10 Best Cardio Machines Fully Reviewed

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As the temperature cools and the daylight hours shrink, many of us find ourselves running outside less and less. Gym memberships can be expensive and it often feels like a lot of effort to drive all the way there just for an hour of monotonous exercise. If you, like many other runners, find yourself hibernating through the winter, you may consider investing in a home cardio machine to keep you moving.

Once very expensive and bulky, many do not consider the possibility that a cardio machine could fit into a modest home or budget. However, there are many great cardio machines that do not take up much space and some are surprisingly affordable. And we are not just talking about standard ellipticals or treadmills (although we can recommend a few). Many cardio machines work different muscles and can help push you harder than running. So, this winter‘s addition to your workout routine may become an essential cross training element to your well-balanced, year-round fitness.  Keep reading to find out our picks for the 10 Best Cardio Machines!

Last Updated: February 2, 2018
By Brian Price:

We've updated this guide with some more information regarding things to look for when shopping for a good cardio machines, as well as a new product from Weslo.

Concept2 Rowing Machine
  • Concept2 Rowing Machine
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Easy to store
  • Price: See Here
LifeCORE Assault Air Bike
  • LifeCORE Assault Air Bike
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Durable design
  • Price: See Here
Weslo Cadence G 5.9
  • Weslo Cadence G 5.9
  • 4.1 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Folds for storage
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Cardio Machines

 

1. Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Rowing machines provide a challenging and an effective full body workout with very low impact. All these qualities make this an excellent cross training option for runners. Consider this an investment for a high quality, sturdy design. This sophisticated monitor with data monitoring and motivational programming sets this top of the line machine apart from the rest.
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Effectiveness:
Rowing provides a very effective full body workout. This machine is designed to move smoothly and closely mimics the motion of rowing in a boat. The user controls the speed and resistance so even a short period of hard work can lead to noticeable full body results.

Best use:
This low impact machine works the entire body and is great for cross-training or keeping you in cardiovascular shape when you cannot get out to run.

Ease of Use:
Adjustable footrests and ergonomic handles make this machine easy to customize for maximum comfort during exercise. Users love the user friendly Performance Monitor 5 that tracks data for each row. Additionally, this machine is compatible with RowPro Software to help you get even more out of your workout. Finally, the flywheel and adjustable damper lets you control resistance and keeps the machine’s noise level down to that of a fan.

Safety:
Rowing does require some instruction and practice to learn the proper form. However, after some practice this machine is very safe and has few risks for injury.

Impact:
The rowing motion has very low impact and is a great option for those who need to give their joints a break.

Size:
The machine itself is long and skinny with wheels at the front to move it easily into position. This rower also features a convenient quick-release framelock which separates the machine into two easy-to-store parts with no tools and little effort.

Value:
The higher price tag is the only real downfall of this piece of equipment. However, this quality machine is built to last and is a justifiable investment for your fitness.
Pros
  • Low-impact
  • Full body engagement
  • Easy to store
  • Sophisticated monitor
Cons
  • Price

2. LifeCORE Fitness Assault Air Bike

A staple of CrossFit and HIIT workouts, assault bikes provide a tough full-body workout with little impact. The air resistance from the fan builds as you pedal creating more resistance the harder you work. This challenging aspect makes it difficult not to get a great workout regardless of how fast you go. Users prefer this particular model for the sturdy build and quiet fan.
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Effectiveness:
Unlike other exercise bikes, the Air Bike engages your arms as well as your legs for a full upper and lower body workout. The Assault bike utilizes air resistance that builds as you pedal. So, the harder you work the more resistance you are met with.

Best use:
As you can imagine this is not a great piece for coasting or zoning out while you clock your 30 minutes of cardio. Whether you keep it steady at a target heart rate or are sprinting for a high intensity workout, you will be sweating within minutes of climbing on this bike. This hard core but low impact piece of equipment is great for tough cross-training.

