The Best Cardio Equipment For Small Spaces

Everyone needs to do some cardio exercise regularly. To do it at home a machine is a great tool to get the best workouts. But which type of cardio machine works the best for a compact home gym?

The best home cardio equipment for small spaces and low ceilings are; 1.) Exercise bike 2.) Rowing machine. Treadmills and elliptical trainers work if you’ve got enough space and at least 8’ high ceilings. The Stairmaster requires a higher ceiling than most home gyms have.

Why are these the best options, how much space do you need for all of these and more can be found below.

3 Best Compact Cardio Equipment Options

There are quite a few different cardio machines on the market. Some are popular while others are quite rare. Here are the best options for compact spaces.

  • Exercise bike (Spin/Recumbent/Upright/Air)
  • Rowing machine
  • Elliptical trainer

Of course everyone has different considerations so hopefully this information will help you choose the right option that works best for you. Whatever cardio equipment you get, interval training is a good way to get a little bit extra out of your workout. An interval timer will help you get the best interval workouts. Find some of the best timers in this post.

The treadmill is probably the first cardio machine you think of. However, if you only have a small space available, they don’t always fit. Some have a folding deck so they take up less space when not in use. However, Is still wouldn’t call treadmills compact. If you like a treadmill and have the space, go for it, otherwise, take a look at the other options below.

1. Exercise bike (Spin/Recumbent/Upright/Air)

Woman using an air exercise bike

Actually you could split up the exercise bike category into four different types of bikes. They are all a little different but the movement is largely the same. You always pedal with your feet and the resistance is adjustable. The one exception is the air bike which is a bit different.

  • Spin bike: The basic exercise bike you’ve probably seen in spin classes. Effective, sturdy and no fancy bells or whistles. It’s just a frame with a flywheel and handlebars. Great for high intensity workouts.
  • Upright bike: Think of this as the dressed up version of a spin bike. The seating position is slightly less bent over and often these bikes have more electronics. This makes them a bit better for low intensity, steady-state cardio.
  • Recumbent bike: Just want to be comfortable? A recumbent bike has a nice comfy low seat and backrest. This is the perfect bike to read a book on while getting a workout done.
  • Air bike: Air bikes are a bit different since they use a fan blade to create resistance which can be very tough. They also often have arm levers which means it turns into a full body exercise which can burn more calories if used correctly.

Read more about air bikes here

The types have some differences but they are all effective and take up roughly the same floor space which is why I’ve grouped them together.

Floor space

As said, there are different types of exercise bikes and they have different sizes. However, all exercise bikes are quite compact except recumbent bikes. Recumbent bikes are a bit larger although most of them are still more compact than a treadmill.

All the other types of exercise bike are the most compact type of cardio equipment you can buy for your home gym. And within exercise bikes, spin bikes are the smallest although upright and air bikes aren’t far behind. To comfortably use a spin bike you need a space of about 4’ by 6’. However, because it’s light and small, you can easily push it into a corner after use where it takes up much less space.

Ceiling height

As long as you can stand up under your ceiling without hitting your head, you can use any exercise bike. Spin bikes and upright bikes require the seat to be a bit above hip height. So when sitting on it, your head will be at roughly the same height as when standing up. Also when you stand up on the pedals your always bent over so your head is nowhere near the ceiling.

Recumbent bikes and air bikes have their seat a little lower than spin and upright bikes so your head will be even lower. Rowing machines are a little lower so need even less ceiling height but exercise bikes need less floor space.


Because there are quite a few different types of exercise bikes, there are also many different price ranges. The smallest exercise bike is a spin bike. Luckily good spin bikes can be bought for as little as $300. Of course there are more expensive models but this is the cheapest cardio machine for home use on average. Recumbent and upright bikes are quite a bit more expensive though.

2. Rowing machine

Woman using a rowing machine

Rowing is a great workout. It uses your legs to drive the biggest part of the movement but it’s also necessary to use your back and arms to complete it. The back is an often forgotten body part that doesn’t get enough attention in the gym. It’s very important to have a strong back for general fitness and longevity though. Having strong back muscles can prevent a lot of back pain as well.

Because it uses the upper and lower body, you have the potential to use a lot of muscle mass at the same time which means you can burn more calories per minute. On top of that, it’s a low impact way of cardio exercise. Because rowing is one smooth motion, there are no impacts that can hurt your joints and spine. All in all rowing is a very effective and safe way of working out.

Floor space

A rowing machine is often foldable. So while it is long and skinny when in use, it’s often possible to fold up the slide rail for compact storage. To use a rowing machine, you need a free floor space of about 4’ x 9’. This does seem like a lot but as said, you can usually fold them for storage and then they only take up about 2’ x 3’.

Ceiling height

If you’ve got super low ceilings, a rowing machine is the best option. The seat is only about 18” from the floor so you’ll be able to use a rowing machine under 5’ high ceilings without problems. Just be careful when standing up.

However, if the ceiling is very low, you might not be able to fold up the slide rail. This really depends on the model though. The Concept2 rower will fit folded up under 5’ ceilings. How practical building your home gym under 5’ tall ceilings is, is another question.


A cheap rower can be had from about $300 but I wouldn’t recommend any of them. At that price range it’s very hit or miss. A decent rowing machine can be bought for around $600 while the gold standard of rowers (Concept2) costs $900 – $1100. If you’ve got the money, I would certainly recommend the last option.

3. Elliptical trainer

Image of an elliptical trainer in a room
Elliptical trainer

The elliptical trainer is one of my personal favorites. It combines walking/running with the option to use arm levers to create a full body workout. Combine that with the lack of impact on the joints like a treadmill and you’ve got a recipe for a machine that can burn a lot of calories with very low injury risk.

The low impact also means the recovery is easier on your body so you can use it more often without getting those little aches and pains regular running can bring.

Floor space

While effective, elliptical trainers are quite large. For a good model, you’ll need a space of about 4’ by 8’ to properly use it. This is more than a treadmill. So while it’s a great and safe workout, it’s definitely not a compact machine.

Ceiling height

The height requirements for an elliptical trainer are similar as for a treadmill. That means about 20”-22” on top of your own height. So 8’ tall ceilings will work for most people. This is not a problem in most home gyms or other places where you can put an elliptical trainer but it’s good to check before buying.


A good elliptical trainer is not cheap but a decent model can be bought for around $1000 to $1500. There are some decent models for around $700 but they are quite simple. For $2000 or over you can expect commercial quality machines with large screens that are super smooth to use.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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