What are the best cardio machines and which ones should you be using?
Cardio is an important part of any fitness regime. While resistance training is important for building strength and muscle tone, cardio is essential for burning calories to lose fat. It works your heart to improve oxygen distribution and stamina.
Cardio also tends to reduce stress by adjusting your hormone levels. The repetitive and rhythmic movement, coordinated with breathing, can also act as a kind of meditation in motion.
This is why cardio machines continue to be important pieces of fitness equipment and there can often be a wait to get your favorite machine at the gym. Many people also invest in a cardio machine at home to squeeze in quick cardio workouts first thing in the morning or while watching TV.
But, of all the many cardio machines out there, which is the best for you to achieve your goals? In this article, we will go through the five most popular cardio machines and which ones should be used in different circumstances. We’ll also share some of the best options if you do want to get your hands on one for home workouts.
Treadmills are probably the classic cardio machine. Running has always been the most natural form of cardio, and treadmills were invented to let enthusiastic runners eat up the pavement regardless of rain, snow, and cold.
Walking and running are among the best forms of cardio for us human beings since it is a natural motion and it uses our full-body: our legs to pump the pavement, and our arms and core to maintain our rhythm and propel us forward.
But just because it is a natural human motion does not mean that it does not pose any risks. It can be hard on the joints, especially the knees if done excessively, if you have bad form, or if you are carrying a bit too much weight for your frame.
But one of the great things about treadmills is that you can vary the intensity of your workouts based on where you are on your fitness journey and how you feel on the day. You can go for a consistent fast walk, a medium-paced run, or do interval training. There are lots of apps out there that can help you design run-based training sessions (even ones that simulate fleeing from zombies).
Treadmills are among the best cardio machines for burning calories and losing weight, destressing through repetitive motion, and workouts of varying intensity. But be careful about putting excess stress on your knee joints.
So, go ahead and queue up for those cardio machines at the gym. Or looking for your own? Here are our top picks for home treadmills.
NordicTrack T Series Treadmills
This is a relatively expensive treadmill for home, but this is a serious machine for serious runners or anyone who is committed to losing weight.
You have plenty of intensity options with speeds up to 10 miles per hour and available inclines up to 10%. It is relatively soft on the knees with special FlexSelect cushioning on the treadmill track.
It doesn’t take up too much space, measuring just 73.5 inches long and 54 inches high, plus it folds up for easy storage. It is suitable for anyone weighing up to 300lbs.
You get a 30-day iFit membership with your purchase and a 10-year warranty on the frame and 2-year warranty on the parts.
- Treadmill up to 10 miles per hour
- 0-10% incline
- Cushioned track to go easy on joints
- Fold-up storage
- Generous warranty
Googo 2 in 1 Folding Treadmill
This is a much more affordable treadmill and can be used with the full-frame or just the running pad for a quick workout. Speeds are available up to 12 kilometers per hour. It uses a special low-noise motor, so your workout won’t disturb everyone in the house.
The running surface is designed to be durable and comfortable. It combines five layers including a water-resistant surface, sound insulation later, a high-strength support layer, shock-absorbing later, and a compression layer. It can support weight up to 265 pounds and offers some knee protection.
This treadmill is unique in that it arrives fully assembled. It doesn’t take up too much space measuring just 112cm tall and 123cm long when in use and folds up to 131cm tall and just 12cm wide for storage. It comes with a 2-year warranty for parts.
- Treadmill up to 12km per hour
- Low-noise motor
- Multi-layer soft running surface
- Arrives fully assembled
- Fold-up storage
If you do have bad knee joints, then an elliptical machine might be what you are looking for. It gives you a full-body workout, and you can adjust your intensity and speed depending on what you want to achieve with your workout, but all with a low impact on your joints.
You can vary your workout a lot with this machine as you can move forward or backward: backward motion works different muscle groups and improves posture. You can also vary fast movement that simulates running, or add heavy weight to imitate a step machine. But in either case, the intensity is lower than on one of these dedicated machines.
This is a good choice for a home gym because of the variety, and because they tend to be quiet. While your treadmill might be quiet, your weight pounding down on it will make some noise. Here are our top picks for home elliptical machines.
JLL CT2000 Home Elliptical Cross Trainer
This elliptical machine uses a weighted flywheel to support workouts in both directions with 8 levels of magnetic-based resistance. There are sensors in the handles that monitor your heart rate so that you can hit your desired intensity while working out.
It has a strong steel frame that won’t break easily and non-slip footplates for safety. The machine is extremely quiet, so you can use it while watching TV without missing any of the dialogue.
- Flywheel elliptical machine
- 8 levels of resistance
- Quite functioning
- Handle sensors
Sportstech CX2 Cross Trainer
This elliptical machine is a little bit more powerful with a 27kg flywheel, which gives you more options when it comes to choosing your preferred resistance levels. It is unique in that it doesn’t need to be plugged in, as you generate the power that you need with your activity.
It is a pretty big option, and it needs a permanent setting. It measures 1420 by 620 by 1710 mm. It has transport wheels, but it doesn’t fold up. But the quiet function and intuitive display make it a very attractive option if you are looking to incorporate cardio into your home workout routine.
- 27kg flywheel elliptical machine
- Free resistance adjustment
- Generates its own power
- Quiet operation
The StairMaster is a favorite of many as it combines serious resistance training for your legs with a cardio workout. You can work your legs hard if you choose a heavy weight and push through your muscles.
But you can also combine a leg workout with cardio if you choose a lighter weight and move faster. Don’t rest your arms on the frame to give yourself a full-body workout.
This one doesn’t have to be hard on the knees if you work through the range of motion properly.
You will probably only find a good StairMaster at the gym, since buying one yourself is very expensive and they take up a lot of space. There are smaller versions available, and we have recommended below, but they are more of a hybrid between a step machine and an elliptical. You have fewer options with these.
