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The Best Gym Machines for Weight Loss and Toning


Benefits Of Gym Machines | Resistance Training For Weight Loss | Cardio Machines For Weight Loss | Resistance Machines For Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose weight and tone your body, navigating the wide variety of gym machines can feel overwhelming. With so many options, how do you know which machines are the most effective for your goals?

Here, Phil Carpenter, PT at PureGym Portsmouth North Harbour explores the best cardio and resistance gym machines for weight loss, and why they should be a crucial part of your workout routine.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Gym Machines As Part Of A Weight Loss Journey?

While weight loss relies primarily on creating a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume), pairing your diet with exercise is a winning combination when it comes to losing fat (and maintaining that weight loss). Gym machines, whether that’s cardio or resistance, can be a helpful part of that journey. 

  • Cardio machines like the rower, treadmill, or stationary bike all help to burn calories, which makes sticking to a calorie deficit easier - the more calories you burn, the more calories you can eat while still being in a deficit.
  • Resistance machines help to build muscle definition, which is what creates a ‘toned’ appearance. Building muscle also helps to boost your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories simply by being alive.

Outside of weight loss, both cardio and resistance training offer a wealth of physical and mental health benefits which we cover here.

In-built programmes and trackers on gym machines allow you to keep an eye on your progress, which can help in setting goals and measuring progress over time. They’re also convenient and versatile; with a range of machines in one gym, you can enjoy a varied workout under one roof. 

Is Resistance Training Important When Losing Weight?

People typically associate weight loss with endless cardio, often forgoing resistance training as a result. While increasing cardio can help with weight loss, resistance training is an underrated tool that can help you to get a lean, toned appearance.

It is a common misconception that weightlifting is just for ‘bulking up’ and shouldn’t be done unless you want to get big muscles, but that’s not true. While resistance training does help to build muscle, it takes a lot of time, hard work, and surplus calories to build big muscles.

Strength training while on a diet won’t make you bulky but it will help to prevent your body from breaking down the muscle (instead of fat!) to make up for the calorie deficit and can even help to build some lean muscle if you are progressively overloading and eating enough protein.

Building muscle is helpful on your weight loss journey in two ways: 1) Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. By increasing the amount of muscle in your body, you can boost your metabolism and keep your body burning more calories at a steady rate throughout the day. 2) Helps to prevent muscle from being lost instead of fat, which can lead to a ‘skinny fat’ appearance.

Resistance training is also important for strengthening your ligaments and tendons and improving your bone density. As we age all of these can weaken, leading to an increased risk of injury - a resistance training programme can help to increase the strength and stability of your muscles and joints, keeping you healthier for longer.

You can learn more about weight training for weight loss here, but in summary, resistance training is just as necessary as cardio for getting fit and sets the foundations for effective weight loss. Ideally, your weight loss workout plan will include both training styles.

Which Are The Best Cardio Gym Machines For Weight Loss And Toning?

Cardio, also known as aerobic exercise, is physical activity which raises the heart rate and keeps it there for a prolonged period. Cardio exercise burns calories, which can help with your weight loss efforts, and strengthens the cardiovascular system.

While there are many forms of aerobic exercise, cardio machines provide a variety of ways to work out, with low impact options available.

Here are some of my favourite cardio machines for weight loss and toning: 

  1. Rowing machine

    Rowing is one of the best, most efficient full body workouts out there. In addition to being a cardio workout, the rowing machine uses around 85% of the muscles in your body (most notably legs, core, back and arms), so you’ll also build strength, improve posture, increase endurance, and enjoy a full body workout with just one machine.

    Rowing machines allow for a variety of low-impact workouts, such as steady state, high-intensity sprint intervals, low-intensity endurance development, full body strength training, core training and posture control. It’s also great for beginners or those recovering from injuries as it’s low impact.

    For examples of some calorie-torching, quick and effective rowing sessions to try, check out our HIIT rowing machine workouts guide here.

  2. Treadmill

    The treadmill is an easy-to-use piece of kit that allows everyone to get a great cardio session in, no matter the weather. Both the speed and incline can be adjusted, so if running isn’t your thing you can whack up the incline and still burn a serious number of calories. Treadmills typically allow you to track speed, distance, and calories burnt for each workout, and while the calories should be taken with a pinch of salt, it allows you to monitor progression over time.

