Which Cardio Machine Burns the Most Calories?


You walk into the gym and see the usual assortment of cardio equipment. You have one goal in mind for this workout: burn calories in the shortest amount of time. Which exercise machine should you choose?

First of all, don’t trust the numbers on the machines. Manufacturers purposely exaggerate the number of calories burned on their equipment to make their product appear to be more effective. Secondly, any machine is only as effective as the effort your put forth. It’s pretty easy to cheat on most cardio machines to make the motion more effortless, but this will only cause you to burn fewer calories. If it feels easy, you aren’t getting a good workout.

Keeping that in mind, here are the five most common pieces of cardio equipment and how they stack up against each other in the fat burning department.


Stationary Bike

500-1000 calories per hour

Bicycling uses the strong quadriceps muscles to generate a significant calorie burn on a simple piece of equipment. However, it can be easy to let momentum do all the work while you pedal along at a leisurely pace. For effective fat burning, shoot for a pace of at least 85 rotations per minute (rpm), and turn up the resistance to a level that has you breathing hard. For an even more effective workout, choose an interval workout on the bikes display, or create your own.



600-1200 calories per hour

Running is a good full-body motion with the potential to burn a lot of fat. In fact, sprinting up an incline is one of the best ways to burn calories and boost your metabolism for hours after your workout. For an effective treadmill workout, choose one of three options:

Jog: Running at a steady pace will burn significant calories if you choose a pace that is challenging for you.

Walk uphill: Trudging up a steep incline can be physically demanding and a good way to burn fat. Just don’t make the mistake of holding onto the railings. This takes weight off of your legs and negates the benefits of the incline.

Sprint: Alternating bursts of full effort with periods of recovery is the best way to burn calories and stimulate your fat burning hormones. For an extra challenge, sprint uphill.

By the way, don’t bother walking on the treadmill (with no incline) if your goal is to burn calories. Walking should be reserved for two instances: if you are recovering between bursts of full effort (like sprinting), or if you’re just making the transition from a sedentary lifestyle and need to ease into exercise.


Elliptical Trainer

600-800 calories per hour

Elliptical trainers are highly variable, and the calorie-burn estimates are largely unreliable. It is also easy to cheat on these machines. Once the elliptical gets moving, the inertia of all of the moving parts can make it really easy to keep going. That’s why it’s especially important on elliptical machines to choose a high resistance. A high resistance is more important than a fast pace when it comes to burning fat on ellipticals.

If the machine has handles that allow you to pump your arms as you run, use them. These will engage the muscles of your upper body and help to burn more calories. If the machine doesn’t include an arm motion, again, don’t lean on the railings. Doing so will significantly reduce your calorie burn.


Rowing machine


Rowing is an excellent full-body workout with the potential to burn over 1000 calories per hour. To tap into this potential, you should use a high resistance and fast pace. If you feel like Noah leisurely rowing Allie across the lake (yes, that’s a Notebook reference), then you aren’t working hard enough.

Caution: Rowing is not a motion that most people are accustomed to, so make sure to peek at the instructional diagrams and use proper form. Start slow, and if you start feeling pain—especially in your lower back–stop before you hurt yourself.


Stair Climber

800-1400 calories per hour

This has to be the most masochistic contraption at the gym. I’m not talking about the machine that has you pump your legs in a short stair-climbing motion. Those things are useless. I’m talking about the never-ending rotating belt of stairs that can bring the fittest of athletes to their knees.

The stair climber works the powerful muscles of your thighs and butt while engaging your core and lower legs as well. That makes for a hard workout but a fantastic calorie burn. However, this is only possible if you avoid cheating. More than any other machine, clutching the railings and supporting your weight with your arms will destroy the calorie-burning potential of the stair climber. If you need stability, touch your knuckles to the railings as your climb. This will help you keep your balance without taking too much weight off of your legs.

Since climbing stairs is much more difficult than jogging on a flat surface, simply go hard for shorter periods of time. You can climb at a quick pace, stop and rest, then hop back on and repeat. That will be more effective than leaning on the railings.


