Low ceilings are something many home gym owners have to deal with. What kind of cardio machine could you use if you’ve got low ceilings? I found the best options.
What are the best cardio machines you can use under low ceilings? The two best options are a recumbent bike and a rowing machine. Both of those don’t require a lot of ceiling height and 6’ tall ceilings would be high enough. The recumbent bike provides a pure cardio workout while the rowing machine also works out the muscles of a big part of your body.
Why did I choose those and what about some other options? I’ll go into that below. Keep reading to find out why these machines are great while others could be problematic.
Best option for cardio under a low ceiling
Even with weightlifting gaining in popularity, cardio workouts at home are still very popular. And of course weightlifting and cardio workouts aren’t mutually exclusive. So a lot of people that want to work out at home want to be able to get a good cardio workout in. Many people want to do their indoor cardio workout on a specialized machine.
But, many home gyms are in the garage and basement and/or they don’t have very high ceilings. That can cause issues with some types of cardio equipment. An elliptical machine or treadmill have pretty high step up heights. If you’re a taller person (6’+), the step up height plus your own height might be enough to hit your head on the ceiling.
That means that any machine you can sit on instead of stand is better option. There are two common options for cardio machines that require you to sit down. The stationary bike and the rowing machine. Both of those have their pros and cons but they are equally suitable to use under low ceilings
|Type||Req. Ceiling height (For 6' person)||Notes|
|Treadmill||7'5||For low step up height versions|
|Elliptical trainer||7'5||For low step up height versions|
|Bowflex Max||7'5||User height +15"|
More specifically the recumbent bike and rowing machine. Both of those are great at giving you a great cardio workout although there are some differences. Let’s take a deeper look into these two machines and why they work well if you’ve got low ceilings.
A stationary bike is exactly what the word suggests. It’s a bicycle that doesn’t move when you push the pedals. They are pretty compact compared to some other machines but still give you an awesome workout.
A stationary bike is taller than a rowing machine but should be fine under most ceilings. As long as you can stand up in a room, you can use the stationary bike. There are two main versions of the stationary bike.
- Recumbent bike
- Upright bike
The recumbent bike has a lower seat and backrest. The pedals are in front of the seat. The recumbent bike is more comfortable on the upper body and better for your lower back. The seat or a recumbent bike is lower than your hips so if you can stand up under a ceiling, you can use it.
Even if ceiling is a bit lower than you could stand under, you could still use a recumbent bike. A 5′ tall ceiling is high enough to use a recumbent bike.
The upright or spin bike has a taller seat but you’re slightly hunched over. It’s also less comfortable and a bit harder on your lower back.
Since the seat is usually at hip height, and your legs make up roughly half your total height, if you can stand up under the ceiling, you can use a spin bike. So for a 6′ tall person a 6′ tall ceiling is tall enough to use an upright bike although you might want to have a few inches extra headroom to use it sitting upright.
For a pure cardio workout the recumbent bike is a better choice. It is the safest and most comfortable to do for a longer period of time. If you’re training to ride a bike outside, the upright bike is a much closer replication of the seating position and movements. On an upright bike you also exercise your upper body a little bit more.
The rowing machine is even lower than the recumbent bike so if you’re extremely tall or have a very low ceiling, this is the best choice for you. Rowing machines have a seat height around 20”. That’s very low and means that to use one, you just need about 5’ of ceiling height. That should be low enough in almost every situation.
If you’re looking for a great rowing machine for an amazing price, click here to find out which one I recommend.
Rowing machines are great machines in general. They give you a great cardiovascular workout but it also makes you use many muscles at the same time. Where the recumbent bike only uses your legs, the rowing machine makes you work out a ton of musculature all over your body.
Since you’re pulling the rowing attachment and pushing the sled away with your feet at the same time, you’re using your upper and lower body at the same time. That’s a great integration of movements that will build some practical strength as well as cardio health.
Some of the muscles rowing targets;
- Upper back
- Rear deltoids
So you can see you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with the rowing machine. On top of that, it’s also very low impact since you’re moving in smooth motions. This makes the rowing machine safe for your joints.
The drawback is that it’s more important to learn how to do the movement properly than with a stationary bike. It can also be harder on your lower back than a recumbent bike. If you’ve got a weak lower back, you might want to try it out a few times before spending money on a rowing machine.
Recumbent bike vs. rowing machine
So which one is better? Both the bike and the rowing machine have their benefits. A lot of it will come down to personal preference. A recumbent bike is the more pure cardio machine. You can sit comfortably on it and watch TV, read a book or do something else while pedaling.
The rowing machine is a completely different experience. It’s a whole body exercise while the bike is just involves the lower body. It’s a more complete workout in a single machine but if you also lift weights that shouldn’t be a concern. For people that are looking for one machine that does it all the rowing machine comes closer. It’s not complete but better than the bike. It’s also not possible to do something else while rowing.
For people with lower back issues the rowing might cause some issues since you’ll use the lower back muscles to stabilize the hip.
Other types of cardio machines
The recumbent bike and rowing machine are the two best options for cardio machines you can use under low ceilings. But what about any other options? Why are they not suitable and what would it take to make it work?
The first machine everyone thinks about when you say cardio is the treadmill. And they are a great tool. Running is one of the most popular ways to work out.
Running outside is very popular but that’s not always feasible. Sometimes the weather isn’t suitable or sometimes you’re in a place where it just sucks to be outside. A treadmill allows you to run inside and can even be a bit easier on your joints than running outside since there is more damping in the belt than on a paved street.
