Primary Cardio Machines -vs- Secondary Cardio Machines

March 3, 2009

Unlike many people in the fitness industry, I actually think that all cardio machines have some value. I would separate the machines into two groups.

The first group is what I would call primary cardio machines. These are the pieces of equipment you use to jack up your metabolism, release fatty acids from your fat cells, and increase your HGH levels.

The secondary cardio machines are valuable for steady state low intensity cardio. When combined in a strategic way, you can maximize fat loss by taking advantage of both types of equipment.
cardio equipment treadmills
[When used properly and with a sense of purpose and intensity, the treadmill can be considered a Primary Cardio Machine.]

The Ability of a Cardio Machine to Illicit an HGH Response

The biggest thing which separates various pieces of cardio equipment is the ability of that piece of equipment to to create what some call the “HGH flush”.

That is when an exercise makes you short of breath, and your skin hot to the touch. This is a good indicator that your exercise was intense enough to boost your metabolism following your workout as well as increase your body’s natural HGH output.

Many people haven’t experienced this type of exercise since Junior High, when your teacher made you “run lines” or made you sprint for one lap around the track.

Not All Machines Have the Same “Bang for the Buck”

Sprinting on a treadmill is tougher than doing cardio on an Elliptical Trainer. Jogging on a StepMill Machine is considerably more difficult than exercising on a typical Stair Climber. Doing intervals on an Upright Stationary Bike is quite a bit tougher than doing the same interval routine on a Recumbent Stationary Bike.

The Stepmill Machine is what I consider the toughest piece of cardio equipment in the gym. It is the stair climber that looks like a mini-escalator with real stairs that rotate towards you.

This evil machine will make you work up a sweat…especially when you do your HIIT routine on it.

The 3 Main Primary Cardio Machines

Here is my list of three…The Treadmill, The Stepmill, and the Upright Stationary Bike.

These lend themselves well to intervals and definitely get the whole “HGH Flush” going when done with enough intensity.

Unfortunately you won’t see many gyms with Stepmills, but if your gym has one then take advantage of it. You will get tremendous results.

Almost Everything Else Is Secondary

Here are some secondary cardio machines…the Elliptical Trainer, the Recumbent Stationary Bike, the Stair Climber, Nordic Track, and Rower.

You could try hard to do intervals on these pieces of equipment and could certainly work up a sweat, but not to the same degree as the other 3 that I listed above.

How to Strategically Combine Both Types of Machines

My advice is to do intervals on one of the Primary Cardio Machines for 10-15 minutes, followed by moderate steady state cardio on one of the Secondary Cardio Machines for 20 minutes.

Doing HIIT followed by steady state cardio is called the Stubborn Fat Protocol. I threw together a 3 page mini-course which explains how to do this for maximum fat loss: Fat Loss Cardio

Why Not Just Stay on The Same Machine At a Slower Pace?

There are two reasons I suggest you change equipment after performing HIIT. The first reason is that it is mentally draining to stay on the same piece of equipment for 30-40 minutes.

The change of location will do you some good. The second reason is that your body will respond better to a bit of variety when it comes to cardio.

Primary Machines Can Be Used As Secondary

You can take any piece of primary equipment and use it in place of a secondary machine, but you should Not try to it the other way around.

For example:

You could do intervals on a treadmill then follow that with exercising at a slow pace on an upright stationary bike for steady state cardio. You would not want to try to do Intervals on a Nordic Track.

You certainly could go through the motions on a secondary machine and do intervals, but you are not going to get the same level of HGH response.

Ignore the “Calories Burned” Readings on Cardio Machines

Once you understand how to do effective cardio workouts, you will realize that these little “calories burned” readings on these machines mean nothing.

For effective fat loss cardio you are looking for two things: Intense enough intervals to release fatty acids from your fat cells…followed by steady state cardio to use that fat for energy.

What if You Don’t Have Any Cardio Equipment?

If you don’t belong to a gym, or don’t have cardio equipment…then you can “recreate” the HIIT effect from primary cardio machines in a number of ways.

I have two popular posts about ow to do HIIT without expensive equipment. The first method is Jumping Rope. Try this killer Jump Rope Routine! If you only have access to a room with no equipment whatsoever, you can do a Intervals with bodyweight exercises only.

Here is a post I did about a bodyweight routine I did this past winter: Body Weight Circuits Are Kickin’ My Butt!

Note: After doing jump rope intervals or body weight circuits, then you can do something like a fast walk or slow jog outside. When pressed for time, you can eliminate the steady state cardio all together. The majority of your fat loss results will come from the intense intervals…the steady state cardio is just “icing on the cake”. One last thing…you can replicate HIIT with weights as well: A Circuit Training Routine That Actually Makes Sense!

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

BurritoKid March 3, 2009 at 1:40 am

Nice Post! That gym looks amazing, makes me want to workout. weird?

I like cardio machines too (even tho tt doesnt) They help organize my workout and keep me going for longer. for some reason the time on there helps me stay on track better.

I like how you mention using 2 pieces of equipment. Do you always pair your resistance training and HIT together?

You ever do hit alone?

hawaiigirl March 3, 2009 at 1:49 am

hey rusty..great post! I love this website its very informative! I was wondering how to do sprint intervals on the stepmill? what would be a good speed to start with? should I start with level 8 and work my way up? and for the bike do you have resistence when you do the sprint? Let me know thank you

hawaiigirl March 3, 2009 at 1:58 am

another thing I wear a heart rate monitor every time I do cardio and when I do HITT It goes up to 185 I get so tired I cant go that ok?is it still high intensity? or should I forget the monitor all together?

Chris March 3, 2009 at 6:23 am

I’m curious why you consider a rower a piece of secondary cardio equipment. I would think that you could get a good “HGH flush” when doing intervals on a concept 2 rower.

