Which Cardio machine is right for you?

Which Cardio machine is right for you?


It’s important to navigate the needs of the individual before identifying which cardio machine can reap the most positive results for you. What are your goals? What are you trying to slowly achieve? What pre-existing mechanical injuries do you have? What are you naturally inclined to and what you have a proclivity for? These things should be considered when selecting an ideal cardio machine fit for you. If you’re thinking of purchasing cardio equipment, then this article may be right for you. Or if you’re contemplating what will be best when gyms open up, this is an article fit for you too.

If you have a pre-existing injury and are coming out of an injury, it is paramount that the cardio equipment you’re using does not flare up your symptoms. For example, if you have severe plantar fasciitis, then ground reaction force and running on treadmills will not mix in the acute to subacute stages. If you have painful range of motion limitations affecting the hip and knee going (reducing hip and knee flexion) then cycling may not be ideal for you as you may be pushing into painful range of motion. If you have underlying a shoulder pathology or a hernia then that rules out the viability and efficacy of using the row machine for that will inflict more pain than the cardio benefits ascertained. For an injured individual it’s important to rule out what he or she may use and a clinician may help you choose what is best for you.


Goals also steer the individual into doing what is best for them. If the patient is training for the city to surf (and I understand that this will be cancelled this year potentially), and has no prior running training. It may be wiser to start on the cross trainer for 2 – 3 months before introducing ground reaction force with the treadmill and finally transferring his cardio to running on pavement. If the client is training for a rowing or a cycling race then obviously the closer simulation of the same cardio would be more ideal. If the goal of the machine is to help with regaining post operation range of motion, for example an ACL repair, then if would be better to use a upright bike to gradually increase knee range of motion before moving to a spin bike (for this will increase knee range of motion even more). Therefore for most ACL repairs, it is ideal to start cycling at around 2 weeks. Even then some ACL patients are recommended by surgeons to use the elliptical within the 2 – 6 weeks post op.


So what are the mechanical benefits each machine is used for?


Cycling (upright and spin bikes)

  • Lack of ground reaction force (less impact on knees and hips)
  • Good for exiting hip and knee
  • May be used as a precursor to running, even better if the client is looking to go back to on road cycling
  • May be used as a lower limb strength program – as you can increase the resistance of the bike and isolate quads (quad dominant)
  • Allows to go through close to full hip and knee range of motion
  • Standing on pedals may wean the client into plyometric and explosive motion (for those who have poor jumping kinematics)
  • Recumbent bikes are spine friendly


Elliptical/cross trainer

  • Seamless and low impact on joints (lack of heel strike)
  • Precursor to running (pseudo running kinematics)
    • “During elliptical training, gluteus maximus and vastus lateralis muscle activation were increased; medial hamstring, gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis anterior muscle activation were decreased; and gluteus medius and lateral hamstring muscle activation were relatively unchanged compared with muscle activation of those muscles in walking.” -https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20022994/
  • Hip, knee, shoulder and trunk mobility
  • Able to isolate quads and hamstrings when resistance is elicited
  • Able to simulate incline (for a more quad and tibialis anterior dominant program)
  • Great to decompress spine
  • Perfect for arthritic degeneration


Row machine

  • Full knee and hip flexion combined with trunk flexion and upper back engagement
  • Lower back and core sensitive
  • Great if the client is looking to get back to rowing
  • Potential to aid cobbs angle (scoliosis benefit)
  • Low impact



  • Able to pace speed of running
  • Weaning back to running outdoors
  • Sets up perfect environment to practice heel, midfoot and toe strike (if client requires change)
  • Impact through lower limbs improves bone density (wolff’s law)
  • Walking is perfect for arthritis
  • Allows training for arm swing and proper running kinematics.
  • Improved linear agility (sprint) and exercise tolerance (aerobic and anaerobic tolerance)


At the end of the day, these cardio machines will do what they are branded to do. Physiologically they will improve serum lipid profiles, blood pressure and pro-inflammatory markers as well as reduced susceptibility to stroke, acute coronary syndrome and improve cardiovascular tolerance. Additionally, aerobic exercise is effective in the prevention and management of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus. However mechanically it is more contingent on the goals, preexisting injuries and things you need. If you are unsure about which equipment you should use, seek a professional clinician (physiotherapist or doctor) to guide your decision.


Written by Joshua Shum Physiotherapist 

Posted in Uncategorized.