It can be a bit intimidating when you join a gym and are suddenly exposed to a slew of cardio machines. Without any background in fitness how does one know which machines are better than the others or even what the best benefits are of using a particular machine?
Well you could go for detailed trial and error or simply read a great article like this one that breaks it down for you!
These are typically the most common cardio machine available in a gym. Ideally they are the best option for burning calories because you can run on them which will be very effective due to using your entire body. However if you have hip, knee, or ankle problems then the impact of each stride is not much less than running anywhere else. A great pair of running shoes will help but only a little bit.
Form is important as well as finding just the right stride. Running indoors versus out is a different experience so make sure to set the incline at 1 or 2 to mimic natural wind resistance. Push from your toes, land on your heels, and keep your head upright as you go.
If running isn’t your cup of tea then walk at as fast of a pace as you can handle. Periodically adjust the incline up to mimic walking up steep hills. By raising and lowering the incline over a period of minutes you will be performing basic interval training.
This is great for an overall leg workout as well as someone who is carrying a lot of weight. By sitting on the bike chair there is less weight on the joints of the leg making it easier to exercise for a longer period of time; which is much more beneficial for your cardiovascular health. The bike is a great way to balance out your quadriceps muscles if you run a lot (which primarily works hamstrings when done on a treadmill).
But you will not burn as many calories as quickly because you are pushing less weight and using less of your body. For an optimum workout adjust both the speed and resistance for a good interval session. Make sure the seat is high enough that your legs are slightly bent at full extension of the pedal. Keep your back flat and head up to avoid bad posture.
Now this is a great multitasking machine that will actually build some solid leg muscles while you are burning calories. The motion really stresses the muscles of the hips, quads, buttocks, and calves. There is less impact on your actual legs than true stair climbing.
While the cardiovascular level is not as high as running, this exercise burns a good deal of calories and can reduce the time you need to spend working out your legs. There is not much more to adjust other than resistance which equates a harder workout for your muscles. Just make sure to hold on with both hands and step fully on each step with your foot to avoid an embarrassing fall.
This machine is great for people who want to run but have issues with knees or other joints in the leg. The actual motion is similar to running and sometimes stair climbing but with minor impact. The only downside is that it takes some coordination to get going and keep going smoothly. It is almost like you glide or bound a bit.
Elliptical trainers are great for interval training or just flat cardio. There aren’t any adjustments to make other than keeping your head up and arms pumping on the handles. You burn fewer calories if you just hold on to the middle handle and don’t actually move your arms.
This is actually the best muscle workout option because your whole body is involved. There is no real impact placed on your joints as well. While the calories burned can’t compare to an Elliptical or treadmill, you get a great workout.
People with lower back issues should go slowly using a rowing machine as it can easily aggravate an injury with bad form. Bad coordination is often the culprit and people jump on and get going quickly trying to avoid looking like they don’t know what they are doing. Take your time, master the movement slowly, and then speed up.