The Best Cardio Equipment for an At-Home Workout

·14 min read
home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Bowflex Amazon Schwinn

Best Indoor Cycling Bike

shp - 1950 Available at NordicTrack

Best Home Treadmill

shp - 1300 Available at Echelon

Best Treadmill for Serious Runners

shp - 1998 Available at NordicTrack

Best Elliptical

shp - 1699 Available at Bowflex

Best Rowing Machine

shp - 900 Available at Rogue

Best Exercise Bike Under $1,000

shp - 999 Available at Schwinn

Best Strength and Cardio Machine

shp - 2995 Available at Tonal

Best Luxury Rowing Machine

shp - 2245 Available at Hydrow

Aerobic fitness trends are constantly evolving. Road running hit its stride in the 1970s, Jane Fonda popularized leg warmer-wearing exercise in the 1980s, and the turn of the century ushered in a boom in functional fitness. Today, at-home cardio workouts are more popular and easier than ever, thanks to technological advances. The best cardio equipment boasts conveniences like interactive personal training and automated space-saving options.

And despite the many forms that cardio fitness has taken over the years, one thing remains the same: Heart-pumping workouts are still one of the best ways to get and stay in good health. (Related: How to Set Up a Home Gym You'll Actually Want to Workout in)

"Though a lot has changed, the basics have stayed the same," says Mike Masi, doctor of physical therapy and a certified personal trainer with Masi Fitness in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Getting an hour of exercise about three days a week is still key to warding off illness, fighting heart disease, and simply feeling better every day."

Having a cardio machine (or two) at home makes it easy to squeeze in a workout after work or while your toddler is down for a nap — no drive to the gym required. (Related: The Best Exercise Bikes to Deliver a Killer Workout At Home)

To help take the guesswork out of shopping for cardio machines, the fitness experts at Garage Gym Reviews tested thousands of workout products alongside an extensive panel of medical doctors, physical therapists, personal trainers, gym owners, and nutritionists. They examined the equipment from every angle using a 14-point testing methodology, including looking at assembly, the quality of materials used, product performance, customer service, policies, and ergonomics.

Below are Garage Gym Reviews' top eight picks for the best cardio equipment for at-home workouts and why these products made the list. (Related: Your Comprehensive Guide to At-Home Workouts)

Our Recommendations:

Best Indoor Cycling Bike: NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle

The best parts of working out at home? No commute to the gym, and no worries about how your hair or clothes look. The NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle makes at-home, low-impact exercise even easier because the machine comes with a free year of iFit. It also features incline and decline settings, which is rare among indoor cycle bikes. The bike is fully decked out with a cooling fan, water bottle holders, Bluetooth connectivity and even a pair of 3-pound dumbbells.

iFit is individualized programming that automatically adjusts the bike's resistance and incline settings for you. A trainer on a 22-inch HD touchscreen guides you on rides all over the country, and NordicTrack throws in two dumbbells for full-body workout options. Take note: Garage Gym Reviews dinged the S22i a few points because the assembly is complicated and the bike isn't easy to move because of the large screen. (Related: The Best Recumbent Bikes for Low-Impact Workouts, According to Reviews)

Score: 4.7/5

Resistance and Incline Levels: 24 levels of digital resistance, -10 to 20 percent incline

Workouts: iFit programming free for the first year

Trial Period for Returns: 30 days

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Home Treadmill: Echelon Stride

The Echelon Stride is a connected treadmill that is a fraction of the cost — and folds to a fraction of the size — of its high-priced competition. Garage Gym Reviews gave it a perfect score in footprint and portability due to the Stride's 156-pound frame (which is pretty light for a treadmill) and easy auto-folding technology that makes the machine just 10.25 inches deep.

The Stride also brings personal training into your home through the Echelon United fitness app, which has on-demand, heart pumping workout programs for all fitness levels. The accompanying app is an added cost, and there is no fancy display on the Stride. You have to use your own tablet to stream your workouts, which is why it's so affordable. (Related: The Best Treadmills Under $1,000 to Create an At-Home Gym On a Budget)

Score: 4.3/5

Speed and Incline Levels: 0 to12 mph; up to a 10 percent incline

Workouts: 8 built-in workouts and access to the Echelon United app

Trial Period for Returns: 30 days

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Treadmill for Serious Runners: NordicTrack Commercial 1750

Of all the treadmills the team at Garage Gym Reviews have tested, they picked the NordicTrack Commercial 1750 for serious runners because of its many customizations. The machine scored perfectly in this area because it has both incline and decline settings and can reach speeds of up to 12 miles per hour. Also, you can turn the belt cushioning on to reduce impact on the joints, or turn it off to more closely mimic running on the road.

