According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cardio is any form of physical activity that increases your heart rate through rhythmic and continuous movement involving large muscle groups. It’s the form of exercise that is most likely to keep you in good health, and reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.
There is, however, a common misconception that cardio workouts have to be fast, furious, and place heavy demands on the body. The problem is that many people experience joint pain from things like injuries, post-pregnancy effects, and musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, this rules out typical cardio like jogging, running, plyometrics, and competitive sports because these forms of exercise are high-impact, and place a lot of stress on the joints, muscles, and ligaments. Thankfully, there’s an alternative: Low-impact cardio.
What is low-impact cardio?
It’s any form of cardio exercise that only places a small amount of biomechanical stress on your body, especially your muscles and joints. Jogging, running, and plyometrics are high-impact exercises because, due to gravity, they place a lot of biomechanical stress on your muscles and joints. Removing or reducing the effects of gravity is generally what makes for low-impact exercise.
With the help of some good home exercise equipment that’s designed specifically for low-impact cardio, you can still burn calories even if your body doesn’t tolerate more typical, bone-jarring exercise. Whether you’re a senior citizen, would-be mom or just recovering from illness or injury, you’ll find the low-impact cardio equipment featured here lifesaving.
The Best Home Exercise Equipment for Low-Impact Cardio
Recumbent Exercise Bikes
Recumbent exercise bikes are arguably the most effective equipment for performing low-impact cardio workouts. They enable you to sit in a natural position and offer more cushioning and support than a traditional upright bike. Whereas upright bikes can place a lot of pressure on the neck, back, shoulders, wrists and ischial tuberosities (sitting bones), recumbent bikes provide an alternative that is much gentler on these joints.
Recumbent bikes have a bucket seat and pedals that are in front of you, rather than below. This setup has you sitting in a semi-reclined position, which has a number of benefits:
- Allows your head to sit in a natural forward-facing position, taking strain off your neck
- Reduces strain on your lumbar vertebrae and mid-section of your spine
- Removes the need for you to support your torso’s weight with your shoulders and wrists
- Distributes your body’s weight across your buttocks, which reduces the pressure placed on the sitting bones.
When shopping around for a recumbent bike, prioritize comfort and ease of getting into and out of the machine. Look for seats that are adequate to hold your body in place, and ensure that the amount of padding and cushioning provided on the seat is adequate. It’s also essential to consider the range of resistance and whether it can be adjusted to accommodate whatever pace you want to work at.
With these factors in mind, these are the best recumbent bikes for low-impact cardio:
Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike
Versatile, brimming with robust features, and as sturdy as they come, you can bet on the Schwinn 270 being the bike that will transform your fitness routine and prove great value for money over the years. The Schwinn 270 is the top-of-the-range model, and shouldn’t be confused with the Schwinn 230, which is a mid-range model. Indeed, the 270 is a design and performance improvement on the 230. It has greater comfort settings and includes more resistance programs to cater for the needs of the more intrepid fitness enthusiasts.
The bike’s pedal system is driven by a high speed, high inertia drive system that mimics the feel of a regular bike. It comes with 29 preset workout programs and 25 resistance levels. You control and customize the settings through the distinctive touch screen console; no fiddling with knobs or levers. The screen also provides you with feedback and performance tracking data, which you can make even more meaningful by downloading and integrating your preferred fitness-tracking app.
The Schwinn 270 is the exercise bike that best illustrates the defining qualities of the recumbent variety: Greater comfort and support for the lower back without compromising performance. Its seat is not only ergonomically contoured but padded for extra support. The seat can also be adjusted through a range of postures, making it easy to customize for multiple users. Moreover, the vented back makes it breathable, ensuring that you do not have to fear sweat developing on your lower back as you cycle away. Further comfort and convenience features include Bluetooth connectivity, MP3 player input port, in-console speakers, adjustable fan, and a couple of USB media charging ports.
Fitness Reality R4000 Recumbent Bike
Shopping for a recumbent fitness bike on a budget often means making plenty of compromises in terms of performance and range of features. However, the Fitness Reality R4000 bucks this trend by delivering an enviable array of adjustable features, sturdy design and ergonomic convenience, which will suit both beginners and dyed-in-the-wool fitness gurus. With its intuitive goal setting functionality, you can easily set your exercise objectives by distance, time or calories burnt parameters.
By adopting a one-piece base frame profile, the designers of the R4000 have delivered a much sturdier recumbent bike than others in its class, which often feature an amalgamation of two distinct chassis elements. Moreover, this makes for a convenient “step thru” concept that makes getting on and off the bike a slick move. The all-steel frame and support elements give the bike a 250 lb weight capacity.
