Cardiovascular machines, commonly known as cardio machines, can be found in commercial and home gyms, with a range of functions, features, sizes, and prices.
This article outlines five cardio machines you might want to consider for your home gym, which include:
- Exercise bikes
- Ellipticals (aka cross trainers)
- Rowers (aka ergometer, indoor rower or rowing machine)
These cardio machines provide a low-impact workout routine, being a good alternative to high-impact routines such as running. This means they put much less stress and strain on your muscles and joints. They can also be useful in rehabilitation and recovery.
Considerations when purchasing a cardio machine include: the type of exercise you enjoy and can sustain over time, price, size, weight, space, features, and functions.
An exercise bike is a stationary bicycle, which is used as exercise equipment for indoor cycling. Minus the wheels and brakes, the exercise bike will resemble and have the same features as a ‘normal’ bike, including a saddle, pedals, and handlebars. Types include:
- Upright (aka static) bikes: An upright seat position and higher handlebars;
- Spin bikes: Have lower handlebars and geometry similar to a road bike; and
- Recumbent bikes: The seat is slightly reclined and your feet are in front of your body; a useful model for those with reduced mobility.
- Pricing affects (among others):
- · Build quality (you get what you pay for); and
- · Monitors (more/better features and quality of monitor the more you pay).
Exercise bikes are primarily useful for your calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps; although they are also useful for your core, back, and glutes. Of course the exact benefit and muscles used depends on the model you purchase.
Finally, exercise bikes can be more compact than a treadmill or rowing machine.
A treadmill is a device generally used for walking, running, or climbing while staying in the same place. They are generally powered by an electric motor or a flywheel, rather than user power.
Price affects the features offered. For example, the more expensive, heavy-duty versions are motor-driven (usually by an electric motor). The simpler, lighter, and less expensive versions passively resist the motion, moving only when the user pushes the belt with their feet (known as manual treadmills). Other features include bluetooth and LCD touchscreens which provide feedback and even enable you to stream training programmes.
Many treadmills also offer a range of speed and incline settings, which means fitness enthusiasts – from novices to veterans – can utilise them for their training.
Another important feature is weight (sometimes overlooked), ranging from lightweight to fairly heavy. With this in mind, treadmills can be placed in one of five categories:
|Manual||1. Manual treadmills are a lighter and cheaper option than motorised treadmills.|
2. These treadmills are more straightforward than electric options, offering few features outside of a treadmill belt and handrails.
3. However, they are a good option for home use and are overall a safer option, as they stop moving when the user stops walking or running.
4. Many manual treadmills are also foldable, so if you have a small space or need one that you can easily store, this type might work for you.
|Motorised||1. Motorised treadmills require a main power source for the electric motor and often have more automatic power settings than manual treadmills.|
2. Offering a range of speeds and inclines, these treadmills also often include LCD displays, which stream video to enhance your workout.
3. Much larger than manual treadmills, motorised treadmills do not easily store in a home.
|Commercial||1. These treadmills have built in continuous horsepower for use in a commercial gym setting.|
2. They often feature a heart rate monitor, interactive digital screen, cushioned running deck, and motor incline setting for commercial use.
3. While commonly used in gyms, commercial treadmills also work well in home gyms – though keep in mind that they are a more expensive option.
|Hybrid||1. Known for their durability, hybrid treadmills, also called treadclimbers, are more costly than other treadmill types.|
2. They offer users the benefits of both a treadmill and an elliptical machine.
|Medical||1. Medical treadmills, also known as zero gravity or anti-gravity treadmills, allow users to walk or run at a lower percent of body weight.|
2. They are generally used for preventative rehabilitation.
An elliptical trainer (frequently termed a ‘cross-trainer’) is a stationary exercise machine used to stair climb, walk, or run. Like other cardio machines, ellipticals can be used without causing excessive pressure to your joints, and thereby decreasing the risk of impact injuries. As the lower impact affects them less, it is for this reason that people with some injuries can use an elliptical to stay fit.
Depending on how it is used, an elliptical trainer can engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, chest, back, triceps, and biceps; thereby giving you a full-body workout. An elliptical trainer can do this because it will have handle levers which are pushed and pulled in synchronisation with your leg movements.
Ellipticals can be placed in one of seven categories:
|Standard||1. Most people are probably familiar with the standard elliptical trainer.|
2. This machine features foot pedals that you will stand on with a handlebar to hold onto in front.
3. Unlike some ellipticals, this trainer features a handlebar that does not move, which means you will primarily work your lower body parts, such as your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as you move the pedals in a circular motion.
|Elliptical Cross-Trainers||1. If you are looking for a full-body workout, then you should consider an elliptical cross-trainer.|
2. What sets this type apart and works your entire body is the moveable handles that work your arms, in addition to the pedals for your lower body that you find in most ellipticals.
3. When you are pushing and pulling with the handles of an elliptical cross-trainer, you are targeting your elbows, shoulders, back, and chest at the same time you are pedalling and working your lower body.
|Glider||1. The next elliptical machine you can get is called a glider.|
2. An elliptical glider looks very similar to a standard elliptical.
The main distinction is that the pedals do not rotate in a circular motion.
3. Instead, the elliptical glider pedals move up and down in a backward motion, but you also have the option to get more resistance by moving forward.
4. You essentially glide while you are using the machine, hence its name, and the leg and hip extension movements on an elliptical glider will give your legs a good workout.
|Recumbent||1. Not every elliptical requires you to stand up as you use the machine.|
2. A recumbent elliptical trainer machine allows you to sit down as you work out.
3. The difference between a recumbent elliptical and a recumbent exercise bike is the pedalling motion, which is longer and has a lower impact on joints.
4. A recumbent elliptical also features a handle on each side of the machine that you can move forward and back like a cross-trainer.
5. It provides plenty of comfortability and adjustment options, making it the perfect piece of equipment for those who might have limited mobility.
|Centre Drive||1. There are also elliptical machines in which the location of the flywheel is their defining characteristic.|
2. Centre drive ellipticals are relatively new machines that are great for home use because they are compact.
3. A central drive elliptical trainer can also give you a full-body cardio workout like a cross-trainer with moveable handlebars that mimic a walk or jog.
|Front Drive||1. Another elliptical characterised by the location of the flywheel is known as a front drive elliptical trainer.|
2. For this type of elliptical, the more vertical range in motion is very similar to a stair climber.
3. The machine is also known as a shuffle trainer and is a great option for those looking for an option that is closer to the ground in their home gym.
|Rear Drive||1. The final elliptical trainer that you can get is called a rear drive elliptical trainer, and it is the oldest option available, patented by Precor in the 1990s.|
2. As its name suggests, the rear drive elliptical trainer puts the flywheel in the back of the machine, allowing for a longer stride in the front of the machine with the pedals in the centre.
An indoor rower, or rowing machine, is a machine used to simulate the action of watercraft rowing for the purpose of exercise or training for rowing. They may also be referred to as ergometers because they can measure the work performed by the rower (which are measured in ergs).
They provide a full-body workout utilising your upper and lower body with each stroke, with variable resistance to make a session harder or easier depending on what you wish to achieve. They are also generally lighter than a treadmill or elliptical trainer.
Rowers will help to exercise the following muscles: trapezius, latissimus dorsi, biceps, abdominals, obliques, quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals. They can be placed in one of five categories:
|Air||1. Also known as air resistance or flywheel rowing machines.|
2. Uses a flywheel which turns as pull on the handle.
3. One of the most popular and common types of rowing machines.
4. Air rowing machines have been around since the 1980s and many consider them the best type of rower.
5. Often referred to as ergos, they are the standard model for the indoor sport of rowing.
6. Often found in commercial gyms.
|Magnetic||1. Another popular type of rowing machine – especially for use in the home.|
2. They also use a flywheel, which use magnets that move closer to and further from the flywheel to create resistance.
3. The resistance mechanism makes them easily the quietest of all types available and they are more compact than water rowers and air rowing machines.
|Water/Fluid||1. One of the newer innovations in rowing machine technology and use water and paddles to create resistance.|
2. Whilst many competitive rowers prefer air rowers, many people like the quieter, smoother action of water machines.
|Hydraulic||1. They use pistons attached to handles, and force is created by pulling against fluid in each hydraulic piston.|
2. They have two major benefits – the low price, and they are smaller quieter than flywheel rowers.
3. Otherwise they are considered the poor relation in the rowing machine world and a number of commentators suggest their days may be numbered.
|Hybrid||1. Hybrid rowing machines are less common than others.|
2. They use a combination of both air resistance and magnetic resistance.
3. This has a lot of advantages, providing the best of both kinds of rowers.
4.They offer a highly adjustable range of resistance, plus it increases the harder you row.
5. You also can get a more realistic rowing feeling, thanks to the friction of the air resistance.
Did you know that Chabrias, an Athenian admiral of the 4th century BC, introduced the first rowing machines as supplemental military training devices?
“To train inexperienced oarsmen, Chabrias built wooden rowing frames onshore where beginners could learn technique and timing before they went onboard ship.” (John R. Hale. Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy. First published in 2009).
A stepmill machine (aka rotating staircase) looks like an escalator of moving steps and resembles a staircase, but should not be confused with a step machine (aka stepper) which has two peddles that you stand on and pump up and down.
Both the stepmill and step machine allow the user to mimic walking up steps. They also are cardio machines that exercise your lower half including the quadriceps, buttocks and hamstrings, but they have different names because they are different machines.
As such there is a lot of confusion between stepmill and step machines; both were introduced by the StairMaster company. In 1983, the Stairmaster 5000 debuted as the first stepmill, and was soon followed by the StairMaster 4000PT (which has two independent pedals). The most recent Stairmaster release (independent pedals model) has gained popularity over the original stepmill model. Generally speaking, stepmill and stairmill refers to the rotating staircase model, and ‘Stairmaster’ (step machine) refers to the pedal climber model.
Depending on how you use your Stepmill, it will provide the same results as walking, running, or climbing the stairs. Each step on a Stepmill is 8-inch high, the equivalent of the standard staircase step, resulting in a complete stair climbing experience in a real-life scenario.
Using a stepmill requires the user to lift their feet and plant them on the machine in a walking or running motion up the staircase.
This article has provided a quick overview of five cardio machines you might want to consider for your home gym. Although the all help to develop and maintain your health and fitness, how they achieve it varies. There are a variety of cardio machines, with at least one being a fit for the type of exercise you enjoy. Finally, although price may be your primary concern, do not forget about other elements such as size, weight, space, and functions.