The Takeaways:

  • Don’t trust the “calories burned” numbers displayed on cardio machines.
  • The calories you can burn on any piece of equipment depends mostly on your level of exertion.
  • Full body exercises such as rowing and running usually burn more calories than isolated activities like cycling.

Whatever machine you prefer, make sure to switch it up every once and a while. This will keep your body from adapting to the same old exercise and maximize your calorie burn (see my article “What’s the deal with ‘Muscle Confusion'”).

If you’re looking for some great interval workouts you can do on all types of cardio equipment, check out the Interval Training workouts available on the workout downloads page.



Which cardio machines work best for you? Do you have a favorite cardio workout for the gym? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
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60 Responses to Which Cardio Machine Burns the Most Calories?

  1. Adam Scott says:

    doing treadmill for 6 days in a week, reducing 2400 calories per week. Targeting to 3000 calories!! When i over do, i feel like unhealthy. So i reduce to 3000!!


  2. Sunitha Raj says:

    I prefer working out with treadmill, as it gives me immense pleasure of exercising at my own pace and also I can watch my favorite channel on TV while working on it ;)

  3. Kol says:

    this entire page was discouraging, there was so much negativity, I see so many ppl hold onto the railings of all these machines, and sometimes its all they use, I’ve seen where they started and where they are now….they LOSE WEIGHT, ignore this trash and work out!

    • kosta says:

      Where do you see negativity? It’s the truth! If you lean on the rails you are not using your muscles to the fullest potential….

      • AJ says:

        That is assuming that you let momentum take it’s course and let your legs fall. More often than not, I see individuals grasping the rails for sheer force to push the stairs downward at high resistance levels. In the end, it all “depends on your level of exertion”.

      • Sammy says:

        Some people can’t balance on treadmills or on the other equipment. So they use the rails. I have seen so many people lose weight even though they use the rails.

      • Zelda Buchanan says:

        I agree. I objective is to get the best workout possible.

    • Kaylee says:

      You can use the rails for balance without putting weight on them. On the stair stepper my balance isn’t great but I just use my fingertips on the railing to balance while still climbing with my full body weight. You don’t have to full on grasp the railing just to balance.

      • I think the point they were making is if you want to maximise the amount of calories you burn then don’t hold the railings. Obviously if you are new to exercise or have problems with balance then holding the railings would be fine. Most people know you need to work your way up to doing these things. Why are people so quick to slag off anyone who tries to give advice? They are the negative ones!

    • Crystal White says:

      So true I hold and lost 30lbs in 6 wks tons of inches and I’m still losing!

  4. Eric Scanlan says:

    This article is so discouraging (TO ME – figure I’ll put that in for the benefit of anyone who may not, personally, have found it discouraging). I am 300 pounds – after 1/2 a lap in the pool I can barely breath (and no, it’s not from swallowing water (well, sometimes, but that’s beside the point!!)) And you’re saying that I need to go hardcore on these things (pedal at 1 1/2 rotations per second??) or I might as well not even bother with the gym? I was hoping I could just go at my own pace, maybe work my way up, and, provided I went consistently, get SOME sort of results.

    Now I feel like there is no hope for me at all. This really sucks.

    : (

    • Genie says:

      Hey there don’t give up. This article is written with a good deal of assumptions. There are benefits to you, not just in calories burned, but in increasing your stamina. See a physician to make certain your body can take the exercise. Then get a heart rate monitor, get your heart rate into the target zone, and go for as long as you can. Do this regularly over a period of time and you will find you feel better and your stamina will increase. Focus on healthy living and the rest will come along. You can do this.

      • Wheelchair says:

        It was really sweet of you to write that to them. I feel like your advice was really perfect and I hope he saw this message and worked his stamina up so he could do more exercise to lose the weight he wants. Thank you, stranger, for taking the time to write that message. <3 Best wishes from me to you both!

    • Christy says:

      It’s all about taking it a day at a time and building up to it and if you’re new to working out, start off with a good personal trainer to help teach you new workouts and correct posture (super important) to get the most out of your workout routine! :) Workout results don’t come quickly, but you can expedite the process with a consistent and productive routine and healthy diet!