Other outstanding features on the Fitness Reality R4000 include a large cushioned seat, ergonomically shaped foot pedals, integrated RPM counter and odometer, receptacle for phone or MP3 player, and water bottle holder. Admittedly, the LCD screen could be more functional and distinctive while a little more padding and contouring of the seat would be welcome too. However, these are minor details that should not take away from what is otherwise a functionally designed piece of low-impact cardio workout equipment for your home.
Elliptical trainers attempt to simulate the natural gait you assume when walking, jogging or running, however they force your feet to take an elliptical path of motion (hence the name), thus reducing the impact placed on your ankles, knees and hips. One of the defining features of elliptical trainers is that they also have handle-levers that force your arms to do some work while using them. This provides both an upper body and lower body workout that is more intense and well rounded, while also easy on your joints.
Not all elliptical trainers are built equal, and there are some features to keep an eye out for if you want to get the most out of this unique machine.
Good quality elliptical trainers should have ergonomically designed handle-levers that are shaped and positioned in a way that makes them comfortable to grip and manoeuvre. They should also have a significant range of resistance (e.g., up to level 20). This is important because the nature of ellipticals means that on a low resistance level, it’s easy to get your momentum going, and then exert very little effort to keep it going. This may be fun, and feel good, but it defeats the purpose of working out (namely, the ‘work’ part). For the same reason, good ellipticals also have an incline function, which helps to take the intensity of your workouts up a notch.
Schwinn 430 Elliptical Trainer
As you would expect of a Schwinn machine, the 430i Elliptical Trainer is sturdily built and brimming with essential features. Out of the box, the most striking feature of the trainer is the large interactive console which lets you plan and monitor your workouts with its intuitive goal tracking and performance programs while making room for conveniences like charging ports your portables, interface for your MP3 player, media shelf, and even an adjustable 3-speed fan.
Once you start training on the equipment, you will be equally awestruck by its sheer power and convenience. It comes with 22 preset exercise routines, so there is something for everyone to try out. You will also be impressed by the pair of ergonomically contoured pair of handlebars each with an integrated heart rate contact grip, manually adjustable ramp allowing for 6 positions of inclination, and fully padded footplates that provide excellent traction and support.
For a fitness machine of such robust performance, the Schwinn 430i is remarkably silent. It requires little technical skill to assemble or disassemble and is virtually maintenance free for a lifetime. You will, however, need to adjust the incline manually, which can be fiddly at times.
Exerpeutic GOLD 2000XLST Elliptical
The Exerpeutic 2000XLST Elliptical combines a solid design with ease of use to guarantee you a piece of exercise equipment that will help you achieve your low-impact cardio workout goals affordably.
A complement of 16 magnetic levels of resistance levels may not be the most impressive in sheer performance terms but for its price tag, you can’t ask for more. Also, features such as the responsive and easily programmable LCD console ensure you can program your workout with ease and keep track of your goals conveniently.
Indeed, some features found on this elliptical such as the pulse pads on either handlebar are usually to be found on high-end models. In addition to keeping track of your heart rate, you can also schedule your fitness goals and keep track of progress in terms of calories burnt, virtual distance covered and activity time.
Cubii Jr: Desk Elliptical
Meant to replicate the functionality of a conventional elliptical trainer for people who have little time and space to spare, the Cubii Jr Desk Elliptical is a compact, under-the-desk model for doing cardio while at work or watching TV at home. Designing cardio workout equipment you can use unobtrusively in the office isn’t the easiest of challenges but Cubii Jr Elliptical is one of the most impressive products yet in this regard.
Compared to other under-the-desk ellipticals, the Cubii Jr offers the best combination of compact design, ultra-quiet operation and ergonomics. In other words, it will fit in the tightest of under-desk spaces, save you from disapproving sidelong glances from your office mates and ensure you don’t keep banging your knees against the bottom of your desk. What’s not to like?
The Cubii Jr is marketed as being capable of helping you burn an average of 150 calories per hour. In reality, your progress may be more sedate but this does not invalidate the true worth of this nifty piece of workout equipment. Indeed, when it hit the market, the Cubii Jr was so revolutionary in concept that it was voted the ultimate winner of the 2016 Good Design Award; previous winners include Audi, Apple and BMW. It was also included in the 2017 TIME magazine’s Favorite Gifts list.
If you like the idea of an elliptical that you can use pretty much anywhere, anytime, the Cubii Jr Desk Elliptical could be perfect for you.
Upright Exercise Bikes
Upright exercise bikes are arguably the original low-impact cardio equipment. They evolved from the Gymnasticon, which is a strange looking contraption developed in the 1800s. This machine apparently led to the development of physical therapy, and was further refined into the upright exercise bike. Indeed, exercise bikes have long been used in physical therapy settings because they’re extremely effective at providing safe, low-impact cardio exercise.