Ease of use:
The comprehensive computer screen shows distance, time, speed, RPM, watts and calories as well as motivational programs. The seat is adjustable up and down as well as forward and back for a more comfortable fit. Some users do find it uncomfortable for long workouts however, it does not seem to be a deal breaker. Those who really do not like it solve the issue easily by adding an extra pad or replacing the seat entirely.

Safety:
Some care may be required when mounting and dismounting this bike but the stable design poses little risk for falling or slipping off.

Impact:
There is very little impact when seated on the bike and slightly more if you choose to stand on the pedals. This is still an improvement on the beating your joints take from regular running on pavement.

Size:
This bike takes up less space than the typical treadmill or elliptical and does feature some front wheels to roll it in and out of storage. However, there are no collapsable features.

Value:
The price is a bit higher than others on the market but users feel the durable design and quiet fan make the cost easy to justify.
Pros
  • Challenging full body workout
  • Comprehensive computer screen
  • Motivational programs
  • High quality durable design
Cons
  • Price
  • Some find the seat uncomfortable

3. Weslo Cadence G 5.9 Treadmill

This space-saving treadmill is perfect for the home thanks to its folding design. It features a two-position incline and has cushioning for your comfort. It's also one of the few treadmills that aren't going to break your bank when you purchase it. You'll love the six personal trainer workouts, too.
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Effectiveness:
The treadmill is an effective replacement for running or jogging outside. It features six personal trainer workouts and a 2-position manual incline so that you can push yourself as hard or as little as you want. Each workout is designed by a personal trainer who has been certified so that you can get more out of your workout.

Best use:
It is best used indoors when it's too hot, cold, or rainy to run outside.

Ease of use:
This treadmill is very simple to use thanks to its blue-tinted LCD with priority display. You can track your workout speed, distance, and calories so that you can check on your progress throughout your entire workout. It also monitors your heart rate. When you're done, it simply folds up with just a lifting motion.

Safety:
Treadmills can be a bit risky so this may not be the best option for the clumsy or easily distracted. This particular machine does have an emergency stop key you can clip to your shirt. It also has handles for gripping as you run.

Impact:
Running on a treadmill does have some more impact on your joints than many other machines. However, the treadmill belt is specially designed with a layer of cushioning for the best stride impact absorption.

Size:
This treadmill is smaller than your typical gym treadmill. The small size, collapsable design and wheels make this machine easy for storing out of the way. Some users do feel that the size is a bit too small. However, most feel it is adequate for getting in comfortable strides.

Value:
This is a great options for runners on a budget as it is a fraction of the cost of higher end machines.
Pros
  • Easy to store
  • Comfortable running 
  • Keeps you running through the winter
Cons
  • Small size
  • 275 lb weight limit

4. EFITMENT Compact Magnetic Elliptical Machine

This small and affordable elliptical is perfect for home use. If your joints are too sore or the weather just is not cooperating, this is a great option to replace a run.
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Effectiveness:
Many studies show that low-impact elliptical machines have potential to raise heart rate and burn calories just as well as running. Some critics note the movement on an elliptical is restricted and unnatural, making it less effective. It is also easier to slack off on an elliptical than on some of the other machines mentioned. However, this machine does engage the upper body and comes with 8 resistance settings and a monitor to help you meet your goals.

Best use:
An elliptical is a great option for getting in some cardio when your joints are hurting.

Ease of use:
This machine is easy to use properly with little learning required. The computer is simple to understand and operate.

Safety:
This elliptical is has a stable build to ensure safe usage.

Impact:
Elliptical training relieves much of the impact of typical running and will not add additional stress to your joints.

Size:
This model has a smaller footprint than most and is designed to take up less space in the home. It also has wheels to make it easier to move into and out of storage.

