Looking to turbocharge your weight loss in the gym? Here’s a look at the best cardio machines for losing weight, including how many calories each machine burns.
- The Top Cardio Machines for Supercharged Weight Loss
- FAQs About Cardio Machines for Weight Loss
When it comes to shedding pounds, you just can’t beat cardio machines.
While weights burn A LOT of (sugar-based) energy at once, cardio machines encourage a slower more fat-dominant energy burn.
The “low and slow” style of energy burn enables your body to activate stored fat and utilize it more efficiently.
If your goal is to burn more fat and lose weight, you’ll definitely want to incorporate plenty of cardio on cardio machines into your regular training.
The question we’re going to answer today is: which are the best cardio machines for weight loss?
Read on to find out which machines will help you to max out fat-burning, weight loss, and muscle growth to help you take your fitness to the next level.
Let’s get this thing going!
The Top Cardio Machines for Supercharged Weight Loss
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the best cardio machines to help you step up your weight loss efforts, list their key benefits, and give them a rating to help you know where they stand in terms of effectiveness.
By the time you’re done with this list, you’ll know exactly which machines deserve a place in your training sessions!
Cardio Machine #1: Rowing Machine
If you’ve ever worked out on a rowing machine, you’ll know exactly why it earned our #1 spot as the best cardio machine for weight loss overall!
The reason is simple: no other cardio machine on our list works the entire body.
When you go through the rowing motion, you work almost every single muscle in your body:
- Upper back
- Lower back
Read that list, and you can see the only three muscles missing are your pectorals, triceps, and obliques. Otherwise, it’s a highly effective “Pull” workout that demands effort from the majority of your muscles.
What’s great about the rowing machine is that you can start off easy to warm up, then pick up the intensity to make it as demanding a workout as you can handle.
Alternate between high and low intensity to go the HIIT route, increase the difficulty to add a bit more muscle-building, or go for a low-and-slow hour-long rowing workout to maximize fat-burning.
It’s an incredibly versatile option when it comes to working out, and it’s excellent for training your posterior chain muscles from your shoulders down to your legs.
Rowing at 100 watts—roughly 2:30 per 500 meters, which is a moderate pace—you can burn up to 700 calories in an hour.
Our Rating: 10/10
Cardio Machine #2: Treadmill (for HIIT)
On most lists of the “best cardio machines for weight loss”, the treadmill will be present (because it’s awesome!) but ranked much lower. Typically, it earns a lower ranking because it’s often used for walking (very low-intensity and low fat/calorie-burning).
But I give it a higher ranking because it’s easy to take it from “low and slow” walking or jogging workouts to a max-intensity, ultra-effective workout with some minor adjustments. In this case, simply turning up the speed for sprint training.
Sprint training is a form of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that involves periods of high-intensity sprinting (typically 30 to 45 seconds) followed by periods of low-intensity walking or jogging (typically 90 to 120 seconds).
Over a 20-minute sprint training workout, you can burn upwards of 1,000 calories.
Yes, read that again: more than ONE THOUSAND CALORIES!
During the periods of high-intensity sprinting, you’ll burn chiefly glycogen-based energy, but you’ll end up burning lipid-based energy during the low-intensity periods and in the hours following the workout.
HIIT training is the only form of cardio that increases your post-workout metabolism on par with resistance training, leading to hours of additional calorie-burning even after you finish training.
If you use the treadmill just for a light jog or walk, you won’t get the max benefits out of it. But the fact that you can ramp up the speed to a full sprint ensures you get a truly kickass workout session guaranteed to leave you sweating and drained in just 15-25 minutes.
Our Rating: 9/10 (if used for HIIT)
Cardio Machine #3: Jacob’s Ladder
The Jacob’s Ladder isn’t one of the most popular cardio machines around, but that’s largely because not all gyms have them. However, if your gym has one, you’ll definitely want to use it!
The Jacob’s Ladder is, essentially, an endless ladder. It’s a simple machine—just keep climbing, one hand and foot at a time—but the workout is far more difficult than you realize. In fact, it’s one of the most physically demanding of the cardio machines you can use.
The reason for this is that the Jacob’s Ladder places all of your weight onto one leg as you climb, using all of the muscles in your lower body to propel yourself up the never-ending ladder. For people with large feet (like me), a lot of that strain goes right onto your calf muscles because you have to step only on your forefoot.
See also: The Best Gym Machines for HIIT Workouts
Even if you maintain a slow climb, you’ll find that you’re breathing hard and dripping sweat in just 10-15 minutes. For most people, a 20-30 minute workout at moderate pace is incredibly difficult and exhausting. All you have to do to make the workout harder is speed up your pace.
Trust me, give it a try, and you’ll walk away with a whole new respect for anyone who climbs ladders for a living!
Our Rating: 8/10
Cardio Machine #4: Assault Bike
The assault bike is a wonderful piece of equipment!
These bikes—for example, the Rogue echo bike you’ll find at so many gyms—feature an flywheel that spins faster as you pedal and pump the provided handles (using your hands).
Unlike the standard stationary bike, you’re mixing both upper and lower body exercise, getting your core engaged as both halves of your body work. Ultimately, you end up with an exponentially more effective—and versatile—workout because of the way the assault bike is designed.
The great thing about assault bikes: the faster you pedal, the harder it gets.
The variable resistance increases as the flywheel spins faster, meaning all you have to do to up the intensity and muscle-building effect is just move faster.
While the assault bike (which goes by air bike, fan bike, as well) is one of the best machines for HIIT sessions, it still gets high marks for overall weight loss and the slow-and-steady cardio workouts for maximum fat burning.
