If you are looking to lose a few extra pounds this year, no doubt you've considered doing more cardio. While there are many other factors at play for losing weight - diet, strength training, and sleep, to name a few - cardio plays an important role in weight loss.
When we talk about cardio workouts, we are talking about exercising that is primarily aerobic-based. Some common examples of cardio machines used would be treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals.
When thinking about the best cardio machines for weight loss, we first need to look at how weight loss occurs. Before we start, it is important to note that weight loss can involve numerous factors, and this is an attempt to simplify it as best as possible.
How Do We Lose Weight?
At the most basic level, weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. So, what two factors are most obvious? The answer - how many calories you burn (exercise) and how many calories you consume (diet). So when we talk about the best cardio equipment for losing weight, we want to consider the machine that will help you burn the most calories.
A second thing to consider is what type of workout is best for weight loss. When people mention they want to lose weight, of course, they aren't talking about muscle. Everyone wants big, bulging biceps, not bellies.
So really, we are talking about losing fat and not weight - which is an important distinction.
Oftentimes, people will lose weight quickly in the first week or two and assume it's fat; however, more than likely it's simply water weight.
One of the best ways to burn fat is through zone 2 cardio training. Zone 2 refers to the level of your heart rate during movement. Zone 1 is the lowest, think light walk, and zone 5 is maximal effort. Zone 2 could be biking, running, walking, or really any type of cardio where you are moving, breathing slightly hard, but also able to hold a conversation with only brief pauses for breath. Zone 2 training (>45 minutes) allows your body to use fat as its energy source, which is great news for fat loss.
A second type of training is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of training burns a lot of calories by allowing you to push really hard for a short period of time, move slower for a little bit longer period of time, and then repeat. It essentially spikes your heart rate and then allows some recovery before doing it again. This type of training is great for your overall health and can certainly help in weight loss as you burn calories.
The reason I mentioned these two types of training is to give you an idea of what you are hoping to do with your cardio machine.
Weight loss happens through exercise, and your machine is simply a way to exercise. While we will get into why some machines may be better than others, the important thing to remember is that with almost all cardio machines you dictate how hard you go and what type of training you will be doing.
Essentially, weight loss and, ultimately, fat loss is up to you and your exercise routine more so than the machine you choose.
For this reason, the best cardio machine for weight loss is the one you will use consistently. So be sure to choose one that you enjoy using - or at least can tolerate, I mean it is cardio still.
However, with that being said, let's look at some cardio machines and how they can affect weight loss.
The Big Three Cardio Machines
What's a cardio machine list without the king of cardio machines? But really, treadmills may in fact be the most popular piece of all gym equipment.
Are treadmills effective for weight loss? Absolutely. Whether going for a jog or cranking the incline up and walking, you can burn some serious calories on a treadmill. Especially if running isn't an option due to the weather, a treadmill can be a great option.
If the treadmill is king, the elliptical has got to be the queen. Elliptical machines are incredibly popular, especially in commercial gyms. Oftentimes, people that choose an elliptical machine for their cardio are concerned about the impact on their knees and other joints from running.
You certainly can burn calories with an elliptical. You can perform HIIT or zone 2 training with this cardio machine. Although, from purely an overall health perspective, you may not want to solely rely on an elliptical machine as your muscles and joints do need to feel some impact - assuming you aren't injured or in serious pain.
The stationary bike come in two common variations - the upright and the recumbent.
Bikes are a great option for your cardio workouts, however, because biking is not necessarily a full-body workout, you may find your legs have to work extra hard to get your heart rate up. Regardless, biking is an awesome way to burn calories, whether you are going for a zone 2 bike or joining your local spin class.
While the machines listed above are arguably the three most popular, it is in no way an exhaustive list. Let's dive into some lesser-known options that pack a punch.
Rowing & Ski Machines
I love these machines. If you have never used them, I highly recommend trying them out before buying a cardio machine. What makes these cardio machines great is the full-body nature of using them. If you are rowing or skiing, your entire body from your feet to your back is engaged and working.
Oftentimes, cardio machines are very leg dominant so it is nice to see an option that includes the upper body as well.
Okay, while not necessarily a "cardio machine," sleds are great. Whether pushing or pulling, you are guaranteed to get a full-body workout. The great thing about sleds is that you are not only getting cardio but strength training as well.
Also, did I mention sleds are often a fraction of the cost of cardio machines? This is especially a great deal if you have some weight plates laying around.
Have you ever felt like you were in pretty good shape and then you go and climb a couple of flights of stairs? I'm talking hands on the knees, gasping for air.
That's essentially what you are signing up for here. Stair climbers are cardio killers. You'll be in much better cardio shape after a few sessions with the ole' stair climber.
This one also is not a cardio machine, but man can it be effective. Improve your cardio, and coordination, and have a little fun reminiscing on your childhood days with a jump rope.
Jumping rope is great for burning calories and can be a cheap, space-saving option. You know your inner child wants to try it.
As mentioned above, all three of these options can help you burn a lot of calories. Similarly, all options can handle zone 2 workouts and high-intensity interval training. Honestly, this is up to you and your personal preference.
Again, which one will you stick with? That will be the most effective cardio machine for your weight loss goals.
As far as the big three, I think the treadmill provides the most options by allowing you to walk, run, or sprint. I like the bike (especially the upright) for the muscle endurance of your legs and low impact. I'm not a huge fan of the elliptical machine, but if you prefer it, it certainly can get the job done.
I'm a big fan of the rower and sleds particularly. I think they give you the most all-around bang for your overall health and fitness. Because they work your entire body and involve so many muscle groups, you are sure to get that heart rate up, burn calories, and ultimately, lose weight.
There are countless ways to get cardio into your daily schedule. Whether you are using a treadmill or a jump rope, be sure to get some type of movement in every day.
If you are looking for some high-quality cardio machines at a great value - check out our selection here.
We've got everything from treadmills and stair climbers to sleds and bikes.
As always we are here for you and want to see you crush your goals! Feel free to reach out with any questions or leave a comment below.
Downing, Lisa. “Zone 2 Training to Transform Your Health.” Florida Medical Clinic, 31 Oct. 2022, https://www.floridamedicalclinic.com/blog/zone-2-training-to-transform-your-health/.