What is the best cardio machine at the gym?

Is there a benefit to choosing an elliptical machine over a treadmill when doing cardio in the gym?

Suppose you want to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio exercise. In that case, you may head straight for the cardio machines at the gym.

You might be wondering if, among all the choices — ellipticals, rowers, stair-climbers, treadmills, exercise bikes, etc. — you are choosing the best one.

Each piece of cardio equipment has pros and cons, says Greg Summerville, MD, a sports medicine doctor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine, North Carolina. The pros and cons of cardio equipment are different for each person.

Dr. Summerville creates exercise prescriptions with his patients. He considers various factors, including age, mobility, function, and existing injuries or health conditions. These factors, as well as your fitness goals, will determine which machine is suitable for you.

All the cardio machines mentioned above are designed to improve your cardiovascular health. They increase your heart and respiratory rates, strengthening your heart muscle. Summerville says that some cardio machines also help build strength. Think about the goals you have for your workout. Do you want a cardio-only exercise or one that includes both cardio and strength?

You can choose a suitable machine by answering these questions. If you have any disabilities, injuries, or other health problems that may interfere with your ability to exercise or use these machines, talk to your doctor before beginning a new routine.

If you want to stick with a workout, you will be more likely to do it if you enjoy it. It’s easier to stick to an exercise you enjoy when it is one that you like. Your movement is more important than a “perfect” exercise you don’t perform.

Here are some of the most common cardio machines, along with their pros and cons.


What it IsA: A treadmill with a moving belt used for running or walking. “I would call this the bread and butter of cardio machines,” Araceli De Leon says, a certified personal trainer.

Targeted MusclesThe treadmill helps you build your cardio endurance, but walking and running also work the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps. Summerville says that while it’s not the best way to build muscles, using the treadmill can help maintain them.

BenefitsYou can adjust the speed and incline to increase intensity or do an interval or HIIT exercise. De Leon. According to a report published in 2021 by the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, a treadmill burns more fat than an elliptical or Rower. It’s important to note that this study included only nine men and no women.

ConsiderationsBeing glued to your phone while looking down at the TV or up at it in the gym can cause neck strain. Walking too close to the console, or holding on to the rails, can also affect your walking cycle. She says to try and stay in the middle without holding on. Another option may be better if you cannot safely use a machine without holding on to it. (See below.) A treadmill can be an activity with a high impact. Summerville says that while running or walking on a treadmill isn’t as bad for the joints as running outside on concrete, exercising on a track will still be better.

Exercise Bike

What Is Indoor or stationary exercise bicycles come in many styles? For example, an air bike, where pedaling forces air into the wheel to provide resistance; a spin bike or indoor bike, with manual resistance adjustment; and a recumbent cycle, in which you recline in a reclined position.

Targeted Muscles Your quadriceps and hamstrings will be the main workhorses when cycling. A stationary bike is also a great way to build muscle in the lower body. Summerville says that by increasing the resistance, you can get a strength-building workout along with your cardio.

BenefitsOn some styles of bikes, you can increase resistance and pedal while standing up, which simulates climbing hills, Summerville says. Indoor bicycling is also recommended for those recovering from injuries to the lower extremities. A stationary bike can be a good choice for those with balance issues, as your feet will remain in the same position.

Considerations While it is low-impact, Summerville suggests moving to an elliptical if you suffer from anterior knee pain. The pedaling motion of the bike can put too much pressure on the knee.

Elliptical Machine

What IsAn Elliptical is a stationary exercise machine with two oversized pedals moving in a circle through the space. It also has handlebars, which move forward and backward. The elliptical is used standing up.

Targeted Muscles Quads, Hamstrings, and Calves are all targeted during this type of exercise, significantly if the resistance level increases. Summerville says that without resistance to challenge the muscles, this exercise is primarily a cardio workout.

Benefits: benefitsThe elliptical offers a low-impact workout that is perfect for beginners and those recovering from an injury or going through physical therapy. She says there is no pounding, and your feet are never off the pedals. The Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study notes that an elliptical can be a good option for people with disabilities like CP or multiple sclerosis.

ConsiderationsAvoid lifting your heels or leaning back too far, which are all common errors De Leon observes when using the elliptical. She says to maintain the correct center of gravity.

Stair Climber

What Is A machine that simulates climbing stairs is called a stair climber. There are several types of stair-climbers. These include a stepmill (revolving, like an escalator), stair-stepper (which uses one pedal per foot), and vertical climbers.

Targeted Muscles “The stair stepper activates the glutes and quads,” says Summerville. The step mill will provide a more cardio-based workout, as you can adjust the speed, while the stair stepper will allow you to change resistance.

BenefitsStair climbing can be a very intense workout. Summerville says that the stair stepper is one of the most effective cardio machines for burning calories.

Considerations Because it is a more intense exercise, you might only be able to do this type of workout if a workout that is less intense.

Summerville suggests using an elliptical if you suffer from knee or hip pain. De Leon says that it’s common for people to use handrails on a step mill to take the weight off their legs and relieve some of the work. However, this can cause too much stress to your shoulders and wrists. Reduce the speed if you need help keeping up with the machine.

Rowing Machine

What Is A rowing machine that allows you to sit on a sliding chair and move back and forth by pulling a handle with both hands?

Muscles AffectedThe muscles of the upper back, shoulders, quadriceps, calves, and glutes are targeted during the pushback phase.

BenefitsThe Rower is a great all-in-one machine. It’s a complete body conditioning machine. Summerville says that you get cardio and upper- and lower-body strengthening. You can adjust the resistance to achieve your desired workout. He says that reducing the opposition will make the training more cardio-based. Increasing the resistance will activate the muscles. It is also low-impact, so it’s good for your joints.

ConsiderationsIt might seem daunting if you have never used one before, but you will feel more confident once you master the push-pull motion. As you get more comfortable with the machine and your stamina increases, increase the resistance.

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