Ask a Trainer: What’s the Best Cardio: Bike, Treadmill, or Elliptical?

Nike master trainer Holly Rilinger talks about what exercise machines give you the most cardio bang for your buck at the gym.

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When it comes to working out, there’s no doubt that we have options. While having a variety of ways to exercise is a great thing, sometimes having too much to choose from can leave you in a bit of a fitness analysis paralysis.

When you step into the gym, on top of wondering whether it’s best to do cardio or strength training first, you may be wondering which piece of exercise equipment will give you the best workout. Hmm, should you work your back muscles or legs today? Should you go for the stationary bike, treadmill, or elliptical?

We asked Nike master trainer Holly Rilinger to help us make sense of this fitness decision making when it comes to choosing the right cardio exercise machine.


Which Cardio Machine Is Best: The Bike, Treadmill, or Elliptical?

“There’s no best piece of equipment, they’re all great pieces of equipment,” says Riligner. “The bike and the elliptical will provide a low-impact workout, and all three will provide a good workout.”

Choosing the right piece of equipment depends on your goals and where you’re at in your workout practice. Do you have an injury? Are you looking for a low-impact or high-impact workout? Are you looking to blast some serious calories? To know whether the treadmill, elliptical, or bike will work best for you, note these key differences in each:


  • It can either be high- or low-impact. High- or low-impact means the amount of stress the workout puts on your body. “The treadmill can definitely be high-impact if you’re running or sprinting on it, and it can be low-impact if you’re walking,” says Rilinger.
  • It can burn some serious calories. High-intensity cardio is great for weight loss
  • It offers a range of intensity. “You can change the incline, and you can change the speed on this machine,” says Rilinger.


  • It’s low impact. “Low impact means it’s less stress on the body, but you can still get a very intense workout on an elliptical,” says Rilinger.
  • It offers a range of intensity. “Depending on the machine you might be able to increase the incline, and you can also increase the resistance,” says Rilinger.
  • It works your whole body. “The great thing about the elliptical is that it’s a full-body workout, because you’re also moving your arms,” says Rilinger.

Stationary Bike

  • It’s low impact and a good choice if you have an injury. “A recumbent bike (with a back rest) is great if you have any type of back injuries or back issues; it’s going to give you a lot of stability,” says Rilinger.
  • It offers a range of intensity. “An upright bike is going to be very much like a bike you ride outdoors, but both provide great, high-intensity workouts,” says Rilinger. With both the recumbent and upright bike, you can increase the speed and resistance for a higher intensity workout.

“No matter what piece of equipment you use, there’s ways to make it both high- and low-intensity, and all three provide a great way to workout,” says Rilinger.