Toned legs and strong glutes can do more than just boost your self confidence; they carry you throughout your day and power your walking, running and stair climbing.
And while strength training and body-weight exercises should be the first line of attack when sculpting these powerful muscles, there are a few cardio machines that can tone your legs, give your backside a nice boost and improve your overall health.
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How We Chose
To help us pick the best cardio machines for strengthening your legs, we turned to a personal trainer and strength coach for her advice and recommendations. That information helped us determine the pros and cons of each type of machine, which, in turn, helps you decide which is right for you.
Also based on our experts' criteria are specific product recommendations, which we picked based on the following areas:
- User ratings
1. Stair Climber
If you've ever wondered what if feels like to climb a mountain, then hop on one of these bad boys and start stepping. Known for giving you a sweat slogging workout, the stair climber or stepmill (a revolving staircase) is one of the best pieces of cardio equipment on the market.
Not only does it give you a fantastic aerobic workout, it also challenges your quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, hip flexors and gluteal muscles. In order to maximize your results, make sure to stand upright with your core tight and don't lean on the handrails.
"When I do a stair workout, I try to keep my hands on my hips or at my sides to give my core a little extra work," says Carolina Araujo, CPT, a New York-based strength coach. "And if I want some more glute challenge, I'll skip every other step."
Shop These Stair Climbers
- StairMaster 8-Free Climber With LCD ($6,299, Amazon)
- StairMaster SM3 Stepmill ($3,799, Amazon)
- StairMaster SMS Stepmill With 2-Window LCD Console ($4,599, Amazon)
Alongside their discipline, runners are known for their lean, powerful legs. And for good reason: Running engages all the muscles of the lower body. But, with the pros, come the cons; hitting the pavement too much can be hard on your joints.
That's why a lot of people opt for the treadmill, as it creates less impact while still offering an intense workout. You can increase the elevation for more emphasis on your calf muscles and hamstrings. Or, drop the machine below level to give your quadriceps a good burn, Araujo says.
Also, if you're a seasoned treadmill runner, you can target your inner and outer thighs by walking sideways or backward on the belt. When switching directions on the treadmill, make sure to reduce the speed and hold onto the front or sides of the machine.
Shop These Treadmills
- Echelon Stride Auto-Fold Connected Treadmill ($1,000.99, Echelon)
- Sunny Health and Fitness Foldable Walking Treadmill ($399.99, Sunny Health and Fitness)
- Woodway 4Front (price varies, Woodway)
3. Stationary Bike
One look at a cyclist's legs and it's only obvious that a bike produces some amazing results. Whether in a class or on your own, this piece of cardio equipment challenges your lower half in two different ways:
- Crank up the resistance and the push-pull movement increases the intensity by placing more tension on your quads and hamstrings.
- Lower the resistance, and you end up with a workout that is fast-paced and more endurance based.
"Investing in an at-home stationary bike was one of the best decisions I've made," Araujo says. "Considering you can add so much resistance on the bike, it's a great leg workout in addition to the cardio benefits."
Shop These Stationary Bikes
4. Rowing Machine
When rowing machines first hit the market decades ago, most hardcore exercisers didn't even give this piece of equipment a second look. But now, these machines seem to be the cornerstone of many gyms.
The rowing stroke starts with a powerful leg push that immediately engages the large muscles of your lower body. But, in order to keep your lower back safe and the emphasis on your legs, hips, and glutes, make sure to keep your core tight for the entire workout.
Shop These Rowing Machines
The elliptical machine is a smart alternative for those looking to reduce the pounding on their body from running outside or on a treadmill. The basic design of the machine makes it less stressful for your knees, hips and back.
While the elliptical is generally considered a low- to moderate-impact activity, there are ways to up the intensity, without increasing the strain on your body.
"Don't underestimate the elliptical," Araujo says. "You can use this machine for easier workouts but you can definitely give yourself a challenge, too."
Some machines have moveable handles that you can push and pull with your upper body, and most allow you to pedal in reverse — which works the calf muscles and hamstrings more. Working both the upper and lower body at the same time increases your heart rate and gives you a better overall workout.
Shop These Ellipticals
- Precor Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer EFX 885 ($5,499.99, Amazon)
- Sunny Health and Fitness SF-E902 Air Walk Trainer Elliptical ($109.99, Amazon)
- NordicTrack FreeStride Trainer Series FS10i ($1,999, NordicTrack)
3 Factors to Consider Before You Buy
1. Your Favorite Workouts
It may seem self-explanatory but if you don't love to run, don't buy a treadmill. And if cycling bores you, skip the stationary bike.
Too often, people buy equipment they see their favorite fitness influencers or athletes using, Araujo says. But you're the one who's going to be using the machine, so really consider what type of cardio workouts you want to do.
"If your goal is stronger or leaner legs, all of these machines can help you get that result," she says. "So, take some time to consider which machine sounds the most fun for you. The machine you're most likely to enjoy and use will be the one to get you the best results."
2. Your Budget
Cardio machines aren't cheap and can burn a pretty big hole in your wallet. But these days, you can find budget-friendly options on the market. So, think about what you can realistically afford and search for products within that range.
"Also consider renting exercise equipment," Araujo says. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to buy my stationary bike, so I decided to rent it to start out. I like the low-commitment option."
Many fitness companies also offer financing options with low (or no) interest. Before you buy, read the all the terms and conditions to choose a plan that works best for your budget.
3. Your Available Space
Most cardio machines take up quite a bit of space, so you may want to take some measurements before you buy. Take a close look at the product info and compare that to your available space to make sure the numbers match up.
Some cardio machines are larger than others, too, so if space is a concern, opt for a stationary bike or rower — these tend to be smaller in size. You can also look for a folding treadmill or one that fits under your desk.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary
- Spinning.com: What Does Indoor Cycling Tone?
- The Ultimate Body Shaping Bible; Karon Karter
- Fitness: 3 Ways to Burn 500 Calories
- Human Kinetics: Learn Three Phases of Rope Jumping
- Harvard Health Publications: The Top 5 Benefits of Cycling
- Harvard Health Publications: Tips for Choosing the Right Exercise Equipment