Which cardio machine burns calories most efficiently?

Bike, treadmill, rowing machine, stairmaster or elliptical trainer. What to choose?

Which cardio machine burns calories most efficiently?
Written by Our: Morning Runner
Medical Fact Checked by: Dr. Bryan Havoc
Last updated:

What should you choose: a bike, a treadmill, a rowing machine, a stairmaster or an elliptical trainer? To which type of exercises you should dedicate time to make it the most effective?

We’re comparing different types of cardio machines and we’re giving you a set of advice how to bump up the pace of calories burn. The amount of calories burned during exertion depends on a lot of things, not only on the type of equipment you choose.

The biggest influence on how many calories you burn have: body mass and exertion intensity.

The bigger body mass and intensity of exertion the more calories burned in a specified period of time.

The period of time itself is also important - you can burn the same amount of calories exercising more slowly but during longer time or faster but with putting more intensity into working out.

Sex also matters. If a woman and a man with same body mass will do same exercises, it turns out that man will burn more calories than woman. It’s because men have bigger muscle mass than women. Obviously the equipment you’ll choose for training also impacts on calories burned.

Stationary bike

As riding a bike requires work of big groups of muscles it’s worth recommending to everyone who wants to pride themselves on big amount of burned calories. Depending on intensity, in other words riding pace and resistance, during an hour you can burn from 500 to even 1000 kcal. Certainly pedaling at a snail’s pace on the lowest level of resistance won’t let you burn 500 kcal.

Increasing calories burn during bicycling

Don’t take the easy way out, turn on a higher level! Try to pedal at the pace of not less than 90 rotations per minute (rpm 90) and turn up the resistance to a level that makes you breathing faster.

Try to: divide workout time into intervals: -2 - 3 minutes intervals of bigger exertion (turn on the highest resistance that you’re able to keep pedaling in the pace of 90 rpm) in turns with low-intensity exercise (1-2 minutes with low resistance and pace of 70-80 rpm).

Which bike to choose? Upright bicycle or recumbent?

For burning fat a traditional bicycle, where you sit in upright position slightly angled to the front is much better. On the other hand recumbent bike is good for everyone who has problems with spine, neck or elbows, and because of that shouldn’t use a traditional bike. 


Running requires a full-body movement, that’s why exercising on a treadmill can burn from 600 to 2100 kcal during an hour. In contrast, marching burns less calories - from 300 to 400 kcal/hour. That’s because we’re used to marching and it doesn’t require any effort or energy from us. And that’s the reason why marching as the element of slimming process usually doesn’t give good results. 

Increasing calories burn on the treadmill

Try to run instead of marching. You can’t do that?

Try to: march uphill in fast pace. You can also do interval training - run for 2-3 minutes and then march for 1-2 minutes, repeat running and marching in turns during the whole training. Those who are advanced can run uphill, on a steep incline. Avoid holding onto the railings. Make your arms work as well!

Elliptical Trainer

Unfortunately most of screens on elliptical trainers overestimate calories burning results. In reality results are lower and very rarely exceed 600 kcal/hour. That amount will be even lower if you hold onto the railings during exercising. The elliptical trainer is able to burn less calories than running on the treadmill or riding a stationary bike because once you make platforms moving the machine moves easily what makes your muscles work with less exertion. In general everyone who doesn’t have problems with knees should choose a treadmill.

Increasing calories burn on elliptical trainer

Choose a machine with handles to pump your arms while running. Exercise faster and then slower - when you’ll start to be breathless - slow down and speed up when you’ll breath normally again. Don’t avoid high resistance - set that level you’re able to keep on but it has to be challenging for you. This is you who should move platforms not platforms moving your legs. During working out in a steady pace, keep the pace of 120-140 moves per minute.

Rowing machine

This is the next machine which helps to achieve good results in fat burning. Within an hour you can burn over 1000 kcal. Its advantage is that it requires a full-body workout, but there are people who find training on a rowing machine very boring. Some of rowing machines are equipped with screens simulating a race with a virtual challenger - it motivates and makes training time passing by faster.

Increasing calories burn on a rowing machine

Rowing requires legs, back and arms work, that’s why make sure that you engage exactly that body parts in workout.

Try to: row 250 meters very fast and next 100-150 meters in much slower pace. Repeat whole cycle 6-8 times.


Do you want to burn a lot of calories? Then don’t choose a stairmaster, which involves basically only calfs, back of thighs and buttocks work, what lets you burn only 400-500 kcal/hour. Like in elliptical trainer, here platforms are being moved almost by themselves. Training on stairmaster can’t be compared with going upstairs, when you have to use your muscles power to lift yourself up. Only machine with stairs going down gives similar effects and helps burning much more calories, close to the amount possible to achieve while exercising on the treadmill.

Increasing calories burn on a stairmaster

Choose a machine with sliding steps instead of the one with moving platforms. Don’t hold onto the railings.

Try: If you can’t use a better version of stairmaster and you can’t imagine working out on another machine, take dumbbells and holding them try to step on a higher stair not waiting until the stair will move down by itself with a slight touch of your leg.

How to burn more calories during exercises?

Always try to make a challenging training. You should be tired but not overstrained and bored! Don’t read magazines, don’t stare at the tv. Sidetracking from working out makes time passes by faster but burning fat slower. Focus on your muscles work and on challenging yourself during training.

Don’t bind yourself to the only one machine. For couple of months you’re working out on a bike? Start to use a treadmill and vice versa. Thanks to that your body will be constantly surprised by various types of activity and as a result you will burn fat more effectively.

*This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.