Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: Which Cardio Machine Wins?

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: Which Cardio Machine Wins?

Rowing machine or treadmill? Discover which machine is best for your full-body workouts and cardiovascular health.
Image comparison of rowing machine vs treadmill

When it comes to indoor workouts, the treadmill and rowing machine are two of the most popular aerobic exercise machines. Both machines enhance cardiovascular health by increasing heart rate and lung capacity.

Treadmills feature a moving belt that allows users to walk or run, with adjustable speeds and incline levels. Rowing machines replicate the action of rowing a boat, offering a comprehensive workout that involves both the upper and lower body, thus maximizing muscle activation and calorie expenditure.

Deciding which machine is superior isn’t straightforward—it varies based on individual fitness objectives, health conditions, and personal preferences.

Each type of machine has its pros and cons. Continue reading to determine which machine might suit your needs.

Pros and cons of the rowing machine

Rowing machines are a fantastic option for those looking for an efficient, full-body workout. Here are some of the pros and cons of using this machine:

Pros of the rowing machine:

  • Provides a full-body workout and engages the legs, back, arms, and core.
  • Gentle on joints, suitable for those with joint issues.
  • Burns a lot of calories quickly.
  • Boosts cardiovascular fitness.
  • Resistance can be changed for varied workouts.
  • Requires rhythm and coordination, which can keep workouts interesting.

Cons of the rowing machine:

  • Requires proper form to prevent injuries.
  • Needs a fair amount of room.
  • Some models make a lot of noise.

Pros and cons of the treadmill

Treadmills are arguably the most popular exercise machine, and for good reason. They present a simple, intuitive form of cardio exercise that can be adjusted to fit any fitness level.

Here are some of the pros and cons of using a treadmill:

Pros of the treadmill:

  • Running or walking is a natural movement, making treadmills easy to use.
  • Speed and incline can be adjusted to vary intensity and simulate different terrains.
  • Excellent for heart health and improving endurance.
  • Efficient at burning calories, helpful for weight loss.

Cons of the treadmill:

  • Higher impact compared to other cardio machines, which can be tough on knees and ankles.
  • Can be large and require a dedicated space.
  • Requires power to operate, which might be a consideration during power outages or for energy consumption.
  • There’s a risk of falling; stopping suddenly can cause injury.

How does a rowing machine give you a better full-body workout?

Rowing machines bring an unmatched full-body workout to the table. They require effort from both your upper and lower body, making it one of the most balanced exercise machines. Around 65-75 percent of your work effort comes from the legs, while the rest is evenly distributed across the upper body. Altogether, rowing machines are powerhouses of muscle-building and conditioning.

Image of a man working out with a rowing machine. Source: Pexels

How does a treadmill work you out?

Treadmills provide a straightforward workout: running or walking. However, their biggest selling point is their versatility. You can adapt your workouts to meet your specific fitness goals – cardiovascular endurance, speed, distance, or calorie burn. Plus, with in-built program options, you can simulate different terrains and running scenarios, keeping your workouts exciting and challenging.

One study compared three types of exercise equipment: treadmills, ellipticals, and rowing machines. It found that all three are good for cardiovascular fitness as they all lead to similar peak oxygen usage. However, treadmills were better at burning fat during exercise compared to the other two machines.

The results suggest that for increasing fat oxidation — the process of burning fat for energy — during exercise, treadmill workouts are the most effective. This can be particularly beneficial for designing training programs focused on improving metabolic health and managing weight.

How to choose between the rowing machine vs treadmill

Choosing between a rowing machine and a treadmill depends on several factors that align with your personal fitness goals, physical condition, and preferences.

The rowing may be a better choice for you if:

  • You want a full-body workout.
  • You’re looking for a low-impact exercise that’s easier on your joints.
  • You aim for higher calorie burn in less time.
  • You prefer engaging workouts.
  • You have limited space.
  • You want to improve both strength and cardio.

The treadmill might be a better fit for you:

  • You enjoy walking or running.
  • You’re focusing on leg strength and endurance.
  • You like variable workouts and straightforward exercises.
  • You’re targeting cardiovascular improvement.

Watch this video for more useful tips on choosing between rowing machines and treadmills.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Got more questions about the rowing machine vs the treadmill? Check out some commonly asked questions about this topic:

Which machine burns more calories, a rowing machine or a treadmill?

Generally, running on a treadmill can burn slightly more calories than using a rowing machine due to the high-impact nature of running. However, rowing is more efficient if considering the full-body workout it provides, potentially leading to higher overall calorie burn with increased muscle engagement.

Which is better for overall fitness, a rowing machine or a treadmill?

Both machines offer significant health benefits, but they target different aspects of fitness. Treadmills primarily focus on lower body and cardiovascular endurance, making them excellent for improving running performance and leg strength. Rowing machines, on the other hand, provide a full-body workout that includes the back, shoulders, arms, legs, and core, along with cardiovascular benefits. The choice between the two may depend on your specific fitness goals.

Which machine is better for weight loss?

Both machines can be effective for weight loss, but the best choice depends on the user’s preference and the sustainability of the workout routine. Treadmills might be more intuitive to use and can provide a high-calorie burn quickly, which is beneficial for weight loss. Rowing machines can also aid in significant weight loss because they engage more muscle groups at once, which helps to build muscle mass and increase overall metabolic rate.


The rowing machine vs treadmill debate comes down to your personal fitness goals and preferences. Both machines have their unique advantages and could be beneficial depending on what you aim to achieve. Ultimately, your choice should align with your fitness level, risk factors, and workout preferences.

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