Upright bikes are not higher on the list because they have a few important drawbacks. Namely, they require you to sit on a relatively small seat with no lumbar support, lean forward and bear the weight of your upper body through your arms, and hold your head in a somewhat unnatural ‘downward stare’. This can exacerbate back pain, place strain on the neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists, and put pressure on the ischial tuberosities (known as the “sitting bones”). As such, we don’t recommend an upright exercise bike for anyone with significant joint pain in their back, neck or arms.
We know that’s not a ringing endorsement, but don’t let that put you off. Upright bikes can be terrific pieces of low-impact cardio equipment. Some of the advantages they have over recumbent bikes include:
- They tend to be cheaper (except for the very top-of-the-range options)
- They take up significantly less room and are therefore ideal for home gyms that are tight on space; and
- Many options effectively replicate the experience of actual cycling, which can increase enjoyment and motivation to actually use them
When choosing an upright bike that’s perfect for you, make sure you look at the quality of the frame, flywheel, seat and console. The frame should be sturdy metal tubing. Many good upright bikes have H-pattern frames, which tend to hold up well over time (bikes without H frames aren’t necessarily bad though). A good quality flywheel will ensure that pedalling is smooth and quiet. As a general rule, heavier flywheels are better quality than lighter flywheels. You also want the flywheel to sit in an enclosed shroud to reduce build up of dirt and grime, as well as prevent clothing and other objects from getting caught. Look for a large, well-padded seat that disperses your weight, and can be easily adjusted. Finally, a good quality console that can display a range of metrics is a must if you’re the type to track your workouts in detail.
With that said, here are some of the top upright exercise bikes you can get for low-impact cardio workouts.
The BikeErg is the third and latest innovation in what is turning out to be a revolutionary line of indoor exercise equipment from Concept2. The ergonomics, resilience and adaptability incorporated in its design have quickly propelled it to the top of many fitness experts’ ranking of upright bikes in a much shorter time than it takes most newly launched products.
The BikeErg is an air resistance bike, but you couldn’t tell that from a cursory look. It does not have the distinctive extended arms of more conventional air bikes like the Schwinn Airdyne Pro. This does not mean the BikeErg is any less effective. It replicates the experience of riding a real outdoor bike by incorporating a clutched flywheel, which continues spinning even when the drive is not engaged. As such, you can take intermittent breaks from pedaling while the bike continues coasting, just as you would experience with a conventional bike.
The BikeErg’s damper mechanism has an intuitive air control function; the same defining mechanism of the other two equipment in the Concept2 stable: The Rower and the SkiErg. Overall, it has more reliable metrics, packages better, and features more customizable options than other bikes in its class.
Schwinn 170 Exercise Bike
This bike has a great combination of features and customization options. As you would expect of a top-drawer Schwinn, the 170 comes with a fully integrated console with a whole gamut of inbuilt accessories like MP3 player integration, charging ports and support for fitness app integration and sync.
The Schwinn 170 employs magnetic resistance to make you work, as opposed to the BikeErg’s air resistance, but the 29 programs and 25 resistance levels more than make up for that.
Setting exercise goals and monitoring progress on the Schwinn 170 is made far easier by its ability to track performance by heart rate, calories burnt, distance, intensity, and a dozen other telemetry guided action points. It is also built on a strong and virtually scratch resistant frame.
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Mini Exercise Bike
If you’re one of those fitness buffs who consider the traditional concept of an upright bike too blasé but are nonetheless unwilling to transition to ‘flashy’ recumbents, then the Sunny Health & Fitness Mini Exercise Bike might be just what the doctor ordered. Indeed, this magnetic mini exercise bike isn’t an upright bike in the strictest sense of the word.
The epitome of portability, the Sf-B0418 is fitted with an easy handle so you can lug it with ease to your office desk or the family den, whihever the case may be. Despite this level of compact design, the designers have nonetheless incorporated a nifty LCD screen so you can monitor performance indicators such as calories, speed, time and distance.
This is a piece of equipment that fits the traditional profile of an under-the-desk elliptical exercise machine. However, it has too high a pedal stroke and will not be practical to use under a conventional office desk. Moreover, it does not have sufficiently reliable traction to avoid sliding on a smooth floor. Therefore, this machine is most suitable for use in places that are not too crammed.
Rowing machines, or simply ‘rowers’, are some of the best options for performing low-impact cardio workouts indoors. Their unique profile and action make them great for full body exercises.
The type of resistance deployed by the rower is crucial in determining how effective it is for your low-impact cardio goals. Ideally, the resistance mechanism should be such that you can control and limit it without putting too much strain on your hips, back, and shoulders.
