Fitness Tips

Best Cardio Machines For Weight Loss In 2021 – My Top Budget Friendly Picks

When it comes to losing weight effectively, it's hard to beat cardio. From helping you strengthen your heart and muscles to burning calories in an effective manner without putting too much stress on your body - cardio does wonders for helping you stay fit and knocking off those extra pounds.

However, not all cardio machines are built equal!

Personal exercise preference aside, there are quite a few things that you should keep an eye out for to make sure that your investment into your personal health and fitness really pays off.

And to give you a solid leg up in the first few steps of your weight loss journey - in today's article, I'll be walking you through the best cardio machines out there for weight loss.

Together, we'll cover the most popular types, their pros, their cons, as well as my personal top picks for the best cardio machines in each category. By best, I mean the best bang for buck options, as my research has never been about getting the top dog machine but rather finding a well round machine that fits my smaller budget.

Let's dive right in!


What Makes A Good Cardio Machine?

Before we start taking a look at what the world of cardio machines has got to offer, let's take a quick second to discuss the things that distinguish great cardio machines from their less-than-well-built counterparts.

Effectiveness

Above all else - the machine you buy should be effective!

After all, you're investing a fair bit of money into your wellbeing, and the exercise equipment you buy should provide for that.

And while I'm certainly not talking about a concrete benchmark for how many pounds you should be losing per week while exercising on the machine - it's a good idea to do your research.

You'll want to figure out what sort of exercise is the right fit for you and works best in terms of weight loss. This should give you a great idea of what to look for among all the different categories of cardio machines out there.


Configurability

It's no secret that as you lose more and more weight, your fitness will naturally improve. And the fitter you are - the more you've got to ramp up the intensity of your exercise in order to keep seeing those gains.

As such, you'll want to look for a machine that can keep up with your progress.

The machine you buy should offer enough configurability to help you set the right levels of intensity, resistance, and pace throughout your workouts.


Muscle Group(s) Targeted

Everyone has their personal preferences when it comes to the type of exercise they do. This is why, keeping your own preferences in mind, it's a good idea to look for a machine that explicitly targets the muscle groups that you'd like to work out.

Below, I'll be going over what muscle groups each type of cardio machine is great for to help you get an idea of which candidates you should look at closer, and which you should write off altogether.


Build Quality

You know what sucks? Spending a fortune on a superbly-advertised cardio machine and then watching it fall apart bit by bit with each exercise session you put it through!

At the end of the day, you'd obviously want your investment into your well-being to be around in the long-term. And whether it's a high quality professional treadmill, commercial grade elliptical, or even a heavy duty rowing machine - the manufacturer should put in enough care to make sure that it doesn't start to crumble two weeks in.

So, to help you avoid some of the troubles I've had to face when dealing with sub-par exercise equipment, I've only included machines that are built to last in my personal top picks.


Price & Warranty

Unfortunately, in today's day and age - no matter how well-built the cardio machine you're after may seem - things just tend to break left and right.

This is why making sure that your machine comes with a solid warranty from the manufacturer is absolutely crucial.

Take it from my personal experience - I had to get my elliptical replaced in the first year of owning it due to some defects that didn't pop up until that far into my ownership. Thankfully, the manufacturer was stellar about it and I got a brand new unit shortly after.

In addition to having a solid warranty policy, it's also a good idea to stick to your guns and stay within your budget when shopping for a cardio machine. After all, the last thing you'd want to do is to end up overpaying.


Best Cardio Machines For Weight Loss

Now that we've had the opportunity to get acquainted with the hallmark traits of a good piece of cardio exercise equipment - let's dive into the world of cardio machines.

Keep reading to learn about the various types of cardio machines out on the market, get an idea of which one's the best for you, and get my recommendations on the top machines in each category this year.

The Elliptical

my favorite elliptical machine for weight loss

If you want to get your heart pumping and blood flowing with a solid full-body workout but without any of the high-impact stress, an elliptical machine may just be your best bet.