Value:
The price is relatively inexpensive for this high quality and durable machine. It is a fraction of the cost of full-sized gym ellipticals.
Pros
  • Low impact
  • Compact
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Limits stride

5. Stamina X Air Rowing Machine

Not ready to invest in the top of the line Concept2 Rower? This is a solid and more affordable option for easing your way into the very effective full body workout provided by a rowing machine. The computer is a bit more basic and the belt is slightly louder but this machine is a great value for the cost and provides the same great workout.
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Effectiveness:
Rowing is a great option for full-body, low-impact cardio. It is a tough and very effective method of cross-training and this model is basic but completely sufficient to give you a good workout.

Best use:
This option is best for entry-level rowers. The machine and computer are more basic than the Concept2 rower but you will still get an effective full-body workout.

Ease of Use:
Again, there may be some learning curve when beginning rowing. However, the simplistic design and computer are easy to use.

Safety:
With attention to proper form there are not many risks to using this machine.

Impact:
Rowing is very low impact making it a great exercise to strengthen muscles without stressing joints.

Size:
This model folds in two for compact storage and featured front wheels allow easy mobility.

Value:
At less than half of the price of the Concept2 this is a great option for a home cardio machine. Most users agree this rower has great quality for the price.
Pros
  • Less expensive
  • Full body workout
  • Low impact
  • Compact and mobile
Cons
  • Louder fan and belt
  • Simple monitor

6. Marcy AIR1 Fan Bike

A more affordable alternative to the Assault Bike. The design and monitor of this Fan Bike are more basic but it uses the same air resistance to create tough workouts at a fraction of the price.
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Effectiveness:
The simpler design of this Air Bike provides the same tough, full body workout as the higher-end models.

Best use:
This is a great option for anyone new to resistance biking or those who do not see themselves using it regularly. The simpler monitor and slightly less durable design is perfect for beginners but may not hold up to the harsh punishment of frequent tough workouts.

Ease of use:
This bike is easy to use and features a simple monitor to track speed, time, distance, and calories. The seat and handles are adjustable for a comfortable ride but the fan cannot be adjusted to change resistance.

Safety:
This is a low risk machine.

Impact:
Fan bikes are a great low impact exercise for cross-training.

Size:
The fan on this bike is slightly smaller than the Concept2 Assault bike. It does fold in half and has wheels for easy storage.

Value:
Great value for the price! This bike is easy to use for challenging workouts for less than half the price of higher end models.
Pros
  • Lower price tag
  • Challenging full body workout
  • Easy to store
  • Low impact
Cons
  • Loud belt
  • Not as durable

7. Maxi Climber Vertical Climber

The vertical climber is a great core and cardio workout for some lower intensity cross training. There is no added resistance or challenge so you get in what you put out. However, this more affordable machine does engage the upper and lower body for an effective workout.
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Effectiveness:
The Maxi Climber engages the upper and lower body for an effective full body workout. Unlike the Assault bike it does not challenge the user with increased resistance so you need to push yourself on this machine.

Best use:
This is a great option for lower intensity cross training with muscle toning. It will certainly get your heart rate up but the climbing motion will provide a nice burn for muscles throughout your body.

Ease of use:
This climber is easy to use and the ergonomic handles and adjustable height are easy to customize. With an automated timer you can track your workouts and the quiet nature makes it great for using while watching TV. The pedals are spiked so shoes are required even when at home.

Safety:
This machine is very safe to use. Some users note a bit of movement with climbing but none feel at risk of tipping over or falling off.

Impact:
This machine does put more weight in the legs than some others listed but it is still relatively low impact.

Size:
The climber is fairly small in size and folds for easy storage.

Value:
This is fairly inexpensive for any cardio machine.
Pros
  • Great for muscle toning
  • Compact
  • Quiet
  • Easy to use
  • Engages upper and lower body
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Not as challenging

8. NordicTrack T 6.5 S Treadmill

A more sophisticated treadmill for those who find themselves frequently exercising at home. This treadmill requires an investment in price and space in your home but will be more comfortable for regular running. The more complex computer monitor is compatible with iFit software so you can stream Google maps routes or training programs.
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Effectiveness:
The treadmill is a great piece of equipment for any runner as it allows you to hit your regular stride with no restrictions. The increased programming options on this monitor allow you to challenge yourself so you get the most out of your workout. This model also has the option to increase the incline for added resistance.

