What Are The Best Cardio Machines For Burning Calories?


Let’s start with a simple question: What is a cardio machine?

Technically an endless-path machine, a cardio machine is a piece of mechanical equipment used for the improvement of human health. Its user follows a repetitive motion (often against resistance); doing so raises the heart rate and boosts blood flow around the body.

The first cardio machine was patented in 1913, believe it or not: A treadmill used to test for signs of heart and lung disease.

You will find one or two cardio machines installed for a specific purpose in hospitals, physio clinics, schools, businesses, sports shops and training centres. Astronauts even use a modified treadmill on the International Space Station.

And while there are a lot of medical applications for cardio machines we are going to look at how they have impacted the world of fitness.

We are especially interested in cardio machines that burn the most calories. After all, what concerns us here at SCI-MX is how well a cardio machine can aid our fitness regime.

Because, when you arrive at a gym and you see a gargantuan variety of cardio machines, the decision about what one to use becomes yours to make… And with many of them promoted by their makers as being the next generation of calorie-busting device it is hard to know which cardio machines REALLY burn the most calories.

What are the benefits of cardio machines?

Cardio-vascular (CV) gym equipment mimics movement in one direction or another along a plane and simulates common activities such as running or cycling. The benefits to health arising from their use have been noted by doctors for years.

Cardio machines promote loss of weight and reduce mental stress.

A rowing machine may not bring the same enjoyment as rowing across a still river on an early morning in July but its convenience cannot be denied. Furthermore, the resistance of most cardio machines can be adjusted to suit, the ambient air is usually ‘comfortable’ and (especially for the rowers) you won’t be nagged by the thought of the return journey.

There are a number of other reasons to prefer the indoor machine. Read on to find out what they are and, of course, which gym equipment burns the most calories.

Of most articles centred on cardio-machine ‘likeability’, preferences are often swayed by the bloggers point of view, and results tend to be written accordingly, but that's not the case here.

So, the stats that you will read about here of eight popular cardio machines are brought together from various sources completely objectively. We are about to give you definitive results.

Cardio-Vascular Exercise Explained

Cardio exercise is any exercise that raises your heart rate. When it’s beating fast, the heart’s muscle health increases and that presents us with a basic fact: it will beat for longer than one which is not exercised regularly.

Cardio exercise also works on muscular development; it removes the stodginess of your veins and arteries by forcing something called vasodilation (allowing blood to pump faster around your body).

What’s more:

By delivering more oxygen to your organs, CV exertion also improves your overall health by lowering the amount of bad cholesterol in your system.

Types Of Cardio Machine


The stair-mill consists of a repeating set of stairs up which you will walk. It offers a great cardio workout and spikes muscle growth of the lower portion of your body. All-in-all, the stair-mill:

  1. Uses big muscle groups of the lower body repeatedly
  2. Utilises stabilising muscle and builds core strength
  3. Builds endurance and concentration
  4. Employs glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons


The rowing machine engages your entire body and improves coordination and strength. The rower:

  1. Uses upper and lower muscles repeatedly
  2. Utilises coordinating muscle and builds core strength
  3. Builds endurance
  4. Employs the shoulders, trapezii in the upper back and the lower back
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons

Spin Bike

The Spinner provides a challenging workout, and Spinner classes are hugely popular and great fun. There’s a real sense of comradery at a Spinner class, as well as the sense of being completely exhausted. The Spin bike:

  1. Builds lean muscle and affords supreme weight loss
  2. Builds core strength
  3. Builds endurance and mental strength
  4. Employs glutes and hamstrings
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons


The treadmill is the oldest of the cardio machines and arguably the easiest to use. It is a great health investment when it comes to home-based exercising. The treadmill:

  1. Uses lower body muscle repeatedly
  2. Utilises stabilising muscle and builds core strength
  3. Builds endurance
  4. Employs your calves, backside and quadriceps
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons

Static Bike

Often seen as a wise choice at the very start of a weight loss programme, the static bike affords some results with relative ease. Even moderate activity can boost hormone and opioid production. The static bike:

  1. Provides a good start to a weight-loss journey
  2. Builds core strength
  3. Builds endurance and mental strength
  4. Employs glutes and hamstrings
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons


Although limiting the amount of natural movement, the cross-trainer is still a popular choice for those looking to condition their bodies. The cross-trainer:

  1. Uses all muscle groups repeatedly
  2. Improves general core strength and stability
  3. Builds endurance
  4. Employs glutes and hamstrings
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons

Arc Trainer

The Arc trainer is similar dynamically to the cross-trainer but more adequately reduces stress on the ankle, knee, and hip joints. It is also better suited to taller people than the cross trainer is. The Arc trainer:

