Cardio Machines 101

Cardio Machines 101

Cardio is that one aspect of fitness that, for some reason, tons of people try to avoid or back out of.

I don’t know why, because for people like us, it’s a ton of fun, if you know how to switch it up.

You can use different cardio machines to keep your exercise nice and fresh if you’re concerned about going mental on a treadmill every single day.

It’s important to diversify your workout, and the types of machines or gear that you use in those workouts.

At no point do you want your workout to get stale and boring to do, because chances are, you’re going to feel less motivated to actually do it as time goes on (and who could blame you?).

The goal here is to keep your interest in cardio alive and well.

We’re going to go over every type of cardio machine available on the market for purchase, what they do, why they’re good, and how you can use them to switch up your current workout plan.

Types of Cardio Machines

young couple cardio training

Now we get into the nitty gritty of it.

There’s a few different types of cardio machines that you can sort of nest every other type of machine under, because they all operate on basic designs and methods.

There’s exercise bikes, treadmills, rowing machines, and all the subdivisions that come underneath them.

Let’s go over each type of cardio machine and give you a detailed, in-depth overview of their benefits, drawbacks, and just what the point of having them really is.

Exercise Bikes

magnetic exercise bike

I don’t think we’re ever going to see a day where exercise bikes aren’t one of the most dominating forms of cardio exercise.

Even though we could all be outside on regular bicycles, there’s just something different about the consistency while using an indoor exercise bike.

For one, you don’t have to wait for traffic to stop at a red light when crossing the road, and all the risks are reduced to a near zero percent chance of happening.

Indoor cycling gives you consistent cardio benefits depending on how much time you put into them, and what resistance type you’re working with.

Magnetic

Magnetic exercise bikes use a similar function to magnetic rowing machines. You have one large magnet in the flywheel, and a smaller magnet underneath the handlebars.

You can either use an electronic or app-based control to adjust the resistance levels, which are all pre-set and determined, or you might have a manual peg you can twist to achieve a new resistance level.

Air Bikes

Air bikes are literally pedals, a seat and handlebars attached to a large fan. You use your own input to create resistance against you.

These bikes are completely electricity-free to use, and depending on how much effort you put into pedaling, that will be the amount of resistance you receive from the bike.

These basically give you the ability to be in direct control of numerous resistance levels, because there usually are no presets.

Hydraulic

These actually use a single or dual piston design to create resistance.

Filled with hydraulic fluid, these bikes can tighten the chamber based on your manual input to increase pressure in the chambers.

When you do this, you’re in control of a wide range of pressure options.

I’ve never heard of anyone over tightening their hydraulic exercise bike before and having it cause any problems, but do be cautious when you’re doing this.

Recumbent

stationary recumbent bike

Recumbent bikes allow you to sit down, lean back a little, and hold onto the handle jutting out from either side next to the seat.

You’re putting your legs to work here, because the pedals are located at the other end of the bike sticking out of the flywheel.

These are fairly basic bikes that only offer leg workouts and moderate intensity cardio.

Upright/Stationary

These are those uncomfortable-looking bikes that are almost too scrunched and small to exist.

If you’ve ever shopped around before, and you’ve found those low-tier $60-$80 exercise bikes, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

They’re not the highest quality, but they will get the job done if you’re stuck on a budget.

Spin Bikes

These are likely the most popular type of exercise bikes ever made. After all, they call it spin class, not recumbent class.

Spin bikes get intense, and allow you to hit the peak amount of calories that one person can burn from exercise bikes, which is around 900 (depending on the person).

Spin bikes have high seats, and encourage you to stand while you’re pedaling to built better momentum and shed more calories.

Exercise bikes are always going to be an excellent and reliable go-to piece of gym equipment.

Beyond being one of the most efficient ways to burn calories (nearly 900 an hour), it builds your lung capacity, calf muscles, and overall endurance until you become a cardio god.

Rowers

man on rowing machine

Rowers are more commonly known as rowing machines.

