Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: Which Cardio Machine is Better?

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill

Table of Contents

Cardio exercise is a cornerstone of any fitness routine, and when it comes to home workouts, rowing machines and treadmills stand out as popular choices. In this comparison, we will delve into the intricacies of the rowing machine vs treadmill debate, exploring the benefits, drawbacks, and key considerations to help you make an informed decision.

I. Understanding the Basics

1.1 Rowing Machine: Beyond the Surface

Rowing machines have gained popularity for their ability to deliver a full-body workout. Unlike traditional cardio machines that primarily focus on the lower body, rowing engages both the upper and lower body muscles.

The rhythmic motion of rowing not only elevates your heart rate for effective cardio exercise but also helps build and tone muscles across various groups.

The rowing motion involves pushing and pulling, targeting muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, and the core. This dual-action makes it an excellent choice for those looking to burn calories while simultaneously sculpting and strengthening their physique.

Moreover, rowing machines often come with adjustable resistance settings, allowing users to tailor the intensity of their workout. This versatility accommodates various fitness levels, from beginners to advanced athletes.

Additionally, the low-impact nature of rowing makes it suitable for individuals with joint concerns or those recovering from injuries.

Rowing Machine

1.2 Treadmill: The Classic Cardio Companion

On the other side of the spectrum, treadmills offer a classic and straightforward approach to cardio workouts.

Whether you prefer a brisk walk, a steady jog, or an intense run, a treadmill provides a versatile platform for various forms of aerobic activity. The primary focus is on the lower body, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles.

Treadmills are known for their efficiency in burning calories. The intensity of your workout, coupled with customizable incline settings, allows for effective calorie burn.

Additionally, treadmills simulate natural movements like walking or running outside, providing a familiar and accessible exercise option.

However, it’s crucial to note that the impact on joints can be higher when running on a treadmill, especially for individuals with existing joint issues.

Treadmills with cushioned surfaces can mitigate some impact, but users should pay attention to proper running techniques and footwear to reduce the risk of injuries.


II. Rowing Machine vs Treadmill

2.1 Cardio Benefits: Rowing vs Treadmill

Rowing Machine:

Rowing machines excel in providing a comprehensive cardio workout. The continuous, fluid motion engages the heart and lungs, promoting cardiovascular health.

The dual action of pushing and pulling against resistance ensures an effective calorie burn, making it an ideal choice for those aiming to enhance their cardiovascular fitness while shedding unwanted pounds.

Additionally, rowing is a low-impact exercise, reducing the stress on joints compared to high-impact activities like running. This makes rowing suitable for individuals of varying fitness levels and those with joint concerns. Elliptical machine also provides low impact exercise for home gym lovers.

The cardiovascular benefits of rowing extend beyond calorie burn, contributing to improved endurance, stamina, and overall heart health.


Treadmills are synonymous with cardio exercise. The ability to control speed and incline allows users to tailor their workouts to specific fitness goals.

Whether you’re aiming for fat loss, improved cardiovascular health, or endurance training, the treadmill accommodates a wide range of preferences and fitness levels.

Running on a treadmill provides an effective cardiovascular workout, with the potential to burn a significant number of calories. The familiarity of the motion makes it an accessible option for individuals of all fitness levels.

However, the impact on joints, especially during running, can be a consideration, and users should take measures to minimize the risk of joint-related injuries.

2.2 Impact on Joints: Rowing Machine vs Treadmill

Rowing Machine:

One of the significant advantages of rowing machines is their low-impact nature. The smooth, gliding motion reduces stress on the joints, making it an excellent choice for individuals with joint concerns or those recovering from injuries.

This low-impact quality also makes rowing suitable for individuals of varying fitness levels.

The absence of jarring impact makes rowing a gentler option for those with arthritis or joint pain.

It also minimizes the risk of overuse injuries commonly associated with high-impact activities.

Individuals looking for a joint-friendly, yet effective, cardiovascular exercise will find rowing machines to be a valuable addition to their fitness routine.


While treadmills provide an effective workout, they can have a higher impact on joints, especially for runners.

The repetitive nature of running can lead to impact-related injuries, particularly if proper running techniques and footwear are not observed.

Treadmills with cushioned surfaces can mitigate some impact, but the risk remains higher compared to rowing.