Best use:
This is perfect for squeezing in runs in the comfort of your home. This is a great option for anyone stuck inside through the winter that just can’t find the time to make it to the gym.

Ease of use:
While you have the option for more complex programming, this treadmill also provides simple, one-touch buttons for easy use. It also features heart rate monitors on the handles for convenience.

Safety:
Treadmills can be risky if you do not pay attention. Falling on a treadmill can occur and can cause injury, especially at high speeds.

Impact:
The treadmill has more impact than many other options but the adjustable FlexSelect cushioning on this machine can help relieve this impact making it better than road running in that aspect.

Size:
This model is a bit larger but does have the option to fold for easier storage.

Value:
The adjustable cushioning and incline as well as the more sophisticated programming make this machine more expensive than the Merax option. However, this model is still well below that of the average treadmill.
Pros
  • Sophisticated programming
  • Stream music or google maps
  • Adjustable cushioning
  • 0-10% incline
Cons
  • Takes up more space
  • More expensive

9. Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike

An affordable stationary bike that is easy to store and use. Most users find the quality great for the price but others did experience issues. Stationary bike is not the most effective cardio but a low impact option for cross training.
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Effectiveness:
This spin bike allows for more natural and functional movement than an upright bike or recumbent bike. It also engages the upper body and core slightly more but not to the same extent as the fan bike.

Best Use:
This is great for variable intensity, low impact cross-training. With adjustable resistance and no added challenge this bike is great for coasting or working hard.

Ease of Use:
This bike does require some time and effort for assembly initially but once it is up and running it is an easy machine to hop for a good workout. The handlebars and seat are easy to adjust but some users complain of the spiked pedals which make shoes required when using this machine.

Safety:
This machine is designed to ride just like a regular bike so there should be no challenge or learning curve. The stationary bike is much safer than riding on trails and roads as there is no risk for falling or being hit by cars on busy streets.

Impact:
This bike is very low impact.

Size: This machine is slightly larger than a standard bike. The wheels make it easy to hide away but you do need a good bit of space dedicated to this bike.

Value:
Relatively inexpensive
Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Low impact
  • Good for cross-training
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Does not engage upper body
  • Inconsistent quality

10. Xiser Commercial Mini Stairmaster

A fraction of the size and cost of a bulky stairmaster, this mini is great for cardio and working the glutes and calves. Unlike most stair steppers, this device does not have grab bars to get in the way of natural arm movement.
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Effectiveness:
Stair steppers are a great way to raise heart rate while toning the calves and glutes. In general, the stepping movement is a bit unnatural and restricted but this small machine actually has an advantage over the large stair steppers as it allows your arms to swing naturally. This stepper is solidly built to support sprint workouts as well as steady climbing.

Best use:
This is great for any intensity cross-training that focuses on toning the lower body.

Ease of use:
This stepper requires no setup and is very simple to use. The resistance is easily adjustable and the silicone fluid makes for quiet and smooth stepping.

Safety:
This small stepper is safe and easy to use.

Impact:
Higher impact than seated machines but still less impact than running outside.

Size:
This stepper is a fraction of the size of any other machine listed and is very easy to store away.

Value:
This may seem pricey for this small piece of equipment but this compact stair master solidly built and stays stably grounded during your workout, unlike budget options.
Pros
  • Stays grounded
  • High quality
  • Compact
  • No assembly needed
Cons
  • Seems expensive for size
  • Limited movement
  • Does not engage full body

The Metrics We Used to Determine The Best Cardio Machine

All cardio machines are not made equal. If you are considering incorporating one into your home exercise routine, you will be dedicating some money and space in your home to this new machine. We want to make sure you make an informed decision about what will work best for you and your lifestyle. To effectively compare the best cardio machines on the market we broke it down into the following criteria.