These combine dynamic leg and arm movements, as well as heavy resistance training, to help target multiple areas of your body.

Rowing machines are used by cardio enthusiasts and bodybuilders alike because of the targeted muscle groups and efficiency, which can save them time at the gym.

Rowing machines have very similar resistance setups to exercise bikes.

You can use a ton of different resistance types to create a more diverse workout, train seven to ten muscle groups on average (with proper form, even more), and get in a full-body workout without having to use half-a-dozen machines over the course of a week.

These are some of the resistance types you should know about.

Magnetic

Magnetic rowing machines utilize an enormous magnet in the flywheel, and a smaller half-circle shaped magnet that hangs just beneath the handlebars (or in the case of rowers, inside of the flywheel housing).

These can be adjusted through a resistance knob to bring the smaller magnet closer to the larger magnet, increasing the resistance from reverse magnetization.

Sometimes magnetic rowers will only have manual methods of resistance adjustment available, and some are exclusively usable through electronic methods, such as through your LCD screen or a bluetooth-enabled app.

Water Tank

This sounds bizarre, but it’s meant to emulate rowing. Based on the water tank rowers I’ve used, I’d say that it does a fairly good job.

There’s a circular water tank that sits on one end of your rower, and the handle comes out of it.

You pull on the handle, and depending on the amount of water, and therefore the water pressure, you will encounter different resistance levels.

These are vastly customizable, because a single ounce of water could make all the difference, and help you find that perfect resistance level you’ve been looking for.

Most water tank rowers are made of pressed, treated wood that allows insanely high maximum weight limits.

Air Rowers

woman on air rower

Similar to water tank rowers, this is extremely customizable and can be adjusted to your liking.

While you have to fill or empty water tank rowers and mess around with all that, air rowers use air resistance, generated by your input into a large fan, to control the resistance levels.

The harder you pull, the harder the resistance is.

If you pull gently, it comes out nice and slow with almost no resistance.

Air rowers are good, but because you need to practice proper form more than anything else, it is possible to incur back injuries by pulling back too quickly when trying to get a high resistance rating.

These are good, but easy to misuse.

Hydraulic

Normally, you would find that hydraulic machines can cost a pretty penny more than other machine types, but in this case they can actually be cheaper.

Most water tank rowers can be in the low four figures, if you want a good one, which makes hydraulic rowers excellent if you’re on a budget and really want to improve your home gym.

These use one or two pistons to apply pressure and resistance based on manual resistance release pegs and/or dials. I wouldn’t say these are the very best, but they get the job done.

Choosing the right resistance type can be a major game-changer in your workout regimen.

Everyone responds differently to various resistance types, so it might be worthwhile to find a gym that has two or more resistance types available, and give them a shot.

You might find out that you like one more than you thought.

Treadmills

man runninig on treadmill

Treadmills are fairly straightforward devics, which is what most people love about them.

You step on, you run, you step off, you’re done—that’s a full cardio workout if you do it right.

Treadmills have a very low skill threshold, making them perfect for a first-time cardio machine in your very own home.

But before you go and fall in love with one specific treadmill, let me break down the three main types of them to get you better acquainted.

Folding

These are what they sound like: treadmills that fold down.

The treads aren’t going to fold over like a piece of bread, but instead, they’ll allow the side handles and the screen area to fold up against the treads, and then the entire treadmill can be stored vertically.

When you store them this way, they’re rather thin, and easy to move.

You can store one in your closet or behind other equipment in a small home gym, all without sacrificing access to a great cardio machine.

Motorized Treadmill

Many people stop here and think, “Wait, are there non motorized treadmills?”—don’t worry, we’re getting there.

Motorized treadmills utilize a rather powerful motor, kept in a housing, and attached to the tread to keep it moving.

This is usually done with a steel axle that runs through the center of the tread, towards the front, and allows everything to move.

There may be two small motors on either side aiding one another.

Most treadmills that you consider for purchase are going to be motorized, as they really are the most simple way to get started with any cardio machine.