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach March 3, 2009 at 7:15 am

My favorite cardio machine, I’ll admit, is the elliptical (especially the latest precor that has step levels up to 20). I’ve used it very effectively for HIIT for myself.

That being said, I much prefer bodyweight training myself – I find building muscles far more satisfying than aerobic workouts. But that’s just me, I suppose.

Data points, Barbara

Yavor March 3, 2009 at 8:07 am

The only ones I’ve tried are the elliptical (not good), the stationary bike (ok) and the treadmill (which I just couldn’t get used to).

Without machines I’ve had success with

– basketball
– heavy bag punching
– swimming ‘sprints’
– actual sprints or jogs
– climbing the stairs of my building (9 storey)
– doing high rep body weight squats (like 120-150 plus)


William Mize March 3, 2009 at 8:43 am

Great article Rusty, although as an owner of a Concept2 rower, I would challenge your statement that puts it in the second tier as opposed to the first tier.
I do 20/10 tabatas on that sucker, and let me tell ya, it can make you cry like a little girl 🙂
Full body, upper and lower, HIIT, extended heart rate, what more could you ask for that say, a treadmill, gives you?

Kevin Gregory March 3, 2009 at 9:06 am

Hey Rusty – You are the man, your informative posts are also always motivating. I usually run on the treadmill and do HIIT ( 8-3,9-3,10-3)
every other minute and try to stay at 10.0 and 3.0 as many as i can, its pretty difficult, but today i did windsprints on the indoor track – i would run at about 95 to 100% for mabey 5 sec and then walk for a little ( about 10- 15 of these. Is this effective fat burning technique? I felt that HGH flush you talk about after, and i was pooped. Also do you personally always do SS Cardio after HIIT? Is it nessasary to get the desired result?
Or Can I Just do HIIT on The Treadmill for 20-25 min. and be done?
Thanks Buddy.
oh yea ~ Eliptical Machines are for The Weak!!

Sarah W. March 3, 2009 at 9:10 am

HIIT on the stepmill is pure hell!

David at Animal-Kingdom-Workouts March 3, 2009 at 9:57 am

Great article. I’m still not a big fan of machines, as I find short sprints to be far more effective. You will always get an extreme “HGH Flush” (never heard of it described that way, btw) by exercising this way.

– Dave

fitness-siren March 3, 2009 at 10:18 am

Hey Rusty, that little comment about Junior high was funny but sadly it’s probably true for a lot of people. I haven’t used the Stepmill for awhile although I used to go on it a lot while I was in college and those are tough! They can really make you work up a sweat and give you that FLUSH you’re talking about. Not to mention that they are also great for your legs.

I didn’t know you had a course on this topic. I will definitely give it a look!


Helder March 3, 2009 at 10:22 am

Personally i never liked to use cardio machines, i’m lucky to be near a fantastic park, and i’ve always prefered to do cardio outdoors, i guess i never liked the idea of running “still”, by that i mean never leaving the same place 🙂 the same with weight training, i never really enjoyed machines, free weights specially dumbells always felt better to me, but this is all a question of personal preference, because as long as it works it doesn’t matter how you do it.

Tyson March 3, 2009 at 10:50 am

I love the post but I do have to disagree with you on placing elliptical and stair steppers as secondary cardio pieces. If done right, both pieces are very effective in doing interval training and the elliptical makes a great replacement for the treadmill for people with issues running.

Drew March 3, 2009 at 10:51 am

Hey Rusty,
Nice post once again. Just Wanted to know how you feel about my favorite piece of cardio equipment. The rowing machine is what i have used for years to stay in shape especially during the winters here in MN burrrr.

Caleb - Double Your Gains March 3, 2009 at 11:08 am


I’ve never put it in such simple terms, but yea, I think of the different equipment in the same way – certain ones are better for HIIT and others are better for steady state stuff.

Good post man!


Carrie March 3, 2009 at 11:13 am

Just wondering if you have two use two different machines (ie. primary & secondary) or can you just use the treadmill for both
(ie. HIIT and then, just jogging on the treadmill).

Chris - March 3, 2009 at 11:55 am

I really don’t think this hardware has any place for people of normal health that are just training for health and fitness. I’m excluding athletes training for long slow distance events and people where health issues prevent weighted circuits here.

If you want an interval workout with a lot of “bang for your buck” mix up some high intensity lifting circuits. There’s no reason you can’t get an aerobic/anaerobic workout every bit as intense as you like with this approach. As a bonus, you’re getting some strength work at the same time.

Here’s an example of a training set (compliments of mtn athlete)

15-10-5 (For Time)
Thrusters (M-95#, W-55#)
Swings (M-24kg, W-16kg)
Box Jumps (M-24″, W-20″)

Here’s another one (with a rower):

11 rounds of:

row 250m
7 ankles to bar
10 push ups
15 DB swings
rest 1 minute

The minute rest allows each round to be an all out sprint.

I’ve puked from these kind of workouts before. I’m not suggesting everyone go this hard, but my point is that you can certainly go as hard as you care to and never set foot on a treadmill. I’d also argue that there are greater overall benefits to be gained from this approach.

Mindbodygoal March 3, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Interesting post Rusty.

I am a little curious though about the statement “your body will respond better to a bit of variety when it comes to cardio”

In what way will the body respond better if its already been identified that the primary machinary is better than the secondary?

NancyJ March 3, 2009 at 12:33 pm


Question for you: I like a little caffeine before I run and sometimes like to have a cup of coffee, but I don’t like black coffee much.

So, if you get your caffeine from coffee before the HIIT workout, is it ok to add a little milk or coffeemate? I realize that milk/coffeemate will add a few carbs/calories, but hopefully you should burn that up when warming up, don’t you think?