  1. Uses big muscle groups of the lower body repeatedly
  2. Utilises core strength
  3. Builds endurance
  4. Employs a wide variety of muscles (according to angle settings)
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons

Recumbent Bike

The recumbent bike is sometimes seen as the poor relation of the cardio machines. It may not work the upper body and core, but it is as effective at conditioning the lower body as a static upright bike. The recumbent bike:

  1. Uses big muscle groups of the lower body repeatedly
  2. Boosts your heart rate if exercise is vigorous
  3. Builds endurance
  4. Engages glutes and hamstrings
  5. Applies little wear and tear of ligaments and tendons, especially of the knee

Comparison Of Calorie Burn Per Minute

The time is right for us to compare these machines in terms of their potential to burn calories. To do this we have taken data from various sources - including self.com and shape.com - and calculated data results for both men and women weighing between 135 and 160 lbs (9 - 11 stone).

Important, the figures shown are from vigorous exercise:

Treadmill:                            13.43 calories per minute

Rower:                                 12.90 calories per minute

Static bike:                          12.88 calories per minute

Spin bike:                            12.35 calories per minute

Stair-mill:                             10.95 calories per minute

Arc trainer:                         10.80 calories per minute

Cross-trainer:                    8.22 calories per minute

Recumbent bike:             7.66 calories per minute

It terms of which are the cardio machines that burn the most calories the clear winner is the one that has been around for 105 years: the treadmill.

How To Approach A Cardiac Workout

Now that we’ve gauged which gym equipment burns the most calories, we can plan our cardiac workout more confidently. After all, it’s not worth heading to a gym without a clear purpose, nor the right nutrition and supplementation!


Should your day’s normal routine force you to visit the gym only in the morning, it is best to load up with carbs and protein before leaving the house. Failure to do so will not break the catabolic state in which your body lay throughout the night (when more protein was broken down than was ingested). A protein drink or high-protein meal about an hour before your workout will suffice.


It is important to remember that if you want to use cardio machines to help you lose weight, a high intensity workout is the very best course of action.

But be careful if you also want to build strength and condition your physique. Should your cardio workout be any longer than about 20 minutes, your muscles will begin to cry out for protein. There will then be little point for further training unless you are prepared to break and refuel.

Hydration and nutrition are most important during vigorous exercise, for obvious reasons.


What you take in after your cardio session is a matter of personal choice. If you feel you were sufficiently loaded with protein prior to your exercising you should perhaps focus on refilling your body with fluids, especially if your time on the machine was intense. Experts suggest after a 20- to 30-minute vigorous cardio session you should drink at least eight ounces of water.

When To Head For A Cardio Machine

Listen to your body. Only YOU know what it wants…

Although many online fitness routines (and personal trainers) advocate such things as interval training, pre-workout cardio sessions and post work-out cool downs, when all is said and done YOU must decide what will work and what will make you feel like you are making progress.

Most fitness buffs agree with the notion that a brief spell of CV before strength training or conditioning is a must, if nothing more than to loosen up your joints and muscles and increase your heart rate.

But when it comes to an intense cardio session, there are those who opine that this should come after weight training or an instructed workout.

To have used your reserves of carbohydrate (glucose/glycogen) prior to your CV exercise your body will be urged to look elsewhere for its energy and when freely available carbs have depleted, your body fat is next to be pulverised.

Other Ways To Burn Calories

It isn’t just cardio machines that burn the most calories (although as we have seen there is one clear first among equals). Take some time to consider all of the other forms of exercise to supplement your regimen.

Remember: the calorie expenditure we have outlined here largely depends on the intensity of your workout and the duration of your session. Sitting in a pool talking to your friends is NOT going to burn that many calories (although it will burn more than if you were sat in a pub!)

Here are some alternatives to cardio machines that are worth considering because of their calorie burning ability:

  • A strict calorie-controlled diet
  • Weight training
  • Swimming
  • Calisthenics
  • Yoga
  • Dance
  • Walking briskly
  • Pilates

So, which is it?

Clearly, the treadmill should be first choice for someone looking to get the most from their cardio workout. But the key to any results from cardio machines is intensity.

We may have shown here that a calorie burn by vigorous exercise on a treadmill surpasses that of other machines, but do keep in mind that should you choose to merely walk while on a treadmill you will achieve far fewer losses than you would from a high-octane Spinner class.

The truth of the matter is that most people don’t maximise their cardio workouts. This will not do. You have to input strength, endurance and The Push to achieve results from any gym equipment, not just the cardio machines.  It will hurt. It has to hurt!

If you find a certain machine easy then turn the dial on the bike or rower, or find some gym equipment that burns the most calories for you. As they say: no pain, no gain.

Change the machine, change the activity and feel the burn.


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