The Beginner’s Guide to Cardio Equipment

When you want to slim down and boost your heart health, aerobic activities are the best solution. But, walking into the gym for the first time means seeing so many rows of cardio equipment that you don’t even know where to begin.

The cardio machines at the gym all have their own benefits. For example, the rowing machine is a full-body workout that can burn calories fast. The step machine can build lower-body strength while being gentle on the joints. Indoor bikes are easy on the back and knees.

We’ve done the research (so you don’t have to)! So let’s go over the benefits of cardio and the best types of cardio equipment.

The Benefits of Cardio

You don’t have to do cardio every day in order to improve your health. In fact, even adding a little cardio into your weekly routine at least twice a week will greatly improve your fitness and overall health.

But, don’t just take our word for it.

Here’s an in-depth list of the benefits of adding consistent cardio to your routine.

  • Improved mood and release of endorphins (the feel-good hormones)
  • More stabilized blood sugar levels
  • Increased strength and some additional muscle mass
  • Greater aerobic capacity with greater endurance
  • Maintenance or loss of weight due to burning calories
  • Added strength and stability of the muscles, joints, and bones
  • Fewer feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increased energy that lasts throughout the day

Now that you see just how beneficial cardio can be, it’s time to learn a little bit about how much you actually need.

Weekly Cardio Recommendations

The American Heart Association recommends that all Americans get at least 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per week.

If you step it up a notch in terms of intensity, you can get away with only 75 minutes a week and still see the same benefits.

By getting these recommended amounts of cardio per week, you can effectively improve your heart health and the overall functioning of your body. Plus, you’ll be improving your physique at the same time!

The Most Common Types of Cardio Equipment

Most people know a little bit about how to work a treadmill or an elliptical. That’s because they’re easy to use and all it takes is the simple click of a few buttons to get your cardio session officially started.

Yet, there are so many different types of cardio equipment at the gym that you might be missing out on a piece of gym equipment that you really enjoy using.

It’s time to end the stigma: Walking and running are not the only ways to work on cardio!


Treadmills are perhaps the easiest cardio equipment to work at the gym.

All you have to do is click the “Start” button, increase the speed to one you’re comfortable with, and then keep up with the belt as it moves beneath your feet.

If you’re tired of the same old running or walking routine on the treadmill when you’re at the gym, there are plenty of ways to switch it up a bit.

Here’s how you can do that.

Most treadmills will allow you to adjust the incline to mimic walking or running up a hill.

You can also attempt to use the interval mode available on most treadmills. This will allow you to alternate between periods of running and walking (this can help to burn even more calories).


  • If you can’t keep up with the speed you chose, you can just hop off or lower the speed.
  • You can run or walk at a consistent speed or work on interval training to improve your endurance.
  • You can make your treadmill session more rigorous by amping up the speed or increasing the incline.


  • It doesn’t provide nearly the same benefits as running outdoors.
  • You might be a little bored running in place for anything longer than five minutes.
  • The treadmill isn’t a great fit for anyone with knee or lower body injuries.


The elliptical is ideal for anyone looking to work the entire body while getting a little cardio in. It’s a great treadmill alternative!

Rather than putting excess strain on your knees and ankles, you’ll plant your feet on stationary footpads, grasp one handle in each hand, and shuffle your hands and feet back and forth.

And, when you’re on the elliptical, there’s practically no way to mess it up.

The extent of the movement is controlled by the machine. So, all you have to do is move your hands and feet and allow the machine to do the rest!

Unlike running or using a treadmill, your knees and feet won’t have to put up with the constant pounding of every step that you take.

You’re also completely in control of the speed that you’re moving at. That means you can slow down or speed up as you get more comfortable.


  • It’s a full-body workout that hits all major muscle groups within the body.
  • There’s less wear-and-tear on the lower body joints, muscles, and bones, so it’s great for anyone with injuries or lower body weakness.
  • You have complete control of the speed at which you’re going. 


  • The lack of impact on the lower body doesn’t really improve bone and joint health in the legs.
  • Ellipticals force your body into unnatural movements that could be harmful to your knees, back, and other joints.
  • You can’t increase the resistance (incline) like you can when you’re on a treadmill.

Stationary & Recumbent Bikes

You might not be the best at riding a real bike. But, stationary and recumbent bikes will provide you with all the benefits of bike riding without having to go outside or buy a bike.

