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Treadmill, elliptical, or rower: How to pick the right home gym equipment

Exercise equipment comes in all sizes, forms, and with varying price tags. If you are a lover of anything involving cardio, your choices for a home gym likely center around three different options — treadmill, elliptical, or rower. While you can’t really go wrong with any of the above, even the least expensive options aren’t cheap, so do your homework.

It not only pays to compare the equipment (i.e., treadmill to treadmill), but also to pit them against each other to determine what muscle groups are worked, equipment to avoid if you have injuries, average calories burned per hour, and the consumer ratings before you make a commitment.

man on treadmill
Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock


Treadmills are a perfect option for people who really enjoy running or walking. Plus, if you live somewhere with frequent rain or snow, treadmills are a great option for keeping up your fitness level indoors. If you have joint pain or knee issues, treadmills may not be your best option, though some models offer platforms that aren’t as jarring on your joints as others.

When purchasing a treadmill, look for a strong motor that will stand up to the number of hours you’ll be putting in. If you’re tall, make sure the belt is long and wide enough for your stride. We’d also recommend one with incline capabilities and speed up to 10 so you can work your way up and vary your workouts. From there, think about what is most important to prioritize — be it measuring heart rate or the number of calories, a touchscreen, or interactive capabilities.

girl on elliptical


An elliptical trainer is a cross between a ski machine and a stair-stepper. They are an ideal choice for someone with chronic back pain, joint issues, or anyone requiring an impact-free workout. They also work both your upper and lower muscle groups for an overall experience that a treadmill can’t give.

Elliptical machines also provide a weight-bearing exercise, which is important as we age. Resistance and grade levels can be automatically adjusted depending on what model you choose, and you can find ones that have programs mimicking hill-climbing, have on-demand workouts, and offer interval training through alternating resistance.

rowing machine workout


Rowing machines may remind you of a machine your dad used back in the day at the YMCA, but they pack a serious cardio workout while strengthening your back, arms, and legs simultaneously. Rowers provide as close to a total-body workout as anything on the market, and you can torch major calories in the process. It can take some getting used to if you’ve never used one before, but you’ll be rowing your way to a healthier you before you know it.

Rowers also provide interval training and on-demand workouts if that’s something you’d like as an option. Other machines will allow you to race against other rowers, and still other, cheaper options let you row at your own pace. One bit of advice is to look for ones with pulley systems instead of piston models if you want a more realistic rowing experience. Since you are sitting and pulling, make sure your rower has a comfortable seat and grip.

Which to pick?

The bottom line: All of these options will give you a great cardio workout. If you’re looking at strength training and cardio all in one or need to pack as much as possible into one sweat session, a rower may be your best bet (which is why they are rising in popularity). It’s also great for those who are tall or have a workout space with a low ceiling,

If you need something low-impact, a rower and elliptical machine will offer a serious calorie burn while protecting your joints from unnecessary wear and tear. The elliptical gives you more options for targeting just the lower body, adjusting the length of your stride, and increasing the incline.

Treadmills are an ideal option for serious runners or walkers. If burning calories is your goal, keep in mind you’ll need to run at a pace of at least 5 mph to achieve the same number of burned calories as a rowing machine. They also deliver a familiar movement that can be picked up quickly by the most novice fitness levels.

A treadmill, elliptical, and rower all provide health benefits that come with cardio workouts — weight loss, muscle gain, improved flexibility, and a heart-healthy way to achieve your fitness goals. Take time to do your research, as there are dozens (or more) options of each, and compare what you’re looking to get out of a workout with what fits for you financially. If possible, try each one out for a few workouts, so you know you like it enough to stick to a workout routine — that’s the only way you’ll see a real benefit.

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