    We explain more about why the treadmill is such a useful piece of equipment here

  3. Elliptical

    The elliptical trainer (also known as a cross-trainer) is an excellent low impact option for those who want a full body workout that’s easy on the joints. An elliptical workout targets the legs, glutes, and arms while burning calories, and like treadmills you can adjust the resistance and incline to make this more or less challenging.

  4. Stationary bike

    Another favourite for those seeking a low-impact option, the exercise bike helps to burn calories and improve cardio fitness whilst still being easy on your joints. Make the session harder by increasing resistance or select one of the built-in programs. Spin classes are also a fun way to torch calories during a cycling session and are great to include as part of a weight-loss fitness regime.

  5. Stair stepper

    As the name implies, the stair stepper simulates the action of climbing stairs. This machine is very effective at burning calories and working up a sweat, and also helps to build strength in the lower body. You can adjust the resistance and intensity to increase difficulty, but be aware that this has quite a high impact on the knees - if you’re prone to joint problems, this might not be the best choice for you. 

Learn more about cardio workouts, with examples for you to try in our ‘6 of the best cardio workouts’ guide

Which Are The Best Strength And Resistance Machines For Building Muscle?

Gym resistance machines guide users to perform an exercise with correct form and range of motion. Compared to using free weights, there is typically less involvement needed from the core to stabilise the movement, which means resistance machines can do a better job of isolating the intended muscles. This is useful for building muscle as the intended muscle can be challenged without support from other muscle groups. 

Machines are more controlled and generally safer than free weights, so you’re less likely to get hurt and you don’t need to rely on a spotter. Because machine exercises have a fixed movement path they require less technical skill and are ideal for beginners or those returning to exercise after an injury.

Some of my favourite resistance machines for building muscle are:

  1. Cable machine

    The cable machine is probably one of the most versatile machines that a gym can offer. It allows the average gym member to safely perform an extensive range of resistance-based exercises with a reduced risk of injury. Using a pulley system to provide resistance, you can utilise the cable machine for a variety of different exercises, from rows to chest presses and bicep curls. Cable machine exercises provide tension through the entire exercise which can make exercises here more challenging than the free weight versions, leading to more strength and muscle being build!

    You can enjoy a wide range of motion and easily change resistance levels - it’s also easily accessible for wheelchair users too. 

  2. Smith machine

     The Smith machine is a resistance machine that uses a barbell on rails to provide a guided range of motion for heavier-weight exercises like squats, lunges, and bench presses. While these can be done without the use of a machine, the guided motion can be helpful for beginners or anyone with limited mobility as it reduces the risk of injury by encouraging correct form. This can allow you to go heavier than you would with a free standing barbell, especially without a spotter available.

  3. Leg press machine

    As the name suggests, the leg press targets the leg muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings and quads. Essentially a variation of the squat, the leg press reduces the need for core involvement to isolate the legs more. It’s a great alternative to squats for beginners or anyone with lower back problems. It’s easy to increase the intensity each week to progressively overload the leg muscles – just add more weights!

  4. Lat pulldown machine

    The lat pulldown machine targets the upper back muscles like the lats and traps and can be used for exercises like lat pulldowns and rows. You can easily adjust the weight to make this more or less challenging, and altering your grip allows you to target different muscle groups.

  5. Chest press machine

    The chest press allows you to work your chest, shoulders and triceps from a seated position - you push the chest-height handles forward and extend your arms in front of your body. Alternatively, you can sit facing the back of the seat and push the handles back slightly behind your body - this will work your upper back and shoulder region. 

Now you know some of the best gym machine exercises to help with your weight loss journey, you just need to plan what workouts you want to do each week. Our downloadable gym workout planners are a great way to plot how much cardio and resistance training you want to do each week, and hold yourself accountable to this!

If you’d like to find out more about what types of exercise to include in your weight loss plan, you can check out our How to Lose Weight hub. Popular articles include our weight loss workout and 5 exercises for fat loss.

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