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If you want to lose weight, there are two basic actions you need to take:
Table of Contents
- Types of Cardio Machines
- The Best Cardio Machines for Your Home
Eat less and move more.
For a lot of us, moving more is the difficult portion. Society compels us to sit.
We sit in class. We sit at the computer. We sit to eat. We sit, sit, sit.
Cardio is often recommended to get you off your butt and burning calories.
But we can’t always go for a run or sprint. The weather outside may be bad and who has room in their dorm for twenty seconds of all-out running?
Cardio machines are an excellent way to get moving without needing to run everywhere.
But there are so many of them, how do you know which one to hop onto?
Types of Cardio Machines
Cardio machines all have several aspects in common. They let you move enough to increase your heart rate and thus burn calories, amongst other benefits, while keeping you stationary.
However, each machine is different. Some only involve your legs. Others get your upper body working, too.
Some require effort and burn more calories. Others are easy enough for you to put on headphones and zone out while you move in place.
Generally, you’ll be able to control the amount of resistance to tailor a machine to your level of fitness. This helps them scale with you as you get stronger and lose weight.
Also, some cardio machines are good for people with bad knees or lower back pain. It can be difficult to burn fat when your legs won’t cooperate, a problem cardio machines can help you overcome.
Let’s look at five different cardio machines.
Also called a cross-trainer, an elliptical trainer is one of my favorite cardio machines. That’s because it’s the lowest-impact of all trainers while allowing for a surprising amount of burn.
Number of Calories Burned Per Hour: 600 – 800
Elliptical trainers without arm bars focus on your lower body.
Your quads and calves get the most workout. If there’s an incline or reverse setting then your hamstrings get hit as well.
The gluteus maximus also plays a large role in the movement.
You need to activate your abs to stay in the proper form for an elliptical workout, so they also get exercised.
With arm bars, the elliptical also gets your upper body into the pun. You both push and pull, so your biceps, triceps, rhomboids, and pectoral muscles are all used.
So, elliptical trainers work out your upper and lower legs, hips, core, arms, chest, shoulders, and upper back.
Since it’s cardio, it’ll work out your cardiovascular system as well.
Ellipticals are driven by your legs and, sometimes, arms. The pedals and levers move with your feet so there’s no impact to throw force through your joints.
You stand up straight on the elliptical trainer and move your feet against the machine’s resistance. It can be a circular or sliding motion.
If there’s a lever, hold onto it with your hands and actively push and pull, as if you were skiing. Don’t let your hands go along for the ride; they should work against the resistance as well!
Don’t let momentum carry you. Go for resistance, not speed.
Who it’s Best For
Ellipticals are good for everyone but are especially good for people with bad joints or who are recovering from an injury.
That’s because of the low-impact style of the workout, which also makes ellipticals good for people with osteoarthritis.
Boats are wonderful.
If you’ve ever paddled a kayak down a river then you had a good day.
Also, you had a good workout, and likely experienced soreness in muscles you never knew you had.
Rowing machines let you traverse an ocean without getting a single drop of water on your face.
Except for all of that sweat, because you will get tired.
Number of Calories Burned Per Hour: 700 – 1100
Rowing is an almost full-body workout. There’s not much pushing from your chest. All of the rest of your body is exercised.
The bulk of the workout looks like it comes from pulling. This trains your arms and back.
Your traps and lats, biceps and triceps, deltoids and rhomboids are all engaged when rowing.
However, a lot of the force actually comes from your legs. A good rowing motion requires you to push with your entire leg, including your hips, thighs, and knees, so your glutes, hamstrings, and quads all get a workout.
That leg power has to go through your torso to get to the “paddles” so your core gets worked out more than with any other machine. These muscles include your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae.
How it Works
Indoor rowing machines are a little more complex than they first appear.
There are four parts to a proper rowing technique: the catch, drive, finish, and recovery.
- Catch: Start with your knees bent, back parallel to the thigh, and arms and shoulders relaxed and forward on the handgrip.
- Drive: Push with your legs, engage your core, and start to push your torso backward. Then, when your legs are straight, pull your arms to your chest.
- Finish: This is a position instead of a movement. Your legs should be fully extended and parallel to the floor and your arms should be pulled all the way back, with your hands right below the pecs.
- Recovery: Slide back to the catch position, mirroring your earlier movements. So, extend your arms until they’re fully extended and lean forward. Then relax your legs.
Who it’s Best For
Rowing machines are designed for high-intensity workouts and require perfect form.
This means that they are excellent for burning calories.
However, they are not a good choice for beginners, unless you have someone experienced to supervise you.
They can also be bad for people with lower back pain or wrist pain (much like real rowing), so use this calorie-burning machine carefully!
If elliptical trainers are the jack-of-all-trades machine then stair climbers are specialists.
They hit your legs and they hit them hard. Even elite athletes cannot stay on stair trainers for long.
Number of Calories Burned Per Hour: 800 – 1400
Stair climbers primarily workout the muscles in your legs. This means that your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps get the most action.
Most of the effort is in the extension because you’re pushing the stairs down and your body up.
However, there is plenty of flexion in your hips and knees as well, because you are constantly lifting your legs higher than with any other cardio machine.
You also need to engage your abs and obliques to maintain a proper form and not flop off of the stair climbing machine.
How it Works
Stair climbers let you climb an endless staircase by cycling steps under your feet.
If you’ve ever climbed a long staircase then you know this can be tiring!