Runners and individuals with a preference for high-impact activities should be mindful of their form, footwear, and intensity levels to minimize the strain on joints.

It’s advisable to choose appropriate footwear and consider mixing treadmill running with other low-impact exercises to promote joint health.

2.3 Full-Body Engagement: Rowing Machines Take the Lead

Rowing Machine:

Rowing machines stand out for their ability to engage both the upper and lower body simultaneously. The pushing and pulling motion work various muscle groups, including the legs, back, arms, and core.

This holistic approach not only contributes to muscle development but also ensures a balanced and efficient workout.

The engagement of the upper body sets rowing apart from many other cardio exercises that primarily target the lower body. The inclusion of the back and arm muscles makes rowing a valuable exercise for enhancing overall strength and toning.

Individuals seeking a comprehensive full-body workout will appreciate the muscle engagement that rowing machines offer.


Treadmills primarily target the lower body, emphasizing leg muscles. While they contribute to overall fitness, they may leave the upper body less engaged.

Individuals seeking a comprehensive full-body workout may find rowing machines more satisfying in this aspect.

However, some treadmill users incorporate additional upper body exercises, such as arm swings or hand weights, to enhance the overall workout experience.

While this adds an element of full-body engagement, it may not match the natural and simultaneous activation of multiple muscle groups achieved with rowing.

Rowing Machines Take the Lead

III. Choosing Your Cardio Champion

3.1 Rowing Machine or Treadmill: Factors to Consider

When it comes to selecting the ideal cardio machine for your home gym, several factors come into play. Consider your fitness goals, any existing joint issues, available space, and personal preferences.

If you prioritize a full-body workout with low-impact joints, a rowing machine might be your best bet.

On the other hand, if you enjoy running and want a machine that simulates outdoor activities effectively, a treadmill could be the right choice.

Fitness Goals

  • Rowing Machine: Ideal for those seeking a full-body workout, muscle toning, and a low-impact cardio option.
  • Treadmill: Suitable for individuals with a preference for running, outdoor simulation, and customizable intensity levels.

Joint Health:

  • Rowing Machine: Excellent for individuals with joint concerns or those recovering from injuries due to its low-impact nature.
  • Treadmill: Considered higher impact, requiring attention to proper running techniques and footwear for joint health.

Space Considerations:

  • Rowing Machine: Generally more compact and can be folded for easy storage in smaller spaces.
  • Treadmill: Requires more space and folding options may be available for compact storage.

Personal Preferences:

  • Rowing Machine: Appeals to those who enjoy a rhythmic, full-body workout and seek variety in their cardio routine.
  • Treadmill: Preferred by individuals who enjoy running or walking and want a straightforward and familiar exercise experience.

3.2 Calorie Burn: Crunching the Numbers

Rowing Machine:

Rowing machines are efficient calorie-burning machines. The exact number of calories burned varies based on factors such as intensity, duration, and individual characteristics.

On average, rowing can burn around 600-800 calories per hour, making it a potent tool for those aiming for weight loss or fat burning.

The calorie burn from rowing is not only influenced by the resistance level but also by the user’s technique and intensity.

Rowing at a higher resistance with proper form can significantly increase calorie expenditure, making it an effective option for those with weight management goals.


Treadmills are equally effective in calorie burn, with the amount depending on factors like speed, incline, and workout duration.

Running on a treadmill can burn approximately 500-700 calories per hour, providing a substantial contribution to weight management and fat loss goals.

The intensity of the workout, whether through running or brisk walking, plays a crucial role in determining calorie burn.

Incorporating interval training, where you alternate between periods of higher and lower intensity, can further enhance calorie expenditure.

IV. Conclusion: Deciding on Your Fitness Path

As we navigate the rowing machine vs treadmill terrain, it becomes evident that both offer unique benefits and cater to different fitness preferences.

Your decision should align with your fitness goals, personal preferences, and any specific considerations such as joint health.

  • Cardiovascular Health: Both rowing machines and treadmills contribute to cardiovascular health, but the choice depends on your workout preferences and fitness goals.
  • Impact on Joints: Rowing machines are generally more joint-friendly due to their low-impact nature, making them suitable for a broader audience, including those with joint concerns or injuries.
  • Full-Body Engagement: If a comprehensive, full-body workout is your priority, a rowing machine provides a more balanced exercise routine.
  • Calorie Burn: Both machines are effective in burning calories, with rowing machines having a slight edge in terms of potential calorie burn per hour.

