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Cardio Equipment Buying Guide

Cardio Equipment Buying Guide
TreadmillsTypes of Exercise Bikes
Treadmill ComponentsRowers
EllipticalsTypes of Rowers
Types of EllipticalsHeart Monitors
Exercise BikesTypes of Monitors


Exercise is an important part of healthy activity for any lifestyle. Whether you're trying to lose weight, keep yourself in shape or are training for competition, cardiovascular activity is important to an exercise program.

There are many different types of cardio equipment that can be used to optimize and tailor your workouts to achieve your end-goals. Each type of equipment can be used in various ways to help you work toward your cardio goals.

The main types of equipment used for cardiovascular workouts are treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bikes, rowing machines and heart monitors.


Out of the wide variety of exercise equipment available today, treadmills remain the most popular buy among consumers. Treadmills allow users to train for a wide range of sports or activities. They keep endurance up, burn significant amounts of calories, and can help you efficiently maintain or lose weight.

Benefits of Using a Treadmill:

The benefits to using a treadmill are similar to those of going for a walk or run outside. With a wide variety of settings available on a treadmill, you can program the machine to tailor to your specific exercise plans.

  • Treadmills are incredibly easy to use.
  • Provide a natural walking/running speed for the user.
  • Low-impact workouts
  • The computer located on the treadmill can be pre-programmed to tailor to the type of workout you wish to complete.

Treadmill Components:

A treadmill has many different components, each working to provide the user with the most efficient workout. Here is some helpful information about treadmill features to help you pick the right equipment for you:


  • Motorized treadmills have one motor that drives the belt and another (the lift motor) that raises and lowers the running bed to create an incline.
  • Allow you to set a pace and maintain a consistent speed while working out
  • Treadmill Duty is the amount of power output at which the motor is rated. These motors are specifically designed for treadmill usage.
  • Continuous Duty is the amount of continuous motor power that is consistently delivered during heavy usage over an extended period of time.


  • Measurement of power in a treadmill motor
  • Continuous horsepower is how powerful a treadmill can continually operate without dropping off.
  • Peak horsepower is the maximum horsepower a treadmill can generate for a short period of time.


  • Raises the treadmill's running bed for increased resistance
  • Mimics walking or running up hills, making your workout more challenging, burning more calories and further increasing muscle tone
  • Manual incline means you change the incline yourself; this is usually offered in 4 different placements such as 3% incline, 5% incline, 7% incline and 9% incline. Treadmills with manual incline are less expensive than those with powered incline.
  • Power incline offers you automatic adjustment so you can change the incline while you're walking/running to add variety and challenge to your workout. Power incline is very convenient and easy-to-use.


  • Thicker decks, the base of the treadmill, offer more cushioning and comfort to legs and joints.
  • Proprietary deck cushioning systems are designed to provide superior comfort and impact absorption during walks and runs.
  • Belts vary in length, depending on whether the unit is geared more for walkers/joggers or runners.
  • Widths range from 16-22 inches.
  • Lengths vary from 45-60 inches.
  • Short belts will not accommodate long legs. If you have long legs you should look into purchasing a treadmill with a longer belt.


  • Most treadmills offer a speed setting from 1-10 mph.
  • Exercisers often walk, on average, in the 2-4 mph range while runners are in the 5-7 mph range.

Treadmill Computer Controls:

Another component of the treadmill is the computer. The computer console is an easy-to-use and programmable facet of the treadmill that allows the user to enhance, through statistics, a workout. Here are some common features of a treadmill's computer console:

  • Displays come in two common types: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) OR LED (Light Emitting Diode). The LED version is a bit easier to read because of the brightness settings offered on the console.
  • Can provide feedback such as speed, distance, heart rate, pace, calories burned, laps taken, time elapsed, incline, etc.
  • Heart rate monitor capabilities are a valuable addition for your fitness routine.
  • Once your target HR zone is programmed in, your treadmill will adjust speed and/or incline according to HRM readouts in order to keep that desired heart rate zone, ensuring optimal workout efficiency for weight loss and total-body conditioning.
  • Some computer controls allow you to store your previous workouts to monitor your progress.
  • Offers you a variety of pre-programmed workouts and difficulty levels to maintain your interest and reach exercise levels and goals.

Treadmill Size:

While a common piece of exercise equipment, treadmills are still quite a large piece of machinery. If space is a concern, look for a smaller model or a model that folds up for storage when not being used. Many models fold up so you can slide them into a corner, under furniture or out of the way.

Certain treadmills do have a user weight limit. Make sure the treadmill can accommodate the weight of any user who may use the equipment.