There are often handrails for balance. You may feel like holding onto those.
Don’t do it! That’s a trap!
Supporting your upper body will make it much easier for your legs to climb the stairs, thus cutting the number of calories burned significantly.
Use the handrails to get on or off the stair stepper.
If you do need them for balance then push against them with your knuckles. This will help steady you without taking weight off your legs.
Who it’s Best For
Stair climbers are surprisingly low-impact, though not as low-impact as are elliptical trainers.
The movement used is good for rehabilitation, provided you don’t go too fast.
It’s also great for more-fit people looking for a challenge. Incline work can be strenuous and wear you out quickly, and the handrails keep you safer than if you tried to climb the steep stairs to a hidden monastery.
In fact, you can perform HIIT on a stair climber for high-efficiency calorie burning!
Exercise bikes are basically a bicycle with a flywheel or other resistance mechanism instead of wheels.
Biking is a common and excellent exercise. Stationary bikes let you bike without the danger of getting run over or slipping on some ice.
Number of Calories Burned Per Hour: 500 – 1000
Another lower-body cardio machine, stationary bikes focus on your quadriceps and hamstrings.
Your calves get into it as well, especially if you concentrate on pointing your toes down while they’re moving upward.
Your core and glutes get some work if you lean forward and hold a good position.
You can even add an upper-body workout to stationary bikes by doing dumbbell movements such as hammer curls while cycling!
Make sure you have good balance, though!
How it Works
You sit on the bike and pedal.
The bike will provide resistance. Push on the down stroke, in front. If you’re wearing cycling shoes or hooked your feet into the bike then you can pull on the upward stroke as well.
Stationary bikes are a very-low-impact exercise that’s great for people who want to lose weight or keep fit when they can’t cycle outside.
They’re also good for more-fit people who practice HIIT.
If you have bad knees then stationary bikes can be good as well. They will strengthen the muscles and tendons around the knee. Make sure not to push yourself too far, though.
Recumbent bikes are also excellent for people with back and neck pain because they support the entire length of your spine.
Ah, the treadmill. It’s the classic cardio machine.
Can a gym be called a gym without dozens of treadmills?
Number of Calories Burned Per Hour: 600 – 1200
Treadmills work out your lower body, much like an elliptical or stair climber.
So your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves all put in their effort.
There’s a little bit of abdominal activity because you need to hold yourself up, but your core isn’t as tested in this position as with other machines.
A treadmill constantly rotates a walking path under your feet.
This allows you to walk, jog, run, or sprint in place.
Also, many treadmills allow you to elevate it into an incline for more resistance.
Generally, you should use a treadmill for extended jogging, inclined walking, or short term sprints.
Walking on a flat surface is better than nothing but won’t give you the resistance you need to train your heart and burn calories.
Who it’s Best For
Treadmills are good for everyone who can walk.
If you’re coming out of a sedentary lifestyle or recovering from an injury then treadmills are good for learning how to walk properly for extended periods of time, a process called gait training.
However, if walking to class or around the store doesn’t wind you, then you should amp up the intensity to get any benefit from a treadmill.
But treadmills can only scale up their intensity so far, so people at the height of fitness often overlook them.
The Best Cardio Machines for Your Home
Now that you know all about these types of cardio machines, which one should you choose?
Well, that depends.
Each machine is different. All are good for your heart, but it’s your other muscles that matter.
Also, some can aggravate injuries while others help you recover faster.
Look through the following criteria to see which machine will work best for you
Best All Around Cardio Machine
My favorite all-around cardio machine is the elliptical trainer.
Ellipticals with arm levers exercise most of your body and don’t hit your joints hard.
Plus, I find the sliding movement pretty fun!
Best Cardio Machine for Bad Knees
If you want to strengthen your knees then you should get a stationary bike.
Your knees will experience a full range of motion without harsh impacts. You can start with very low resistance and amp it up as your knees get stronger.
Best Cardio Machine for Glutes
Who doesn’t want a nice butt?
The best movements for your glutes involve extension and flexion over a long range of motion.
So, the stair climber is your best choice for a nice behind.
Best Cardio Machine for Abs
Abs may be made in the kitchen, but the right machine can help!
Rowing machines use your core muscles more than any other cardio machine while also burning enough calories to assist in burning off fat and showing off your six-pack.
Best Cardio Machine for Small Spaces
Not everyone has a lot of space and cardio machines tend to take up a large amount of room.
The smallest full-size cardio machines tend to be stair climbers. You can stick it in the corner and still use it to its full potential.
Half-size ellipticals, often called compact striders, fit almost anywhere, but they don’t provide the same full-body workout as their larger cousins. Still, they are handy little devices!
Best Low Impact Cardio Machine
Repeatedly transferring force through your joints can, over time, wear them down and lead to injury.
Elliptical trainers are the least impactful to your knees and other joints.
Best Cardio Machine for Losing Weight
I bet you’re expecting me to name the machine with the highest number of calories burned per hour.
That’s because you can’t figure out the best cardio machine for losing weight by looking at the numbers.
Losing weight is a long-term prospect, so you need to find the machine you like the best.
This is subjective, so visit a gym and try all of the machines before bringing one home.
You want to choose a machine you’ll want to climb on again and again and again.
Rowing machines and stair climbers are the most intense. For me, however, I’m most likely to hop onto an elliptical trainer, so that’s my best choice.
Go ahead, try them all out. One of these five cardio machines will be a good fit for you!