The gym is chock-full of cardio machines in all shapes and sizes, each promising a quick, calorie-torching experience. But which one truly gives you the most bang for your buck? We asked the experts to share the scoop on the hardest-working cardio machines.
Treadmill: “Running or walking on a treadmill is a great weight-bearing activity, strengthening muscles and bones,” says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Pros: A 2001 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that running on a treadmill burns calories at a higher rate than the stair climber, rowing machine or exercise bike.
Cons: “The treadmill can place a lot of stress on your joints and muscles,” says Mary George, private trainer at The Sports Club/LA
Elliptical Trainer: A lower-impact option than the treadmill, the elliptical can provide a gentler cardio workout, great for exercisers with knee or leg injuries.
Pros: “The elliptical puts very low stress on your knees, hips and back,” George says. “Look for one with moving arms to get even more out of your workout.”
Cons: “It is challenging to raise your heart rate as high as you can on a treadmill,” George says.
RELATED: The Best Cardio Fitness DVDs
Stair Climber: “When done properly, stair climbers can provide a challenging and effective cardio workout while also strengthening the muscles of the lower body,” says Matthews.
Pros: “The constantly revolving stairs provide a high-intensity cardio workout,” says George. “Balance plays a big factor too, so you also get some extra core work.”
Cons: “Avoid the temptation to lean heavily on the sidebars, which will decrease the workout’s effectiveness,” Matthews says. “If you have knee or leg injuries, you may need to choose a lower-impact option.”
Stationary Bike: “Whether it’s recumbent or upright, stationary bikes place less stress on the joints, and are relatively comfortable once you’ve become accustomed to the saddle,” Matthews says.
Pros: “You can simulate an outdoor bike ride,” George says. “Try the Expresso Bike for a preset workout that will not only make you sweaty, but also keep you entertained with its scenic, virtual cardio workout.”
Cons: “The wrong adjustment on the seat can put pressure on your joints,” George says. “Consult with a fitness professional to help you get the proper alignment.”
Rowing Machine: You can torch as many as 800 calories an hour on a rowing machine.
Pros: “Rowing provides a full-body workout, working the arms, upper body, core, and legs,” George says.
Cons: “The rower is not set to a constant pace, so you must constantly push yourself to keep your intensity level up,” George says.