What do you think about that? I suppose it is safer to not have the few extra carbs, but maybe it is ok?

ahm March 3, 2009 at 12:44 pm

i looked at the jump rope routine and like it a lot but, when you say rest for 30 seconds do you mean continue to jump rope but do it slowly of just stand still?

RockStar March 3, 2009 at 12:47 pm

good post rusty! I’m actually a bit surprised though that you consider the rower a secondary piece of equipment. I consider the rower to be the toughest cardio machine, nothing taxes me like the good old erg. It takes me back to my days in crew. Doing a timed 5k as fast as you can will really wipe you out as you are using virtually every major muscle group.

Bill March 3, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Rusty,what do you think about food seperation no carbs with protein and fat?and since i weigh 310 what would be a good calorie count for weight loss, 1600 ok ?

Scott March 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I couldn’t disagree with you more about the rower being a “secondary” piece of cardio equipment. Nothing and I mean nothing can get you to a higher intensity then the Concept 2 ergometer. Used for the movie “300”, Marines fitness testing, Nasa Space Program, Crossfit……….

Arya March 3, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Hey Rusty,
First I just wanted to say your website is awesome and has taught me so many things in a small amount of time. I recently discovered the site by searching for the Cam Gigandet and Tyler Durden look. I have literally spent the past three days reading every post on this site and am quickly becoming a believer in your philosophies. I am a 21 year old student at the University of Maryland and have recently lost 205 lb’s. I have been obese my entire life up until the age of 19 when I made the decision to transform and save my life. You can read about my story and how I accomplished this transformation on my website where I have begun my journey in trying to help others change their lives as I did. Anyways, like most of your viewers I am looking for the Cam Gigandet physique and wanted to know what my goals should be in order to achieve this. I am not sure of my body fat percentage, which I plan on measuring, but believe I am fairly lean. I am 5’11 160 lb’s (yes I used to weigh 365 lbs). I am basically looking for the ideal body weight for my size in which I can build as much muscle as possible without gaining weight in order to get this Cam Gidandet/hollywood physique. I am not sure if I need to drop to 155(I remember you saying this was brad pitt’s weight in fight club) About 4 months ago when I reached 165 lb’s I believed I was done losing weight and fat and switched to a maintenance mode in order to maintain my weight and build muscle. During this period I took in 2,000 calories a day and performed Bill Phillips body for life routine for 12 weeks (this included 3 days a week of interval training). After this I switched up my routine with full body workouts such as David Zinczenko’s abs diet circuit and also tried a body building split for four weeks. (I maintained at least three days per week of interval training throughout this process. Anyways at the end of all of this I had put on some muscle and gained a great deal of definition in my chest, biceps, and abs. However, I also ended up losing 5 pounds and ended up at 160 lb’s where I currently stand. I was now sure I wanted to maintain my weight and was actually afraid of losing anymore out of fear of looking too skinny. So I decided to eliminate the interval training for a bit and concentrate on three full body circuits a week in which my heart rate would be elevated throughout. After the first week of this I lost another pound and became confused on what to do. It has been three weeks since this and by increasing my calories a bit I have hovered around 159/ 160 pounds. Until now I believed that I had truly burned enough body fat and was ready to put on some muscle and become even more defined. However, after reading your website I am now second guessing myself and wondering if I still have more body fat to lose in order to truly achieve this goal. Through training hard for four months on body for life and body weight circuits I feel I have a good amount of muscle in my chest and biceps and can see some definition in my abs(I have the v shaped muscle you promote, and can see some of a six pack but nothing close to Pitt or Gigande) however, I see room for more muscle especially in my shoulders and triceps. Finally for my ultimate question. In order to achieve my goal of looking like these two celebrities do I need to get down to 155?, burn more fat, put on muscle (Gigandet and Pitt’s arms look pretty darn big) or go for muscle tone. What would be the best workout routine to achieve this goal. I apologize for the ridiculously long post. It’s just that I greatly desire this body and will do anything it takes to get it. I am extremely hard working and dedicated and believe strongly in your advice. If you feel the comment is too long would you mind e-mailing me your thoughts to . I would greatly appreciate this and look forward to hearing from you. Your sight is amazing keep up the incredible work! Also if you have a chance take a look at my website I too have the desire to help others with health and fitness and you are a great inspiration for me.
– Arya

Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later March 3, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Rusty – I regularly do tabatas on the rowing machine and they absolutely kill me! I must admit that staying on the seat can be a challenge, but I have no problem getting to 100% effort…

ally March 3, 2009 at 4:47 pm

I always run for my HIIT, but the Stairmill is a good idea (and wouldn’t make me feel like I was going to go flying off like the treadmill does at 12 mph). I’ll bet I could use Jacob’s Ladder too. Thanks for another great post.

Yash March 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Hey Rusty,
Good post. I was just about to comment on why the rower is in the second tier of equipment but it seems everyone already picked up on that. I’d definitely like to know, since it’s a great tool in my book. Also, in regards to doing cardio after some intense weight training, what is the effect of these longer sessions on your hormonal output? I know a decent HIIT session itself can lend a good HGH boost, but when it comes to weight training a good tenet is to get in and out in around 45 minutes. Too much longer than that will make your body drop off in testosterone and HGH, and increase cortisol. That applies to long weight training sessions though. Will adding cardio at the end of a weight session increase cortisol? This was my primary concern and the reason I’m going to split my weight/cardio days so im not working out too long. In my opinion, a lot of results come from outside of the gym, the way your body responds hormonally and physically to exercise by burning fat and building muscle OUTSIDE of the gym. What do you know about this?