Treadmill Safety Features:

All treadmills are well-equipped with safety features to insure the user is not injured while exercising. Listed below are some safety features built into treadmills:

Emergency Shut-Off

  • Emergency switch that stops the machine should you fall off of it or get too tired to continue.
  • Some also can only be turned on with special keys or an electronic code, allowing you to control who uses it


  • Located on the sides of the treadmill just in case you slip or lose your balance

Safety Key

  • Key connected to a sturdy lanyard which you will then attach firmly to your upper body area
  • If you happen to fall down on a running treadmill, the key will then be dislodged from its slot and stop the machine from running.


Much like the treadmill, elliptical machines are a common and efficient piece of fitness equipment used by all types of exercisers. Elliptical machines offer a lower-impact workout due to less stress on the knees, and they have become popular as home exercise equipment because of their versatility and value.

Learning how an elliptical machine works and how you can benefit from using one is important for making the right purchase.

Elliptical Functions:

An elliptical machine is a simple piece of fitness equipment. You use your lower body to power the machine. The machine enables your feet to move somewhere between the circular motion of a bike and the flat motion of a treadmill, easing the strain on your joints.

The primary motion is a forward ellipse, but some machines offer a backwards motion as well. Ellipticals add variety to your workout and allows different leg muscles to be used.

Types of Ellipticals

There are three main types of ellipticals available:

Independent Action Elliptical

  • Makes you work more efficiently by forcing each leg to move in a forward sloping motion with the pedal
  • Optimal for lower-body workouts only

Dependent Action Elliptical

  • The force of one pedal drives the other, forcing your legs to move in the elliptical motion
  • Less impact on lower-body joints.

Dual-Action Elliptical

  • Has both foot pedals and rotating arms to maximize workout efficiency
  • Works out both legs and arms for a full-body workout

Benefits of Using an Elliptical:

Elliptical machines provide all sorts of users with a great workout option. There are many benefits to using an elliptical, whether it be one in your gym or in your household.

Low-impact workouts

  • Because your feet are completely stationary on the pedals throughout the workout, the excess stress on your joints is minimal.
  • Those with knee or other joint-related injuries can still get an efficient workout due to lessened impact on lower body joints.

Full-body workouts

  • You are forced to use all of your leg muscles during an elliptical workout.
  • Dual-Action machines allow for handlebar movement, forcing you to move your arms/upper-body during the workout.


  • Most elliptical machines allow for backpedaling.
  • Adds variety to a workout.

Exercise Bikes:

Exercise bikes work your legs without putting impact or stress on your joints. They have always been very popular pieces of cardiovascular equipment because the exercise motion is very familiar to most people—you simply pedal as you would on a regular bike. You can set your own pace and even read while exercising.

Types of Exercise Bikes

There are three main types of exercise bikes, each tailoring to different workouts and styles to the user. All three types are beneficial in cardio exercise and can be used during all types of workouts.

Upright Bike

  • Very similar in form and structure to regular, cycling bikes and remains the most commonly purchased exercise bike.
  • Great lower body and cardiovascular workout
  • Takes up the least amount of space of all types of bikes, fitting into limited spacing areas
  • Allows for more intense workouts than other types of bikes

Recumbent Bike

  • Chair-like or "bucket" seat
  • Promotes more efficient blood flow throughout the body
  • Prevents you from cheating on pedaling because you can't stand up

Dual-Action Bikes

  • Combines upright bikes with dual, movable arms for an upper body workout
  • Instead of just pedaling, the user can rotate the arm handles for a full-body workout

Resistance Mechanisms:

To provide the user with a quality workout, exercise bikes feature different types of resistant equipment for users who wish to intensify their bike workout.

Direct Tension

  • Offers a manual adjustment of resistance located on the bike's computer screen area
  • Brake pads which apply to the flywheel mechanism

Air Resistance

  • High-pressure air flow (usually from a fan) against the flywheel mechanism to create resistance

Magnetic Frictionless Resistance

  • Uses electromagnetic friction to add resistance in a workout
  • Easy-to-use and located on the computer screen on the bike
  • Quickest method of changing resistance during a workout

Bike Feedback Mechanisms:

Most all exercise bikes have a feedback mechanism—most commonly a small computer located at the front end of the bike. The computer displays important information vital to an optimized workout. Some of the displays include:

  • Speed, Time and Distance
  • Total calories and fat burned
  • Program mode and resistance level
  • Pulse, heart rate and workout level
  • RPM, Watts, METS (Metabolic Equivalent), Minutes Per Mile, MPH/KPH (Miles per Hour and Kilometers per Hour)

Size and Usage:

Typically, all exercise bikes are built for people with multiple body sizes and exercise patterns. Seats and pedals are extremely adjustable and are able to accommodate all users. Most exercise bikes in a user's home are made for one or two people to use them in order to get maximum life out of your exercise bike.


