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What is the Best Cardio Machine?

Best Cardio Machine“What is the BEST cardio machine!?”

That’s what the guys in the photo are asking each other.

Just kidding, it’s actually just some crappy stock photo I found.

But seriously, if we had a discussion, what would you consider the best cardio machine?

It’s a very difficult question to answer because it ultimately depends on the person and what the term “best” is measuring.

We all have our favorite piece of cardio equipment, but favorite does not always equal “best”. Most of the time, the best piece of cardio equipment is usually our least favorite!

I’ll do my best to provide an unbiased opinion of how to choose the best cardio machine but you may already know my choice!

Questions to Ask Ourselves?

There are many different things to consider when trying to determining which cardio machine is best.

You can literally ask yourself 100 questions about what you are looking for in a piece of fitness equipment and how you will judge what is “best”.

For example, you can ask yourself:

  • What is the best cardio machine for burning calories?
  • What is the best cardio machine for losing weight?
  • What is the best full body cardio machine?
  • What is the best low impact cardio machines?
  • What is the best cardio machine overall?

On top of these questions, there are so many different cardio machines too choose from:

  • Treadmills
  • Exercise Bikes
  • Ellipticals
  • Vertical Climbers
  • Stair Climbers
  • Rowing Machines

How are we supposed to know the benefit of each, let alone how to use each one!?

I’ll do my best to break down the questions you may be asking yourself about what is the best cardio machine and how each piece of fitness equipment would perform if tested for each question.

Best Cardio Machine for Burning Calories?

Note: The number of calories burned is an estimate. It’s assumed the same level of intensity is used on each exercise machine.


Some people may not have guessed it but this machine came in dead last – the stair climber.

This machine burns between 400-500 calories per hour which isn’t too bad, but it doesn’t incorporate a lot of your upper body.

When you are only using half of your body to workout, it is difficult to burn the maximum amount of calories. A stair climber is a great lower body workout and is especially good at exercising your thighs and butt!

This is probably why you see so many women using it right before summer time!


For top honors it was a close call between the treadmill and rowing machine!

When rowing on a rowing machine you can burn over 1000 calories per hour, whereas you can burn between 600-1200 calories per hour while running on a treadmill.

The reason for the range on a treadmill is due to running at an incline or running flat.

Best Cardio Machines that Burn the Most Calories

Treadmill Cardio Calories

Truthfully, I don’t want to be bias towards rowing machines. Burning calories is a tough thing to calculate and there are many inputs into the formula.

You can read my article about burning calories on a rowing machine here.

While a treadmill may burn more calories if being used on an incline, a rowing machine may burn more calories overall. This is due to its ability to build muscle and increase metabolic rates for hours after using.

I do want to strongly point out that the number of calories burned is very close and there is an argument for each cardio machine.

Winner: Tie! Treadmill & Rowing Machine

You can also make the argument it is best to switch between the two. A large part of the calorie burning formula is heart rate, which decreases as you become more efficient at the exercise.

For example, when you first run a mile your heart rate is through the roof! This means you technically burn more calories when you first start running a mile than after 6 months of training.

This is why it is always good to switch up your workouts to keep your body exercising different parts of the body.

Best Full Body Cardio Machine?

When looking at the anatomy of different cardio machines, you can easily tell which will be good full body machines and which will be more targeted machines.

Cardio machines that focus on a specific area are not necessarily bad, they are just specialized!

However, the question is – What is the best full body cardio machine?

I won’t pick a “worst” machine because I think we can group any piece of equipment that only exercises the legs as a “non” full-body cardio machine.

This still leaves us with ellipticals, vertical climbers, and rowing machines. This also leaves us with a very difficult comparison.

Each piece of cardio equipment works slightly different parts of the body – so it is difficult to say which is best.

However, I think fitness professionals and studies show that rowing machines are the best full body cardio machines. The two main reasons are:

  1. According to WaterRower, a rowing machine exercises 84% of the muscles in your body. No other cardio machine has a study that claims their machine exercises a higher percent of total muscles used. (See a breakdown of rowing machine muscles used)
  2. Crossfit (the biggest professional “exercise” organization and event) chooses to incorporate the rowing machine in their workouts due to the full body workout it provides. Seeing as Crossfit is an organization that targets full-body, functional exercises – you can conclude the rowing machine would be the best full body cardio machine. (Check out my Crossfit rowing article here)

Best Full Body Cardio Machine

For these two reasons, I would have to pick the rowing machine as the best full body cardio machine.

Plus, famous athletes like Conor McGregor are even starting to make them a requirement in their cardio training programs!

Winner: Rowing Machine

However, the vertical climber and elliptical are also great choices that I often use!

Best Cardio Machine for Losing Weight?

Before you assume anything – the answer to this question is not just the cardio machine that burns the most calories.

Like previously mentioned, other factors can contribute to losing weight such as lean muscle mass and metabolic rates.


This is tricky because all exercise equipment will help you lose weight when done correctly and with a high enough intensity.