With these machines, you're in full control of the resistance and speed, allowing you to really tailor your workout to your personal preferences.

Additionally, you also get to target several big muscle groups in one go thanks to the compound movements between the footholds and the arm levers.

However, the downside to them is that these machines don't typically offer too much flexibility in the realm of different workout options, modes, and programs.

Generally speaking, these machines are typically very popular if you're not the sort of person that likes to push themselves to the max.

However, that's not to say that they aren't effective!

In fact, the elliptical is one of the most effective cardio machines available in today's day and age, while also being one of the safest thanks to the fact that it doesn't put too much pressure on your joints and ligaments.

Average Calories Burned Per Hour On Elliptical Machines

According to - the average person burns somewhere between 520 and 800 calories per hour while using the elliptical (depending on their weight).

As a rule of thumb, the heavier you are, the more calories you'll end up burning in the span of an hour.


The 2 Best Elliptical Machines For Weight Loss

Having learned a little about the elliptical and its key benefits - let's take a look at the 2 best elliptical machines to help you lose weight quickly and effectively.

Sole E35 Elliptical Review

When it comes to picking up a fantastic elliptical under the $1,500 mark - the Sole E35 is just about the only elliptical that you should consider if you're looking for the best of the best that comes in at an affordable price point.

Featuring over 20 different incline settings, this elliptical has a 20" stride-length and a rugger 25-lb flywheel, this elliptical is made for some serious performance, while also being extremely comfortable for the shortest and even the tallest users. And better yet - it's built to last a lifetime.

Some of the handy bells and whistles include Bluetooth speakers, connectivity with various health trackers and chest straps, a reliable USB charging port, and even a built-in tablet holder to keep you exercising in comfort.

Pros
  • Smooth and quiet 25-lb flywheel.
  • Over 20 incline settings and 10 different workout programs available.
  • Compatible with most popular health trackers & wireless heart rate monitors.
  • Solid warranty & great brand reputation behind this machine.

Schwinn 470 - The Cheaper Alternative

Schwinn 470 Review

If going above the $1,000 range is a tad too financially burdening for you - then you should probably look no further than the Schwinn 470.

In fact, this elliptical was our number 1 pick as the best most quiet elliptical for an apartment. Need something quiet that won't bother your neighbors - this is your go to cardio machine.

This elliptical boasts many high-end features, at a very comfortable price-wise entry point. I'm talking about a solid 20" stride-length, over 26 different levels of resistance, and even a 10-degree incline range.

You can make full use of 4 different user profiles to customize your workout entirely to your preference or even support several different routines. And the 29 workout programs this machine offers should be plenty to pose a fun challenge to even the most fitness-minded folks among us.

Pros
  • 29 workout programs and 26 levels of resistance.
  • 10-degree incline range for a more intense workout.
  • Many high-end comfort features like Bluetooth integration, connection with wireless monitors, and a solid mobile device shelf/port.
  • Built-in cooling fan to help you stay fresh during your workout.

The Treadmill

my top treadmill machine for weight loss

If there's a single iconic cardio machine associated with weight loss - the treadmill would definitely be it.

As one of the most popular cardio machines out there that's equally geared towards weight loss and general fitness, the treadmill is an absolute gem to have at home.

One of its biggest benefits lies in the fact that you can enjoy both low-intensity and high-intensity exercise on this machine. And it's also incredibly easy to use - just get on and start walking or running.

In addition to this, just as with the elliptical, you get full control over the speed, intensity, resistance, and even the incline - which gives you a good degree of customizability towards tailoring the perfect workout for you.

Average Calories Burned Per Hour On Treadmills

According to LiveStrong - if you jog at a speed of around 8 kilometers per hour, you'll be burning a total of around 480 calories every hour. However, if you prefer higher-intensity exercise, running at a speed of 12 kilometers per hour can help you burn around 750 calories.

But, here's the kicker!

Thanks to the fact that the treadmill offers incline and resistance control, you're able to bump this number up further depending on the intensity of your workout.

