Popular gym machines offer a great indoor workout

Our walking expert is Maggie Spilner, a fitness expert and the author of three books on walking.

Not sure which cardio machine will give you the best gym workout? Read on to understand each one's pros and cons.

The Treadmill

Pros: Treadmills are versatile: You can walk, jog or run and control the speed and incline with the touch of a button. Generally burns more calories than the other machines.

Cons: Jogging or running can be tough on tender joints or backs. You can be injured if you inadvertently slow down (or space out!) and fall off.

Tips: Always use the safety clip—it will shut the treadmill down if you slide too far back on the belt. Walk without leaning on the handles for a better workout. (If you have balance issues, work with a trainer or physical therapist before attempting this piece of equipment.)

The Elliptical Trainer

Pros: Elliptical machines allow your heart rate to accelerate quickly, but the motion is easier on your knees, hips and back than the treadmill. You can control the speed without pushing any buttons, which may appeal to the less machine-savvy. Many models offer handles that provide resistance for a simultaneous arm workout. Foot pedals can be operated in reverse so you can vary the muscles you're working.

Cons: Beginning exercisers may find the elliptical's range of motion too taxing at first; the sustained repetitive movement can lead to tightness in the hips and thighs.

Tips: Try the elliptical in small doses (say, five to 10 minutes) as you get used to it. Do appropriate hip and thigh stretches after every workout.

The Stationary Bike

Pros: Bikes are low impact, familiar and easy for most people to use and adjust. Most allow you to increase resistance manually while you're pedaling, allowing total control of your speed.

Cons: Because biking is not weight-bearing, it doesn't offer the bone-protective effects of the treadmill or elliptical. Biking generally burns fewer calories per minute than the other machines—and the saddle can make your rear end sore!

Tips: Make sure the seat is at the proper height. Your knee should be slightly bent at the fullest extension. (Invest in a cushioned seat cover to toss in your gym bag if discomfort is an issue.) Monitor your breathing to make sure you're working hard enough; it's easy to just glide along. (You want to feel as though you can talk with a little extra effort, but not belt out a song while pedaling.) To protect your back, tuck your pelvis slightly forward while pedaling.

How Many Calories Do You Burn?

It can be thrilling to see the number of calories you've burned climb on the screen as you push the pedals on the elliptical or up the incline on the treadmill—but it's best to assume those numbers are inflated. Even when you enter your gender, weight and age, your calorie estimate could be off by a lot because machines don't take into account specific factors that can make a big difference, such as your physical condition, fitness level, the amount of calories you're burning at rest or whether or not you are leaning on the handrails.

For a more accurate calorie count, invest in a heart-rate monitor that estimates calories burned based on your workout intensity.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 09 Oct 2013

Last Modified: 09 Oct 2013