Stability is also an important factor in assessing the true worth of a rowing exercise machine. In a professional gym, rowers are usually tethered in place. However, the sorts of rowers featured in this guide are for home use and are, therefore, designed with portability in mind. To identify the best, look for how stable the base is and check out the integrity of the entire frame to determine if it will hold fast to the floor even as you row furiously.
Concept2 Rower – Model D
Concept2 indoor exercise and fitness equipment have unrelenting attention to detail, solid construction and reliable performance. The Model D Rower does not disappoint on any of these counts and adds an exciting amount of versatility to your cardio workouts.
Most of this rower’s adaptability owes to its unique damper mechanism and air resistance flywheel. These work together to ensure every tug and release motion replicates the performance and resistance you would get on an actual rowing machine.
Monitoring performance and progress on your fitness goals is made even easier as the Model D comes complete with Concept2’s highly rated Performance 5 (PM5) monitor. Moreover, its modular design makes it easier to assemble and disassemble. The rower also has an adjustable seat, footrests and handle to ensure easy and intuitive customization for different users.
Stamina ATS Air Rower
Like the Model D from Concept2 above, the Stamina ATS Air Rower uses air resistance to replicate the power and control resistance of a rowing machine.
The rower is built on a solid and durable steel frame and includes an inclined seat with padding and contoured profile for comfort. The seat is slightly inclined on the rail, forcing the user to push the torso at an angle from the flywheel mechanism which makes for a smoother rowing stroke than with alternatives which have upright seats. This rower comes with incredibly flexible program settings and is ideal for beginners.
Merax Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machine
Unlike the other two rowers in this list, this Merax rower uses magnetic resistance instead of air resistance to replicate the feel of a conventional rower. To set your preferred resistance settings, you make use of a manual tension control dial.
One of the distinct advantages of this rower compared to the air resistance varieties above is its relatively quiet operation. However, working up a rhythm is not as intuitive as it would be with an air machine.
Steppers are perhaps the most basic of all cardio workout equipment you can buy for your home gym, but that won’t stop one from becoming your favorite machine, or your personal torture device. As you’re probably well aware, climbing stairs is one of the more intense forms of exercise a person can do, and any machine that accurately replicates it tends to become either loved or feared. One of the benefits of steppers, is that your feet never actually leave the ‘steps’, which is precisely what makes them low-impact machines. If you’re after an extremely effective cardio and lower body workout that’s also easy on your joints and your bank account, then a stepper may be the perfect option for you.
As with all cardio machines, it is important to look for a stepper with a display console to monitor progress. Some steppers however don’t have consoles. A stepper that allows for more than gait replication is also preferable. In this regard, you should settle for steppers that allow for a range of low-impact cardio movements.
Stamina SpaceMate Folding Stepper
For a no-fuss, cardio workout; a stepper such as the SpaceMate from Stamina fits the bill perfectly. It features a strong steel frame to guarantee you longevity and reliable performance for years.
There are no fiddly controls or fancy monitoring tools needed to work with the SpaceMate. Just hop on and start stepping. The handlebars are fitted with comfortable grips and are angled for the best ergonomics. There is also a handy console to monitor performance and the progress of your workouts.
This stepper is capable of providing incredibly low impact cardio that helps in burning calories and reinvigorating the cardiovascular system. Additionally, it is able to work on your buttocks, hips, thighs and calves, making it a great solution for users who love whole body workouts.
The SpaceMate provides a great solution if you are trying to work around space limitations or intend to workout in different locations. You can simply fold and stow your stepper away or haul it to your chosen workout point.
Sunny Health & Fitness Twist Stepper
The Sunny Health Twist stepper offers the best compromise for someone on the lookout for a versatile stepper that is nonetheless affordably priced. It is made of heavy-duty stainless steel and comes with an LCD screen monitor, non-slip pedals and a resistance-adjusting knob.
The Twist Stepper has a distinctive “twist” motion which is great for toning the buttocks and thigh muscles. The variable resistance gauge ensures you achieve the best workout without punishing your bones or joints. You can increase the resistance levels on the unit to raise the level of exertion and push yourself to the limit.
The compact form of this stepper allows you to tuck it away in a space as tiny as 20 by 20 inches and take it out whenever you need it – a huge reprieve for those looking for stair steppers but battling space limitations. It’s also fairly lightweight, so you can lug it around and assemble the pieces at will.
Well there you have it: The Best Home Exercise Equipment for Low-Impact Cardio. If you suffer from joint or muscle pain, and you struggle to make it through a traditional cardio workout, then one of the options above may be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, there’s arguably more equipment available for low-impact workouts than there is for traditional high-impact workouts!
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As always, best of luck with your home workouts. Remember: When it comes to our health and fitness, we can make the effort or make excuses, but we can’t make both.
THFF (The Home Fit Freak)