They’re great for targeting lower-body strength and fitness while also improving your aerobic endurance!

Stationary bikes have the same format as regular bikes. So, you’ll be sitting completely upright with the pedals beneath you.

This allows you a little more power and more focus on the legs when you eventually increase the resistance you’re pedaling against.

Recumbent bikes are a little different, as you’ll be reclined, sitting back with the pedals directly in front of you. This type of bike is a little easier on the back and won’t put excess pressure on your back, knees, or tailbone.


  • You can easily adjust the resistance you’re pedaling against to build strength and power in the lower body.
  • Both types of bikes prevent excess strain on the knees and other joints like running and walking might.
  • You can burn calories pretty quickly without being as tired as you might be when on a treadmill.


  • You won’t be targeting any areas of the upper body.
  • Stationary bikes can be a little hard on the muscles and joints in the back.
  • The seats tend to be uncomfortable and aren’t conducive to longer workouts.

Step Machines

Step machines are, by far, the most difficult cardio equipment that you’ll find at the gym. They’re sometimes called Stairmasters.

If you tend to choose the elevator or the escalator while out in public, this machine may very well be your new worst enemy at the gym! That’s because this machine simulates a small flight of stairs and, as you continue to step upward, the steps pass below you.

They’re a great alternative to actually running or walking stairs and don’t require you to go down any stairs in the process.

There’s no doubt that you’ll be absolutely exhausted and be incredibly weak in the legs when your step machine workout finally ends. But, you can be sure that you’re burning a ton of calories and building strength in your lower body.


  • They can help you to build strength and power in your legs, so you can go a little lighter on leg day.
  • You’ll be burning calories much more efficiently than you would be with other cardio equipment.
  • You’ll definitely be burning calories and exhausting your entire body.


  • Because it tends to be so exhausting, you might not last too long during your cardio session.
  • Most people already hate stairs, so using them to exercise might sound dreadful.
  • You’ll need a great deal of balance to support yourself on the machine.

Rowing Machines

Not all gyms have rowing machines. But, they are great for anyone looking to work the entire body while also improving their cardio.

These machines simulate what it’s like to row a boat, requiring you to push off with your legs while also pulling backward with your arms.

The best part about the rowing machine is that you’ll be sitting the entire time.

Once you get into the groove of things, you’ll develop your own rhythm and it’ll feel natural and maybe even peaceful to use the rowing machine.

You can then adjust the amount of resistance that you’re rowing against as you get a little more rowing experience under your belt.

Rowing machines are also considered superior when it comes to the number of calories you’ll be burning per hour!


  • You can burn hundreds of calories per hour.
  • The rowing machine requires you to use all muscles in your body, making it the perfect whole body workout.
  • You’ll be building muscle as well as boosting your aerobic capacity.


  • Improper form or excess usage might put too much strain and pressure on your back.
  • They’re just not as common as they once were, so your gym might not even have them. 
  • It could be difficult to get used to the form and rhythm required to use the machine properly.

Selecting a Cardio Machine

Now that we’ve completely overwhelmed you with the different types of cardio equipment that you might find at your gym, we’re going to make things a little easier for you.

We’re going to help you choose the perfect equipment for your health and fitness goals.

Considering Your Goals

We know that you have your own health and fitness goals. We also know that not all of the machines that we listed above will help you reach them.

So, we’re going to break down some of the more common fitness goals and which machines would be best to help you get there!

Burning Calories

  • Treadmill
  • Elliptical
  • Stationary & recumbent bike
  • Step machine
  • Rowing machine

Getting a Whole-Body Workout

  • Elliptical
  • Rowing machine

Putting Less Stress on the Knees and Joints

  • Elliptical
  • Stationary & recumbent bike
  • Step machine
  • Rowing machine

Building Strength

  • Step machine
  • Stationary & recumbent bike
  • Rowing machine

Now, any machine can help you reach your health and fitness goals depending on how you use them.

As long as you’re using them strategically, you should be well on your way to improving your endurance in the long-term.

Final Thoughts

It’s great that you’re interested in adding a little cardio to your current fitness routine!

Aerobic activities can greatly improve your fitness, heart health, and endurance, making exercise much easier for you in the future. 

What’s most important is understanding the benefits and limitations of each piece of cardio equipment and deciding how you can implement cardio into your routine to help you reach your health and fitness goals.