Stationary bike, rowing machine or treadmill? Which is the best cardio machine?

Studies have showed that running uses most of the major muscle groups in the body and promotes a heightened heart rate and energy expenditure compared to other activities such as cycling and weight lifting, among others. PHOTOS | COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • The treadmill, stationary bike and rowing machine are the most popular cardio equipment you can use. Here is how to know which one is best for you.

Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, refers to any workout that improves the health of the heart and blood vessels.

Cardio includes all exercises that increase one’s heart rate and breathing, so that higher amounts of oxygen are sent to the muscles. Some examples of cardio workouts include jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobics, dancing and team sports such as football, among others. 

Because cardio workouts improve the health of the heart and blood vessels, they help in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular diseases by strengthening the heart muscle, the walls of blood vessels and lessen diseases such as heart disease, heart attack and stroke, among others. Experts say cardio also improves cognitive function.

For those who do not like exercising outdoors (jogging, cycling) or in public gyms, modern technology has afforded us the ability to do cardio in the comfort of our homes. 

The commonest indoor cardio equipment are exercise bikes, rowing machines and treadmills. And they are also the most readily available for those that are shy and would rather exercise by themselves. Since they are all cardio machines, buying all three does not make much economic sense. 

The question is, which is the best one for cardio between a treadmill, a stationary bike and a rowing machine?

Stationary bike

This is the go-to option for those who would love to ride a bicycle but do not know how to or those who do not have a safe space to ride it or those who do not want to be seen in public riding a bicycle.

Just as riding bicycle, riding a stationary bike is a great cardio workout that improves strength, balance and coordination. Experts say a stationary bike is perfect for those whose joints are not in good health and would not want to exert too much pressure on them.

Dr Ntegge Ssengendo, a sports doctor, says while cycling improves cardiovascular health, cuts weight and builds muscle over the long haul, it leaves your bones unattended to since it is non-weight-bearing unlike jogging for instance. Nonetheless, cycling is a choice cardio for people with weaker joints. 

Johnson Busingye, a gym instructor in Kampala, just as several other gym instructors, says he would rank the stationary bike last among the three pieces of equipment since its impact on the muscles is minimal compared to the treadmill and the rowing machine. 

Rowing machine

If you ask any gym instructor which cadio machine is best, the overwhelming majority well swear by the rowing machine. Busingye, who works at the Kampala Serena Hotel gym, says rowing machines are the best for cardio workout. 

“The rowing machine forces you to use all the muscle groups in the body. It works your shoulders, back as well as upper and lower arms. It works on your core muscles, the thighs and the calf muscles. If I had to buy one cardio machine, it would be the rowing machine,” he adds. 

Experts also add that the rowing machine works on your heart and lungs. In a way, this equipment forces your body to work harder than when running of cycling.

Busingye, however, warns that for safety, one must first seek the help of a fitness instructor to be able to use the machine right as rowing does not come naturally for most people. He adds that rowing should be felt more in the legs than any other part of the bosy. 

“If you feel your back and arms overworked, you are doing it incorrectly,” he says.


The treadmill is one of the most popular work out equipments in the gym, says Busingye. He adds that many people trust it as a cardio machine because it gets one sweating profusely. 

“Many people feel great when they see themselves sweat a lot in the gym. It is satisfying to know that all those toxins are coming out of the body,” Busingye says. 

Studies have showed that running uses most of the major muscle groups in the body and promotes a heightened heart rate and energy expenditure compared to other activities such as cycling and weight lifting, among others. Because of this, regular workouts on the treadmill will afford you such benefits as weight loss and muscle strength. 

“Because running on the treadmill ensures that you support your own body weight unlike cycling, it improves bone health,” Dr Ssengendo says.

Interestingly, treadmills do not suit everyone because the weight-bearing nature of running may destroy joints in some people.