    • brett smithson says:

      Don’t be disappointed with these responses.
      First of all resign your self to the fact that this isn’t going to happen over night.
      My suggestion would be to start on the cross trainer to get your fitness levels up to where you can comfortably jog on a treadmill for 2 minutes.
      Then , the next night , whatever you did the night before either beat it in time or speed.Even it’s by a mere 1 second but understand that this your battle and treat it as such. Don’t think log term think short term goals and I guarantee that by the time you start losing weight you will already be following other peoples tips on diets and such and you will see that your lifestyle will change automatically with your progress. Don’t give up and don’t listen to the neg voices in your head.
      Good Luck and Smash It.

    • Corey says:

      Mate just work as you work as long as you burn more calories than you eat you will lose weight! The smallest bit of exercise can improve weight lose! Keep you head up and prove the nay Sayers wrong! Believe and you will receive!

    • Tracy says:

      Going your own pace is great. I have to do the same I am pushing my self a little more each time until I reach my goal. I think that is the best for ME. Keep it up you can make your goals!

    • Keith says:

      I was just like u. I was at 300 and started walking half a mile a day on treadmill no elevation at 2.5 mph. Then after a week went to level 1 elevation and 2.8 mph then started walking.75 mile etc…
      I now walk 5 miles at level 3 and 3.5 mph and have lost 65 lbs. point is start slow and build up.

    • Beth says:

      DONT read into this. The article is fir advanced people working out. I’m 211 lbs was 221 I’ve lost 8 lbs so far going to the gym getting in the elliptical and treadmill and I have to hold on to the rails sometimes. You go at your own pace and don’t quit and I guarantee that you will see results.

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  6. B says:

    All….just relax….here’s some easy words of advice. The goal of calorie burning not only lies in your routine, but your eating, and your water intake (most important). Losing calories is like saving money. You save 5 or 10, maybe you put 50 in the account….eventually you save for that TV, or dress, or maybe you start a Roth IRA ;) The same goes for calories. Cut out the sodas and extra worthless “do your body no good” calories (starbucks giant coffee, candy, alcohol, ice cream in heavy amounts, whatever your vice is). if you can’t cut it out, ENJOY IN MODERATION. Save some calories, your body will love you for it. Drink water, it does many things for your system and weight loss. Vary your routine, if you can, add light weight(s) to your fitness patterns. These are all examples and suggestions, but you should find them helpful!

  7. PJ says:

    Stopped reading at “By the way, don’t bother walking on the treadmill (with no incline) if your goal is to burn calories”

    another worthless article. Anyone can now claim to be a fitness guru and post blatant bro-science online on how to lose weight and get fit. In fact I’m burning calories as I type here but NO DONT bother walking on the treadmill. Look up how Arnold and Old-school body builders did it before polluting more cyber pace.

  8. Kaylee says:

    I love the section about the stair climber because that’s my go-to machine. And I totally agree about it being the “most masochistic machine in the gym”. It’s brutal but it’s my absolute favorite. Also, it is absolutely accurate that holding onto the railings decreases calories burned. The hard part of cardio is carrying your own body weight and the resistance that provides. If you alleviate that by holding on the the railings or leaning forward and just moving your legs on the stair climber, you’re decreasing the amount of calories burned. It’s not meant to be offensive, it is just honest. Sure, you can still lose weight doing that because it’s 70% diet and 30% exercise, but if you want to spend less time on the cardio machines (most people do) then don’t cheat yourself by holding your weight on the railings and you’ll get the same results in less time.

  9. courtney says:

    This is discouraging for someone like me. I have to hold on to the rails or I will fall I do try to walk without but I end up holding on because I can’t walk in a straight line to save my life. Also I have many issues with my knees and back so it’s hard to go so hard core I like the bike because it’s easy on my joints and I can’t run because of my asthma this all makes it feel like I’ll never loose weight. I lost around 80 pounds but I got stu after that because of my health .