Rowing machines have the opportunity to provide a user with an intense cardio workout without heavy stress on the body. When it comes to a full-body workout, rowers are a common choice among all types of exercisers. Rowing machines differ in size, efficiency and resistance, all of which are helpful to learn about when purchasing exercise equipment.

Rower Resistances:

One of the most important features of a rowing machine is the various types of resistance offered by the equipment. Each type of resistance is built to tailor to individual needs of the user. Some are more cost efficient while others offer options for those in smaller living spaces.

Hydraulic Resistance

  • Comes from a pair of cylinders attached to either side of the machine
  • Smaller rower types use this type of resistance and are more cost efficient
  • While still a good workout option, this type of resistance sometimes does not provide the user with a completely accurate rowing motion

Air Resistance

  • Resistance is created by air pressure circulated through the machine
  • Most used by veteran, off-season rowers because of the accuracy of the rowing motion
  • Louder noise from the machine and not as size-efficient as a hydraulic model

Magnetic Resistance

  • Quietest type of resistance on a rowing machine
  • Does not use a flywheel and thus provides the user with a smooth workout
  • Resistance is completely adjustable for any type of workout

Types of Rowers

There are three main types of rowing machines available to purchase at DICK's Sporting Goods. Each type has its own benefits to completely optimize the type of workout you want from a rowing machine.

Hydraulic Rowing Machine

  • Very simple design and typically lower in price
  • Smaller in size; great for home use
  • More suited for beginners and provide a low-end cost option

Air-Resistance Rowing Machine

  • Most popular type of rowing machine
  • Provides the most efficient and realistic rowing workout
  • Complete upper and lower body workout
  • Most suited for seasoned athletes and taller individuals

Magnetic Rowing Machine

  • Magnetic resistance braking
  • Most ideal for apartments and homes because of the low amount of noise
  • Moderately priced and provides an efficient lower and upper body workout

Benefits of Using a Rower:

Rowing machines can be used by all types of people trying to maintain a workout plan and not just off-season rowers. Anyone can use a rowing machine to tone their muscles and maintain a physique.

  • Low-impact workouts; safe on those with minor joint issues while working out
  • Total body workout—a rowing machine will give the user a unique upper and lower body workout
  • One of the most unique exercise machines, giving a similar workout to swimming laps at the pool

Heart Monitors:

Heart rate monitors accurately measure your heart rate during exercise and allow you to adjust your workout to reach your goals.

Using a heart monitor will allow the user to determine how to optimize their workout. Keeping your target heart rate in the recommended area for your age and physical condition is important.

How a Heart Monitor Works:

Heart monitors are simple devices that either strap to your chest or worn in wristwatch-style that measure your heart rate and report it to a receiver.

  • The monitor will continuously measure your heart rate during your workout and immediately report it to the receiver.
  • Many models will provide an indication (usually a beeping sound) when you go above or below your target heart rate zone.
  • Newer models are capable of storing heart rate information for future reference.
  • Higher-end models offer up to three to six different target zones to help optimize your workout

Types of Heart Monitors

There are two types of heart monitors that users typically purchase:

Contact Monitor

  • This monitor contains two parts, the chest strap and wristwatch receiver.
  • Measures your heart rate by detecting the impulses from your heart as you exercise and display the rate on a monitor on your wrist
  • More accurate than pulse rate monitors that are built into some cardio machines because they are attached directly to the body and more closely monitor the heart rate

Finger Sensor Monitor

  • Simple, wristwatch-style monitor
  • Measures your heart-rate to 95% accuracy after touching your finger to the sensor located on the wristwatch monitor

Other Monitor Features

  • Water Resistance: these monitors will not measure your heart rate while submerged, but you can use them while swimming.
  • Stop watch
  • Barometric pressure and other elevation information useful while hiking
  • Rechargeable batteries

Monitoring Your Workout:

The purpose of a heart rate monitor is to help you achieve and maintain your targeted heart rate zone during your workout. Below is a helpful chart to help you determine your target heart rate:

Average Target Heart Rate According to Age and Physical Shape

Benefits of Using a Heart Monitor:

Using a heart monitor during your exercise session has many benefits. All types of people, whether you're an avid runner or someone beginning a new exercise program, can benefit from using a heart monitor.

  • Helps to develop a more structured training program
  • Alert you if you are working outside (too high or too low) your target heart rate
  • Maintain discipline during a workout—the monitor will beep or alert you if you're not working hard enough to maintain your pre-set workout goals
  • Safety: A heart rate monitor will help keep you at a healthy target heart rate during your workout.