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3 Best & Worst Cardio Machines for Your Gains

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Alright, so we can all agree that no one really digs cardio. Whether you find it tiring, boring, annoying, or just plain useless (likely because you’re doing it wrong), if you’re like the vast majority of people you struggle through even the 30 minutes of steady state / fasted morning cardio or 15 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training that you know you should be getting in several times per week.

When it comes down to your cardio, doing more with less is the name of the game. Shaving precious minutes off your workout and ratcheting up the caloric burn all depends on being smart about which equipment you’re using. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to the machines commonly found in the average gym, and understanding them is critical to achieving your goals.

To make things easy, we’ve identified our picks for the top three best and worst cardio machines. We’ve ranked them according to effectiveness (i.e., number of calories burned in the shortest possible time, improved cardiovascular health); functionality (i.e., how well the exercise translates to a daily activity); and availability (i.e., the chance of you finding the machine at your gym). Without further ado, let’s get down to it!

Machines to Jump On

Treadmill ~ Not surprisingly, the tried-and-true treadmill beats out the competition for the best grade overall. The treadmill gets a grade of A for effectiveness, and A+ for functionality and availability. Treadmills allow your body to move naturally, are simple to use, and are incredibly versatile. To avoid undermining the power of your treadmill time, try unplugging your headphones, removing your hands from the sidebars, and really hustling with some sprints or fast walking with the machine on steepest incline!

Stair Mill ~ A bootybuilder’s biggest dream, the stair mill not only torches fat but also enhances those glute muscles. The stair mill gets an A for effectiveness, but ranks slightly lower (A-) on functionality and availability. The key with this machine is to avoid leaning on the handles, which will reduce the intensity of the workout and your caloric burn.

Rowing Machine ~ Rowing machines are a highly effective cardio tool, so much so that we give them an A+. The machine provides a full-body, large range-of-motion workout that can be extremely challenging. Putting in 10 minutes of HIIT on a rowing machine will burn some serious calories and leave you exhausted. The only downside to the rowing machine is the need to watch your form. Some people are tempted to hoist the handle above their heads, which serves absolutely no purpose other than giving your fellow gym goers something to snicker at.

Machines to Avoid Like the Plague

Jacob’s Ladder ~ Unless you’re training for an obstacle course or just looking to have some fun at the end of your workout, don’t get lured into doing your cardio on a Jacob’s ladder. Functionality comes in at a B- with this never-ending ladder, although it does earn a B+ for effectiveness. This particular machine is also not available in most mainstream gyms, leaving it at a C- on the availability scale.

Elliptical ~ Although the elliptical gets an A for availability, there’s really no other redeeming features to this deceptive cardio machine. The movement it forces your body into is unnatural and ineffective, and unless you’re setting the resistance at a 10 you may as well be trying to burn calories from your couch. This machine should be reserved largely for individuals recuperating from injury who need a low-impact option.

Recumbent Bike ~ Again, the recumbent bike is pretty widely available – it gets a B here – but scores miserably low on all other fronts. Basically every part of your body, from your chest to your torso to your butt, remains at rest during this workout. The only thing this machine is good for is catching up on your reading or Netflix.