave a Comment