The object of cardio exercise is to raise your heartrate and any machine will do that. You'll get out of it whatever you put into it so there isn't one type of machine that is better than another.
Choosing a machine for home use can be a big investment so try out as many as you can at varying speeds and levels for at least 10 minutes...and do your research.
- Make sure you enjoy it! The most tricked-out cardio machine on the planet won't get the job done if you never get on it.
- Make sure the movement of the machine doesn't aggravate any physical issues or feel awkward when you use it. Again, if it doesn't feel right, how much will you do it?
- Buying used equipment might be a tempting option and more budget friendly but remember there will be no warranty or service plan.
Here is a list of the common types of cardio equipment and some key points to look for when buying and using.
Some common extras with many types of machines are heart rate monitors, calorie counters and pre-programmed workouts. These are nice to have but not necessary.
A treadmill is versatile. You can walk or run at a variety of paces and inclines. If you also walk or run outside, a treadmill can provide a great alternative in bad weather or if you can't get out in daylight.
Be sure your treadmill:
- has an emergency stop
- goes up to at least 10-12 MPH
- belt is at least 16 inches wide and 48 inches long
- has an adjustable incline of up to 10%
- control panel is easy to use WHILE you're moving
- doesn't wobble or shake when being used
Click here for Done-For-You treadmill workouts!
There are three main types of stationary bikes:
- upright bike - this looks the most like a traditional bike
- recumbent bike - has back support and the pedals are out in front of you
- spinning-type bike - this bike is commonly used in group exercise and usually doesn't have any kind of feedback electronics to keep track of your workout
Bikes can provide great workouts with low impact and are a good option for variety.
Be sure your bike:
- has a comfy seat that doesn't wobble - your leg should be almost straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke
- has adjustable handlebars
- has an electronic component that at least monitors distance, time, revolutions per minute and/or miles per hour
- has adjustable resistance - there should be a knob or button that allows you to change the difficulty level. Make sure it can be changed easily WHILE you are riding.
Elliptical machines mimic the motion of running. They can be bulky and take up a lot of floor space. Since you are elevated when using one, make sure you have plenty of head space. Ellipticals are an excellent low impact workout option if you need something that will be easy on your joints.
Be sure your elliptical:
- has a stride length of 20 inches or more
- has adjustable ramps
- has a smooth motion throughout the range and the machine doesn't wobble
- has adjustable resistance
Stairmaster is a brand name for cardio stepping machines. This machine works against gravity and simulates walking up stairs. On a StairMaster-type machine, your bodyweight pushes the step pedals down. A stepmill is more like walking up an escalator.
Be sure your StairMaster:
- has large, sturdy pedals that are non-slip
- has a smooth up and down motion with no wobbling
- has comfortable handles - some have handles that move which is a nice feature but not necessary
Versa Climber machines simulate climbing vertically against gravity. It works your upper and lower body at the same time so it provides a very challenging workout. VersaClimber is a brand name but you may find knock-off versions made by other companies.
Be sure your climbing machine:
- has adjustable handles - on the Versa Climber brand machine, the handles are inserted in adjustable holes peg-like
- has adjustable tension. It can be adjusted to work the upper and lower body equally or to put more tension on the upper or lower body
Rowing machines simulate rowing on water. This is another good machine for providing a full body workout and is something unique to add to your fitness routine.
Be sure your rower:
- has large, solid foot rests that are non-slip
- has adjustable tension
- has a comfortable seat that glides easily
This machine simulates cross-country skiing. The NordicTrac company went out of business in the '90's and now Nordic Skiers are sold by ICON Fitness so if you buy used, make sure you know what you're getting in case you need replacement parts.
Be sure your skier:
- has adjustable elevation or resistance
- has skis that glide smoothly and don't easily fall out of the track
- has handles that move smoothly through the pulley system