A Guide to Cardio Machines That Burn the Most Calories – Choose Your Poison

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As work started taking over my life and I forgot the joys of exercise, especially running, I could see myself packing on the pounds.

I needed to make a change, but didn’t fancy being tied to a gym membership. So I hopped on the computer, ordered a cardio machine, and five days later, I had a solid workout routine.

You might be surprised at what’s available on the market, from treadmills to vertical climbers. Your decision might mean that a “leaner you” is right around the corner.

We’ve listed the cardio machines that burn the most calories at home below.

What Are Cardio Machines?

These machines are made to mimic cardio-based movements. Any workout that effectively gets your heart rate up is considered cardiovascular and there are plenty of options to choose from.

Probably the most popular cardio machine would be the treadmill, especially for those that enjoy walking or running. Go to our article on treadmills for large people for more. Other options include ellipticals, rowing machines and exercise bikes, among others.

Benefits of Using Cardio Machines

Incorporating the use of a personal cardio machine into your exercise regime can offer you quite a few advantages:

Burns Calories

If you’re looking for a way to burn those calories, hop on a cardio machine. You’ll receive similar results as if you were performing the actual activity. For example, if you like the idea of rowing down a river, then a similar amount of energy or more can be expended on a stand-alone rowing machine.

Let’s talk numbers for a moment.

Using a ski machine for 30 minutes will burn between 285 and 422 calories, for a 125-pound individual or 185-pound individual, respectively.

Do you prefer cycling? A strenuous workout on an exercise bike can burn between 315 and 466 calories for the person’s same weight.

Low-to-Medium Impact

No need to hit it hard or not hit it at all. The cardio machines on our list all provide the option to go at your own pace and intensity.

A plethora of research is available, showing the benefits of low-to-medium impact exercises. For starters, gentle, fluid-like motions provide a smoother experience for the joints. Less impact means a decreased risk of injury or wear and tear over time.

A study conducted in 2014 showed that using an elliptical machine reduced weight-bearing stress on joints, compared to other common sporting activities. The elliptical is particularly low impact. This is especially important for those in rehabilitation from a previous injury or medical procedure.

Furthermore, if you do enjoy participating in high-impact workouts such as running, alternating between treadmill running and running outdoors may boost your performance overall.

Convenience and Safety

Let’s face it—getting to the gym is half the battle. With a cardio machine at home, all you have to do is hop on and go.

This doesn’t mean you want to throw caution to the wind, though. Injury can occur with any exercise. We’ve all seen the treadmill mishaps.

While a cardio machine can’t prevent that completely, the risk factor could be less with proper form and reasonable exertion (not overdoing it).

A study conducted in 2015 found that most gym injuries came from overexertion, use of free weights and missteps/falls in group classes. Since we are huge advocates of exercising at home, there won’t be as many distractions and you can focus on the task.

These machines are designed to provide smooth, equally distributed movements. No potholes to watch out for when you’re walking on the treadmill, for example.

You won’t have to worry about poor weather conditions or the dangers that can come with outdoor evening runs either.


Many cardio machines allow you to adjust multiple variables such as speed, incline or even follow workout programs. These personalized settings cater to your individual fitness goals and often provide an option to track and save the results.

Apart from being motivational, it’s also practical when you’re tired one day but super energetic the next. Just adjust your settings and get going.

Another popular option is the ability to link up via Bluetooth-enabled apps to virtual workout scenarios either through various landscapes or within an exercise group run by a coach.

This function adds another dimension to your home workout and makes the whole experience more interesting and fun. Again, it’ll help you get back in the swing of your exercise regime the next time.

Strength vs. Cardio Workout for the Calorie Burn

There has been a lot of debate over the years about what form of exercise was most effective in reducing a person’s overall weight. Was it aerobic (cardio) or anaerobic (strength/resistance) that was the catalyst for weight loss?

Although not quite as simple as this: cardio burns more calories, while strength or resistance training builds muscle.

Strangely, studies comparing the effects of just cardio on a population segment and just strength training are few and far between.

However, one extensive study of weight loss that finished in 2012 concluded that not only was cardio training significantly more effective for weight loss than strength training but also a mix of the two was only as effective as strength training alone.

There were caveats to these results, however. For instance, all the volunteers were classed as obese. So is aerobic exercise especially good for that category of exerciser?

And the study acknowledged that the strength training volunteers did gain lean muscle tissue.

If the time needed to work out is at a premium then burning calories is more effective by doing cardio exercises such as running, walking, cycling and swimming.

But I believe, along with the American College of Sports Medicine that strength or resistance training, such as lifting weights, press-ups and arm curls, should ideally be part of a full program of activities that are complementary to cardio exercise.

I personally like to do 2 thirds cardio to 1 third resistance workouts. Although, admittedly, as I get older and my high-impact running days are drawing to an end, I find myself mixing things up a good deal more. So, typically a session might be one hour of cardio (bike & elliptical), 40 minutes resistance with a mix of static and dynamic stretching before and after – 2 hours total.

If you’re looking for a way to lose weight and redistribute the pounds, a cardiovascular workout is the most effective

An easy 30-minute run at 5mph will burn up to 298 calories for a 155-pound person. Weightlifting for the same amount of time will provide the same sized individual with a 112-calorie burn.

This doesn’t mean you should skip strength training, though. The stronger and larger your muscles, the more effective your metabolism will be. So your body continues to burn calories, even while at rest.

Both types of exercises are beneficial to overall health. Cardio will help maintain your weight and build stamina, while weight training will keep your body strong.

And doing both regularly will really get you fit.

What Are the Best Cardio Machines for Weight Loss and Toning?

All of the machines below can help you achieve weight loss and toning goals.

How many calories you burn will depend on your weight, intensity at which you perform and the duration/frequency of your workouts. For the sake of our descriptions, we stick with an average 155-pound individual.

Treadmills for calorie burn

Large lady walking on the best treadmill for a heavy person

Treadmills are one of the most popular machines that people use for weight loss. They can definitely get your heart rate up, which is what you want. Setting your speed, incline and keeping track of your duration are just a few benefits here.

The better treadmills, in particular, come with Bluetooth connectivity which can sync with apps that provide a group experience with other exercisers and coaches or virtual landscapes to run in. Great for keeping on the straight and narrow path to a lean machine.

Before I had ever been on one I thought a treadmill was what people or horses toiled on to turn a wheel. The first time I had a go on one the word treadmill was synonymous with the workplace I had just left on my way to the gym.

This can’t be hard surely. The belt goes around automatically and does all the work.

But somehow the effort you put into walking or running on a treadmill seems as much as the actual outdoor activity. I still don’t understand how that can be but there you are.

That being said there is a difference between running on a treadmill and running in about in the open on different terrains.

The obvious one is that the treadmill provides a consistent experience with no variation of movement so restricting the number of anterior muscles that are engaged.

Treadmills give the runner/walker cushioning so it reduces the high impact of running outdoors somewhat.

To get the most exercise benefit from a treadmill don’t rely on the handles to pull you along and keep the arms swinging in a natural movement to provide the body’s balance.

We have more information on the different types and uses of treadmills.

Calories burned: Running five miles per hour for 30 minutes will burn 298 calories.

Muscles used: Glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors. The lower body is the prime focus here.

Best exercise for: Burning calories, cross-training, marathon training, rehabilitation.

Rowing Machines for calorie burn

Girl outside on rowing machine

Rowing machines are often overlooked. That’s a shame since they’re one of the most effective methods for whole-body training. It’s an exercise that uses the majority of your muscles, which makes it a powerful tool in your lose weight and get fit armory.

This means you can combat stiffness and weakness with one of these machines. Furthermore, some doctors claim it’s a more efficient exercise than using a treadmill. Are you convinced? I’m not so sure.

There is an initial strain when getting into a rhythm on a rowing machine but after that, it feels that I can keep going for a long time. One major drawback for me is the boredom (it’s hard to focus on a screen) and the ache in the bum after about 20 minutes.

  • Calories burned: Rowing moderately on a stationary machine for 30 minutes burns 260 calories.
  • Muscles used: Upper body (biceps, triceps, abdomen and back) and lower body (thighs, calves, hamstrings and glutes). The hands and wrists are also strengthened from the gripping motion that’s required.
  • Best exercise for: Building strength in your upper and lower body, recovering from previous workouts and increasing endurance.

Ellipticals for calorie burn

One of the best compact elliptical machines

Elliptical machines are another popular piece of exercise equipment and for a good reason—they are particularly good at providing the means to a very low impact workout. That doesn’t mean to say that it’s easy.

Like most exercise machines for the home, a good elliptical can be a beast. It should come with a variable resistance option that can really make you sweat when cranked up.

Form is important when exercising on an elliptical though. Shoulders back, activate the abdominals and don’t grip and pull on the (moving) handles.

This is more about the lower body than the arms, chest, etc.

  • Calories burned: A 30-minute workout on the elliptical will burn 335 calories.
  • Muscles used: Lower body (thighs, calves and glutes), arms (less so)  as well as engaging your core.
  • Best exercise for: Lower-body rehabilitation and increasing coordination.

Vertical Climber for calorie burn

Girl on a Versaclimber

This smart machine simulates the motion of climbing up a vertical object. Truth be told, it could be the best exercise machine for weight loss, based on the sheer calories burned during the activity.

It also initiates a higher VO2 max than most other machines on our list. This means the maximum oxygen uptake of any given cardio activity.

The vertical climber as an efficient exercise machine appears to have it all. It provides a low-impact workout, takes up a lot less space than most fitness machines and all the major muscle groups get engaged. Yep, the workout you get from just 10 or 15 minutes can be pretty tough.

In fact, it looks easier than it actually is. A lot of people willing to put in the effort to lose the pounds and get fit but who may not be the great shape, struggle to get over the initial stages of the exercise. Often they give up, putting it in the too-hard basket.

Fortunately, many of the better vertical climbers have variable resistance settings which, unlike other fitness machines, means that you can start out easy (with resistance set) and work toward little or no resistance. No resistance means you’re pulling your weight each time you complete a leg/arm movement.

The vertical climber is a contender for the cardio machine that burns the most calories, in theory. But you have to be fit-ish to get the most out of a session which means the exerciser would have more lean muscle and so less fat in the first instance.

  • Calories burned: Thirty minutes can burn around 409 calories for the average individual.
  • Muscles used: Upper body, core and lower body. It’s basically the definition of a full-body workout.
  • Best exercise for: Increasing VO2, improving coordination and balance.

Exercise Bikes for calorie burn

One of the most common pieces of equipment you’ll see lined up at the gym is the exercise bike. And there is now a wide range of bikes you can choose from for the home workout.

woman on the best folding exercise nike

They provide you with a smooth and stable motion that you wouldn’t get from cycling outdoors, which can get bumpy or interrupted. Although it’s a great experience cycling across moors and mountains it can be hairy in towns and cities.

Exercise bikes are an excellent way to do interval training as well. This means alternating between short bursts of intense workouts and longer intervals of less intense workouts.

There are a number of different types of exercise bikes that come under two basic categories, the upright and recumbent bike.

Bikes offer bodyweight support but if you get out of the saddle (on an upright bike) with high resistance the results can be 15% more than pushing the pedals in a seated position.

Most decent bikes will offer some form of resistance that varies and increases the intensity of your workout and therefore increase the calorie burn. It is widely believed that HIIT-type activities are more effective for calorie burn.

HIIT or high-intensity interval training is a workout where you alternate between very intense effort followed by a slowdown then back to high intensity again. Exercise bikes are particularly suited to HIIT.

  • Calories burned: Stationary cycling for 30 minutes will burn 260 calories.
  • Muscles used: Mainly works the lower-body muscle groups (thighs, glutes, hamstrings and calves). It can also engage the core.
  • Best exercise for: Strengthening the back and legs, interval training.

Stairmaster for calorie burn

Walking on a Stairmaster is somewhat akin to walking on a treadmill with the incline turned right up. However, since you’re working against gravity, it’s higher intensity. This machine is a great way to increase lower-body strength.

girl on a stairmaster

Another benefit is that climbing stairs is a weight-bearing exercise, which can increase bone mass. For those that need it, this reduces your risk for bone-related diseases later on in life, such as osteoporosis.

If you’re looking to lose weight and tone your legs, the Stairmaster is fine if you can stand the boredom. Maybe it’s me but the whole body action embodies drudgery. I think it’s important to maintain a good upright body posture – maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.