In particular, studies have shown that doing interval training where you alternate between high-intensity (sprinting) and low-intensity (walking/jogging) exercise on the treadmill can actually boost the calorie-burn further.


The 2 Best Treadmills For Weight Loss

Now that we've gotten all up-close and personal with treadmills, let's take a look at my personal top candidates for the 2 best treadmills to help you lose weight in 2021.

Bowflex BXT 116 Review

If you haven't been living under a rock - then you've probably heard about Bowflex before. This is one of those brands that come up with some of the craziest and coolest things - and make them super functional all in one go.

This treadmill actually made our top pick as the best most cushioned treadmill - it ranked above all others for people with bad knees or for people who just want a very comfortable running experience.

And while most of us know Bowflex for their assortment of high-end home gym equipment - their BXT116 treadmill is an absolute beast!

This treadmill features top-of-the-line performance, reliable life-long durability, and flexible dynamic programming to make sure that you're getting the most results out of each exercise session.

And when you factor in the incredibly fair price-point - this is definitely one heck of a treadmill to cop.

Pros
  • Comfortable 60" x 20" track driven by a rugged 3-ply tread belt.
  • Up to 19 km/h speed limit thanks to a 3.75 continuous duty motor.
  • 9 different exercise programs with 4 customizable user profiles.
  • Plenty of pre-build workout programs through DailyBurn, Zwift, and RunSocial.
  • A staggering 375-lb maximum weight capacity.

NordicTrack T 6.5S - The Cheaper Alternative

NordicTrack T 6.5S Review

If you're not looking for an intense cardio workout, and the price-point of the Bowflex BXT 116 seems a little out of your financial comfort zone - don't worry, I've got the perfect option for you.

Meet the NordicTrack T 6.5S.

This treadmill, along with its older brother - the T 6.5 Si - has been dominating the budget-friendly smaller apartment friendly treadmill market for quite some time. And for good reason too!

Under the hood, you'll find a lot of the same performance that you'd expect from some higher-end models, along with most of the basic creature comforts.

There are over 20 different workout programs, variable incline settings, inter-connectivity with iFit, as well as FlexSelect padding to help reduce joint stress. And these are only some of the features that make this superb treadmill stand out with ease in both the budget and high-end categories.

And when you factor in the fact that it can be folded up to save space - buying this treadmill in favor of any other budget option is practically a no-brainer decision. It's not a flat folding treadmill that will fit under a bed but it does fold down enough so that you can store it inside of a closet or into a tight space so that it is out of the way. It is also extremely easy to fold up thanks to its assisting mechanism.

I must also mention that treadmill made our top pick for the best compact treadmill for seniors because of its easy to move around design and because of how easy it is to use.

Pros
  • 20 different workout programs along with an entire catalog of iFit modules to keep your workouts diverse, fruitful, and exciting.
  • Comfortable and large track measuring a solid 20" by 55".
  • A maximum running speed of 16 km/h with a weight capacity of just over 300 pounds.
  • Folds up nicely to help you conserve space, making it perfectly apartment-friendly.

The Indoor Exercise Bike (Upright)

my favorite exercise bike for weight loss

Even though the elliptical is crowned as the king of low-impact exercise machines - the upright stationary exercise bike has been steadily growing in popularity over the last few years. And today, it's looking to usurp that throne!

The main appeal of stationary bikes is the fact that they allow you to target several key muscle groups all in one go. From your quads to the hips, glutes, and even your core - these bikes give you a stunning full-body workout while also offering a fair bit of customizability to go with it.

You get to experiment with positions, try different modes, and control the resistance - all in order to perfectly tailor your workouts to your own preference, style, and needs.

Average Calories Burned Per Hour On Exercise Bikes

Depending on your weight, the intensity of your workout, and the speed you're cycling at - you should be burning anywhere between 400 and 1,200 calories per hour while exercising on a stationary bike. A excellent amount of calories to be burning for weight loss.

