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Rowing Machine vs. Bike: Which Is Better?

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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A lot of people are going to hit the gym to lose weight or get in better shape. In this article, we are going to break down two different forms of exercise: rowing machine vs. bike. We will go over the pros and cons for both of those so that you can decide for yourself which one’s going to be best for you to help you accomplish your fitness goals and get health benefits. 

Choosing Between a Rowing Machine or Exercise Bike: 2 Things To Consider

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To find out which is better rowing vs. cycling, we are going to use two variables in our evaluation of these two movements. Those are the ability to induce work and safety. Now let’s evaluate rowing vs. bike from those standpoints.  

Athletes enjoying the differences of working out with rowing machine vs bike
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With a stationary bike, the safety factor is high because we don’t experience a whole lot of safety risks. Biking doesn’t impact your joints and knees. However, it can cause lower back problems. According to a recent study, 45% of professional cyclists have back pain. 

With rowing, we have a high safety rating because it’s a low-impact exercise. A rowing machine involves a limited impact on your joints, so anyone can use it without a high risk of injury. 

The Ability to Induce Work

Ability to induce work is in the middle range when we are talking about biking. With that type of movement, you can perform any cardio workout you need from sprints to 1.5-hour workouts. But if you want to impact your upper body, it’s better to use a rowing machine.  

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Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

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If you take a fairly look at those two modalities of producing work, rowing does end up winning out in the long run. From a rowing standpoint, we can introduce work both strength versus light work. We also can introduce very high-intensity or low-intensity workloads. 

Rowing Machine vs. Bike: Which Is Better? It Depends on Your Fitness Goals 

Both these two great forms of cardiovascular exercise have their pros and cons. Depending on fitness levels and what your fitness goals are, you have to choose between those two. 

Rowing Machine vs. Bike for Weight Loss 

If you are choosing rowing vs. cycling for weight loss, use a rowing machine. Activating 86% of the body’s muscles, rowing is a perfect exercise for burning calories.  

If you spend 20 minutes on the bike and the rower, you’re probably going to do a lot more work on the rower. Riding an indoor bike typically takes 30 to 60 minutes, whereas on the rower you generally need to shoot for 15-30-minute workouts to achieve the same effect. A tough 60-minute row is significantly more taxing than the equivalent 60-minute bike ride. 

So if you’re short on time and want to lose weight or just prefer shorter more intense workouts, then the rower is going to be a great fit. 

Rowing Machine vs. Bike to Gain Muscle Mass 

If you want to build leg muscle mass, choose an indoor bike. Just set the resistance to pedal 45-60 revolutions per minute while performing your lower-body workout. However, you can’t build major muscle with a cycling workout cycling when it comes to your upper body.  

With a rowing machine, you can reach any fitness goal. It’s perfect for both body weight loss and building muscle mass.

Benefits of Rowing Machines

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Let’s get into the pros of rowing.

1. Full Body Workout

The first pro with rowing is that it works 86% of our muscle groups. So not only are you just working your legs but your back, arms, and a bunch of those little muscles that are in those big muscle groups. Overall, you’re going to get a lot more muscle toning and development with rowing compared to cycling or another form of aerobic exercise. 

Using a rowing machine consistently, you’ll become healthier and stronger and increase your cardiovascular endurance. 

2. One of the Highest Calorie-burning Exercises

One of the most enticing things about rowing for exercise is that it’s the highest calorie burner that you can find out of all types of exercise as far as something that’s a sustainable continuous motion. Rowing is going to burn you the most calories compared to cycling, running, or any other form of exercise. So if you’re looking for a high-calorie burn and get the most calorie bang for your buck, rowing is going to be the way to go. 

3. Low Impact on Joints

Another great pro of rowing is that it is a low impact on your joints. Because you’re sitting down and your feet are strapped in, there’s not a lot of impacts when it comes to your knees. So if you have knee problems, rowing is a great way to go.  

4. Mental Strength

Another pro of rowing is that’s good at building mental strength. When rowing, you are in charge of  keeping your form correct and a consistent power output. That forces you to train your brain and your entire body to focus. That can help you perform better when it comes to not only rowing but other forms of training session as well. 

Disadvantages of Rowing Machines 

Now let’s talk about the cons of rowing.  

1. Difficult to Perform Correctly 

First off, it’s a tough motion to learn at first. It isn’t very intuitive and takes practice. You should get it with no problem, if you check out our article How To Use A Rowing Machine With Two Handles | Techniques and Workouts.  

2. Requires Mental Focus 

While rowing, we have to keep a constant focus on what we’re doing. Not only to keep our power output  consistent but also to make sure that we aren’t hurting ourselves and that we’re doing the form properly.  It’s tough to watch the gym TV and row at the same time. So if you’re someone who lacks focus and can’t  stay focused on exercise for a long continuous bout, then rowing could be a big con for you. 

Benefits of Bikes

Now let’s talk about cycling. 

1. Easy to Perform

We’d say one of the biggest pros of cycling is that it’s an easy motion. Anybody can just sit down and pedal their feet. It’s not a complicated motion such as the rowing stroke so that can be enticing people that are just getting into exercise.

Best Rower for Beginner
Sunny Water Rowing Machine

Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

  • Affordable
  • Quiet
  • Amazing warranty
See latest price See all Rowers below 500$

2. Freedom to Multitask 

Another enticing pro about cycling is that it allows you the freedom to multitask. If you’re somebody who likes to go to the gym and also read or watch TV, or whatever you’d like to do, cycling allows you to keep a nice steady intense pedaling motion while also being able to do other things.  

With something like rowing where you constantly have the handle in your hands focused on keeping your  form right, you can’t focus on other things. But cycling and just pedaling allow you to focus on things such as your phone or the TV. 

Disadvantages of Bikes

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Let’s talk about the cons of cycling. 

1. Zero Impact on Upper Body

If you want to impact your upper body, a stationary bike will not be for you. It targets certainly the lower body muscles. However, while biking, your legs are spinning. Legs are a big muscle group and burn a lot more calories than the upper body.  

2. Requires Set-up

Another con with cycling is that it requires a very specific setup to properly get the range of motion and get the most out of cycling. And if you don’t know how to do that setup, that can be an issue. 

3. Cycling Seats Can Irritate Your Butt

The last con something that bugs a lot of people and turns people completely away from cycling is that the cycling seats can irritate your butt or crotch. That’s something that can happen with cycling especially if you have a lot of weight. It can be very uncomfortable to bike for long periods of time. So that’s something to consider when deciding if you want to cycle or not. 

Is It Easier to Bike or Row?

It is easier to work out on a stationary bike for 30 minutes, 1 hour, or even 2 hours on a stationary bike than on a rowing machine. 
One of the things that make indoor cycling so attractive is just how beginner-friendly it is. There’s minimal  technique, skill, or even mobility required to get a good workout routine. So almost anybody can just plop right onto the bike to get started. 
Rowing, on the other hand, has a bit higher technique requirement. It’s by no means a lot and you should be able to develop some decent technique by prioritizing your form.  
But if you want something that is the most beginner-friendly piece of exercise equipment, then the bike is likely going to be a better choice. 

Exercise Rowing Machine or Bike if You Get Injured? 

It depends on the type of injury. If you get injured in your upper body, choose biking. Both exercise machines are low-impact especially compared to jogging or running. However, it’s better to talk with a specialist when it comes to injuries.


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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