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Cardio machines are some of the most widely used pieces of fitness equipment in many health clubs and gyms. Designed to improve your cardiovascular health and endurance, they provide an easy way for nearly anyone to get a good workout in — and are especially approachable for exercisers who are less experienced.

“You may not realize that many cardio machines can actually help you get a full-body workout,” says Sarah Pope, Dynamic Personal Trainer at Life Time in Westchester, N.Y. “The rower, for example, works just about every major muscle group in your body.”

To help give you some confidence or add some variety as you go into your next workout, we asked Pope to show us how to use four popular cardio machines on the workout floor at Life Time.

1. The Rower

The indoor rower — also known as an ergometer or “erg” — is one of Pope’s favorite machines for a full-body workout experience.

Rowing machine workouts are very versatile,” says Pope. “They can be great for weight loss as the more muscles you’re using, the more calories you burn. The powerful movements help to improve strength and speed while also being suitable for all fitness levels.”

Work It Into Your Routine

Most rowers come programmed with multiple settings or “games” where you can choose to row a certain distance or amount of time. If you’re a beginner, Pope recommends consulting with a Dynamic Personal Trainer to review proper technique before you start. “Any trainer will be happy to walk you through the steps and give some quick tips,” she says.

How to Use The Rower

  • Start seated in the rower with your feet secured in and hands grasping the handles. You want your hips and knees bent, arms straight, head neutral, back straight, and shoulders level.
  • Initiate the drive with your feet. As your legs straighten, lean back slightly and pull the handle toward your body. Finish the pull with your legs straight and the handle at or just below your ribs.
  • Return to the starting position by first extending your arms until they are straight, then leaning forward at the hips.
  • Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide your seat forward.
  • Repeat as directed by your workout program.

2. Air Bike

The air bike is another machine that facilitates a full-body workout and hits just about every major muscle group in the body.

“Working through both push and pull movements on the bike targets different muscles and delivers a low-impact workout,” says Pope. “It will get your heart pumping and muscles moving but is easier on your joints than a treadmill or recumbent bike.”

Work It Into Your Routine

The air bike is a versatile tool, according to Pope. “You can use it as a five-minute warm up or add it in to a high-intensity interval training workout,” she says. “Feel free to ask a Dynamic Personal Trainer for advice when you’re on the workout floor.”

How to Use the Air Bike

  • Adjust the seat height to align with the top of your hip bone when you’re standing; you’ll also want to move the seat so it’s a comfortable distance from the handlebars.
  • Sitting on the bike, check that you have just a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is at the lowest point. (This allows you to use as much muscle as possible in a fixed range of motion while you’re connected to the bike.)
  • Select the hand position of your choice and begin to pedal, pushing and pulling the handles appropriately with your pedal movements.
  • Continue as directed by your workout program.

3. Technogym® SKILLRUN™

The SKILLRUN is one of the best machines for sprinting and running, according to Pope. On the machine, you’ll find built-in guided programs for cardio conditioning and athletic performance. “The preset programs make it easy to just set your workout and follow along,” she says.

Work It into Your Routine

This machine is great for both beginners and avid workout enthusiasts to use throughout the week, advises Pope. As with all new-to-you machines, she recommends consulting with a Dynamic Personal Trainer to review proper usage. “You can hop on the SKILLRUN for a 5-, 10-, or 20-minute cardio burst — or keep moving for up to an hour, depending on your goals,” she says.

How to Use the SKILLRUN

  • Step onto the SKILLRUN while it is not moving.
  • Use the screen to select your preferred speed or incline. (Pope stresses using at least a 2 percent grade incline to mimic everyday walking.) You can also from a variety of programs depending on your goals or the type of workout you desire.
  • Be sure to familiarize yourself with the emergency stop button in case you need to turn off the machine quickly.
  • Continue as directed by your workout program.

4. Technogym® Stair Master

This machine is simple to use for beginners yet can be challenging enough for the most advanced exercisers. “The stair master is especially beneficial for the lower body, as the movement of scaling stairs helps strengthen your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves,” says Pope. “This is my first choice out of all of the cardio machines at Life Time!”

Work It Into Your Routine

Pope recommends using the stair master to add bursts of cardio into your weekly workout routine. “You can hop on for as little as 10 minutes or up to 35 to 40 minutes, depending on your cardio goals,” she says. “This is also a great machine to use after your leg-day workout to keep your lower body muscles firing.”

How to Use the Stair Master

  • Step up onto the stairs of the machine.
  • Use the screen to choose your preferred climbing speed or to choose a workout program to follow.
  • Press start.
  • Climb one foot at a time, allowing each foot to fully step onto the machine as you climb.
  • Use the handles as needed throughout the duration of your workout to ensure proper balance.
  • Continue as directed by your workout program.

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

Emily Ewen

Emily Ewen is a senior writer and content editor at Life Time.

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