[FitAndBusyDad] Ranking the BEST Cardio Machines

So now that the New Year is here and gyms are busting full of new members and re-born enthusiasts, there’s probably a waiting list to get on your favorite bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine.

Some of you may be one of the few blessed with a well-equipped exercise room in your home already. And others may have resolved to buy a new machine to get their New Year’s resolutions on their way.

Although I’m not a big fan of cardiovascular exercise, I do understand that exercisers will always flock to what’s comfortable to them. There’s something about repenting for your holiday-binge eating sins by hopping on some contraption for an hour thinking that it’ll all go away when that calorie counter on the console says that you’ve burned 1000 calories (it lies, by the way). One of my friends fondly calls it “The Cardio Confessional.” So hopping a recumbent bike with the latest issue of Men’s Health is probably what most will do.

But is there a better way? What, really, is the best machine to use in the gym (or at home) or to buy for optimal fat loss results?

Well, here’s a list of the most common ones available (going from least effective to most effective). Hopefully this will allow you to choose the right solution for your cardiovascular needs…You’ll be surprised what I pick for #1.

5. The Recumbent Bike – The recumbent bike is one of those machines that you only use if you have nothing else. Truth be told, it’s the lazy man’s machine. Most cardiovascular machines in commercial gyms involve you standing up or at least supporting some part of your bodyweight. This does neither. I’d recommend using this only if you’re coming off reconstructive knee surgery or if the last time you’ve been in the gym was when you were sporting a Flock of Seagulls hairdo…and even still, you should probably only be on it for a week consistently before you move on to something more challenging.

FitAndBusyDad Rating: 1 out of 10

4. The Elliptical Trainer – One of the relatively new and most popular inventions of modern fitness is the elliptical trainer. This machine boasts that it will not affect your joints in a negative manner because of it’s “no impact” feature – meaning that your feet never leave the pedals thus creating virtually no pressure on your knees, hip, and lower back. The downside to this machine is it’s fixed stride length. So regardless whether you’re 5’6” with a 28” inseam or 6’4” with a 34” inseam, you’re stuck with whatever stride is set on the machine. What that means for you is if you’re too short, you risk the chance of going beyond your normal stride range where you’re almost certain to pull a groin or hamstring muscle. And if you’re too tall, you stride only a fraction of your range of motion and risk shutting down certain muscles because they’re not in use at all…which will eventually lead to injury because your body will be out of balance. Buyer/user beware.

FitAndBusyDad Rating: 3 out of 10

3. The Exercise Bike – A better choice than the elliptical and its recumbent cousin, the traditional exercise bike provides a little more challenge and less risk of injury. As far as exercise bikes are concerned, they’re a great choice provided that you put the effort in the exercise. That means making sure the intensity/resistance on the pedals is challenging enough for you to break a serious sweat and get you huffing and puffing. With this machine, a trashy gossip magazine placed on the console will actually come in pretty useful…If it’s soaked with sweat and illegible because the ink is smudged, then you were successful at a good workout. If you can still read all the weight loss pill ads at the end of it, you didn’t work hard enough.

FitAndBusyDad Rating: 6 out of 10

2. The Treadmill – It always boggles my mind to find some gym-goers who drive 15-minutes each way to the gym, find the closest parking spot to the door and then hop on a treadmill for a workout. Nonetheless, out of all the “machines” mentioned above, the treadmill is tops. Why? Well, because you’re running or walking – a natural motion. So if your knees can take it, run/walk to your heart’s content.

FitAndBusyDad Rating: 7 out of 10

1. The Human Body – The common denominator in using all the machines mentioned above is that you’re using your body – the most efficient Fat Burning machine available. That said, there’s nothing better than moving your body using various bodyweight exercises in a circuit format. The advantage that bodyweight circuits have over anything else is variety. With any cardiovascular exercise you are repeating the same movement over and over for thousands of repetitions at a time. With bodyweight circuits you are mixing the movements up, but still supporting your entire body. You can do bodyweight circuits anywhere – no smelly gym, no waiting in line to get on a machine, no trashy gossip magazine to keep you entertained. BW Circuits are also time efficient. You won’t need an hour to get a great workout in…Heck, you’d hardly need 10-minutes if you do it right.

FitAndBusyDad Rating: 10 out of 10

Curious? Don’t think that doing bodyweight circuits will burn you some calories and get you in better shape? I’ve outlined 3 circuits below – beginner, intermediate and advanced. Pick your level, give it a try and let me know how you do…


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Image by: Roy Mattappallil, SXC

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