StairMaster 8 Series Gauntlet StepMill
This is a serious stepping machine like you will see at the gym. It is powered by an electronically controlled alternator with a chain drive to deliver eight revolving steps. You get options between 24 and 162 steps per minute, with the weight of the step varying with the speed.
The steps are 22 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 9 inches deep, which makes for a pretty big machine. You will need a dedicated corner in your home gym for this one.
- Gym level stepping machine
- electronically controlled alternator chain drive
- 24-162 steps per minute
- Large machine
Ultrasport Swing Stepper
This is a small stepper that walks more “forward and back” than “up and down” with your stepping motion. It uses hydraulic cylinders to create resistance to work those leg muscles while you are doing your cardio.
Small and easy to store, this is still not a flimsy machine. The oversized, non-slip tread surface means that the machine feels heftier than it looks when you are using it. Monitor your activity on your smartphone with an associated app.
- Home stepper machine
- Hydraulic cylinder
- Oversized non-slip tread surface
- Smartphone monitor
Stationary bikes are ideal for getting in your cardio if you have any kind of upper body injury, or if you need low impact on your muscles because you are on a rest and recuperation day from your resistance training.
The seated position minimizes stress on the joints and muscles while letting you bring your heart rate up.
If you are a fan of cycling and you want to intensify your workout, then go for an assault bike, with handles that you move back and form to work your upper body and core.
There are lots of home options when it comes to stationary bikes. Below are our top bike and assault bike recommendations.
Exercise Bike UREVO 10kg Indoor Cycling Bike
This is a classic stationary bike with a 22lb flywheel allowing you to adjust your intensity. There is a pulse sensor and heart rate monitor so that you can choose your intensity and manage your workout.
It is a smallish bike measuring just 47.5 inches by 19.87 inches, by 39.4 inches, and it also folds up for storage. Nevertheless, it is far from flimsy and can take up to 260 pounds of weight.
The drive is designed to be silent so it won’t disturb other household members and you can watch TV while you work out without missing anything.
- Classic stationary bike
- Silent motor
- Pulse sensor and heart monitor
- 22lb flywheel to manage the intensity
SportsPlus Air Bike
This is an assault bike that combines a classic stationary bike with long handles to involve your upper body as well. It uses air resistance and an adjustable brake band to manage your intensity.
It can take up to 100 kgs of weight and is relatively compact measuring just 115cm by 122cm by 70cm. It does fold up a bit smaller for storage as well. This is another machine designed to be quiet so that you can use it at home without feeling like you have turned your house into a fully-fledged gym.
- Assault bike
- Air resistance
- Brake band to manage the intensity
- Folds up for storage
Find more recommendations for the best spin bikes here.
Many gym users are devotees of the rowing machine, affectionately known as the erg. It is a great machine because it works the whole body. While it is about 60% legs, you need your arms and core to complete the motion. But while you work hard, it is low intensity on the muscles and joints, so you can use your rowing machine on rest days.
It works like most cardio machines in that you can choose your intensity. The flywheel damper establishes how much air is allowed through the wheel while you are rowing. The more air you let through, the more effort it requires to spin the wheel, and it also slows down the wheel on the recovery stroke, making the next pull a little bit harder.
Considering that you can use these machines every day, and they tend to fold up small, they are great home gym choices.
JLL R200 Luxury Home Rowing Machine
This rowing machine uses magnetic resistance to drive the belt and deliver 10 levels of resistance. Longer workouts are made easier with ergonomic handlebars that also contain sensors to help you monitor your heart rate and intensity levels.
It is a study machine and can take up to 100kg and comes with a 12-month warranty. It folds down small for easy transport and convenient storage. The LCD monitor is professional and looks like what you will find at the gym.
- Magnetic resistance rowing machine
- 10 levels of resistance
- Ergonomic handlebars with sensors
- Folds up for storage
YOSUDA Magnetic Rowing Machine
This is a sturdy rowing machine that can take up to 350lbs in weight with a large seat that can accommodate all body types. It uses a smooth magnetic system and a 10kg flywheel to deliver a powerful workout but one that remains quiet. Choose from eight levels of resistance.
It is a foldable machine that is easy to store and move, and has an integrated LED screen that lets you monitor your activity through the sensors in the handlebars.
- 10kg flywheel rowing machine
- 8 levels of resistance
- Can manage heavy weights
- Folds up for storage
Find all of our home gym recommendations here.
Cardio will always be an essential part of a holistic approach to fitness alongside activities such as resistance training and mobility. Cardio machines can be a great tool to squeeze in cardio, especially if the weather where you are or the state of your knees means that running outside is not really an option for you.
In theory, any cardio machine can do the trick, but some are better than others depending on you and what you want to achieve.
If you are looking to manage your intensity and vary your workout, follow natural movement, and don’t have any problems with your knees, then running is still probably your best cardio and a treadmill can be a great asset.
If you like running, but your knees aren’t great, then an elliptical machine can give you a similar level of flexibility and intensity while saving your knees.
If you want to work your leg muscles while you are getting your cardio, there is nothing better than a step machine! This problem with this one is that it is hard to get a good quality step machine for your home.
If you have back problems or injuries in your arms, but you still want to get your cardio in, a stationary bike can get your heart rate up while being low impact on your muscles. If you want to involve your upper body, choose an assault bike.
If you are looking for full-body cardio that you can do safely on your rest and recovery days, then a rowing machine is probably the best option.
With so many options, there is no excuse not to get your cardio in!
- 13 Benefits of Aerobic Exercise: Why Cardio Fitness is Important – Healthline
- The (Many) Benefits of a Cardio Workout – Cleveland Clinic
Last update on 2023-11-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API