Which Cardio Machine is Best?

There are so many cardio equipment options to choose from, between stair climbers, treadmills, elliptical machines, recumbent bikes and upright bikes.  With the arrival of the latest addition to Hillinger Personal Training family, a Precor EFX Elliptical Machine, I thought I would take a moment to discuss the pros and cons of each type of cardiovascular machine, to help you understand which machine is best for you.

August 2014 Iphone Pics 454 (600x800)

Treadmills – A great choice from a functional perspective.  Being human means we walk and run.  Science tells us that we adapt very specifically to motion, so if we want it to be a breeze to physically get through our day, good walking and running strength is key. A treadmill will condition specifically for that.  Running is a great way to raise the heart rate and condition the heart and lungs, helping to prevent health issues like heart attack and stroke.  However, running can be hard on the joints, so if you have any sort of joint issue, raising your heart rate through brisk walking is a better choice.  You can walk and run pretty much anywhere, so unless you need to run indoors because of light or weather conditions, treadmills can be unnecessary.  Trainer Tip: On a treadmill, don’t hang on unless you have to.  Hanging on lowers the difficulty by removing balance, reducing the intensity by up to 20% and making the exercise less functional.

Exercise Bikes – Whether you are on a recumbent or upright, on a bike you push resistance which builds more strength than walking and running, so don’t be surprised if you feel the lactic acid burn in your legs the first few times you ride a bike.  Riding a bike is still aerobic by nature and you can easily elevate your heart rate and get a great cardiovascular workout.  Exercise bikes are good because they are non-weight bearing and put little pressure on the joint while strengthening the muscles around the knees and hips for joint support.  They also are functional by conditioning muscles for outdoor bike riding.  The down side of indoor exercise bikes is that you can ride a bike outside for a more fun workout that also requires balance.  So indoor bicycles, like treadmills, can be unnecessary.

Stair Climbers – Stair climbers elevate the heart rate easily, creating a great aerobic workout, but they are very hard on the knees so I rarely recommend using them.  The best approach to doing any stair workout is to limit the amount you do them.  A person with healthy knees may find stairs to be a great way to add some variety to their program but keeping the stair workouts less frequent than other forms of cardio is always a good idea.

Elliptical Machines – The best thing about elliptical machines is they use a similar body position to walking and running, but unlike walking and running, the motion is non-weight bearing, taking the pressure off the joints.  Like a bike, this is a great version of cardio for those with joint issues.  The elliptical motion isn’t anything our body will see directly (although some have motions similar to cross country skiing) so it has very little functionality and only carries over indirectly to things we physically do in daily life.

So which is cardio machine is best?  None are really best, they are all just different from each other and are better for certain individual situations.  To sum it up, all cardio machines exercise the heart and lungs.  From a general health standpoint, variety is always good, giving the body better overall conditioning. Engaging in only one form of cardiovascular exercise can limit your results.  I recommend mixing things up using all the different forms of cardio that are appropriate for you.  Which machines do I use? I run, ride bikes, swim, and hike outdoors because it’s more enjoyable and I always recommend outdoor cardiovascular exercise over indoor cardio machines for that simple reason.  However cardio machines are always a great way to warm up muscles 5-10 minutes prior to weight training workouts, to prevent injury.