Manual

These treadmills rely entirely on you to get them going, and keep them that way. Much like air bikes and air rowers that we talked about earlier, you get out of this what you put into it.

If you start off strong and keep the treads going, then you’re going to create a perfect push-and-pull between you and the treadmill.

These are spectacularly more difficult to use than motorized treadmills, but can be more rewarding in some aspects (such as leg muscle development).

As you might have imagined, these are a lot cheaper than buying motorized treadmills.

There you have it: the only three types of treadmills that you really run into (did you get my treadmill pun?).

While they’re excellent machines to get started with, they’re just part of a well-balanced cardio workout regimen.

Is One Machine Enough?

I approach that question the same way I would approach a diet. Is one type of healthy food enough?

No.

You should diversify your diet the same way you should diversify your workout.

At the end of the day, doing cardio is better than being sedentary, but if you’re going to commit to performing cardio exercises on a daily basis, then it’s important to keep things fresh and approach this workout from different angles.

Which Type of Cardio Machine Works Best?

which cardio machine fits you best

I don’t want to leave you wanting more, but it’s going to depend on your current physical fitness level, your weight, and what your goals are.

What do you define as something being the best?

Building more muscle than other machines?

Shedding calories faster?

Ease of use?

Thankfully, I’ve categorized all our cardio machines into those three sections for you below.

Just remember that what works for me may not work for you, so you might actually find more of a benefit from a different type of machine based on their attributes and expected use.

For Burning Calories

stationary bike

This one goes to exercise bikes. Everyone always thinks it’s treadmills, but it’s not.

There is a higher endurance level ceiling on your efficiency with an exercise bike, but based solely on the fact that you can burn up to 900 calories in one sixty-minute, high intensity spin bike session, I dare you to find something better.

It’s also important to keep in mind that if you’re trying to lose weight and you’re on a budget, spin bikes are half the cost of most treadmills.

For Ease of Use

Treadmills are simple to use, and that’s a good thing: you step on, attach the safety, insert the key, and you’re off.

The controls are straightforward, and you can easily get off anytime you want to. You could literally just jump off the side (which will pull the key out), and walk away if you wanted.

I’d say that’s pretty easy to use. While a treadmill is also very effective at burning calories when you get into steeper inclines and higher intensity ratings, there is a limit on what you can do with them.

For Muscle Building

By process of elimination, you guessed it: rowing machines.

You can work out so many muscles here, whereas with a treadmill and most exercise bike resistance types, you’re really just working out your legs.

There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way, but if you want a full-body experience that can help shape your muscles, rowing machines are the way to go.

How to Take Care of Your Cardio Machines

lady cleaning treadmill handler

It all comes down to cleaning and maintenance.

The goal is to ensure your cardio machines feel as good as new, for as long as possible.

It’s incredible, and kind of upsetting to learn just how many different breeds of bacteria and rest and grow on gym equipment.

Since you’re going to sweat profusely from doing all this cardio, you can imagine the sheer bacterial volume that ends up on your machines.

I’ve broken it down into a few different things you can do for cleaning, and for maintenance.

Just do what you can to keep everything as tidy and functional as possible, and your cardio equipment will last you for years to come.

Cleaning

Cleaning your machine out is important. While it might not immediately impede upon your cardio machine function, it will affect you in other ways.

These are some of the general cleaning tips and tricks you should adopt if you want to keep your cardio machines looking and feeling brand new.

Use White Distilled Vinegar for Sweat

clean cardio equipment with vinegar

White distilled vinegar is a powerful cleaning agent because it’s highly acidic.

This means that it dissolves bacterial buildup, as well as soap scum and hard water, which may have been left behind from less-than-perfect cleaning methods on your cardio equipment.

I’ll warn you now that it’s not the most pleasant smell, but you get used to it after about half-a-dozen cleanings or so.

Use a 50/50 mix of white distilled vinegar and water, and simply wipe down all contact areas to clean everything off.

