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All About Exercise Machines

How to find an exercise machine that suits you, and make the most out of any machine workout.

Choosing a Machine continued...

2. Elliptical Machines and Stair Steppers

These machines pack a little less punch on the joints, and either can be a good alternative to the treadmill, says Vukovich.

Because you use them in a standing position, you're using lots of muscle mass, so the calorie burn rate is still pretty high.

Elliptical machines with arm components can further increase the numbers of calories you burn, says Stamford. But if you're a beginner, he doesn’t recommend using your arms at first.

3. Stationary Bikes

All our experts agree that the stationary bike offers the workout with the least impact on the joints. People with knee pain are often steered toward these bikes, since the impact of body weight is not a concern as it is on a treadmill, elliptical trainer, or stair stepper.

But to avoid knee strain, you must make sure the bike is adjusted to fit your body, Vukovich says.

"Nine times out of 10, people get on a bike and are not fitted to the bike," he says.

When adjusting the seat height, he says, make sure that when you’re sitting on the seat with the ball of your foot on the pedal, there is a very slight (5- to 10-degree) bend in your knee.

Most people sit too low, meaning their knees flex too much as they pedal. This can put too much pressure on the knee and result in soreness, warn Vukovich.

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.

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