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A functional home gym is never complete without at least one item of cardio equipment - but how do you choose?
If you’re making the investment into your health and fitness, choose something that is suited to your lifestyle, budget, and your available space. You might have the room and budget to go all-out and buy more than one option, but let’s just say you need to start with one.
What should it be? Let’s look at some options:
First, it’s important to assess where you’re at now and what it is you’d like to achieve through using home cardio machines.
Some machines will be more challenging for beginners, so consider what you’re most likely to stick with and be comfortable using. On the other hand, if you’re already a cardio guru, some machines might not give you the high level of impact or the versatility that you’d like.
If cardio at home is only for days you can’t get out for your regular run, cycle, or whatever else you do, maybe you’re really only looking for something basic to fill in during bad weather or short time-frames. Another consideration is space - if yours is limited, what home gym equipment is your biggest priority? It may be that you love your functional trainer and need to find cardio equipment that will allow it to still fit and be comfortably used.
Think about what you’re looking for as you check out cardio machine options.
Here’s a brief overview of the top choices for home gym cardio machines:
Always a classic choice, treadmills are versatile in that you can choose to use them for low or high impact workouts. Slow it down and reduce the incline for lower impact, speed it up and/or increase incline for higher impact. Regular treadmill usage at an appropriate level can improve your cardio fitness very quickly.
If we look deeper into different types of treadmills, you’ll find the traditional treadmill that plugs into a wall socket and features a motor-powered belt, or you could go for a curved treadmill that is non-motorized and powered manually by your motion. The curved treadmill is a more challenging piece of equipment for that reason, but it engages more muscle groups, is less harmful on joints and can help you to burn calories faster.
Impact level: Exercises can be modified for either low or high impact.
Versatility: You can walk, jog, run or sprint and adjust the resistance levels.
An elliptical machine will mimic the motion of running, but without the joint impact. Your feet never leave the pedals, which reduces the impact on knees and other joints. This makes them a good choice for anyone with bad knees or who is rehabbing a lower body injury.
Ellipticals can give you a full body workout, especially when you use the moving handlebars. Movement on the elliptical is constrained to moving with path of the machine, unlike a treadmill where you can have a more free-moving workout.
When trying out an elliptical, the lower settings should be easy for you, while it should be hard for you when it is set at around 75% of maximum resistance as this will give you room to improve.
Impact level: Ellipticals are generally considered to be low-impact machines.
Versatility: You can select from different programs and vary your pace or resistance.
Dimensions: The footprint is similar to that of a treadmill, but one thing to consider is the maximum height of the pedal combined with your own height. You don’t want to hit the ceiling at the top-of-motion!
Exercise bikes come in several forms:
Impact: Low to high. Spin bikes where you lift out of your seat and increase the resistance are on the higher end.
Versatility: You can adjust your speed as well as resistance. Spin bikes let you pedal seated or out of your seat. Most exercise bikes also come with different programs available.
Dimensions: Average width is 18” - 26”, while length is 35” - 48”. Height is something to be very aware of, especially if you want a spin bike where you can rise out of your seat. Some exercise bikes also have a foldaway feature.
The Jacob’s ladder is a cardio machine designed to offer high-intensity, but low-impact workouts. The ladder design will have you burning a high calorie count without harsh impacts on your joints.
The bear-crawl-like motion will add coordination and muscle-building to your cardio workout and studies have shown that you can work out harder with less effort, as compared to a treadmill. It’s a full body workout utilizing most muscle groups.
Versatility: You can increase your pace (measured in feet per minute) and increase or decrease the difficulty level.
Dimensions: Jacob’s Ladder is a heavy machine at around 345lbs. Dimensions are around 76” length, 66” height and 32” width.
When rowing is done correctly, it is a full body cardio exercise that has low impact on the joints. (Correct motion is initiated from your legs and glutes, not your back!). A rowing machine can be used for either high or low intensity workout sessions. Increase your pace or increase resistance to turn up the heat.
Versatility: You can increase pace or resistance. Many machines come with programs you can follow.
Dimensions: A typical footprint is around 36” by 96”. Some models will fold away or fold against the wall for storage.
With your fitness goals in mind, look at the machines that will be the best match for intensity and impact first. If you need an athlete’s level of intensity, you’re generally going to be looking at machines like treadmills, spin bikes, or Jacob’s ladder. With the treadmills and spin bikes, you’ll probably need a higher-end model that meets your specific demands.
Secondly, you must have the space! Look at the dimensions, including how much height is required to operate the machine safely. Remember that you need a few feet around it for safe clearance and comfortable use.
Weight capacity may or may not be another key consideration. Most cardio machines are rated for at least 200 - 300lbs, but it is worth checking. (Be aware that some lower-end models do not have a high weight allowance).
Price is obviously a factor too. Why are some machines more costly than others? It generally comes down to the features and durability of the machine. You can expect that machines built to cope with very high-intensity workouts will be built tougher and therefore are more expensive.
Finally, personal enjoyment is huge. Choosing exercise you enjoy makes it easier to be consistent!
We’ve outlined some of the most popular choices for at-home cardio equipment. What sounds like you?
Are you here for the classic treadmill, or are you ready for an intense session on the Jacob’s Ladder? Will the machine be an everyday go-to, or the fill-in when you can’t get out?
Choose for fitness goals, space, budget, impact, intensity, and enjoyment. Importantly, try before you buy if you can, or at least talk to some experts about your needs!