Treadmill pushes

Nowadays there are cardio machines for just about every imaginable exercise you could perform outdoors. But who has the time or inclination to go outdoors? Here I take a look at these torturous machines purely from the perspective of maintaining muscle, while maximising fat loss; rather than increasing cardiovascular fitness.

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training

LISS – Low Intensity Steady State

Both terms are full explained in our article here.


HIIT rating 2.5/5

LISS rating 2.5/5

The epitome of cardio – the mecca of the novice. Doing sprint intervals on it is incredibly fiddly, trying to adjust the speed while running flat out is a recipe for disaster where you end up with treadmill burn on your face and the laughing stock of the gym. Great for fast walking on an incline, but otherwise avoid it.

(If you, or someone you know, insist on running on a treadmill, make sure the treadmill has an incline of 1.5 or 2%. Remember that the treadmill is moving the ground for you; running with 0% incline does not make you to run forwards the same way you would running on the ground)

Static/spinning bike:

HIIT rating 4/5

LISS rating 4/5

Cycling is good if you want to preserve muscle mass as your bodyweight is supported, minimising the impact and unwanted stress on your body (think about where the biggest animals are – in the ocean. Being supported minimises external forces and stresses on the body allowing it to grow unhindered).

The motion of cycling is similar to that of a single-leg leg press, so engages a large amount of muscles. Even some of the Grand Tour (Tour de France) cyclists are still muscle bound, and sprint track cyclists look like they have been dragged straight out of the weights room. Don’t believe me? Google Robert Fostermann.

Recumbent bike:

HIIT rating 1/5

LISS rating 2/5

Nothing says ‘I don’t want to be at the gym’ more than sitting on a recumbent bike, mouth half open, staring at the giant TV screens and the build of these bikes often makes it near impossible to do HIIT on them without bouncing around like the Duracell bunny.

But the recumbent bike is great for LISS if you have hip or back problems and can’t use an upright bike. But if you aren’t injured, chances are you’re engrossed in watching Jeremy Kyle rather than concentrating on your cardio. Stop being lazy and get on another machine, you can find out whether that woman’s granddad is also the father of her kid later.

Rowing machine (Erg):

HIIT rating 4/5

LISS rating 5/5

Rowing is a great low impact, supported, entire body exercise, but does require proper technique to avoid injury. The only problem arises when performing HIIT on an erg – on the recovery phase (sliding forwards towards the fan) you are not doing any work. It is even called the recovery phase of the stroke, there is no way to change this! Nonetheless, it is still a killer for HIIT – keep a bin nearby.


HIIT rating 4.5/5

LISS rating 4/5

The cross trainer doesn’t support your weight, but is very low impact and engages muscle around the entire body. A good piece of equipment for HIIT or LISS.


HIIT rating 1.5/5

LISS rating 2.5/5

Women and bodybuilders love these for doing LISS, but they are rubbish for HIIT as your steps end up only being about 4 inches high. Although they work well, they don’t replicate a staircase particularly well as the ‘step’ that is created by the machine moves away from you – rather than you pushing away from the step. Watch out for the row of steppers placed strategically so the gym staff can spy on users bottoms.


HIIT rating 2.5/5

LISS rating 3.5/5

We don’t get these machines much in the UK, they’re an American thing – essentially a treadmill of steps. If you are lucky enough to have access to one of these never ending staircases, they are pretty good for LISS, but not so much HIIT. Falling off one of these will hurt even more than falling off a treadmill.


HIIT rating 5/5

LISS rating 3/5

Swimming engages almost all your muscles, is low impact and your bodyweight is supported by the water. Even if you don’t have great technique, you’re going to be working just as hard as someone with perfect technique when sprinting flat out – probably working even hard and recruiting more muscles!

For LISS, swimming actually burns significantly less calories than cycling or cross training for the same amount of time (this is why you often see even Olympic level swimmers carrying a bit of extra buoyancy around their midriff), although the guy at might have something to say on that subject.

NB. Please do not try to perform swimming intervals if you cannot swim. We do not accept any responsibility for you drowning


HIIT rating 5/5

LISS rating 2/5

Sprinters are huge, but marathon runners are like skeletons. Put simply: the longer you run for, the smaller you are going to get. Running is high impact, so your body is going to try to be as efficient as possible – this means being as light as possible if you run long distances! Stick with sprinting.


HIIT rating 4/5

LISS rating 3.5/5

If you think skipping is gay, tell that to Rocky Balboa. It is a great, low-impact alternative to running, engaging your legs and core and upper body (the heavier the rope, the more your upper body will be engaged). Concentrate on technique to start and don’t try to show off if you’re no good. Otherwise the only thing you will be engaging is your face with the floor.

When you get good, why not get some friends together and you can even start doing that ghetto jump-rope stuff

Step box:

HIIT rating 4/5

LISS rating 1/5

Using a ‘Reebok stepper’ or equivalent (or a high step anywhere) and you can perform good intervals. The movement is a cross between running with high knees and a single-leg leg press, so engages muscles in your legs, core and arms.

While it’s great for intervals, it’s not so great for extended cardio. It will absolutely destroy you calf muscles (you can decided whether this is a good thing, but I worry that too much step-box stepping will damage my Achilles), plus you will definitely pick up the tag of the gym weirdo, stepping on that same step continuously for half an hour.

Why not try our Brutal LDNM HIIT Pack  or Tabata Torture Series – this will make you re-think how hard you were training before.