Yash March 3, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Also, kettlebell conditioning is a great way to mix cardio and curcuit style weight training. This gives you that good cardio workout while mixing in weights that, going back to one of your older posts, will help you maintain lean muscle mass as you burn fat.

Patrick Cox March 3, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Hey Rusty,
I also think the rower thoroughly exhausts almost every muscle in the body and could be used effectively for intervals or just 20-30 minutes of high intensity steady state, I would like to hear more of your thoughts on this piece of equipment. I would think it would be ideal for someone in “maintenance mode” who wants to burn serious calories, while at the same time working many muscle groups, I’ve used it for hiit and also 30 min of moderate intensity steady state and been exhausted. I think your strategies for performing cardio are outstanding, and I’m just thankful that I stumbled on to your site about a year ago, I’ve read many of your articles more than once, thanks again for the valuable information.

admin March 3, 2009 at 9:03 pm

To All those That Like Rowing Machines:

I figured I’d answer this in one comment back, since I got so many people who get a great workout with rowing machines. Bottom line…if you can get that HGH Flush effect from a rowing machine, then it is a primary piece of cardio equipment. For some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get that same out-of-breath “HGH Flush” feeling that I get with the other primary cardio machines I mentioned. If it kicks your butt, then it is working.


I try to do HIIT right after resistance training, I guess I don’t want to work up a sweat more than necessary. My time is limited for working out, so it just makes sense to group all my exercise together. Some days I will do just bodyweight circuits as outlined in the article I referenced in my post.


My Stepmill has an interval setting. I would put it on 8-9 to begin with for 15 minutes. The machine will then go up to level 8 for your sprints and close to level 5 for the walking part. A minute of sprinting and a minute of walking. Once you get used to the machine you can work up to level 20. I do level 18 for 15 minutes and it kills me! I certainly didn’t begin at this level.


I can’t slightly work up a sweat with an elliptical, but it is towards the very end of a 12-15 minute HIIT session. On a stepmill, I’m dying after minute 3. Bodyweight stuff is awesome.


“Real World” exercises are always great. I figured I would do a post for people who spend a lot of time in the gym.


I will have to test myself on this. I haven’t done a concept 2 rower in a while. The main thing is that if it is working for you, then make sure and keep it up.


You can do just HIIT and get great results. If you come to a sticking point, or want to get extra lean for a vacation, then add in that Steady State Cardio. Sprinting alternated with walking works wonders. I would recommend running 100 meters and then walking 100 meters…it works well on the track. Run the straight-aways and walk the corners. Do this for one mile and it will kick your butt!


Yep…that is why you rarely see people do this in the gym. Brutal for sure!


Short sprints are amazing on or off a treadmill…as is running stairs.


I guess the term “course” is a it of an exageration…just a 3 page outline of a great cardio routine (link at bottom of page as well “Low Body Fat Percentage”).


Yep…I believein doing what works…indoors or outdoors. Good call.


There are people who could benefit from ellipticals…especially beginners. The problem is that a fit person won’t be challenged long-term on this machine, whereas you have to be a tough son-of-a-gun to do intervals at level 20 on a Stepmill. They are great to reach a certain level of fitness.


Thanks buddy…If it kicks your butt and makes you sweat and breathe hard, then stick with it for sure.


Yeah…The main point is that I want people to spend their time effectively when they are in the gym.


People can certainly benefit from the type of training you mentioned. The weighted intervals and circuits are brutal, which is great…I typically do these once per week right before summer to sharpen up further. For some reason they do hurt my joints a bit more than the treadmill. I turn 40 this year, so I’m probably just getting old 🙂


The nice thing about the secondary pieces of equipment is that you can comfortably do steady state cardio for longer periods of time (which is what you want to do after HIIT some of the time). As far as picking another piece of equipment, you can keep that heart beat up without fatiguing the muscles that you used doing HIIT. Basically…you can get the same calorie burning effect without as much local muscle fatigue.


I recommend drinking the coffee black. I would avoid adding anything to the coffee.


For the jump rope routine…you can stand still for 30 seconds or walk a little bit. I usually pace around a tiny bit, watching the clock. Believe me, those 30 seconds of rest feel like 5 seconds. It is a tough routine!


Continue with the rower. You are not the only one who thinks that it is a tough piece of equipment.


Since you are 310, you could probably lose weight off of 2,000 calories per day. As you get closer to your target weight, you have to cut the calories back, so if you start too low you will have nowhere to go. My main advice is that when you do eat carbs, make sure either add protein or fat. You can eat protein or fat alone, but if you eat carbs alone your blood sugar will spike.


Yes…many people disagree with me about the rowing machine. I still think the Stepmill is as hard as it gets, but I am a little more open to taking a second look at the rowing machine.


I am sorry that I can’t answer your question in better detail, but I will keep it simple. Maintain the same weight, but increase your strength. You are basically at the point now where you need to build density. Put 20-30 pounds on your big lifts without gaining an ounce (or loosing a pound or two). Honestly, this will do the trick.


Okay…you guys have convinced me to try some Tabata Intervals on the Rowing Machine. I submit…LOL!


I need Jacob’s Ladder in my gym. I e-mailed Robert Downey Junior’s trainer and this was what he used to drop bodyfat for Ironman. I still need for him to do a guest post.


I think you could do the weights, the HIIT, and Steady State in 60 minutes. My weight training sessions these days are 15-20 minutes. HIIT for 15 minutes and Steady State for 15-20 minutes. On days I want to do a bit more lifting, then I either reduce or eliminate the Steady State part of the workout.


Thanks for the compliments, I’m glad you are a reader and thanks for commenting as well (I love getting comments, because it makes this a “living” and fluid site). The rowing machine is tough as hell for an extended period of time…it is incredible for steady state cardio. If you are able to push hard enough for intervals and really get short of breath, then do this for intervals as well.