The 1750 also comes with a free year of iFit programming, which gives you personalized, interactive options for high-intensity speedwork, longer endurance runs, and everything in between. It's a big machine with a large footprint, as expert tester Cooper Mitchell points out, and heavy at 339 pounds. "Assemble it where you're going to keep it," he advises. (Related: The 8 Best Treadmills Under $500, According to Customer Reviews)

Score: 4.5/5

Speed and Incline Levels: 0 to 12 mph; -3 percent decline to 15 percent incline

Workouts: Several built-in workouts and countless options with iFit subscription

Trial Period for Returns: 30 days

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Elliptical: Bowflex Max Trainer M6

Ellipticals are ideal for people seeking low-impact cardio because they take the stress off of the joints. The Bowflex Max Trainer M6 is more of a stair climber than an elliptical (where your legs glide in a running motion), which means the glutes and hamstrings get an even more joint-friendly workout. It also means the M6 is more compact than other workout machines. Whereas other ellipticals are up to 85 inches in length, the M6 is just 46 inches long and 26 inches wide.

Garage Gym Review testers rated the M6 high for its small footprint and for its programming options through the JRNY app. However, the M6 lost a few points due to its basic LCD display. In order to take advantage of JRNY, you'll need to use your own streaming device or upgrade to the Bowflex Max Trainer M9, which has a 10-inch HD touchscreen. (Related: The Best Stair Stepper Machine, According to Customer Reviews)

Score: 4.6/5

Resistance Levels: 16

Workouts: 5 built-in workouts and endless options with the JRNY app

Trial Period for Returns: Six weeks

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Rowing Machine: Concept 2 RowErg Rower

"In the rowing world, Concept 2 is king," says Cooper Mitchell, founder of Garage Gym Reviews. "I gave the RowErg perfect or near-perfect marks in durability, portability, programming, and value because it's recognized here and around the world as one of the best rowing machines there is."

Priced at under $1,000, the Concept 2 RowErg rower has built-in and customizable workouts that are easy for beginners and challenging for advanced athletes. It's easy to store it vertically, and the machine can be quickly broken down into two pieces for other storing options. At just 57 pounds and with transport wheels, the RowErg is easy for just about anyone to move around. Also, it uses air resistance, so there is no flywheel or motor to maintain. (Related: The Best Home Rowing Machines, According to Customer Reviews)

Score: 4.5/5

Resistance Levels: 10 damper settings

Workouts: Several built-in workouts and daily workouts posted on Concept 2's website

Return Policy: 30 days to return unused rower

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Exercise Bike Under $1,000: Schwinn IC4

A cardio workout can exercise your entire body, but it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. The Schwinn IC4 offers high-end perks without cutting into your home's budget. The IC4 is designed to work with apps like Zwift and Peloton, which will automatically adjust the bike's settings as the workout progresses.

However, it doesn't come with a fancy screen; you provide your own. "Bringing your own technology to the table is an easy way to cut down on costs without sacrificing quality," says Cooper Mitchell, founder of Garage Gym Reviews. "When we tested the IC4, we found it to be extremely durable and ergonomically sound, especially compared to other machines at this price point." (Related: The Best Peloton Bike Alternatives On Amazon, According to Reviews)

Score: 4.5/5

Incline and Resistance Levels: More than 100 manually adjusted microlevels

Workouts: Compatible with popular cycling apps

Trial Period for Returns: Six weeks

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Strength and Cardio Machine: Tonal

"Cardio is great for certain fitness goals, but resistance training is necessary to protect your joints," says Mike Masi, doctor of physical therapy and a certified personal trainer with Masi Fitness. Instead of stockpiling various endurance and strength equipment throughout your house, you could get everything in one place with Tonal, a smart home gym with a space-saving design and versatility.

Tonal is a wall-mounted touchscreen with bi-lateral cable arms attached to work upper body and lower body muscle groups. When Cooper Mitchell at Garage Gym Reviews tested the machine, he gave it a 5/5 for its tech capabilities and interactive programming. The software generates new workouts every week based on your performance, even giving you suggested weights to use and form correction tips. It's like having a personal trainer living on a wall in your home. The price tag is steep, but financing is available, as is expert installation. (Related: Affordable Home Gym Equipment to Complete Any At-Home Workout)

Score: 4.7/5

Resistance: 200 pounds

Workouts: More than 170 moves and full-body exercises

Trial Period for Returns: 30 days

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

Best Luxury Rowing Machine: Hydrow Rower

One of the biggest challenges to working out at home is knowing what exercises to do. The Hydrow Rower takes care of that with its on-demand programming for HIIT and endurance rowing workouts, as well as options on the 22-inch HD touchscreen for pilates, yoga, and strength training.

"Rowing works the vast majority of your muscle groups," says Mike Masi, doctor of physical therapy and a certified personal trainer with Masi Fitness. "It's one of the most effective single-state cardio exercises there is."

