As if getting to the gym didn’t take enough mental toughness, once you get there you’re faced with a building full of gear to navigate. You reduce your workout plan to cardio, which helps, but then find yourself staring at a handful of machines that will do all the work.

Should you jump on the treadmill? Maybe the elliptical or stationary bike is a better option. You’ve heard that the StairMaster is a real calorie burner. Which workout is your best bet?

It turns out they all are, but for different reasons.

One piece of cardio equipment is no better than another, Amanda Katz, personal trainer and fitness coach at Equinox Group, said today. “It depends on the individual’s goals and what they like to do,” she said. “The best option is one you can stick with over time and maintenance.”

So ask yourself: Why am I exercising? Are you trying to improve your stamina? Want to sweat or evacuate stress? Want to lose weight?

Once you’ve narrowed down your specific goals, certain machines will rise to the top as the most effective at getting you there.

Conveyor belt

The best option if:

  • You are training for a race
  • You are trying to lose weight
  • You need to de-stress

“Running is a full-body cardio workout,” Katz said. “I would recommend a treadmill workout as a great indoor option for those who enjoy running and walking.”

How you use the treadmill will determine the type of workout you will get. “A treadmill can be low impact or high impact. It’s low impact if you walk; it’s high impact and harder on the joints, knees, hips and ankles when you run,” said Stephanie Mansour, personal trainer and TODAY fitness contributor. For this reason, she recommends running on a treadmill only for those who don’t have joint issues and are close to their goal weight (so they don’t have extra weight on their joints with every step ).

Running and walking are calorie-burning exercises that can help you lose weight. If you’re looking to exercise for your mental health, Mansour encourages you to keep to a walking pace. “As a weight loss trainer, I incorporate cardio as a stress relief activity,” she said. “I encourage people to take walks to clear their heads, reduce stress and feel more relaxed.”


Best option if:

  • You want a full body workout
  • You have joint problems
  • You want to offset running or HIIT with low impact training

“I recommend this as an all-around trainer for runners, as well as anyone who wants a low-impact option for a great cardio workout,” Katz said.

If you want to sweat or do interval training, but can’t run due to joint problems or other injuries, the elliptical is a great low-impact option.

“It’s a good cardio workout for someone who wants to go fast, but can’t run on a treadmill,” Mansour said. “It’s a low impact way to go fast and you can do intervals – go fast or hard for a minute and then go slow for a minute.”

Mansour said that although “the elliptical is a low-impact form of exercise, you’re still standing, so there’s some pressure on your knees.” She also warns that it can be a little awkward at first for those who have never used the machine before, as it is not a natural movement that we use in our daily lives.


Best option if:

  • Looking to build lower body strength
  • You are trying to lose weight
  • You want to challenge your heart

The endless loop of stairs makes for a challenging workout. “It’s both a great cardio and strength option, especially when using your arms instead of holding onto the handlebars or bending over,” Katz said.

Not only does the StairMaster serve as a cardio workout that will get your heart rate up, but it tones your lower body. “A StairMaster is good for someone who wants to focus on building the butt. When you go up stairs you need to activate your quads and glutes because you are going up and therefore engaging the back of the leg and glutes,” Mansour said.When you’re not leaning on the handlebars, the machine is also working your core.

Mansour does not recommend the StairMaster for those with joint issues or those who already have trouble climbing stairs.

Stationary bike

Best option if:

  • You have back or lower body injuries
  • Your upper body is sore
  • Looking to do active recovery on a rest day

The “indoor cycle is going to be centered on your lower body while seated,” Katz said. “I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys cycling outdoors and wants to do some cardio exercise without hurting their joints. It also serves as a cross-training option for runners.”

“For anyone who is in rehabilitation or wants very, very low impact on the joints, the stationary bike is the way to go,” Mansour agreed. “You can literally sit like you would in a chair and pedal with your feet. It’s great for people who need to improve their mobility and move more.

Katz warns that “if being in a sedentary position is painful for long periods of time, it can be taxing on your lower back.”


Best option if:

  • You are in pain from yesterday’s training
  • You want a full body workout minus the impact of a treadmill
  • Looking to increase your stamina

The rowing machine – or ergometer (erg, for short) – “is an all-around machine, delivering the caliber of stamina and endurance that the treadmill gives you, along with a low-impact experience for your joints,” says Caley. . Crawford, director of education and programming at Xponential Fitness. “The amount of muscle activation (85%) in rowing is higher than other activities using machines like the treadmill or the elliptical.”

It’s also a great option for people who are in pain or recovering from a tough workout the night before. “You can use the erg daily, without hampering your physical progress,” says Crawford. “Rowing is a low impact movement, which reduces the risk of injury. You can use the machine for aerobic training, anaerobic training or muscle recovery, depending on what your body needs that day.

One important note: you’ll need to know how to row properly in order to get the most benefit the machine can offer, says Crawford. So be sure to ask a trainer at the gym for a quick introduction before you jump in – or check out a rowing course to learn the basics before incorporating it into your workouts on your own.


Best option if:

  • You want a cardio workout that also works your upper body
  • Looking to get a serious sweat
  • You want to maximize your calorie burn

Vertical climbing machines – like the VersaClimber – are designed to mimic a natural climbing motion. “This is another great ‘climb’ or hike-style cardio and strength workout that engages your whole body, actively using your upper and lower body,” Katz says.

Because the machine engages the whole body, the workout is an intense calorie burner — and best for those in good physical condition. “A vertical climbing machine is suitable for anyone with no current joint problems, including shoulder joint problems. If you feel pretty good overall, you can try one. of these cardio machines,” Mansour said. “It’s not good for people who can’t lift their arms without pain or have knee/ankle problems.

The takeaway: mix it up

The moral of the story? No machine is better than the others. Each offers specific benefits that will serve you better at different points in your fitness journey as your goals evolve and change. Instead of defaulting to the same machine when it’s time for cardio, take advantage of what each has to offer and incorporate them into your routine accordingly.

In general, Mansour recommends doing strength training three days a week and doing cardio two to three days a week. The best way to get that cardio is specific to your body and your goals – but mixing it up, say with a walk one day, hopping on a spin bike another and doing a HIIT workout the next, will keep your routine going. interesting workout and your body guesses.