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Choosing a Machine continued...

In addition, "if you’re too low, you’re not allowing the leg to go through a full range of motion," meaning you'll use fewer calories, he says.

The stationary bike is a less intense calorie-burner than some of the other machines. You'll need to pedal four miles to burn 100 calories, says Alexander.

4. Rowing Machines

Don’t be fooled into thinking this machine gives you only an upper-body workout. Rowers are more advanced cardiovascular machines.

Because you must push with the legs while you pull with the arms, rowers require coordination. They also you require you to engage your core abdominal muscles to support and protect your back.

Because they use so many muscle groups, rowers burn lots of calories. But this machine has several red flags for a beginning or unfit exerciser.

"It is thought by most unfit people to be fairly uncomfortable," says Stamford.

Extra weight often comes with back pain, and this is not a machine you want to use if you have back issues, he says.

Working out Smart

Our experts offered the following tips to help you make the most of any machine workout:

Choose a machine that feels right. If impact is a problem, the stationary bicycle may be a better choice than the treadmill. If you have low back limitations, it’s probably not a good idea to get on a multi-muscle machine like the rowing machine at first.

"It’s not so much about the machine as the relationship between the body and the machine," says Alexander. "If anything hurts and you can’t modify the equipment or yourself so that it doesn’t hurt, then, at least for that day, that’s not the right piece of equipment for you."

More muscle use equals more calorie burn. The basic rule of thumb is that the machine that exercises the greatest muscle mass burns the most calories. There's a flip side of that coin, too: If you're a beginner, using more muscles means getting fatigued sooner -- which will result in burning fewer calories.

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