Wash Your Treadmill/Bike Mat With Warm Water

Your mat is basically going to absorb or hold onto a lot of sweat.

While it might be made of rubber and be fairly resistant to sweat soaking into it, that’s still bacterial growth that grows on top of it. They’re very rarely made with antimicrobial elements in the design.

From here, you need to use some warm water and a mild soap solution, and run it over your mat for a few minutes.

If you can, use a sink hose or a garden hose to apply some water pressure and really wash this down.

Vacuum Out Housing Pieces Regularly

This also counts as a maintenance benefit. Once you have everything else cleaned off, it’s important to vacuum out any access ports to reduce or eliminate the buildup of dust.

This can be detrimental to your machine components later on, and doing this works as preventative maintenance, and cleaning up dust to make your machine as fresh as the day it came off the assembly line.

Regular Maintenance

regular maintenance of cardio equipment

Most maintenance tasks can be done with a little bit of DIY know-how, and don’t take long to perform.

When people often say that they don’t want to perform maintenance on a treadmill or spin bike, I counter with “How many hours did you trade for the amount of money that it cost in the first place?”.

It’s a little clear to see why investing 15 minutes every six months into maintaining your cardio machines is worthwhile.

Oiling

Regardless of what you have, there are parts that need to be oiled.

Whether that’s an axle that runs through your treads, or the pedals on a recumbent bicycle, things are eventually going to need to be oiled.

You can get some simple WD-40 and review your owner’s manual to see what parts need to be oiled, and how to access them.

Most manufacturers are straightforward about this type of information, and give you all the intel that you need to carry out maintenance properly.

Replacing Treads

Treads are not meant to last forever. I wish they were, but sadly they will wear out two or three times before a treadmill ever will.

While these are built thick and tough, you can create microfractures or splits along the edges of the tread.

This could either be from continuously running it without oiling all the necessary spots, or from the edge of your shoes hitting the sides of the treads while you run on it.

It could be a variety of factors, but it happens. Look for damages or extreme wear and tear, and consider replacing the treads, or scheduling a future date to replace them.

Inspecting Motor

young man checks engine on treadmill

I am not expecting you to disassemble and repair a motor on your treadmill.

All I’m asking is that you know what to look for to see if your motor is going to need to be replaced, or if you can send it out for service to the manufacture of your treadmill.

Treadmills are one of the most expensive pieces of home gym equipment that you can buy.

Some cost in the low four figures, so hold onto that manual and learn about the motor and motor housing.

Inspecting the motor could also mean cleaning out the housing of any debris or dust that may have built up over time.

Moisture Check

Moisture is bad. It causes rusting on steel, it can wear down plastic if it’s in the right areas, and it can get into your motor and cause it distress.

Most gyms have enormous dehumidifiers built into the ceilings or walls, or they have some tower-style dehumidifiers just around and between some of the machines.

This is to prevent moisture buildup from damaging electrical components of their machinery.

All it takes is a few weeks of moisture buildup to cause the magnetic power supply in a spin bike to malfunction, or seep into and ruin the motor of a treadmill.

Open your machine up and check for moisture by running your fingers along the inside of the motor housing or interior areas.

If there’s moisture, dry it up and get a dehumidifier to position near it from here on out.

Marvellous Machinery for a Fantastically Fit Life

Well, that’s quite a bit of information, isn’t it?

While there aren’t as many new cardio machines being invented right now, watching new manufacturers redesign the wheel with slight improvements here and there can be extremely beneficial to fitness enthusiasts like you and I.

Treadmills now come with soft tread cushioning, while spin bikes can be hooked up to charge your phone while you pedal.

It’s a wild ride, and at Weston Fit, we’ll keep monitoring health trends to help you find the best machinery and gear for the occasion, and debunking things along the way.

For now, it’s time to decide which piece of cardio machinery is going to be the next addition to your home gym.

Check out our guides on recumbent bikes, spin bikes, and treadmills to get an idea of how to approach these health investments in the best way possible.

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