There are plenty of equipment options on the cardio floor, and knowing what each one does best will give you a better idea of where you should spend your time.

First up, you should consider your level of fitness, your goals and your preferences. You want a machine that is compatible with any needs you may have, such as low impact on your joints, but you also want to use a machine that offers an activity that you enjoy. If you’re not a running fan, chances are you’ll have a hard time sticking to a treadmill regimen. Likewise, if you’re looking for high intensity, a recumbent bike routine may leave you feeling underwhelmed.

Also it’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t do — so if you have concerns, you can talk to a personal trainer before you start a new workout routine.

Once you’re ready to go, you have plenty of options on the cardio floor …


A true fitness staple, the treadmill has earned its long-standing reputation as an excellent piece of equipment for cardio conditioning.

What makes the treadmill stand out:

  • Ability to change speed and incline means you can fine-tune your exertion level
  • You can maintain a natural stride
  • Strengthens muscles around the hips, knees, ankles and other weight-bearing joints because there’s no added support


  • Not ideal for people who cannot tolerate moderate joint stress
  • Lacks upper-body component
  • If you have poor running form, the treadmill does not provide any corrections

Do some social and fitness multitasking by substituting your next coffee date with a cardio power hour. Having a friend on the treadmill next to you can be totally motivating, plus running will leave you feeling way better than a mocha sprinkle latte.


The elliptical is not only an effective, low-impact piece of equipment, but it’s also a blast to use.

What makes the elliptical stand out:

  • Low impact on joints
  • Guided foot trajectory emulates natural movement
  • Burns approximately the same number of calories as a treadmill
  • Handlebars offer an upper-body component to the workout
  • Changing the incline shifts which muscles are being used, helping to postpone fatigue and allowing you to work out longer


  • Lacks the muscle-building benefits of impact exercises
  • Your exertion is assisted somewhat by the equipment’s momentum

The elliptical has a magic-like ability to feel less exhausting than running, yet it burns nearly as many calories as a treadmill. What’s not to love about that?

Stationary Bike

Indoor cycling perfectly pairs a fierce cardio workout with a fun group environment.

What makes the stationary bike stand out:

  • With its handlebars and saddle positioned at approximately the same height, the stationary bike looks and feels similar to a bicycle that you would ride outdoors.
  • In contrast to upright bikes, which you’ll usually find on the gym floor with the other cardio equipment, stationary bikes are sometimes located in their own room and are used for cycling classes.
  • Lower impact on joints than running on a treadmill
  • Cycling classes offer a motivating group setting for your workout
  • If you have poor balance, you’re less likely to fall off of a bike than a treadmill
  • You have immediate, manual control over resistance


  • May burn fewer calories than a treadmill or elliptical because a large percentage of your bodyweight is supported by the seat
  • Often lacks pre-programmed workouts

If you’re a people person who loves a good beat, there’s a bike in cycling class with your name on it. Hop in the saddle and get riding!

Stair Climber

The stair climber provides an excellent functional fitness workout that will get your heart pumping and strengthen your legs.

What makes the stair climber stand out:

  • Emulates the functional, real-life motion of climbing
  • Builds lower-body strength
  • Training hands free offers a good core and balance challenge


  • Lacks an upper-body component

The next time you use a stair climber, picture yourself ascending Mount Everest to power you through your workout. By the end, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.

So which piece of equipment is perfect for you? We came up with a little cheat sheet to help you decide. Keep in mind, you don’t have to choose just one!

Cardio cheat sheet

Here’s the equipment rundown based on what you’re aiming to achieve:

If you want …

To improve running speed and endurance

Improve general endurance with minimal stress on your joints

Constant high-intensity exercise
Treadmill or bike

To train for a hiking trip
Stair climber

To improve your overall health
Try a circuit that incorporates five minutes per equipment type

Guided interval training
Elliptical using pre-programmed workouts

Elliptical or recumbent bike

Strengthen your core and improve cardio conditioning

The treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike and stair climber will all give you a solid cardio workout, so try each of them to find out which is your dream machine. (And if you need extra guidance, talk to a trainer about developing a personalized workout plan to help you reach your goals.)