You can burn an average of 300 calories in just 20 minutes at a moderate speed, and increasing your pace will help you to torch some serious fat!
Our Rating: 8/10
Cardio Machine #5: Stair Climber
Climbing stairs isn’t quite as difficult as climbing a ladder, but it still makes for a great workout!
The stair climber machine still forces your leg muscles to lift your entire body weight with each step upward, which helps to build a lot of power in your lower body.
(Trainer’s Note: Typically, stair climber workouts are more quad- and calf-focused, though it’s easy to adapt to a more glute-focused session if so desired.)
Like all the other cardio machines, you can increase the intensity and difficulty of your training session by simply speeding up the rate of your climb. It’s not quite as efficient as stair-running (in stadiums or highrises), but you can still put in some serious effort hauling yourself up as many staircases as you want.
You can burn around 200 to 300 calories in a 30-minute workout if you push the pace a bit faster, and you’ll develop excellent lower body power.
Our Rating: 7/10
Cardio Machine #6: Spin Bike
Finally, we’ve got the spin bike. It’s designed much like any other exercise bike, but with one exception: it’s used for spinning classes, which are far more varied (and challenging) than just a steady-state cycling session.
With spinning classes, you’ve got an instructor controlling the pace and terrain, so you end up tackling some pretty intense challenges (steep inclines, high speeds, pedaling standing up, etc.) that take your workout to the next level of fat-burning.
Though it’s not the most effective piece of exercise equipment, spinning bikes used in a spin class can be a great way to take your overall fitness up a notch through a high-intensity training session.
Our Rating: 7/10
FAQs About Cardio Machines for Weight Loss
How do cardio machines help you lose weight?
It all comes down to the way your body utilizes the energy it has available…
You have two primary energy sources: glycogen and stored lipids.
Glycogen is produced from sugar and protein, and it is typically easy to burn. Your body stores around 380-480 calories’ worth of glycogen in your liver and bloodstream, which can be utilized easily and instantly as soon as you start exercising.
Lipids, however, tend to be stored more as inert fat cells (often around your midsection) as a preventative measure against starvation. While there are some lipids floating around in your bloodstream (in the form of triglycerides and cholesterol), the majority are stored.
To utilize them (as energy), your body has to transform them into a burnable form through a process called lipolysis, which is triggered by exercise (or fasting, but that’s a story for another day).
Now, when you do high-intensity exercise or exercise that demands a lot of energy to be utilized at once (such as when lifting a very heavy weight), your body burns through the easily available glycogen.
Only once it starts running out of glycogen does it turn to the lipid-based energy that is slower to mobilize and harder to burn.
Typically, you’ll burn ONLY glycogen during the first 10 minutes of your exercise, and only then with sustained energy output will your body start working to mobilize fat. This means that it takes even longer to get to the stored fats!
However, once the stored fats are mobilized, they’re available to burn in much larger quantities than glycogen. Every pound of fat has 3,500 calories worth of energy. The more you mobilize and burn, the more fat weight you lose. Pretty simple, right?
The great thing about cardio machines is that they encourage you to exercise for longer.
Rather than being a high-intensity or high-energy-demanding workout, they’re “low and slow”—slower speed, lower intensity, and thus lower energy-demanding.
Over the duration of your cardio workout—anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes—you can burn a lot of lipids (fat) in addition to glycogen because the slower pace and prolonged exercise duration gives your body time to mobilize fat and absorb enough oxygen (through your breathing) to burn those lipids.
Thus, you end up burning a lot more fat over the course of your workout than you would doing higher-intensity, more glycogen-demanding resistance training.
One thing to know is that cardio burns most of its energy during the workout, with only minimal energy burn afterward. Resistance training, on the other hand, burns a lot more energy once the workout is done, and much of the energy utilized is fat-based.
It’s for this reason that resistance training is ultimately more effective for long-term fat loss than cardio. Also, research suggests that a combination of both resistance training and cardio is fastest for weight loss1.
Which cardio machine is the best for burning belly fat?
The machine that burns the most energy is the one that is best for burning belly fat. Remember, you can’t “spot burn” (burn fat in a specific body part), but you burn body fat overall.
The treadmill, when used for HIIT training, will be the most effective cardio machine for burning belly fat. However, the rowing machine comes in a close second, because you’re constantly contracting your abdominal muscles as you move through the rowing motion. More muscle contractions = more energy burned from the nearest available source, i.e. your belly fat.
How often can you use a cardio machine for weight loss for fast results?
There are two ways you can approach cardio workouts:
- Utilizing them as a “finisher” to burn more fat after you’ve already burned through most of your glycogen-based energy when resistance training. This means doing a 20 to 30-minute cardio workout after your regular weightlifting.
- Using them as an “extra” to target your cardiovascular fitness specifically. Typically, you’d use the cardio machines either on your day off from weight training, or you take an entire week off to give your muscles a break and focus on cardiovascular endurance.
Both offer excellent approaches to using cardio machines for weight loss, and keeps them in their rightful place as useful additions to the fat-burning effects of resistance training.
What is the best program to use on a cardio machine?
Steady-state, low-intensity cardio enables you to burn more fat over a longer period of time, while high intensity interval training burns more glycogen initially over a shorter period of time, but increases your metabolism to continue the fat-burning for hours after training.
Ultimately, HIIT ends up burning more fat than a much longer low-intensity workout.
The Bottom Line
If you want to get fit and lose weight, cardio absolutely deserves a place in your workout.
While your priority should be resistance training—because that’s what burns the most calories and turns fat into muscle—working in cardio sessions around your weightlifting is crucial for taking your fitness to the next level.
Thanks to the list above, you can make the most of your cardio sessions and get the best bang for your buck with every workout!
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