For an average 5’9 tall person, the minimum height ceiling you need is about 7’. That will likely only be enough for normal walking however. Since most treadmills have a belt height of 8”-9”, you’ll have 4”-5” of headroom when standing on the treadmill.
That’s enough for walking but running could be a problem since you roll off over your toes and most people lift off about 2” to 3” while running. That means your head comes very close to the ceiling. You might unconsciously alter the way you run because you’re afraid to hit your head. Having a 7.5’ ceiling would provide enough headroom to run.
Another way to get a bit of extra headroom is to buy a treadmill with a lower belt height. The lowest available belt height on some treadmills is 4.5”. That might provide the 4”-5” of extra headroom you need.
What about an elliptical machine? Elliptical machines have the same problems with height as treadmills do. For an elliptical 8” is considered a low step up height. The step up height is the height of the pedal in the lowest position. Some big machines have step up heights of 18”.
Now add up the average person of 5.9’ and we’re already at 7.2’ of height. Now the pedals go up and down so you’ll need even more ceiling height. That means for a full size elliptical machine you’ll want at least 8’ tall ceilings. For machines with a lower step up height 7.5’ is enough.
The Stairmaster is a great machine. Walking stairs is an awesome workout for your legs and it can get very tough. The problem is that these machines are not only really expensive, they are also very tall. Stair steps on these machines are 8” tall. There are three “visible” steps. You stand on the middle and highest ones. That means that the highest point you step on is 3×8”=24” tall. That’s even higher than the treadmill and elliptical.
A person of 6’ tall would just hit their head with 8’ tall ceilings. Ceilings above 8’ tall really can’t be called low anymore. There is also no option to get a version with lower height either. That means that it’s pretty much impossible to make a Stairmaster work under a low ceiling. The manufacturer even recommends 10’ ceilings as a minimum requirement to use the Stairmaster properly.
A good alternative to a Stairmaster is the the BowFlex Max trainer series. They only require a ceiling height of the user + 15″. That means a 6′ person can use one of those under a 7’5 ceiling. While these trainers are not exactly the same as a Stairmaster, the movement is very similar. Find the BowFlex Max trainers here on Amazon.
Alternatives to machines
What about cardio workouts that don’t require any big equipment? There are tons of things you can do to get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular health without needing big machines. Machines do make your workouts more consistent and sometimes more comfortable. Let’s take a look at what kind of workout without big machines is suitable for low ceilings.
Mountain climbers, burpees, bodyweight squats, etc. All are great options to get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular health. You don’t need any equipment at all but they can certainly get you into a good shape. As long as you can stand up under your ceiling, you can do these things. Be a bit careful with jumping, since your head is the last thing you want to hit.
There are some pros and cons of body weight exercises for cardio
- No equipment needed
- Works out your muscles as well as cardiovascular system
- Possible variety in exercises
- Most movements are suitable to do under low ceilings
- Harder to be consistent than with machines
- Some body weight movements are high impact
- Some movements are too hard in the beginning
Jumping rope is a great way to get your heart rate up quickly. It’s also something you can do for a while although it’s relatively high impact since you have to jump many times. It’s no good to do inside under a low ceiling however. You have to jump a couple of inches and at the same time the rope has to swing over your head. If your ceiling is anywhere close to low, this isn’t going to work. You might be able to jump a little but the rope will likely hit the ceiling. This won’t be a good time.
Kettlebells are awesome for a home cardio workout. There are tons of things you can do with kettlebells and depending on what you want and do you can focus more on cardio or muscle building. With just a couple of different kettlebells you can do many things.
Kettlebell swings are one example of a movement that can be performed very easily inside and under a low ceiling. As long as your ceiling is tall enough to stand up straight you can perform these no problem. It might seem easy but try to do them for 3 minutes and you’ll find it’s a pretty hard work out. You also just need 3 or 4 different kettlebell weights to be able to have a complete workout. This doesn’t take up a lot of space at all.
Use the staircase
Almost everyone has access to a staircase. They’re actually amazing tools for a cardio workout. Run up and down a staircase ten times and you’ll have your heart rate pretty high. You don’t need any tools, no special home gym, not even any empty space. Just a staircase is enough. It’s pretty high impact but you won’t be doing it for an hour straight. Staircases are pretty good for makeshift HIIT workouts.
For people that live in an apartment complex it’s even easier. Find the stairs and you have at least five flights of stairs you can go up without having to go down.
Why use cardio machines?
Why would you use big cardio machines if you can do a cardio workout with just bodyweight or go running outside? There are some benefits and drawback to using machines for cardio exercise. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
Every machine is different with different pros and cons. I’m talking here about using cardio machines vs. other cardio workouts in general.
Pros of cardio machines
- Machines make it easier to consistently get a workout
- They allow you to get a good workout indoors
- Machines have a consistent resistance or speed you can set and/or monitor. This makes it easier to progress over time
- Most machines are lower impact so better for your joints
- They can replicate outdoor activities so you can train them year round.
Cons of cardio machines
- They take up a lot of space
- Some force you into an unnatural movement pattern, putting stress on muscles, tendons and joints where it shouldn’t be.
- They’re expensive
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Can strength training replace cardio? If weight training is done at the right intensity and with the correct rest intervals, it can replace cardio. As long as your heart rate stays high enough for a good period of time it can replace cardio exercise. It would be best to do both types of exercise.
Can bodyweight cardio exercise be effective? Yes, bodyweight exercises can be very effective as cardio training as long as you do can do them consistently and at a low enough intensity to not have to rest for so long that your heart rate gets too low. It has the benefit that you can do this workout everywhere without equipment.
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