Cardio 101: Part 2

A quick orientation to common cardio equipment and recommendations to help you find your perfect match!

Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1

Photo by Element5 Digital on

Welcome back for Cardio 101: Part 2!

I hope part one was helpful to give you some background information on what cardio is and how much you need.

(If you missed part one, you can read it here.)

Today, I’m going to break down each common machine in the gym to help you find your perfect fit and give you a plan!

So let’s dive into the machines!


The treadmill is one of the most widely used cardio machines you can find. Walking is an extremely underrated form of exercise and is a great place for many people to start.

Best for: beginners, balance issues, rehab, obese clients, and pre- or postpartum.

May not be suitable for: anyone who cannot get on or off it safely, those with certain foot, knee, or back injuries, and high fall risk individuals.

Make it easier: walk slow with no incline for a short period of time using the machine for support.

Make it harder: increase speed, incline, time, or all three!


The elliptical is another popular machine that is easy to find and use, but is not the right fit for everyone.

Best for: intermediate or advanced exercisers.

Cons: this machine forces the body into a short, choppy gait that can be problematic for some people with back, knee, or hip issues. In addition, for those with tight calves or limited ankle mobility, using an elliptical can cause more weight to be placed in the toe and the heel to come up off the foot pad. This can cause numbing in the feet and/or knee pain.

Those with balance issues may find getting on and off the elliptical problematic, as the foot pads will move when they are stepped on.

Make it easier: no resistance, slow pace.

Make it harder: increased resistance, faster pace, and/or intervals.

Arc Trainer

The Arc Trainer is not as well-known, but is similar to an elliptical or a strider-type machine.

The major con of the elliptical is solved with the arc trainer, as you are able to adjust the stride length. However, this machine can cause a little bit more of a forward lean and again may aggravate back, knee, shoulder, or hip issues.

Make it easier: slow speed, little to no resistance (although no resistance will most likely feel too easy because this machine does glide easily), and shorter stride.

Make it harder: intervals, higher speed, no use of hands to challenge balance, and/or higher resistance.


Next is the rower! I have found that some people can be intimidated by this one, but it can be a fun way to mix up your cardio and add more upper body work in the mix.

Cons: the only real con of this guy is that the rowing motion can cause excessive rounding in the spine if not done properly.

(Watch a tutorial here on proper form.)

Start slow and be careful if you have a back or shoulder issue.

Make it easier: low resistance, easy pace, and shorter time.

Make it harder: intervals (these can be a burner) and more resistance.

Stair Master

Also referred to as a “stair stepper or a step mill” this guy packs a punch no matter what you call it!

Best for: intermediate or advanced exercisers. I do not recommend this for beginners, due to the level of difficultly and the sheer intimidation of this machine.

Be careful if you have knee issues or any problems with more intense exercise.

Tips: do not lean over the front for support. If you need to do that, use a different machine. Kicking your leg back will do nothing for your glutes.

Make it easiest: slow pace, less time.

Make it harder: faster pace, more time, skip every other stair, intervals, etc.

Spin Bike

There are a few different types of bikes, so let’s start with the most popular. Spin bikes are usually more compact and easy to move, which make them great for home use.

Biking is usually a great motion for the knees, but can be problematic for some. The biggest con to the spin bike is the bent over posture. Some individuals with back issues cannot be in or stay in this position long.

Make is easier: remain upright, little to no resistance, and a slow speed.

Make it harder: intervals, higher resistance, higher speed, standing sprints, longer rides, etc.

Upright Bike

Next in our bike line-up is the upright bike. This is arguably one of the best options on the list for the widest array of people. The seat allows those with balance issues to remain safe and the higher display ensures an upright posture.

Make it easier: slow speed and low resistance.

Make it harder: higher speed and more resistance.

Recumbent Bike

Last of the bikes is the recumbent bike, which is basically any bike that has you in a seated position with your feet and legs out in front of you.

Pros: can be used will you do other things (read, watch TV, conference call, zoom meeting, etc.), the seated position is easier for seniors, beginners, or those with injury, and the chair provides good back support.

Cons: if you are someone who spends all day in a seated position, I do not recommend this bike if you can handle another machine. I would much rather have someone up on their feet during exercise rather than continuing to subject their body to the same seated position that they are in the majority of the day.

Make it easier: no resistance and slower speed.

Make it harder: intervals, higher speed, and/or higher resistance.

Now what?

Once you have identified which machine (or machines) you want to start with, make a plan for the week! There are many factors to consider in determining where to start and how much cardio you need. If you are just starting out with exercise and only doing cardio, try two or three days per week for 20-30 minutes each time.

This can be more or less depending on your current level of fitness, schedule, etc.

Some people get bored doing cardio (me) and enjoy mixing it up with two different machines instead of just one. This can be a great option to keep things interesting! Just don’t take too long of a break during your transition, as the whole point of cardio is to keep that heart rate up.

What if I don’t have access to machines?

If you are not a member of a gym or do not have any cardio machines at home, all is not lost! Try some of these activities:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Jump rope
  • Biking
  • Going up and down stairs (either in your house or at a park, etc.)
  • Bodyweight circuits (jump squats, box jumps, jumping jacks, fast push-ups, sprints, skaters, lateral shuffle, medicine ball slams, fast step-ups, etc.)

Does your workout routine need attention? Let me help!

If tackling a new exercise regime on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and have experience with a wide array of clients.

I will coach you through an individualized plan to meet your goals and help you gain strength and confidence, while cutting through the confusion. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, motivation, and guidance to make lasting change.

In-person or online coaching available! Send me an email at and let’s chat about your goals!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: