Selecting the best cardio options: Step your way to a better body

Selecting the most effective cardio machine in the gym can help to more effectively burn calories and boost your fitness.

In this series of articles we take a look at the pros and cons of the most common pieces of equipment you’re likely to find in your local gym so that you can make the best choice and achieve your goals, be it improved fitness or fat loss.


Steppers or stair climbers have two paddle-like foot rests and simulate climbing a never-ending flight of stairs. They provide a challenging and effective cardio workout and are a great way to target your glutes and quads. As you only climb up your knees are not exposed to the strain of climbing down stairs.

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  • Great exercise to target quads and glutes.
  • The ability to take deep steps will raise your heart rate without the need for a high cadence or resistance level, which are normally required when using other cardio equipment to get the same result.
  • Closely simulates the lunge or step up movement often done in weight routines.
  • Energy expenditure is relatively high.


  • As you control the depth of your step you can make the exercise extremely easy and ineffective by taking ‘shallow’ steps.
  • Not always an easy machine to complete a workout on if you are a beginner due to the targeted nature of the movement.
  • Not ideal for anyone with knee pain or a previous knee or leg injury due to the deep knee bend achieved on the machine.
  • Does not simulate any specific sport, so won’t help you improve your running or cycling directly, for example.

 Try this: The spin bike’s flywheel increases the intensity & effectiveness of your workouts to boost fitness.


The StepMill differs from a stepper/stair climber in that it has a big set of rotating stairs. This is less common than the stepper in most gym chains. However, the movement, in essence, is the same so you get the same benefit.

Stationary rowing machine

This machine works the entire body at once. This means that your heart is required to pump blood and oxygen to the two largest muscle groups, namely your legs and back, at the same time. This makes it a great exercise to improve your fitness and blast calories. However, this does make it difficult to row at a high intensity for a prolonged period of time without sufficient conditioning. Rowing is therefore a great cardio exercise to use as part of a circuit or intervals to rapidly increase your heart rate.


  • A low impact, yet effective form of cardio exercise.
  • Offers a total body workout as it targets the two largest muscle groups, namely your legs and back, at the same time.
  • You work through a full range of motion.


  • Requires proper technique to derive the maximum benefit and reduce the chances of injury.
  • Difficult to row at a high intensity for a prolonged period of time without sufficient conditioning.

Short of time? Need a more intense cardio workout? The treadmill should be your go-to option.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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