We’ll always have a love/hate relationship with cardio. Sweating it out on the treadmill or elliptical can give you a major boost of endorphins, but it’s not always as exciting as taking a fun fitness class or getting outdoors. Don’t get us wrong — we know the stationary bike can be an amazing place to catch up on Netflix while you squeeze your workout in, but sometimes it can be tough to spend a whole half hour doing the exact same thing. That being said, when your schedule doesn’t allow for a class or you just want to get your exercise in solo, cardio machines are an awesome way to go. But which one should you use when you have so many options at the gym? Below, a few top fitness experts outline which ones to hop on, depending on your workout goals.
1. Best for Building Muscle: “The rower and the stair stepper are two of my favorite cardio machines that offer great strength and cardiorespiratory endurance benefits,” says Jessica Matthews, a senior advisor for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise. In the case of the rower, you’re using your legs, core, and arms to pull the rower handle toward you, which undoubtedly requires strength. If you want to get a little extra boost, pump up the resistance. With the stair stepper, you’re basically doing a ton of little step-ups, which fatigue and tone everything from your quads to your glutes, making it an amazing choice for strengthening your lower body.
2. Best for Increasing Endurance: If building endurance is your goal, you’ll want to go for your favorite overall machine. “From a behavioral perspective, the best cardio machine is quite honestly the one that you actually enjoy using, because you’ll be more likely to use it consistently long-term,” explains Matthews. Basically, if you hate the treadmill, you’re not going to want to spend 45 minutes using it on a regular basis. Consistency is key for increasing endurance, so any machine you can enjoy being on for a longer period of time at least once a week is your best bet.
3. Best for Getting Faster: Increasing your speed is usually accomplished with a combo of steady cardio work and high intensity interval training, AKA HIIT. Tyler Spraul, certified head trainer at Exercise.com, says, “The ‘manual’ treadmill should be your go-to for improving your sprint abilities because it’s actually your movement and force application that moves the treadmill.” On a regular treadmill, you run to keep up with whatever speed you’ve set the machine to, but on these manual versions (most gyms have one or two), you just go as fast as you possibly can, which ensures you’re making a maximum effort.
“To get better at sprinting, I’d recommend starting with a sprint that’s shorter in duration than your end goal,” says Spraul. So if you want to improve your mile time, start with quarter-mile sprints. “Make sure to do it at a very high intensity, though! Then rest enough to completely recover before sprinting again. Get in a few reps of this and you’re done,” he says. “Then you can slowly work to increase your total reps over time, while maintaining the same high-intensity level from start to finish.”
4. Best for Burning Fat: Experts say that for fat burning, the most important factor is how many calories you burn. Keep in mind that “The more muscles that are used during a workout, the greater the number of calories burned,” says Matthews. “It may be valuable to consider using a rower or AirDyne bike, which provide full-body workouts, or even an elliptical because it has an upper-body component.” (Photo via SoulCycle)
The bottom line here is that no matter what cardio machine you choose, it’s important that you actually enjoy the workout you’re doing so that you can commit to doing it regularly. While some machines are better than others for training for specific goals, the most important thing is that you’re getting in your workout and that you feel good about it. So go get sweaty!
Do you have a favorite cardio machine at your gym? Tell us what it is @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty and SoulCycle)