One of the key variables here is the levels of resistance you apply, in combination with the speed you manage to maintain throughout that hour of exercise. This determines the intensity of your exercise, and in turn, the number of calories you'll be burning off.


The 2 Best Exercise Bikes For Weight Loss

Since we're all acquainted with exercise bikes and what they've got to offer in terms of weight loss - let's go meet my two top picks for the best exercise bikes this year.

The NordicTrack S15i Studio Cycle

NordicTrack S15i Studio Cycle Review

If you're in the market for one of the best exercise bikes for weight loss - the NordicTrack S15i Studio Cycle should definitely be at the top of your shortlist.

It's the best bang for buck option that is currently out. Not only is this my all time favorite but this exact model made our #1 spot as the best exercise bike with a screen as well as our favorite alternative to the Peloton bike - which is an exercise bike that is priced almost so high that it is out of reach for folk like me who are not made of money.

This was the best cheaper alternative that still did everything that the Peloton bike did. It still offers live training classes with instructors, allows you to ride around in a virtual world with friends along with a ton of other things. 

This is actually the bike that I ended up getting for myself.

It's incredibly well-built, features a ton of modules and programs to help you piece together the perfect workout for you, and it's ahead of the curve in terms of bells and whistles to help you work out and lose weight in sheer comfort.

Now, here's what makes this bike really stand out from similarly priced competitor models - it features built-in incline controls. This allows you to simulate real road biking and gives your workout a much-needed oomph of variable intensity, diversity, and flexibility.

So whether you're just looking to get some cardio in, or even if you're getting geared for an actual road-side cycling marathon - this is, without a single doubt, the best studio bike you can possibly get your hands on.

Pros
  • Intertia-enhanced bike flywheel for a comfortable and challenging ride.
  • 22 levels of magnetic resistance for an intense, yet quiet exercise session.
  • Fantastic built-in incline control to add some serious sweat to your workouts.
  • Lots of iFit modules for a diverse range of interactive training.
  • Built-in 14" tilt-able touch-screen allowing you to follow along with interactive programs, keep yourself entertained while exercising, and control every aspect of your workout with a single touch.

Schwinn 270 - The Cheaper Alternative

Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike Review

Now, the NordicTrack S15i is undoubtedly a fantastic cardio machine. But if you've got no particular need for a top-of-the-line commercial-quality studio bike, then the Schwinn 270 is definitely the option to have on your radar.

This exercise bike actually made our number 1 pick for the best recumbent bike for taller users because of how adjustable it is for people who are both short and tall and because of laid back and comfortable the seating position is.

Despite being one of Schwinn's flagship home-use exercise bikes, the 270 model is surprisingly affordable, given the wealth of amazing features that it packs.

From 29 stellar pre-programmed workout modules and RideSocial compatibility to a comfortable reclined seat and a near-whisper-silent 17-lb magnetic resistance setup - there's honestly lots to enjoy with this bike. All of this comes coupled with some amazing comfort features such as ventilated seats and customizable positioning on nearly all end-points of the machine.

And when you consider the fact that it clocks in at nearly a third of the price that you'd have to shell out for the NordicTrack S15i - it's practically a done deal for the budget savvy folks among us.

Pros
  • 25 levels of magnetic resistance along with a smooth digital controller, allowing you to make full use of the 17-lb resistance system.
  • Compatibility with RideSocial, wireless heart-rate trackers, and BlueTooth devices for maximum fitness connectivity.
  • Ventilated seats, adjustable positioning, and incredibly smooth pedals for a maximally comfortable ride.
  • Compact build with built-in roller wheels, making this bike perfectly apartment-friendly.
  • Great Exercise bike for beginners.

The Stair Climber

best stair climber machine for weight loss

Even though they're not nearly as popular and wide-spread as treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes - stair climbers are absolutely fantastic cardio machines when it comes to losing weight.

This is due to the fact that they don't only target several muscle groups, but they actually provide a solid full-body workout. And depending on the exercise you're doing as well as the resistance levels - you get to switch things up between low-intensity and high-intensity workouts.

