Cardio is a must-have in any weight-loss plan. It engages many larger muscle groups and gets your heart and lungs working overtime, which uses up a lot of energy (ahem, calories). When paired with a healthy diet, cardio exercise can help you reach the calorie deficit you need to lose weight.
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You can do cardio practically anywhere, but it's tough to beat the convenience and variety you can get from at-home exercise equipment. With a cardio machine, you don't have to battle changing weather conditions, crowds or street traffic just to get your workout done. Plus, at-home exercise equipment for weight loss is often safer than outdoor cardio options if you have achy joints, trouble hearing or limited vision.
Thanks to new technology and improved designs, you can easily find a cardio machine for weight loss that fits your budget and space. Here are several options to get you started.
How We Chose
We tapped two personal trainers for their top recommendations for home exercise equipment for weight loss and what to keep in mind when shopping. As for the products themselves, we scoured the internet to find options that are:
How We Calculated Calories Burned
We used a resource provided by Harvard Health Publishing that lists estimates for the number of calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different body weights. We used the estimate for a 155-pound person and multiplied it by two to get calories burned per hour. Some activities provide estimates for different intensity levels. For those, we list a range to reflect how many calories you can expect to burn at a lower intensity and how many you’ll burn at a higher intensity.
If you want a more personalized estimate, check out this online calculator from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Enter your body weight, the time you spent exercising and your activity of choice to get an idea of how many calories you burned.
Calories burned per hour: 576 to 1,124*
*Harvard Health doesn’t provide estimates for treadmill running specifically, so we used the information listed for running at a pace of 5 miles per hour (mph) and 10 mph.
There's a reason many people gravitate toward the treadmill when exercising for weight loss: It offers one of the highest calorie burns of all the cardio machines.
Of course, the extent of your burn depends on your intensity and duration, but treadmills give you plenty of room to experiment. "Treadmills have a variety of speed settings and inclines, which means they're suitable for all fitness levels and give you plenty of options to progress your workouts as you adapt over time," says Lynsey Suzanne Treharne, CPT, co-founder of Fitness in 15.
You can use the treadmill for steady-state walking, jogging and running, or increase the intensity (and overall calorie expenditure) by cranking up the speed and/or incline.
Some treadmills even come with screens that allow you to stream a variety of live and on-demand running classes. Following along with an instructor can take the guesswork out of creating a treadmill workout for weight loss.
Shop These Treadmills
- Echelon Stride Auto-Fold Connected Treadmill ($1,299.99, Echelon)
- Sunny Health and Fitness Foldable Walking Compact Treadmill ($399.99, Sunny Health and Fitness)
- NordicTrack Commercial 1750 ($1,899, NordicTrack)
Calories burned per hour: 648
An elliptical is a great option for getting in a low-impact cardio workout. But if you're looking to maximize your calorie burn, be sure to manipulate the elevation, resistance and stride length instead of simply cruising and reading a magazine. Playing with the elevation, resistance and stride length will increase the demand on your heart and muscles, helping you use up more calories during your workout.
While the elliptical primarily works the lower body, you can grip the handles on either side and pump your arms. This will allow you to engage your arms and core to make it a full-body workout, says Tami Smith, CPT, an ACE-certified personal trainer and the owner of Fit Healthy Momma. Keep in mind that the more muscles you use, the more calories you'll expend.
Shop These Ellipticals
3. Stationary Bike
Calories burned per hour: 504 to 556
Pedaling in place can get your heart rate up pretty high without the intense jarring on your joints that you get with running, Smith says. This makes the stationary bike another solid pick for anyone looking for a low-impact workout that still burns plenty of calories for weight loss.
Cycling is a lower body-focused activity, but your core will also do a lot of work, "especially if you're moving in and out of the saddle during your workout," Smith says. So be sure to lift your rear out of your seat every so often and/or crank up the resistance to really up the intensity of your ride. This may encourage greater weight loss.
Recumbent bikes, which position the rider to lean back, so their legs are almost entirely straight, won't be as challenging as the upright bikes you see in spin classes. However, they're still a good option for older adults or those recovering from an injury like a torn ACL who need a safer cardio option.
Shop These Stationary Bikes
Calories burned per hour: 504 to 738
Rowing has the distinct honor of being one of the few cardio activities that's truly a full-body workout. "Rowers are awesome for weight loss because they engage around 86 percent of your body's muscles at once, which means you're getting a ton of bang for your buck," Smith says. Specifically, every pull recruits your legs, glutes, core, back, shoulders and arms.
Another perk is that rowing is low-impact, which means you can get an intense workout that's still easy on the joints.
It's also a pretty safe way to exercise if you have vision problems. An August 2015 study in Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine took a small group of visually impaired adults and had them perform an indoor rowing workout five days a week. After six weeks, they had lost a significant amount of body fat and decreased their body fat percentage. Keep in mind, however, that more than half of the people had obesity at the beginning of the study.
Shop These Rowers
Calories burned per hour: 432
Stepmills may not be as popular as they were back in the day, but they still provide a good workout, Smith says. Because stepmills use rotating steps, using one is like climbing a never-ending flight of stairs. So, expect to feel the same lung-busting, thigh-burning effects you get from scaling a steep incline.
The benefit of getting your steps on a stepmill, as opposed to a hill or flight of stairs, is that it forces you to stick with whichever pace (also known as "step rate") you selected. If you get fatigued, you can't automatically slow down — you have to tell the machine to do that for you. This may help you keep up your intensity longer than if you were free to self-adjust. The result: More calories burned.
How to Choose the Best Machine for You
Figure out where you can fit a machine in your home and measure the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Make sure you account for any extra space you may need if you plan to roll out a yoga mat for floor exercises. Then, compare your measurements to the machine specs. Consider: "Will it fit comfortably?" Smith says.
You may want to look at folding machines if you have limited space or need to share your workout area with your living room.
The machine that burns the most calories isn't necessarily the best option. Instead, consider what types of movement you prefer and how much variety you need. Ask yourself: "What won't feel like a chore?" Smith says. Because when you enjoy exercise and can switch things up as often as you need, you'll be better able to stay consistent with your workout routine. And the more consistent you are, the better your weight-loss results.
Aside from the cost of the actual machine, be sure to note whether there's a monthly membership fee. "Connected fitness machines are great, but the majority require you to pay monthly to access their content, so be sure to factor that into your budget," Smith says.
4. How Quickly You Want to Lose Weight
Cardio workouts that are higher intensity (like running) and/or recruit more muscles (like rowing and the elliptical) tend to burn the most calories, which may help you lose weight more quickly.
But regardless of which cardio machine you choose, keep in mind that your weight-loss results will primarily come down to the time and effort you put in during your workout and the calorie deficit you create throughout the day, Treharne says.