Effectiveness
If you are investing time, money and floor space for a home cardio machine, you expect to see results. We looked for machines that engage the full body and help you push yourself to reach your goals.

Best Use
It is important to consider what each cardio machine is ideally suited for. Each machine will help raise your heart rate to keep you in great cardiovascular shape but it can also help you strengthen and tone certain muscle areas. Some machines are ideally suited to replace your outdoor runs and others are best for working different muscles in cross training to complement your regular running schedule. We looked for options that cover a spectrum of needs.

Ease of Use
Most people opt for home cardio machines because they do not have the time to make it to the gym. So, if you buy a machine that is difficult to set up or use, it is that much more likely to end up in the closet or garage. We looked for cardio machines that are easy to operate and comfortable to use so you will not be deterred from working out.

Safety
Some machines can pose risks if you do not use them correctly. We looked for options that were reasonably low risk and do not require formal training to use safely.

Impact
Runners often turn to cardio machines to reduce the impact on joints we get from running. All options on this list will create less impact than running on pavement.

Size
Many people do not consider home cardio machines because they are bulky and can take up valuable space in a small home. However, many companies have worked to remedy this problem and there are plenty of options out there that are compact and easy to store.

Value
While there are certainly some inexpensive options out there, any cardio machine should be considered an investment. We looked for machines that were built well and worth the price tag.

Other Things to Consider

Intensity
Every runner varies on their prefered exercise tempo. Some people live for the high intensity workouts such as CrossFit or HIIT that leave you in a sweaty heap on the floor. Others are looking for a steadier tempo to raise their heart rate and stay in shape. It is important to consider where on this spectrum you fall. If you really hate to go anaerobic, an assault bike may not be the best option for you. Just as those who thrive on high intensity work may not be satisfied by an elliptical. Those who like to go hard one day and nice and steady the next may look into a more versatile machine such as a treadmill or spin bike.

Purpose
Consider what you are looking for in a cardio machine and how you plan to incorporate it into your exercise routine. Machines such as the rower, assault bike and vertical climber engage different muscles than running. These machines serve as great additions to a runner’s workout schedule and can be valuable options for cross training. Other options, such as the treadmill and elliptical, simulate the running motion and are more appropriate for supplementing runs when you cannot make it outside or are injured.

When considering purpose you may also think about how often you will use this machine. The price of these machines correlates with durability and sophistication. So, while every machine on this list is high quality, some are going to be more durable and can take more punishment than others. If you plan to exercise regularly at high intensity, you may consider investing in a higher end model. However, if you plan to use this machine more moderately, save some money by opting for a simpler machine.

Injuries
Cardio machines can provide an excellent break from running when recovering from an injury. However, some machines may be better than others for certain types of pain. For example, if you have knee pain, avoid the treadmill and those with back pain may want to avoid the rower. If you are having consistent pain, talk with your doctor about what machine would work best for you.  

FAQs

Q: What is the best machine for losing weight?

A: As far as burning calories, any of these machines will work well. Machines that engage more muscles in the body will burn more calories than those who don’t. Ultimately, the best machine for weight loss will be the one that you use most regularly.

Q: What is the best machine for knee pain?

A: Look for machines that take the weight out of your legs such as the rower or bike.

Q: What is the best machine for emulating running?

A: While many people are attracted to the elliptical for the lower impact, the treadmill is going to be your best bet. The treadmill allows for unrestricted strides and movements to closely emulate natural running.

Sources

  1. Morris, Jenna, Joint Effects from Treadmill Vs. Street Running, Web Page, Sep 11, 2017
  2. Williams, Laura, The Best (and Worst) Cardio Machines at The Gym, Web Page, Apr 21, 2018
  3. Hoffman, Zeni MD, Energy expenditure with indoor exercise machines, Research , May 19, 2006
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