Great comments guys!


Arya - March 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for the help Rusty. I know your extremely busy. So are you suggesting I perform the strength gaining routine you promote on this site. I have purchased Pavel’s book to get the details. Also should I be performing HIIT immediately after these workouts. Sorry Im just trying to put together a solid routine that I can follow to get me to my goal of looking like Durden and Gigandet. Thanks again Rusty I am now a dedicated reader of this site.

Brian March 4, 2009 at 8:46 am


Love the site, everytime I read a post i look forward to the next. I have a question though that is rather irrelevant to this recent post, I lift three days a week, Chest/Back on Monday, Shoulders on Wednesday and Bis/Tris on friday. Now, I do three exercises at three sets each for Chest/Back and Four exercises for Shoulders. My confusion comes with how many different exercises I should do for Bis/Tris since they are proportionatly smaller than Chest and Back, should I do three exercises for each or is two a piece, which I have been doing, enough? Any insight you have to offer would be greatly appreciated. Maybe a quick breakdown of a routine, if time permits would help.

thanks alot!

cj March 4, 2009 at 10:10 am

great article but i would strongly disagree with you on a rowing machine being a secondary piece of equipment!! Rowing machine are pure torture

AWA March 4, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Great article. However, I will have to disagree with you on the rowing machine being a secondary cardio machine. I row for my university and I can guarantee that one can get a VERY high intensity workout on the rowing machine. Our rowing crew at the university can tell you all about the 3 months of winter training we spent on those things.

G. March 4, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Hi Rusty,

long time no post…

I still am a huge fan of your site and all the incredible advise you give to your readers. (just pressed for time to comment most of the time).

I was compelled to add to this post regarding the “rower”.

I believe a lot of cardio machines are easier for some people and harder for others due to the types of bodies using them.

Example: i believe you are about 6″2, hence you will have “long limbs” meaning that the rower may not give you as full a range of motion than it would someone with shorter limbs,therefore making that exercise more challenging for the shorter limbed person.

Hope that makes sense……keep up the wonderful work!!!

P.S. when are you coming down under?

AWA March 4, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I’m sorry about the comment that I added earlier. I did not read your post above. I guess every body is different. Also, to get a high intensity workout on a rowing machine, one should first learn good form so that they do not injure themselves.
Sorry again.

Mike OD - LifeSpotlight March 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm

While necessary for most people to go do something….I can’t stand treadmills. I love me a good trail run…up and down hills…speed up, slow down….it’s all good built-in interval training….sometimes I run…other times I need to walk to recover….nothing steady state about it….plus once I run my ass on a trail for 10 min….I still need to turn around and run back to get to my car! No quitting half way through (although that did backfire on me many years ago going for a slow jog and wanting to do a whole trail….although I didn’t figure that it was going to be 5 miles one way and then oh yeah…another 5 miles back…my knees were pissed at me for weeks after that! Ha.

carlos March 4, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Hi Rusty, this is a great blog. I just found it and I will be back again. I have always had a contempt for the eliptical and other “secondary” pieces of cardio equipment. I have always been a treadmill junki. Next time I go to the gym I will have to try mixing in different equipment after doing my treadmill interval workout.

hawaiigirl March 5, 2009 at 12:46 am

I was wondering if you have ever heard of Tracy Anderson Method? this is the trainer that madaonna uses? Its like a ballet video kind of workout

admin March 5, 2009 at 2:27 am


I would do a 2 day split.

Day 1: Chest, Back, Abs
Day 2: Shoulders, Arms

Lift 4 times per week, so hit each muscle group twice. Do HIIT and push it hard for 15 minutes. I don’t recommend leg lifts unless you have exceptionally skinny legs (then just ad in a few sets of squats on one of the days). You are going to push at HIIT to tone the hell out of your legs while burning body fat over your entire body.

Pick 2 exercises per body part and do 3-5 sets of each exercise…so as little as 6 total sets per body part and as much as 10 total sets per body part. You are concerned with getting stronger and fewer sets allow you to get the most out of each set.

For muscle groups that are big already, but just need density…go lower rep in the 2-4 rep range. For muscles that you want to add a tiny bit of size while increasing density, stick to 5 reps per set. Hope that helps.


Take a look at what I wrote for Arya. This is a solid routine. As far as more sets for bigger and less sets for smaller muscle groups…I wouldn’t worry about it. Even if you broke a small muscle down (try not to break the muscle down if possible), it will repair faster than a bigger muscle group anyway. I would do more sets for muscles that need a little size, but nothing crazy…maybe just a set or two more…over time that muscle will add a bit of size while remaining defined the whole time (none of that puffed up bloated bodybuilder look).


Thanks for coming back…you were commenting back in the days when this site was new…I appreciate it a lot and want to thank you for helping me get this site rolling (I don’t take comments for granted…ever). I never thought of my long arms making the rower easier, but that makes a lot of sense. I am 6’3″ with very long arms and it would make sense how it would make this exercise easier (makes for a tough bench press however). I want to go to the Down Under within 2 years…this is the first time I have given myself a deadline and I plan to stick to it!


I took my girlfriend hiking on up a brutal trail called Mt Si. It is only 4 miles, but you climb 4,000 feet. Going up is easier than going back down, but you have to go back down. The problem with the whole thing is that I was sore for 5 days. With the treadmill or stepmill I am in a controlled environment. The downside is that it isn’t random, but the positive is that I know exactly how hard to push. I do like getting outside and plan on doing it more in the future…even though I will probably mess up every now and then and push too hard.


I am a 3rd degree ninja master on the treadmill (kidding of course)…but I do love how predictable the fat comes off when you do the treadmill in a strategic manner. You should hop on another piece of equipment after that, just to mix it up a bit.