  10. Becca says:

    I’ve had two surgeries on my right knee & have just started working out to lose the weight I put on by not being able to move around. I HAVE to hold onto the rails because my knee has a tendency to pop out, even with my brace. I’m slowly, but surely, losing weight. I can really put some work on the bike and only do about a minute or so on the elliptical & stair climber. I feel like this article is more towards people that are already in descent shape, rather than those that are trying to get healthy.

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  12. Stuart Christie says:

    I ran 14kmph for 12 hours, hard/boring/tedious though I made finance for charities.
    Think of others!!

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  18. ROB SHAWCROSS says:

    I really enjoyed ready your page, “Which Cardio Machine Burns the Most Calories”
    After reading it i managed to answer questions which were on my mind like do i train in time or calories ?
    Do i raise my bar and alter my effort level twice a week to keep my body from getting used to a normal workout.
    Would i be better also doing some interval training on the rower and the crossover ?
    Any advice to keep me losing weight and toning up but at the same time not getting bored.
    I shall look forward to your reply and all the best for 2016.


    Rob Shawcross

    • Drew Troyer says:

      Your advice to set the rowing machine on high resistance is incorrect. On the Concept2, a setting of 3 mimics a light boat and a setting of 6 mimics a heavy boat. Novice rowers wrongly set the machine to 10, which only creates undue stress on the lower back during the catch. The work should be pushing hard with the legs during the drive and pulling hard with the arms during the finish while engaging the core for stability throughout the stroke. The machine will resist more the harder as you drive and pull harder.

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  28. bill says:

    Get off the couch today!

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  30. For me walking is the best cardio type. It doesn’t put any additional stress to your body, and it burns calories. If you are exhausted from cardio, you might end up eating more than you burned. Keep that in mind…

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  32. run outside if not possible the stair master is the best hands down!

  33. Row-Fit says:

    Still going to pick the Stair climber. But, the benefits of using the row machine compared to the others, for a low impact workout, sure stands out for me.

  34. All cardio machine is effective for burning the most calories . But every of these equipment is not perfect equally .

    In this case i would like to recommend highly to use treadmill as it is very easy to use and effective as usual .

  35. Leon Kratsas says:

    I excersise atgym using rowing machine for 45 to 60 minutes a day on the highest setting at a moderate speed for 5 days a week I dont seem to be loosing any weight even though I do this with weight training for an hour 3 times a week and jogging and walking 7 times a week for at least 90 minutes . I’m currently 69 kgs fairly defined body but want to get down to 67 kgs by Xmas I watch what I eat tend to be a small eater who prefers fish and chicken any ideas

  36. mujie says:

    Holding your weight on the rails is not bad. It burns calories in holding ur weight as well. It might be helpful even to balance some of ur weight using arms instead of putting all the stress on ur knees and legs

  37. Cardio is what?
    As its name suggests, the cardio is a sport that strengthens the cardiovascular system aims.

  38. Abezawu wudu says:

    hi sure thank you for your info ,,what is your recommendation to loss fat weight in short time .calisthenic or macihn exercise

  39. new2gym says:

    So what should be the setting? I am new to this. Should it be on 6? My weight is 94kg and im 39. My knees and foot hurts if i workout on treadmill, so I used Wave machine. Someone told me that WAVE Machine by technogym isnt effective at all.

    With my weight and age what would anyone of you recommend, also considering I have hurting knees and slightly injured left foot.

  40. new2gym says:

    So what should be the setting of rowing machine by concept2? I am new to this. Should it be on 6? My weight is 94kg and im 39. My knees and foot hurts if i workout on treadmill, so I used Wave machine. Someone told me that WAVE Machine by technogym isnt effective at all.

    With my weight and age what would anyone of you recommend, also considering I have hurting knees and slightly injured left foot.

    Also, can anyone suggest a program for me to follow so I can use elliptical, wave, rowing, and treadmill at the gym? I want to make the most of it.

    Another question I want to ask is that body is pear shaped, hence most of my weight is on my lower part of the body. I dont want to give up on my gym because i know i get tired …i want to be healthy and happy.

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