The Hydrow is heavy compared to its peers at 145 pounds. Garage Gym Reviews rated it high for its interactive programming; however, expert tester Cooper Mitchell gave the rower a 3.5/5 for its portability and footprint score because, while the Hydrow can be stored vertically, doing so requires an extra equipment kit purchase. (Related: Why the Rowing Machine Deserves Your Attention)

Score: 4/5

Resistance Type: Magnetic

Workouts: Live, on-demand, and scenic options

Trial Period for Returns: 30 days

home exercise equipment
home exercise equipment

What Determines the Best Cardio Equipment?

Buying fitness equipment as a way to invest in your health is only a smart move if you spend your money wisely. Otherwise, that exercise bike turns into a very expensive, odd-looking clothes rack in the corner of your bedroom. After spending hundreds of hours evaluating cardiovascular equipment, the Garage Gym Reviews team has some key pointers to help you avoid buyer's remorse. (Related: Which Is Better: The Treadmill, Elliptical, or Bike?)

Is the Price Right?

"High-end workout equipment could cost you thousands of dollars, but that isn't necessarily a deal breaker," says Cooper Mitchell, founder of Garage Gym Reviews. "Finding an expensive fitness regimen or product that works for you means that you'll use it, which is better than something cheap that you never touch."

Mitchell also warns against opting for very inexpensive equipment. "Cheap treadmills have motors that break down easily," he says. "Make sure you read customer reviews if you're looking at products on the lower end of the pricing spectrum."

Is It Safe?

Exercising alone at home means you're in charge of your own well-being. However, technology has given us safety features that include emergency stops on treadmills, heart rate monitors, and even trainer-led programs geared to your fitness level. If you have concerns, look for products with built-in safety features that lower your risk of injury. (Related: The Best Heart Rate Monitors for Peloton)

Does It Fit Your Goals?

Depending on the type of machine you're considering, there are several different customizations you may want to consider. For example, if you're training for a hilly marathon, then getting a treadmill with incline and decline settings would be important. Similarly, you may want to look for:

  • The number of resistance levels on ellipticals and bikes

  • The type of resistance on a rower (air, water, or magnetic resistance)

  • The speed range on a treadmill

Working toward your goals might include structured workout plans. Advanced machines come with built-in and app-based programs that include interval training as well as heart rate-based and customizable workouts. (Related: The Best Home Workout Apps to Download Right Now)

Does It Fit Your Body?

Ergonomics matter. A short running deck on a treadmill (less than 55 inches) or a short stride on an elliptical (less than 18 inches) could actually be painful for taller people. Seats and handlebars on spin bikes should adjust to an optimal position for your height as well. The piece of equipment you choose needs to accommodate your body or else you leave yourself susceptible to an uncomfortable workout and, worse, injury.

Will It Go the Distance?

Your fitness journey isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, so the tools you use should be built to last. For example, many pieces of home workout equipment have weight capacities. Quality home cardio machines like air bikes and ellipticals should be able to hold at least 225 pounds, Mitchell notes. (Related: As a Plus-Size Person, I Never Thought I'd Find a Comfortable Exercise Bike - Until I Found This)

Other key durability factors include the following:

  • The continuous horsepower rating on a treadmill

  • The weight of a flywheel on a bike or elliptical

  • Whether a machine is made of mostly metal or plastic

Products that skirt the line in these areas could be likely to break down or require significant maintenance.

How Much Space Does It Take Up?

Just because you have a small space doesn't mean you have to sacrifice getting the best cardio machines; you just need to be creative. A good place to start is measuring how much room you have to store large-footprint items, like stationary bikes and ellipticals. Next, look for space-saving designs, like machines that can fold and be easily stored against the wall or under a bed.

Is It Easy to Move?

Fitness at home is great, but you may not want exercise equipment taking up a permanent spot in your living room. An elliptical machine or a treadmill can weigh upward of 300 pounds. Moving that kind of weight will give you a strength workout, even if you aren't looking for one. Fortunately, many of today's machines come with transportation wheels and handles to make the job a little less strenuous. (Related: Portable Gyms That'll Help You Get a Better Workout at Home)

Garage Gym Reviews' Testing Process

Each piece of fitness equipment on this list was put to the test (literally) in the Garage Gym Reviews lab, which is located in Springfield, Missouri. Fitness experts have run thousands of pieces of equipment through 8-14 points in a testing methodology specifically catered to each product to find the best machines.

While some of the factors tested are tied directly to performance (like ergonomics, convenience, and durability), others are based around brand operations, such as customer service, return policies, and warranty. The Garage Gym Reviews team combines this proprietary methodology with in-depth interviews and customer experience to arrive at a weighted score out of 5.

Kate Meier is a senior editor at Garage Gym Reviews. She also co-owns a gym, is a certified trainer through both USA Weightlifting and CrossFit, and is an overall fitness enthusiast.