But unfortunately, the ‘worst’ cardio machine for losing weight is…the stair climber!

Before you stair climber lovers start a riot, there are a lot of variables that can cause these results. Stair climbers are great for toning the legs and getting a nice butt, however, they do not work out the upper body!

Due to the fact that they only target the lower body, they are not the best full-body workout, which is what is ideal for losing weight.


The ideal characteristics of a cardio machine that will help you lose weight is one that provides a solid cardiovascular workout, builds muscle and endurance, and exercises the entire body (upper and lower).

It may seem like all of these options aren’t available on a single cardio machine, but that’s not true. There happens to be one cardio machine with all of these attributes!

Based on the ideal characteristics mentioned earlier, the best cardio machine for losing weight is a rowing machine!

Best Cardio Machine for Weight Loss

A rowing machine burns about the same amount of calories as a treadmill but also adds muscle and increases metabolic rates. Both of which help you lose weight throughout the day.

No wonder Crossfit decided to incorporate the rowing machine into a bunch of their “Workout of the Days” and Crossfit Games!

Winner: Rowing Machine

Check out some rowing machine transformation stories here.

Best Low Impact Cardio Machine?

This question is where things start to get interesting. While treadmill fans can argue a lot of these questions (with a good argument), they can’t argue this one!

As we get older, our joints just can’t take the beating they could when we were younger. We start to get aches and pains in parts of the body that we never knew could hurt!

These pains only get amplified when we do exercises like running. Running on pavement and even a treadmill is a very forceful exercise that can cause pain in the knees, hips, back, etc.

Rowing Machine for Knee Pain

Have you ever seen the stats on the amount of money spent each year on braces! Let alone the amount spent on physical therapy! It’s insane.

While I won’t try to convince someone to stop running (because I still love it!). I will try to convince people to buy a rowing machine due to it’s low impact nature.

Rowing machines are considered an extremely low (if not zero) impact exercise. I’ve gone on long runs that have left my knees and hips hurting and the next day used my rower with no issue!

So if you want a low impact exercise, I would 100% use a rowing machine! They are great for runners who need to give their joints rest!

Winner: Rowing Machine

Other pieces of fitness equipment like the elliptical, exercise bike, and vertical climber are also considered low impact.

However, I do hear of more people still reporting have knee issues on these machines than I do hear about rowers.

Best Overall Cardio Machine?

Out of the six different cardio machines ‘eligible’, there is only one machine that can be considered “Best Cardio Machine Overall”.

One cardio machine stands out in each category- the rowing machine!

Ok, so I get I can be a little biased but I honestly think you can make a very strong case the rowing machine is the best cardio machine.

Here is a list of rowing machine benefits:

  • Burns over 1000 calories/hour
  • Provides an intense cardiovascular workout
  • Builds endurance
  • Builds lean muscle
  • Provides a total body workout (upper and lower body)
  • Low impact

Another thing I didn’t mention throughout this post is choosing a cardio machine that is fun! The more you enjoy exercising, the longer you will workout, and the better results you will get!

Rowing is super engaging and allows for a ton of different fun rowing options:

  1. You can race people around the world using different programs
  2. You can listen to music or watch TV while rowing
  3. Some models have different games you can play based on rowing speed/technique
  4. Rowing is an olympic sport so you can train and enter indoor rowing competitions!

Overall Winner: Rowing Machine!

Check out my post on the Best Rowing Exercise Machine here.

Max Calories BurnedTotal Body Workout?Low Impact?
Exercise Bike1000NoYes
Rowing Machine1000+YesYes
Stair Climber500NoNo

Final Thoughts

Although I believe a rowing machine is the best cardio machine, at the end of the day, the best cardio machine is the one that you will use to help achieve your fitness goals.

I have a ton of different reviews you can check out by visiting my comparison chart here.

If you want to skip all the nonsense and see the #1 bestselling rowing machine then start by reading this review.

I hope you enjoyed this quick and fun post I created! If you have any detailed questions, please leave them in the comment section below!

I know you may not agree with my opinion but I’m happy to hear yours as long as you are willing to engage in a positive discussion!

Recommended Reading

Is the Rowing Machine Good for Cardio?

13 Amazing Rowing Machine Health Benefits

Best Cardio Equipment for Small Apartment


  1. Hey Edwin, just thought I’d let you know that Best Rowing Machine Guides com is definitely ripping off your website’s content, particularly in the reviews section. This website rips off of other guys as well, but since your reviews are by far the most comprehensive I feel as if your site is being subject to the most stolen content. Just thought I’d give you a heads up.

    1. Hi Derek,

      Thank you for the heads up and I appreciate you believe my reviews are the “most comprehensive”. I put a lot of time into my reviews and articles. It’s unfortunate that websites like the one you pointed out have to scrape content from other similar websites but it’s something I can’t control so I don’t let it bother me [anymore].

      The REAL loser in stolen content is the user/ reader.

      Thanks again Derek, greatly appreciated!

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