Anyway, as you can tell not my favorite activity and for losing weight, meh, not bad.

  • Calories burned: A 30-minute workout will burn 223 calories for the average individual.
  • Muscles used: It works the calves, glutes, quads and hamstrings.
  • Best exercise for: Building and maintaining healthy bones, lower-body workout.

Cardio Machines Calories Counters

Stats on your cardio machine vary a lot, especially the one that is most difficult to estimate, the calories burned. Exercise machines can’t take into account the many variables of the individual.

The person’s weight, VO2 max and fitness level are key metrics in quantifying the number of calories burned. People have different metabolic rates as well.

Cardio machine readouts

The other thing that can’t be measured is form. Using the cardio machines in the wrong way, with bad posture, hanging on to handles or leaning forward will skew the machine’s results.

Overall the elliptical machines seem wildly out. For the same perceived effort, a 20-minute session on a stationary bike produces a 165 calorie burn compared to a whopping 410 loss on an elliptical.

Generally speaking, stationary bikes are the best measure of calories and treadmills are pretty good too but these stats should be taken as a relative figure. So if your benchmark on a bike is 160 calories and smash you it one Friday when you’re feeling pumped with a 180 burn, then it is meaningful.

Whatever the figures are it means you can set mini-goals to aim for.

Adding up calories used in a workout session is all very well (we do it) but as a gauge for actual weight lost it might be better to use a monitor to track your heart rate before, during and at rest.

Let’s face it we know when we’re putting the effort in. If you’re just about able to have a conversation you’re not quite there but go harder and if singing a song has got you gasping you’re on the limit of your effort.

Exercises without Cardio Machines for Losing Weight

Incorporating other cardio workouts into your routine, in addition to using exercise machines, could support you on your weight-loss journey.

HIIT exercises are short bursts of high-intensity workouts and have been shown to induce weight loss. Other possible health benefits of HIIT include a drop in insulin resistance.

Here are some exercises you can perform at home that don’t require any equipment:

  • Jump squats—40 seconds.
  • Butt kicks—50 seconds.
  • Burpees—30 seconds.
  • Mountain climbers—40 seconds.
  • Plank walks—40 seconds.

How to perform a burpee:

All about planks:

Furthermore, strength exercises are great for toning and gaining muscle mass. Incorporating some into your routine could help you shed the pounds even faster.

Include some of the following workouts for optimum results:

  • Squats—3 sets of 12 reps.
  • Pushups—3 sets of 12 reps.
  • Sit-ups—3 sets of 12 reps.
  • Dips—3 sets of 10 reps.
  • Side lunges—3 sets of 10 reps each side.
  • Calf raises—4 sets of 10 reps.


Which activity burns the most calories per hour

Running. Nothing much will beat running at a 6 min/ml pace. Cycling at over 20 mph will come close. Depending on a number of factors like size and fitness these activities will burn about 1200 calories an hour for a fit average size person at these rates.

Which cardio machine burns more calories elliptical or the treadmill?

Man (torso) running on NordicTrack 2950 treadmill

Treadmill. Running, whether on a treadmill or in the fresh air will provide the biggest calorie burn. But as a low-impact machine, you can endure longer sessions on the elliptical without stress on the joints and with relative comfort. The calorie burn on the elliptical compared with the treadmill would be half. So you would need twice the time.


Home cardio machines are ideal for anyone who isn’t a gym person. It allows you to lose weight, get fit and improve your health in the comfort of your home.

Overall we believe the treadmill is as good as it gets but to determine which cardio machines burn the most calories is not straightforward. It’s probably the wrong question to ask as it depends on many variables.

Maybe the question should be which of these cardio machines would you enjoy spending time on and pouring your sweat and tears over?

Choose something that suits your fitness needs, but make sure you’re able to enjoy it.

No need to dread it! Best of luck on your journey.

Photo of author


Jenny Churchill

Always being a fitness fanatic saw Jenny become a Level 2 Certified Personal Trainer. She was able to maintain her enthusiasm for her own fitness after the arrival of 2 more mouths to feed. And now it's more about helping others through her writing, something she can do from home.

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