I haven’t heard of Tracy Anderson, but I’ll do a bit of research. Madonna is in great shape, but her arms and shoulders look a bit too ripped for a woman (just my opinion…but I know many will agree). I guess I like a more naturally fit look.

Keep the comments rolling!


Arya March 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Thanks a mill. You are the man! I just have two final questions then I promise I am done. As you said before I am doing all of this while not gaining or losing any weight. My questions concern pre and post workout nutrition. Up until now I was always taught to go into a workout fueled up with adequate carbs, but after reading your post on avoiding the “pump” I am not sure. For my goals do you believe I should go into these workouts of weights followed by HIIT on an empty stomach to avoid the pump and burn more fat? And my last question is that up until now I have always drank the typical fast digesting protein (whey) with a fast digesting carb such as cream of wheat or fruit juice immediatley after working out. Since I am now training for strength and am thus performing a lower volume should I still down this shake after working out. These two areas of pre and post workout are where I consume most of my carbs. I then taper off as the day goes on. Again thanks so much. You have no idea how much your advice is helping me. I can’t wait to get started.

MrBunny March 6, 2009 at 9:24 am


The basic principle that Rusty promotes is going into a workout in a fasted state where you consume no calories (water only) 4-5 hours prior to the workout and you need to keep it short say a 30-40 minutes exercise routine otherwise you will increase your cortisol levels, which means you will stop burning fat (increased insulin and low GH and glucagon). It is recommended that you wait 1-2 hours after your workout before you consume any calories to maximise the fat burning then you can eat a proper full meal (healthy). This method is very efficient for burning fat and has worked for me and many others. I was 190lb on January 1st this year and then followed this routine and i am now 161lbs, my goal is 150lbs so not far off.

You can exercise anywhere between 3-5 times a week it is not necessary to do more than this unless you planning a summer vacation in the next few weeks. Remember calorie deficit along with eating whole clean (non-processed) food is what will make you shed off those pounds more than the exercise routine (85% of how your body looks is down to your diet). Remember do your resistant training first followed by a 10-15 minute HIIT session afterwards like Rusty suggest. If you feel up to this you can follow up the HIIT with some steady state cardio for 10-20 minutes. Hence, this post on primary and secondary cardio machines the secondary being for steady state…I hope this helps. Rusty has plenty of great articles on this site, which i highly suggest you invest some time in reading as they will answer many of your questions.

Great article Rusty i was quite amused in the trouble you caused with your view on rowing machines. I personally would not do rowing machines as a HIIT exercise not because i am tall (5’10”) but i consider HIIT being able to push yourself to a point of exhaustion within the first 1 minute interval you have. This for me can only be accomplished by doing something with intense speed like running, cycling and boxing etc. I have not tried the stair machine but i can see how it can be very intense. Try going all out on a boxing bag for 1 minute and i guarantee you will be dead. Rowing machines are a great workout and when i use to go to the gym i hardly saw anyone on it because it is very hard. However, you cannot get high speeds on the rowing machine and still maintain form as you could if you was sprinting thus it take me at least 5 minutes on the concept machine on the highest level to get the same effect as if i was going for an all out sprint or boxing. Again this is dependant on the person and there fitness level like the elliptical machine is great for some but not others as with any machine…find what works for you which you enjoy and stick to that. I believe Rusty was making a general guideline on the machines he thought best suited for this based on his own experiences but never meant this to be the be all and end all for everyone…more targeted towards novices than veterans who know what works for them.

On a different note i would like to know if anyone has been to a gym that promotes putting on weight…sounds strange but i remember at my local gym in the reception area they have a small eating venue where the only food available is not fruits or water as you expect but a coke machine (not the sniffing kind), cakes, pastry and cappuccinos…kind of strange for them to be doing this and wondered if anyone has come across this in other gyms?

MrBunny March 6, 2009 at 9:43 am


Sorry, i just read your other post and didn’t realise that you already lost a large amount of weight so definitely a congratulations on that huge accomplishment. If you wish to put on muscle then you can have a post workout meal but i believe Cam Gigandet body is more down to low body fat than heavy lifting. I read a post on his workout routine where he mentioned he doesn’t actually workout in a gym but is just very active in his sports. Have you tried body weight exercises like push-ups, dips and pull/chin-ups as they build a great physic (ripped) with big strength gains without the pump looked. Arya, i suggest you ignore the first part of my post and i let Rusty answer your question as i clearly didn’t read your earlier post.

admin March 6, 2009 at 11:13 am


Mr Bunny is right about Cam Gigandet’s physique being attributed to low body fat. What I would recommend is gaining strength for a while without the extra calories right after lifting. Wait an hour or two and eat a regular and healthy meal. Gain strength for a while without adding any body weight and you will notice a big difference in the way your physique looks by Summer time.

Mr Bunny,

Almost every gym I go to pushes the guys to put on muscle…Followed by the typical advice that “muscle burns more calories during the day and helps you get lean”. Adding muscle to lose body fat is an inefficient way to get lean. I haven’t seen the gym with junk food up front. Not Good! Thanks for giving out great tips to Arya…couldn’t have said it better.


Arya March 6, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Rusyty and Mr. bunny, thanks for your responses.
I will put away the bodybuilding shake for a while. So do you still recommend I go into my workouts on an empty stomach even though I am not trying to lose weight just burn body fat and build muscle density. Since I am a five to six meal a dayer (I used it to lose the weight and it has just become second nature) I would have to workout first thing in the morning to be in a carb depleted state. I know being in a fasted state is optimal but is it possible to achieve the same fat burning results working out without being in this state.

