Woman on treadmill doing cardio

Cardiovascular training, better known as “cardio”, is the process of working to improve your heart and lung health. It mostly relies upon the aerobic energy system – a system in which the body expends energy – to complete the exercises. The aerobic energy system is the one that utilizes fats as energy, which is why cardiovascular training is a great way to help reduce body fat and encourage weight loss. A surplus of cardio equipment exists at almost any gym or health club for this purpose. But do you know which of the commonly used pieces of cardio equipment are best for you? Here are some pros and cons/things to remember for some of the most popular types of cardio equipment available.

Keep in mind, you should always have the approval of a health care provider before going through any exercise regimen!

The Treadmill


The treadmill is what most commonly comes to peoples’ mind when they hear the word “cardio”. The treadmill is great because it allows you to work out at any time because it is not weather dependent like walking or running outside. Another benefit of the treadmill is that it is multifunctional. Walking, jogging, and running are only the tip of the iceberg as to what you are able to do on a treadmill. Personally, I like to be a little more creative with my clients and will include walking lunges, side shuffles, walking planks and more!

Cons/Things to Remember

Some of the downfalls of the treadmill are in large part due to user error. It is considered a high-impact exercise, so when used improperly it can cause damage to joints – specifically the ankles, knees, and hips. Another commonly seen misuse of the treadmill is that people will loop a towel over the top handle of it and hold on while walking at the highest incline. This inhibits proper arm movement and signifies that the speed is too high. This also holds true for those people who hold on to the side rails. Another problem with only using the treadmill to walk, jog or run is that you’re only focusing on the quads and glutes and are getting no other muscle development in other parts of the leg.

The Stationary/Spin Bike


Biking, either indoors or outdoors, is another favorite of exercise enthusiasts and people looking to get healthy. It is an exercise that heavily focuses on the quads, glutes and hip flexors. It is low impact, so its great for people with bad knees or other joint issues.

Cons/Things to Remember

While the exercise itself and the classes that come with it can be fun, you could be doing yourself harm. Poor posture development (due to always being in a hunched position) can lead to low back pain and many other issues. It also is not the most efficient way to burn calories, as you are usually in a seated position which causes your heart rate to be lower than it would be if you were standing.

The Stair Master


Another machine primarily used to target the quads and glutes, the stair master is a great calorie burning exercise. In minutes you’ll be dripping sweat. While it may not be the most fun piece of cardio equipment to some, there are a lot of extra ways you can use it other than walking up the stairs. Adding a kick back with the leg will help target the glutes more, and walking sideways will target the inner and outer thighs. I use resistance bands with my clients to add some additional difficulty level.

Cons/Things to Remember

Issues that occur with the stair master include poor posture for development, which happens when people lean forward on their forearms, and joint health can be a concern if it is misused.

Related: cardio is a great fitness option, but remember, it’s not the only thing you need to be doing – especially if you want to burn fat! You need to lift weights too – here are some tips.

The Elliptical


The elliptical is another frequently used piece of equipment for gym-goers. It is a low impact exercise, so much like the stationary or spin bike, is great for people with any joint concerns. It also utilizes both upper body and lower body mechanics which allow for a more efficient calorie burn.

Cons/Things to Remember

Maintaining good posture is a must, as it is necessary in order to prevent over-flexion of the spine and neck, or in some cases, hyperextension of the spine and neck. Additionally, from my observation, many people get too complacent with the elliptical and cruise at a mild tempo, but should instead find a level at which they are challenging themselves to elicit a beneficial response. To get the full benefit, make sure you are going both forward and backward with this machine, as it will target both posterior and anterior chains.

The Rowing Machine


The seated rowing machine comes in a variety of styles, but they all function more or less the same. When used properly, the rowing machine is a great piece of cardio equipment that engages the upper body – and more specifically, the back. You can increase the resistance on the machine via resistance dial or you can add elastic resistance by adding resistance band to it. This is another low impact exercise that is great for those with lower body joint issues. It also targets the posterior chain (the back half of the body), which is often ignored in most peoples’ training sessions, often times because it is not seen directly in the mirror. By strengthening the posterior chain, you can evenly balance out your body’s muscle proportions and avoid risky conditions like scapular winging (as an example).

Cons/Things to Remember

A couple of setbacks to this piece of equipment is that it is seated, so you have to work a lot harder to get your heart rate up to burn more calories. Additionally, misuse can lead to hyperextension of the spine which can cause slip discs and low back pain.

The Arm Bike


The arm bike is a great alternative exercise for people with lower body injuries that prevent them from doing other methods of cardio that require leg power. It is also a great recovery exercise for a post-upper body day. By increasing blood flow to the area, you are providing nutrients to the muscles which enable a faster healing process.

Cons/Things to Remember

Some drawbacks of this type of cardio equipment include the fact that it is only two dimensional (it can only move forward or backward), and it is mostly used by people who are seated so calorie burn will be limited. Finally, if people do not sit with good posture while using it, they can develop low back pain and other issues.

Related: check out FFC! Click here to try us out for free.

Other Options for Cardiovascular Training

While using any of the classic exercises for cardiovascular training mentioned above is great, they can get repetitive after a while and can lead to plateaus. Instead, I like to provide my clients with countless options for them to get their heart rates elevated in a different manner. Some exercises I teach my clientele include, but not limited to; med ball slams, wall ball slams, RMT club slams, body bag/tire flips, hurdles, speed ladders, and plyometrics.

If you would like to learn how to incorporate these exercises in your own workout program and enhance your training experience, you can schedule a complimentary consultation with me at FFC Union Station. Feel free to contact me at tsutphen@ffc.com.

Post written by FFC Union Station personal trainer Tyler Sutphen.


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