However, while most modern treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes have lots of comfort bells and whistles like mounted screens, fitness tracker integrations, and a whole host of other features - stair climbers are very bare-bones by comparison.

Typically, you'll be able to adjust the speed and the resistance on these machines - and that's it!

However, even that rugged set of features is more than enough to get an incredibly effective workout and burn a very good amount of calories.

Average Calories Burned Per Hour On Stair Climbers

According to Self.com a stair climber is another excellent way to torch that fat- you should be burning anywhere between 500 and 1,100 calories per hour. This largely depends on your weight, as well as the intensity of the exercise you're doing on the stair climber.

However, it's useful to bear in mind the fact that the majority of studies only factored in climbing actual stairs.

By adjusting the resistance on the machine, and experimenting with interval-training workouts, you can definitely bump the number of calories burned per hour upwards a fair bit.


The Best Stair Climber For Weight Loss

Now that we've covered the basics when it comes to losing weight with stair climbers, let's take a look at my favorite stair climber of all time.

While I've featured two picks for every other type of machine so far, I'm only going to recommend the Bowflex Max in this category of cardio machines. This is due to the fact that it stands high and mighty over any other competitor models by a long shot.

The Bowflex Max Trainer Series Review

In 2021, ellipticals, stair steppers, and low-impact workouts are all the rage. However, what if I told you that there's one machine out there that combines all three of those things to bring you the ultimate zero-impact workout solution, that actually makes you want to workout

Well, dear reader - say hello to the Bowflex Max Trainer series!

The M3, M6, and M8 models in the Max Trainer series are all the direct result of a perfect combination between two of the best cardio machines on earth (according to me), by the bright engineering minds over at Nautilus (the folks behind Bowflex).

Each of the models provides for an incredible full-body workout that will have you burning at least 2.5X the calories you would on either machine. And while they all have some relatively minute differences between one another - the key thing to consider is that the series features a model for pretty much any budget imaginable.

I personally strongly recommend the M6 over either of the other models. This is due to the fact that it's got the best of both worlds in terms of a budget-friendly price and practically the whole array of features offered, that you'd actually be able to make use of during your workouts.

So, what is it that makes the Bowflex Max Trainers so darn awesome?

Here are three of the biggest benefits that the series boasts:
  • Zero-impact workouts - Worried about your joints? Well, don't be - thanks to the upward motions in this machine, you never actually put any weight on your joints while you exercise. This allows you to exercise harder, without any of the discomfort or stress on your body.
  • Upward motions - Compared to simply walking around on your balcony, climbing a set of stairs likely poses a bit more of a challenge, doesn't it? Well, in a similar fashion - the Max Trainer series took the best bits from the elliptical's full-body range and crossed them with the intensity of climbing a set of stairs the way you would on a stair climber. This provides for a truly challenging workout that will have you sweating off those pounds like there's no tomorrow!
  • Natural interval-training - Most machines, such as a treadmill, while being capable of offering interval training workouts - simply don't get to the high-intensity interval quickly enough. This leads to inefficient workouts and poor results at the end of each session. The Max Trainer series addresses this problem by integrating a hyper-responsive resistance control. This works in tandem with the upward nature of the exercises you'll be doing to give you a true physical challenge mere seconds after you decide to spice things up.

So, if you're a fan of ellipticals and you'd fancy your very own stair climber alongside it - the Max Trainer series is pretty much the only machine that you should consider in this range and category.


The Rowing Machine

a rowing machine for weight loss

If you've done any amount of digging into how you can lose weight with cardio workouts - you've likely already heard about rowing machines.

These machines are a sworn favorite for many personal trainers, athletes, and fitness professionals across the globe. And there's a very good reason behind it.

Rowing machines are absolutely amazing because they effectively allow you to get an upper body and lower body workout in one go. This means you get to target several major muscle groups, train your core, and burn a great number of calories all at once.

