How To Choose the Best Cardio Machine

Schwinn 840 TreadmillStairMaster SC916 Stair StepperSchwinn 140 Upright Exercise BikeSchwinn 430 Elliptical Trainer

OK, show of hands. How many of us have walked into the gym for the first time, taken one look at the vast array of cardio exercise machines, and headed back to the locker room for a sauna and a long steam? It's not that we're lazy (well, most of the time) …it's just that we don't know which cardio machine will give us the best workout. And if we're brave enough to pick one, we soon find we don't even know how to turn the dang thing on.

Cardio machines have evolved quite a bit over the past couple of decades. While the Airdyne stationary exercise bike used to be the staple in most gyms, it has now been replaced by recumbent exercise bikes, upright exercise bikes, indoor cycling bikes, and those are just the bikes! Add to that treadmills, stair steppers, stair climbers, rowing machines and elliptical machines, and it's no wonder fitness beginners are overwhelmed when trying to chose the best cardio machine.

To help you make the most of your cardio workouts, you need to know which cardio machine will help you reach your fitness goals. We have provided a brief review of the most popular cardio machines below. Because technology is changing by the minute, we haven't gone into the details of any particular brand or model, but this review will give you the pros and cons of various cardio machines, and a few tips on how to get the best cardio workout of your machine.

Treadmill Review

Treadmills are probably the most popular piece of cardio equipment in the gym. You can tell because there are usually twice as many treadmills as every other piece of equipment combined … and when the gym gets busy, the treadmills are the first cardio machines to fill up.

One of the reasons treadmills are so popular is because they offer a wide range of workouts. A treadmill is essentially a moving sidewalk that allows the user to walk or run in place. A workout on the treadmill burns about the same amount of calories as walking or running outdoors - with the exception of running on an incline. For some reason, it's a little bit easier to run uphill on an inclined treadmill than up an outdoor hill with the same slope.

The newer treadmills are called incline trainers. They are shorter than a standard treadmill and incline to a grade of about 40 pecent, but only reach a maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour. The name says it all: incline trainers produce intense hill-climbing workouts that burn calories and tone leg muscles. They are great for people who love to climb and hike, but they are not meant for running. And if you have knee problems, stick to the traditional treadmill that doesn't incline to such as steep slope.

Benefits of Treadmills: Treadmills provide a variety of different workout options. They are great for getting in a quick warm-up before hitting the weight machines. Treadmills are a good choice for fitness beginners who need to walk before they can work up to a run. And treadmills offer the running enthusiast a place to run indoors and out of the elements. So it is not surprising to see the treadmills filled with people who vary in gender, age, and level of fitness.

Treadmills are pretty high-tech these days, with running surfaces that are springier and more shock-absorbent than the old days. Even the most basic treadmills include electronic features to monitor your heart rate, track speed, incline and distance. Some of the newer models include Internet hookups that let you run through various scenic routes or race other people around the globe. Or watch movies and cable television on your personal built-in television.

Drawbacks of Treadmills: Unless you are an iPod maniac, or movie aficionado, it's easy to become bored after about 30 minutes on a treadmill. People who are used to running outdoors often find it impossible to concentrate on a treadmill for long periods of time … they are simply to accustomed to moving scenery, the sounds of traffic and the breeze in their face. Long periods of treadmill use can also irritate knees, ankles and lower backs. If you suffer from weakness in any of these joints, you'll probably want a low-impact cardio machine.

Treadmill Tips: * Always place one foot on the sides of the machine (not the belt) as you turn it on. Step on after you determine it's moving at the appropriate speed, probably 1-2 miles per hour to start.

* Let go of the handrails as soon as you have your balance. Holding on and leaning back is a sure sign the treadmill is moving too fast for you.

* Never go bare foot. Wear the same walking or running shoes you wear for outdoor workouts.

* Don't read on the treadmill. Reading makes it more likely you will lose your balance and fall.

Elliptical Machine Review

The elliptical machine is quickly gaining in popularity to the treadmill. It is a machine with both arm and foot controls. You place your feet in two fat pedals and move them in a long oval shape that represents an ellipse (now you know where the name comes from), while your hands grasp the long handles and move them forward and backward in sync with your stride. The resulting motion feels like a combination of fast walking and cross-country skiing.

Benefits of Elliptical Machines: People with joint problems, and pregnant runners and walkers, often choose the elliptical trainer because it has less impact than treadmills or pounding the pavement. The elliptical is also a good option for people who are bored with treadmills and stair-climbing and just want a change of pace.

