Aerobics or the Elliptical: Which Burns More Calories?

Woman exercising on elliptical machine

If you've signed up for a gym membership with the intention of losing a few pounds of fat, your first order of business is to determine which exercises to add to your workout regimen to help you burn calories quickly. Many gyms offer aerobics classes along with an area where you can use various cardio machines, like elliptical trainers; each, however, helps you burn calories at a different rate. Determining which will burn more calories will depend on what aerobics you do and how hard you work, among other things.


Taking an aerobics class at your gym provides an up-tempo and entertaining way to burn calories, which can be a welcome reprieve from a more mundane elliptical workout. The intensity in aerobics classes can range considerably; some gyms offer varying degrees of aerobics and step aerobics classes, for example, and many teachers have different styles. Harvard Medical School reports that a 155-pound person who spends 30 minutes in a low-impact aerobics class will burn 205 calories, while the same person will burn 260 calories in a 30-minute high-impact aerobics class. In a 30-minute water aerobics class, a 155-pound person will burn 149 calories.

Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical trainers are ideal exercise machines because they help you burn calories while also providing resistance for your arms, unlike a treadmill or stationary bike. According to Harvard Medical School, a 155-pound person who uses an elliptical trainer at a general intensity will burn 335 calories in 30 minutes, theoretically making this exercise a faster way to burn calories than an aerobics class. If you want to burn more calories during your elliptical trainer workout, you can increase the machine's resistance.


Although using an elliptical trainer will likely help you burn more calories than taking an aerobics or water aerobics class, a few variables play a role in determining which activity will burn more calories. For example, if you find the elliptical trainer more boring and use it for only 30 minutes but take part in a 60-minute high-impact aerobics class, the class will burn more calories. Likewise, if you use the elliptical trainer on a very low level of resistance, the aerobics can be a better calorie burner. If you get tired, it's easy to lower the elliptical trainer's resistance; in an aerobics class, the teacher's encouragement and lively music can help you keep your tempo high.


Adding an aerobics class and a session on the elliptical trainer to your weekly workout regimen can keep your gym visits engaging instead of dull. If you want to choose one exercise over the other, consider that aerobics classes can be challenging if you have joint pain or injury, like knee or hip problems. Elliptical trainers, however, offer an exercise that is virtually free of impact. Regardless of the exercise you choose, aim to meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' recommendation that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week.