Cardio Workout Equipment Options

Woman on treadmill drinking water

Cardio equipment is designed to provide a cardiovascular workout that will benefit your heart and increase your stamina and endurance. Whether you're looking for a piece of equipment for home use, or you're trying to choose which cardio machine to try at the gym, it's a good idea to understand the benefits and limitations of each machine.


Treadmills are designed to offer a walking, jogging, or running experience indoors - and without the potential hazards that come with outdoor running (inclement weather, uneven terrain, dogs off leashes, crime). Treadmills have some give to them, which absorbs some of the impact of running. This makes them a little easier on the joints than running on pavement.

People working out on treadmills in gymnasium

Traditional Treadmill

Treadmills feature a moving belt on which you take steps; the belt moves continually so you get a consistent walking/jogging/running experience. Though treadmills typically feature handlebars, it's best to allow your arms to move freely, just as you would when outside. The console allows you to program your workout on the treadmill, setting the length of time, the incline, and the speed. You can use a treadmill for interval training as well as sprint training - and you can use it for simple walking to get some activity in.

Curved Treadmill

Curved treadmills are generally user-powered, meaning it's the force of the user's movements that moves the belt forward instead of electricity. These treadmills are more challenging and usually burn more calories than a traditional, flat treadmill. Athletes are serious exercisers enjoy the increased intensity of these treadmills and the curve of the belt helps take some of the impact off the legs. These machines take a little getting used to, so your first time on a curved treadmill might feel a little clumsy. Once you get the hang of it, though, you'll realize the benefits of this treadmill's design.

Underwater Treadmill

Typically used in injury rehabilitation, underwater treadmills can be beneficial to people of all fitness levels. The resistance of the water makes the movements more challenging while the buoyancy provided by the water makes it a lower impact exercise. Most underwater treadmills sold to the public are non-electric, compact units that are meant to be dropped into a pool before using, although there are some treadmill pools used in physical therapy and professional athletic training settings in which the bottom of the small pool is the moving belt.

Stationary Bicycle

Stationary bikes can offer a riding experience when the weather outdoors makes riding difficult. Serious riders use stationary bikes to train during the off-season, and many casual exercisers enjoy the gentle workout an indoor bike can provide.

Man using exercising machine in gym

Upright Stationary Bike

Designed like a real bike, upright stationary bikes mimic the movements of bicycling outdoors. The console allows for adjustments of resistance, but the speed is set by the user's movements. These machines are good for casual exercise and focused exercise programs alike. Most offer pre-programmed workouts to select from, and some of the more expensive models offer scenery simulations where you can "ride" through famous cities or scenic locations.

Dual Action Bike

Similarly to the upright stationary bike, this indoor bike is different in two distinct ways: the handlebars move to provide some upper-body work and a caged fan is in place of the front wheel. Popular with CrossFit and bootcamp-type fitness classes, the dual action bike is more challenging than a traditional stationary bike. And though most medical professionals suggest stationary bikes as a good option for people recovering from back or knee issues, this particular model is not appropriate.

Recumbent Bike

This stationary bike features a high back, similar to a chair. Typically lower to the ground, a recumbent bike takes much of the strain off the user's back. These bikes are not only easier to climb onto, but they are generally easier to use, making them a top choice among seniors looking for cardio equipment.

Studio Cycles

These indoor bikes are designed for group fitness cycling classes and feature very little as it pertains to comfort. The saddle height and handlebar height are easily adjusted by the user and the resistance is controlled by a dial or level. Speed is completely controlled by the exerciser, as these bikes are typically not motorized in any way. Popular home versions include the Peloton and the NordicTrack, both of which come with the option of streamed classes led by instructors.


An elliptical is a good option for those who don't like the treadmill because of the impact on their knees and hips. The motion of the elliptical features lower impact than a treadmill and can still provide a good workout.

Group of people at the gym on the elliptical machine

Traditional Elliptical

A traditional elliptical features two foot pedals which the user pushes into a forward circular motion; the action is similar to jogging or walking, but without the impact. The speed is according to how fast the user pushes, but the resistance is set by the machine and can be easily increased or decreased by the user. A console allows the user to select a pre-set workout or to just adjust the speed and resistance as they want throughout the workout.

Cross-Training Elliptical

A cross-training elliptical features moving handlebars that increases the intensity and gets the upper body more involved in the workout. Most come with pre-set workouts that instruct the user to occasionally push or pull with the handlebars instead of focusing on the motion of the feet.

Elliptical Glider

Most typically known by the names like the Fitness Glider or the Gazelle, elliptical gliders feature more of a swinging motion than the circular motion of a traditional elliptical. Versions of these machines are popular at outdoor park workout stations because of their simple design.

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines are great for cardio because when used with intensity, they increase the heart rate quickly. Upper and lower body must work together while the user simulates rowing a shell (or, Olympic-style rowing boat). With all rowers, the feet are placed within secure holds and the user grasps the handlebar to pull against resistance.

Personal trainer with man on rowing machine in gymnasium

Types of Rowers

Most rowers are similar in the workout they provide, yet differences arise when cost, space, and method by which resistance or tension is taken into consideration. When it comes to cardio equipment, though, rowers are a good example of a piece of equipment that can provide an excellent workout without many features.

Stair Climber

Climbing stairs can be challenging. It gets the heart pumping quickly and fatigues the lower body at a rapid pace. That's why stair climbers are among the favorite of home gyms and fitness centers alike.

Girl exercising in gym

Pedal Stair Climbers

With a pedal stair climber, feet are placed on independent foot pedals that acts as simulated stairs. These machines typically have handlebars and a console that allows the user to select a pre-programmed workout or instead adjust the settings to their liking. Stair climbers have less of an impact than actually climbing stairs since the feet don't leave the pedals.


Often jokingly called a "staircase to nowhere," stepmills look like compact escalators that don't go anywhere. The user climbs upon the step and then starts the stairs in motion as they climb. The speed can be manually adjusted by the user or can be set by the machine by selecting a pre-programmed workout.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder is generally only found in fitness centers as it is an expensive, bulky machine. What it lacks in compactness it makes up for in intensity. The user climbs the revolving ladder-like structure using both feet and hands. Since the body must work together, this machine offers a full-body workout. A belt attached to the machine is worn by the user, not only for safety, but also to tell the machine what pace should be presented throughout the workout.

Select Your Cardio Equipment

While it is true that some cardio equipment is designed to provide a more intense workout than others, the intensity truly depends on the effort you put forth. Choose the equipment that is most comfortable yet challenging, and most importantly, will compel you to work out regularly.

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Cardio Workout Equipment Options