BurritoKid March 7, 2009 at 3:36 am

Hey Rust,

what levels do you do treadmill right now?
ie (2.0 incline, 12mph, 1min:1rest for 15 mins)

do you think the body comes when you can hit a certain level, or the amount of time put into HIIT is important??

Jj March 7, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Hey rusty. First time to site. I’ll give u a little background of myself. I use to be a model I am 6 ft between 160-165.
Now I am just doing school. I’ve been seeing people and everyone thinks I am to small. How do u judge a good weight cuz I go to all these bodybuilding and fitness sites and they say bulk up for 12 weeks and then diet down. By I am like I already have 6% bf why would I want to put on all that weight. What’s ur take you have a different site then all the ones out there

James March 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm


You don’t want to put on that weight. Stay how you are. If you’re truly 6% BF at 6 ft, you should look as lean as Brad Pitt did in fight club, but you’d be a bit bigger (he was 150-155 @ ~ 6ft).

I bet most of the guys that tell you that you’re small are fat or, at least much fatter than you.

Dennis March 8, 2009 at 3:39 am

You can’t beat a treadmill on a rainy day.

hawaiigirl March 8, 2009 at 9:59 pm

hey rusty thank you for answering my questions! I was wondering.. i like doing my cardio in the morning like 9 or it ok to fast and eat my biggest meal at night?I hate working out in the afternoon..yet i ove dinner the best!

Chris - March 9, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Rusty – Funny you say that, I get the opposite effect. Traditional monostructural ‘cardio’ tends to hurt my joints. High intensity circuits don’t seem to.

You should by all means use what works for you. I just found the disconnect interesting.

cathy March 9, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Just wondering if you got a response to this as I also drink coffee with some flavored cream in it….

Scott Kustes - Life Spotlight March 10, 2009 at 10:59 am

Rusty, Nice post, but I think you’ve never put a rower to good use if you think the treadmill is a better piece of equipment. There’s nothing like a Concept 2 to absolutely destroy yourself.


admin March 10, 2009 at 12:41 pm


You can lose weight without going into your cardio in a fasted state, it will just take a little longer.


I found a treadmill with a speed that goes up to 15 in my gym (most top out at 12). Anyway…I work up to 13.0 for 30 seconds followed by 4.0 for 60 seconds. I typically don’t feel comfortable going above 13.0 yet, since this is a new thing for me (I’ve been doing 12.0 for years). Anyway, I do this on a 2.0 degree incline. As far as losing weight goes…there is a time element involved, but you reach your goals much faster as you increase in performance.


James is right. Keep your same weight and just try to get stronger without adding any muscle. This will build density over time and make you look and feel incredible. The other guys will look soft and puffy when standing next to you.


I am a big fan of the treadmill, for sure.


It is still fine to wait until dinner to eat. In fact, you will drop weight quickly with the approach you are taking.


My joints hurt after jogging long distances, but all the low impact stuff doesn’t hurt my joints when doing steady state cardo…so I understand what you are saying.


I would avoid the cream if possible. You can learn to like coffee black and it will benefit you better in the long term.


I have seen the error of my ways when it comes to the Rowing Machine…LOL! I have a hard time getting a great workout on it, but I am a long-armed freak…so I probably get a different effect from it.



Michael March 11, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I think the reason it’s easy to write off the erg (rower) is because it has no minimum bound on effort. You can sit down on one and slide back and forth and effectively do no work and you can still claim “I rowed for 20 minutes”. With a treadmill, at some point you’re just walking.

It is also a motion that appears simple when observed, but people usually take months or years to master it. So until you have had someone who knows what they are doing teach you proper technique, or do extensive individual research / practice, you are more likely to hurt your lower back than get a good workout. It’s alot like the olympic lifts, no one would advise you to attempt to build strength with those lifts before spending significant time learning proper technique.

If you want to see the kind of work that can be done on an erg search for “crash-b erg” on youtube.

Velma March 12, 2009 at 9:42 am

Hi Rusty, & Everyone Else!
I stumbled onto this website while googling about how to tone without bulking up. I am not a newbie to working out but I am a newbie to losing a large amount of weight and to the gym.

Pre-pregnancy I weighed 120lbs and did taebo cardio and cindy crawford weights at home and this helped me mainatin between 110-130lbs. For various reasons i gained quite a bit during he pregnancy (60lbs) and weighed 186 on “birth-day”. I lost the first 40lbs relatively easily and within the first year without exercising etc…

Here is my dilemma, 2 years ago I was diagnosed with PCOS and although I was eating healthy I was easily gaining weight. I have hit my highest weight of 220 July ’08. I joined curves in January of ’09, it wasn’t challenging me enough so I joined Golds Gym Feb ’09 with the hubby. I am pretty strong and at this point don’t want to get bigger muscle, just burn the fat off. (I can curl 30lbs 10X, 3 sets, shoulder fly 50lbs & squat 350 10X 3 sets).

I have been doing a 18min Interval training 4x wk. 3min wmup, @ min 4, 1 min run, @ min 6, 1 min run, @ min, 30 sec run etc…. and then I was hitting the weights after this, arms one day legs the next. I havent seen any results and I am getting discouraged. Honestly, this is the longest I have stayed consistent with working out in 6 years and the only thing keeping me pumped is the “high” i feel and the energy it gives me.

I started yesterday your HIIT solution with the 10min interval and 20min steady, then i hit the bicep,tricep and did some squats. I read today you dont recommend squats so I will cut that out. Should I be doing weights first then cardio? I want maximum burn!!! LOL

I am also insulin resistant because of the PCOS and have added grapefruit and have noticed some positive side effects from that.

I am currently
219lbs (Jan 2nd weighed 223)

Longterm goal

25″ waist
38″ hips

I need a plan to follow for the next 4 weeks diet and exercise… so suggestions please!!! Thank You

PS# in 4wks my hubby has lost 10lbs…. and we are doing the same cardio…..