In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The best choice depends on your individual needs and what aligns with your fitness journey.

Whether you’re gliding on a rowing machine or pounding the pavement on a treadmill, the key is to stay consistent and enjoy the journey toward a healthier, fitter you.

V. Additional Considerations and Pro Tips

5.1 Rowing Machine Pro Tips

  • Perfect Your Technique: Focus on maintaining proper form to maximize the effectiveness of your rowing workout and minimize the risk of injuries.
  • Mix in Intervals: Incorporate high-intensity intervals to challenge your cardiovascular system and boost calorie burn.
  • Explore Different Rowing Styles: Experiment with various rowing styles, such as steady-state, pyramid, or sprint intervals, to keep your workouts engaging and effective.

5.2 Treadmill Pro Tips

  • Gradient Matters: Adjusting the incline on your treadmill can simulate outdoor terrain, engage different muscle groups, and intensify your workout.
  • Variety is Key: Combine running with brisk walking, uphill climbs, or even side shuffles to keep your treadmill routine dynamic and prevent monotony.
  • Invest in Quality Footwear: Proper footwear is crucial for reducing the impact on your joints. Invest in shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning.

VI. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is using a rowing machine better for burning calories than walking on a treadmill?

Both activities contribute to calorie burn, but the efficiency depends on factors like intensity and duration. Rowing can burn around 600-800 calories per hour, making it a potent calorie-burning exercise. Walking on a treadmill, on the other hand, can burn approximately 200-300 calories per hour at a moderate pace. If your goal is to burn more calories, a rowing machine might be the better choice.

2. Can rowing build muscle mass like gym equipment?

Yes, rowing machines are effective for building muscle mass. The resistance provided by the rowing motion engages various muscle groups, including the legs, back, and arms. This makes rowing a versatile exercise for both cardiovascular benefits and muscle development. If you’re looking to build muscle mass, incorporating a rowing machine into your routine can be an excellent choice.

3. How does using a rowing machine compare to running on a treadmill in terms of strain on joints?

Rowing machines are known for their low-impact nature, making them gentler on the joints compared to running on a treadmill. The smooth, gliding motion of rowing minimizes stress on the joints, making it suitable for individuals with joint concerns or those recovering from injuries. If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that reduces strain on your joints, a rowing machine may be a preferable option.

4. What are the benefits of rowing machines compared to exercise bikes?

Rowing machines and exercise bikes both offer effective cardiovascular workouts, but they target different muscle groups. Rowing engages both the upper and lower body, providing a full-body workout, while exercise bikes primarily focus on the lower body. If you’re aiming for a comprehensive exercise routine that builds muscle mass and burns calories, a rowing machine might be a better fit.

5. Is rowing a much more effective cardio workout compared to running on the treadmill?

Rowing is considered one of the most effective cardio workouts, combining cardiovascular benefits with muscle engagement. While running on a treadmill is also an excellent cardio exercise, rowing offers a unique advantage by working both the upper and lower body simultaneously. The effectiveness of your cardio workout depends on your fitness goals and preferences, but rowing can be a highly efficient option.

6. How does the rower come into play when comparing either of these machines?

When comparing rowing machines and treadmills, the rower comes into play as a versatile piece of cardio equipment. The rower’s unique motion engages multiple muscle groups, making it suitable for those seeking a full-body workout. Whether you’re looking to burn fat, build muscle, or enjoy a low-impact exercise, the rower provides a well-rounded fitness experience that sets it apart in the rowing machine vs treadmill debate.

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Dr. Mehmet Eren Aksu In addition to his medical background, is a big fitness enthusiast. He has been interested in fitness and has been actively doing it for over 7 years. During this time, he had the opportunity to experience using many cardio machines. And he wants to convey these experiences to you, our valued readers.

How this article was written? How we choose the best cardio equipment?

We take help from AI in certain parts of the articles. This does not mean that our choices and evaluations are made with AI. We strictly hand-pick the best equipment and single product evaluations.


We are aware of how difficult and long a process it is to find equipment according to your needs. As Healthy Bodies 101, we want to help you in the purchasing and evaluation process by minimizing this process.

We may earn commission fees from purchases you make through our links. This helps us continue our work and enjoy doing it.

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