Drawbacks of Elliptical Machines: If you are already in pretty good shape, you will have to work a lot harder to achieve the same cardio workout on an elliptical than you would on other machines. Some uses have also reported toe numbness after a short time on the elliptical machine, but lighter, more flexible shoes may cure this problem.

Tips For Using Elliptical Machines

* Don't pedal backwards for long periods of time. It doesn't really work your glutes, but it does put additional strain on your knees.

* Take time to learn the features of the elliptical machine. Just like the treadmill, you can increase your speed, raise the incline and adjust the resistance of your workout.

* Keep your knees slightly bent and the motion smooth. It's never a good idea to lock your knees.

* Stand up straight. It's harder to slouch on an elliptical machine than a stair-stepper, but some users lean too far forward.

Exercise Bike Review

There are actually a number of different types of exercise bikes including upright bikes, indoor cycling or Spinning bikes, and recumbent exercise bikes. Upright bikes look just like the bike you rode as a kid, but it doesn't go anywhere. Indoor cycling bikes, or Spin bikes, are designed to resemble road bikes with a front-mounted flywheel, skinny seat and a resistance handle to simulate inclines and various road conditions. Recumbent exercise bikes have bucket seats so you lay back and pedal in front of you.

Which type of exercise bike is the best is simply a matter of preference. People with lower-back issues tend to like the recumbent style of exercise bike; pregnant women tend to avoid that one and gravitate to the upright exercise bike; and outdoor cycling enthusiasts enjoy using the Spin bike for the most realistic outdoor biking experience.

Benefits of Exercise Bikes: All types of exercise bikes are good for toning your legs and thighs while taking the stress off your knees. Exercise bikes are great for people who like to read while working out, and they offer a great cardio workout for anybody who is willing to put in the effort.

Stair-Climbing Machine Review

Stair-climbing machines are probably the most controversial piece of cardio equipment. People seem to either love them or hate them. Some of that may depend on which type of stair-climber they have been exposed to … the old fashioned rolling stair-climber that looks like a short escalator to nowhere, or the newer pedal-stepper stair-stepping machine that features two fat rectangular pedals that your press up and down. Rolling stair-climbers are an incredibly tough workout, and usually elicit the "I hate it" response. But anyone who wants a great cardio workout that also tones the butt and thighs swears by the stair-stepper. And contrary to popular belief, the stair-climber does not build big bulky leg muscles …unless you crank the resistance to the stratosphere to the point where you can barely move the stairs.

Benefits of Stair-Climbing Machine: It provides a great cardio workout that burns calories, tones legs and gives you better balance on real stairs.

Drawbacks of Stair-Climbing Machine: It can be darn difficult, especially for fitness newbies.

Rowing Machine Review

The rowing machine is often the most neglected piece of cardio equipment in the gym, but it shouldn't be, as it provides an incredibly effective cardio workout. A rowing machine works by pulling a handle toward you as you slide the seat backward. A fan creates air resistance, resulting in a motion that feels very much like skimming across a quiet lake.

Benefits of The Rowing Machine: The rowing machine provides a great total-body workout. Some people think it's bad for your back, but that's not true. When done properly, rowing uses the large muscles in your legs and butt, which avoids stress on the back. Because it's a low-impact workout, the rowing machine is a good prenatal cardio exercise.

Drawbacks of The Rowing Machine: If you don't use the proper form, you can do damage to your lower back. Some users have even hit themselves in the head with the handles before learning correct form. If you have a short attention span, the rowing machine probably isn't for you, as it requires more intense concentration to keep the proper form than almost every other cardio machine in the gym. You can listen to an iPod, but television isn't really an option on the rowing machine.

Tips For Using A Rowing Machine:

* Legs, legs and more legs. Initiate the motion with your glute muscles (butt). Don't fully straighten your legs, they should be the slightest bit bent even when fully extended.

* Watch your back. Don't hunch or round your back and don't lean all the way back when you finish a stroke. Proper form has you leaning back about 45 degrees.

* Keep it smooth. The stroke should be smooth and continuous without stopping at the front and back of each stroke.

Now that you have a better idea of which cardio machine is best for you, it's time to pick one and get going. If you still have trouble turning it on, just ask a neighbor to give you a quick lesson …most folks at the gym remember what it was like to be new and they are happy to lend a hand.