Ron March 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

Watch the latest videos on

What is the favorite cardio machine of all?

Ron March 17, 2009 at 10:53 am

For the next 4 weeks, follow strict dieting schedule of fist-sized meals consiting of tuna and whole wheat bread, protein shakes, and fat burners! Water, light foods consisting of protein and low carbs and calories.

admin March 21, 2009 at 3:14 pm


That is a good tip on the rower. I will search on Youtube. I like the idea of rowing to get fit, because it will insure good posture and probably help a little bit with back density.


Do weights first, but drop the squats for sure. I think you will get much better results using that energy for tough HIIT and cardio. Here is a basic routine that gets results…

Day 1) Chest and Back, Abs – HIIT (followed by steady state)
Day 2) Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps – HIIT (steady sate optional)
Day 3) Rest or a little bit of Steady State cardio
[Just repeat this rotation and throw in an extra rest day every now and then]


Scott March 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Let me first say I agree with you, the stair climber and the treadmill gives you a killer workout. There is a new machine on the block, the incline trainer, that also does and I think once it catches on will really become a hit.

The thing with rowing when I first tried it out, I did not have the correct form/technique. With the treadmill, spinner, stair climber I could get on them and just go. I didn’t need anybody to teach me how to walk, run, climb stairs. With rowing I thought it was pretty much the same thing but it isn’t at all.

When I fist tried it I would set the resistance to 7 – 10 and I was all herky jerky in my motion but I didn’t know it. My arms would become tired and I really could not crank up the heart rate like other exercises. Finally one day I saw I guy from Germany who was a rower get on the machine. His stroke looked so smooth and effortless, it was all one motion. He broke down the stroke for me and told me it was like riding a bike, you will not get it down the first try but with time it comes and then shazam, it kicks your ass.

The feeling you get on the rower is different, with a stair climber it can kick your butt because your using the legand glute muscles a much higher intensity. Yet in a way your leg muscles can become the limiting factor. You feel the burn when you crank it up just a notch too much.

With the rower your using a lot more muscle (back, arms and legs) through a fuller range of motion. You crank it up on the rower and all those muscles are demanding more energy and it feels like somebody sucked out all the O2 out of the room. You can really see it on the Polar HRM. I went over and above my max HR (do not do this at home).

The key is to set the resistance at a proper resistance setting (2 – 4) and learn the stroke. Yet it is opening Pandora’s box.

matt April 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

Hi Rusty,

You dont talk very much about swimming for a cardio workout. I try and swim a few times a week and love it. Any suggestions on how to maximize that workout?

Sun May 18, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Hey Rusty,

I was doing a pubmed literature review for a summer research project and got sidetracked by several HIIT articles. Anyway, here’s a link to an abstract regarding exercise and fat oxidation titled “Optimizing fat oxidation through exercise and diet.” The second to last sentence sounds oddly familiar. If you want a copy of the entire pdf and can’t get access, feel free to email me.

BTW: Thank you for creating this site. I’ve been an avid reader for a little over a year and it’s refreshing to find an alternative to the single-minded mass-building sites. Keep up the good work!

Alister Lane MD September 30, 2009 at 4:16 am


Why do you class elliptical runners as less effective than your main 3? I’ve been using ellipticals for years now and never fail to get the HGH flush. What, in your opinion, makes this a less effective cardio exercise?

Tanya - Naperville Exercise Equipment November 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I was surprised to see that you didn’t list the elliptical as one of the top 3 cardio machines. I know it’s not as intense as the treadmill or stepper, but if you do it consistently for a decent amount of time, you’ll certainly see quick results!

Becca April 14, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I disagree with rowing machines being a secondary cardio machine. I challenge anyone to use an ergometer (Rowing machine) for interval training (or even a regular steady state workout)and tell me it wasn’t one of the most intense workouts of your life, far more intense than a bike. As long as you use an erg PROPERLY (I’ve been erging for years and coaches still tell me I have some technical problems) you’ll get full body workout basically, including the core. It’s especially killer on your legs, definitely builds them up. I’m terrified of HIT on ergs though haha, so I do have to stick to bikes haha 🙁

Becca April 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I should probably also add Concept2 ergs are the standard machine for erg competitions including the world championships, so I’m not sure how ergs at your local gym work/match up, I’m sure some are poor quality

Michael September 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm

This is an old post but maybe someone will see this.

I’ve tried lots of different machines at various gyms including all of those mentioned above. The one that really kicks my butt, however, is the VersaClimber. My first time on it, I didn’t last ten minutes–and that was at a relatively slow pace. I used to own a Concept II and while it was good, the VersaClimber is more intense and is the best I’ve found for HIIT. Now I own one and it’s my main workout. When I go to climb a hill it’s so much easier than when I used to run those very same hills.

Also, another point about the Stepmill type climbers is that the movement is different than on the currently popular steppers. It’s a much more natural movement and stresses the hip joint far less. It’s actually far closer to climbing real stairs (or a mountain) than the side to side motion of the more common stairclimbers. When I was having back problems a number of years ago my physical therapist insisted that I stick with what we then called the ‘old-fashioned’ stair climbers. At that time, they were pretty much all Stairmasters but the older versions had the escalator like stairs vs. the side to side steppers on the newer models.

essays term papers December 5, 2011 at 10:42 am

Thanks for the best blog. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually which was looking for and glad to come.

noella April 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm

my height is 4ft 9 inches and i’m 56 kgs ….i’m trying to lose weight ie….i intend to touch 50 kgs …i’m looking out for a threadmill/ climber …..what do u thonk would be better another thing …i’m heavy on my hips . thanks

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