This post comes from Dave England.
Weight Loss is a multi-billion dollar industry, which means there’s no shortage of companies creating weird and wonderful cardio machines.
Unfortunately many are produced on a low budget with poor construction quality. This makes it incredibly time consuming to research the different companies, find machines that match your budget, and designs that help you lose weight fast.
That’s why we’ve put together this quick reference guide to some of the best cardio machines currently available for home gyms, at a range of price points to suit every budget.
The 3 exercise machines listed below are the ones we’ve found to be most effective for improving functional fitness, conditioning, and weight loss, all in the same movement.
What Makes A High-Intensity Cardio Machine?
If you’ve visited a commercial gym, or even have your own gym setup at home, you’re probably used to seeing exercise bikes, ellipticals, treadmills and rowing machines.
While these are all excellent for cardiovascular workouts, they aren’t always the most effective way to burn a high number of calories in a short amount of time.
For this you’ll want to look for a machine that supports full body workouts, preferably at a steep incline and with variable speed or resistance to increase the intensity.
Top 3 attributes:
- Full body workout – Ideally a machine that recruits upper and lower body muscle groups in the same movement.
- Intensity – Equipment where you can increase the intensity, either through increased resistance or by making the movement more challenging e.g. performed at a steep incline
- Encourages muscle stabilization – You want to load your muscles up with as much work as possible, which is easiest when you’re recruiting stabilizer muscles. Try to find equipment that relies on minimal contact. Jacobs Ladder is an excellent example as you’re to keep moving.
A similar machine to the Jacobs Ladder, but relies more heavily on your own bodyweight and doesn’t give you a stable platform on which to stand.
This constant movement of upper and lower body muscle groups is the reason it’s our number one choice of fitness equipment for rapid weight loss.
There are a number of variations available, each of which can be tailored to suit a variety of body types and personal fitness levels.
Some models – like the Versaclimber Sport – can also create more challenging workouts thanks to their built-in resistance options, which range all the way up to 550 lbs. Others, like the Versaclimber Sportsmedical, enable you to isolate muscle groups more effectively, making it an excellent option for rehabilitation exercise.
Despite being one of the higher priced machines on our list, the Versaclimber still costs about the same as top-of-the-line treadmill, elliptical, or stairclimber.
It also has the advantage of having a relatively small footprint, which means it takes up less space in the home. You can even adjust the step and arm height to suit your stride length and preferred workout pace – 4-6″ for shorter, faster steps, or 20″ steps for full body stretching and maximum muscle recruitment.
Since the first Airdyne was released by Schwinn they’ve produced several different versions, each based around the same basic design. This includes the Schwinn AD2, Schwinn AD4, Schwinn AD6, and most recently, the Schwinn Airdyne AD Pro.
The Airdyne is unlike any other form of exercise bike. They have longer handles similar to the ones you find on an exercise bike/elliptical hybrid trainer, but no rollers or platforms to support a running stride motion.
Instead you remain seated as you would on an upright bike. You can then choose to hold onto the handles and pedal for a total body workout, or rest your feet on the pegs either side of the main fan to isolate your upper body.
Unlike most home exercise bikes, there’s no magnetic resistance system to control the intensity of your workouts. This is what makes the Airdyne so unique.
With conventional exercise bikes they provide you with a maximum number of resistance levels, usually controlled by a series of electromagnets around the flywheel. Because the Airdyne relies on a large fan and wind resistance is exponential, the harder you pedal, the higher the resistance becomes.
One of the things we love about the Airdyne is how focussed the design is around high intensity workouts, making it perfect for interval training (Tabata, HIIT, etc.).
Although you won’t find any full color, web-enabled screen like on some of the NordicTrack exercise bikes, a simple to use LCD keeps you updated with all your important workout information.
This is through a system called BioConnect® Feedback, and offers a wider range of features as you move from the early AD2 model through to their most recent AD Pro bike.
With the AD2 you can track your RPM, distance, time, and number of calories burned, with no preset workout programs. The Schwinn AD Pro is much more advanced, featuring 9 interval and target goal programs, and providing feedback for additional metrics such as Watts, Speed, and Heart Rate.
3) NordicTrack Incline Trainer
As the name suggests, the key feature that makes this machine so efficient at calorie burning is its gradient, which adjusts from -6° to 40° on their top-of-the-line X11i model.
Even at such a steep incline, the 4.25 CHP motor is capable of powering the treadbelt to a top speed of 12 mph, which is the same as you’ll find on almost all treadmills.
NordicTrack’s Reflex™ Cushioning system is used to absorb much of the impact when running, protecting your knees and joints. Because these are fitted as isolator cushions near the heel strike position, you’re still able to maintain strength and stability when you push off with your toes.
This is actually the only cardio machine in our collection to feature top-of-the-line entertainment options, with an iPod compatible sound system, adjustable tablet holder, and 10″ web-enabled color touchscreen as standard.
Bowflex have put together a similar design that attempts to combine the best features from 3 other well known types of cardio machine – the elliptical, stairclimber, and treadmill.
Although the Bowflex TreadClimber is probably the most well known version, and highly rated in reviews, Star Trac have also produced their own range of high-end machines which can often be found in commercial gyms across the country.
Unfortunately the belt speed is considerably less than that of NordicTrack’s Incline Trainers, and the maximum gradient is much shallower.
This is why we haven’t included them as one of the best machines for fast weight loss. But if you’re looking for more of a steady-state cardio machine with low-impact on your joints, they’re still an excellent option.
Other Cardio Machines Worth Considering
Although the list above is our top 3 for rapid weight loss, there are plenty of other cardio machines that are excellent for improving your conditioning, muscle tone, and overall personal fitness.
If you can’t find anything that matches your budget or space requirements in the list above, or are simply looking for a different form of cardio, it’s also worth looking at the Jacobs Ladder, Concept2 Indoor Rower, and SkiErg.
The only downside is that these aren’t small machines, and they’re not as affordable as some of the options in our top 3. In fact, although it can’t be folded and is arguably the best indoor rower in the world, the Concept2 is the most affordable and space efficient (usually priced around $900 with the PM5 monitor).
Unless you live near a gym that has a VersaClimber or SkiErg, it’s also probably the most practical option to try before buying. Still, they all have their benefits.
The Concept2 rower is the most popular amongst commercial and home gyms, which led to the creation of an active and growing community who are passionate about rowing workouts and getting the most out of this machine. It’s also widely used in CrossFit, and combines well with many modern fitness routines.
Another of the unique products to come from Concept2 is their SkiErg (ski ergometer), which is designed to build strength and endurance.
It does this using the same flywheel resistance system as the indoor rower mentioned above, with a Nordic skiing motion that recruits your muscles in your legs, arms, and core. An advanced monitor (PM5) is also included for providing accurate performance feedback.
Despite a recommended workout duration of just 20-25 minutes, the Jacobs Ladder is still an effective weight loss exercise thanks to the unique ladder climbing movement that it requires.
As with the Airdyne, SkiErg and Versa-Climber, this requires you to use your arms and legs at the same time, resulting in a higher energy expenditure and more calories burnt in a shorter time.