And here's the best bit - despite the somewhat grueling workout - rowing machines are actually considered to be low-impact. In turn, this means they don't exert as much pressure or force on your joints and ligaments, which reduces the risk of injury or long term drawbacks when it comes to the workouts you're considering.

Average Calories Burned Per Hour On Rowing Machines

According to Openfit - the average person would burn between 500 and 800 calories per hour rowing.

The number of calories that you will end up burning off with these machines largely depends on your weight, as well as the intensity of your workouts.

And just as with the other machines we've covered, bumping up the resistance is a fantastic idea if you want to swing that number up higher.


The 2 Best Rowing Machines For Weight Loss

Having covered the ins and outs of rowing machines, here are my personal top picks for the best rowing machines that are worth your money in today's day and age.

Concept2 Model-D Rower Review

As one of the most popular rowing machines out there right now - I couldn't help but feature the Concept2 Model-D.

After all, it's the culmination of years of effort that resulted in the seamless combination of rugged industrial durability, practically limitless resistance, and dynamic user-friendly programming - all offered at one heck of an affordable price tag.

But, wait a minute - limitless resistance? What's that all about?

The Model-D rower employs variable air resistance. This means the faster and harder you row - the more resistance you get. This means that the Model-D features a perfect resistance setting for just about anyone, from someone just getting onto their first cardio machine all the way over to Hulk himself.

And here's the best part!

The Concept2 Model-D rowing machine is actually cleverly engineered with the modern shoebox apartment-dwelling consumer in mind. The rugged American-built steel frame folds over, turning the rower into a very compact unit that can be stored just about anywhere in a modern space-challenged living space.

And as an added benefit, this rower is also incredibly quiet thanks to the absence of weight-based resistance. This allows you to work out as intensely as you'd like, all without noise-complaints being lodged against you left and right by malcontent neighbors.

Pros
  • A durable & rugged steel frame that ensures your unit will last practically a lifetime without any major build-issues, which comes backed by a 5-year-long manufacturer warranty.
  • Quick & near-effortless setup that only takes up 20-30 minutes of your time.
  • Built-in performance monitor console (PM5) that comes packed with pre-programmed workouts, challenges, and fitness data to help you exercise smart.
  • Lots of comfort features such as ergonomic grips, adjustable foot-rests, low-profile seating, and more.
  • A solid 500-lb weight capacity making this machine a great fit for just about any user.
  • Foldable frame, with a set of transport wheels to help you save space and accommodate effective exercise in even the most dimensionally-challenged of spaces.

Sunny Health SF-RW5515 - The Cheaper Alternative

Sunny Health SF-RW5515 Review

If you're not ready to shell out some serious cash for the durability, programming, and innovative resistance that the Concept2 Model-D is known for - the SF-RW5515 rower by Sunny Health is probably the model you're after.

Clocking in just below three-solid, this rower boasts a variable magnetic resistance setup and a fantastic folding frame design - making it one of the best affordable rowing machines out on the market in today's day and age.

However, while it's definitely enough to suit the needs of most folks - the SF-RW5515 definitely lacks the longevity and durability of the Model-D. In addition, this model features a much simpler analog display that only provides the key data about your workout, along with 8 pre-programmed levels of resistance controlled by a turn knob on the frame of the machine.

That being said, while it may lack some of the oomph of the high-end models, this is a fantastic machine that fits perfectly into even the tightest budgets out there. And it's definitely worth a look on your part.

Pros
  • Easy to use display that features essential data about your workout.
  • 8 pre-programmed levels of magnetic resistance built into the machine.
  • Folding frame design with a set of transport wheels to help you save space and get a great cardio workout in from home with ease.
  • Quick and near-effortless assembly that only requires 30-35 minutes in order to get your new machine up and running.

Related Readings:

References:

  1. https://www.livestrong.com/article/306196-how-many-calories-are-burned-in-20-minutes-on-the-treadmill/
  2. https://www.self.com/story/3-machines-that-help-burn-fat
  3. https://www.openfit.com/calories-burned-rowing-machine

Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page