Rowing Machine vs Spin Bike: Which Is the Better Cardio Choice? 

Written by:

Julien Raby

Last updated:

Whether you’re building a home gym or just trying to decide which cardio machine to use at the gym, the options are usually quite vast. For some, one of the harder choices is whether to choose the rowing machine vs spin bike. 

These two machines are among the most popular pieces of equipment. They both offer excellent workouts and the option to do LISS or HIIT cardio, so they’re suitable for most people regardless of what their goals are. 

To help you choose, we’ve put together a comprehensive comparison between the two. For each section, we’ll select the winner between the two to make it easier for you to choose the one that’s most appropriate for your goals. 

Rowing Machine vs Spin Bike: It’s All About Your Goals 

The best way to decide between the rowing machine vs spin bike is to consider what your fitness goals are. Do you want to drop some extra weight? Improve your cardiovascular fitness? We’ve split the section below into each goal you might be considering and based our verdict on that particular action. 

Is Rowing Machine vs Spin Bike Better for Weight Loss? 

If weight loss is your goal, both machines are an excellent choice. The first thing you should know about weight loss is that it’s all about calories in vs calories burned—so it depends largely on your eating, rather than your exercise. 

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Best Rower for Beginner
Sunny Water Rowing Machine
4.5

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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However, according to a study done by Harvard Health, the number of calories burned in 30 minutes of exercise is actually very much the same for moderate-level rowing and cycling, as seen below: 

Activity125-pound person155-pound person185-pound person
Bicycling, Stationary: moderate210252294
Rowing, Stationary: moderate210252294

Let’s dive into it in a bit more detail. 

Rowing Machine

The rower provides a full-body workout, burning a significant amount of calories per session. In comparison to the numbers above, a high-intensity rowing session can burn more calories, depending on the weight of the person rowing. 

Activity125-pound person155-pound person185-pound person
Rowing, Stationary: vigorous255369440

However, it can be difficult to maintain the rower at a high intensity. But even if you can only manage to row at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, you’ll be burning over 200 calories. As long as you maintain a calorie deficit of 200 or more, you’ll definitely lose weight. 

Keep in mind that your fitness level also plays a role in how many calories you burn! One of the best things about rowing for weight loss is that there’s also a chance to build muscle, which means instead of simply getting skinny, you can develop an enviable body composition of being both lean and muscular

Spin Bike 

Like rowing, the spin bike provides a great workout. However, it’s much more focused on the lower body (although there is upper body activation too). While this may sound like it won’t be as good an exercise as rowing, the quads and hamstrings are large muscle groups that burn many calories on their own. 

As you can see below, the same Harvard study mentioned earlier shows that you can burn quite a few more calories on the spin bike at higher intensity than you can on the rower. 

Activity125-pound person155-pound person185-pound person
Bicycling, Stationary: vigorous315278441

This may be because it’s easier to maintain a high intensity on the bike, thanks to it not being as much of a full-body workout. Like with the rowing machine, maintaining a calorie deficit is the way to go here. 

But because you’re burning more calories, you’ll either lose weight faster at the same calorie deficit, or you can use a less drastic deficit and still lose the same amount of weight as you would on the rower. 

Winner: Spin bike (but the rower is great too!) 

Rowing Machine vs Spin Bike: Cardiovascular Benefits 

The truth is, any form of cardio done right will benefit your cardiovascular system. It’s worthwhile understanding how to train in heart rate zones if you want to boost your cardiovascular endurance. However, here’s what you need to know about each of these exercise machines and their cardio benefits. 

Rowing Machine

If you can maintain a high level of intensity on the rowing machine, you’ll be getting your heart rate up quite a bit. However, considering the rower is a full-body exercise, it’s easier to fatigue and lose that intensity. 

With that being said, even a short stint of HIIT cardio once a week and a few longer sessions of LISS cardio can be an effective workout for cardiovascular fitness. 

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  • No artificial sweeteners or colors
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  • Sweetened with stevia
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It’s likely that beginners to the rowing machine will have a harder time maintaining the level of intensity necessary for building cardiovascular endurance, which is between 77 and 95 percent of your maximum heart rate

Between that and the possibility of losing your form when you fatigue, the rowing machine may be best for those who are already experienced using it. 

Spin Bike 

Thanks to the use of large muscles and the ease of increasing intensity on the spin bike, it’s an excellent option if you want to boost your cardiovascular fitness. 

As it’s not a full-body exercise, you may take longer to fatigue than you would on a rower. You should be able to maintain a higher intensity on the bike than you would on a rowing machine

Considering it’s easier to use proper form and switching between low-intensity and high-intensity workouts is simple, it’s a great way to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping. 

Winner: Spin Bike 

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4.5

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.

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

Is Rowing or Spinning Better for Muscle Gain? 

If your goal is muscle gain, it’s likely that you won’t be doing cardio at all! But if you’ve still got a bit of fat to lose or you want to maintain your cardiovascular fitness while building muscle, they’re both good choices. Keep reading to find out which would be best for you! 

Rowing Machine

You can build a significant amount of muscle by rowing, especially in the quads, shoulders, arms, and lats. 

It’s more likely that you’ll see muscle gain in the upper body first, as you’ll need to set the resistance low enough that the upper body can handle it, which will be quite a bit lower than the legs find challenging. 

However, as you progress, you can expect to build a little muscle in your legs too, especially as you increase the resistance. 

Spin Bike 

While there is some muscle activation in the chest, shoulders, and arms, the majority of the muscle-working is done by the lower body. 

The quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves will see noticeable muscle gain before anything else. In fact, there’s not likely to be much muscle building in the upper body at all—those lean arms and shoulders you see on cyclists are usually a result of very little body fat, not a lot of upper body muscle! 

Winner: Rowing Machine for Upper Body, Spin Bike for Lower Body 

Workout Options on the Rowing Machine vs Spin Bike 

You can get on any cardio machine and do a manual workout. More modern machines have built-in workouts for all types of goals, or you can tweak them to suit you better. 

Rowing Machine

The traditional rowing machine allows you to row by time or by distance. You set your resistance and off you go. They’re likely to have some built-in workouts that you can choose from depending on the day or your goal. 

However, if you’re looking for a rowing machine to add to your home gym and you have the budget, you can consider a smart rower, which offers a lot more fun options. 

These kinds of rowing machines have built-in games that make your workout more fun and help it to fly by more quickly while you’re distracted. They’re a fair bit more expensive, but a worthwhile consideration if you have the budget. 

Spin Bike 

Like a rowing machine, you can measure your workout on the spin bike by time or distance. You also set your resistance to simulate flatter ground or an incline, and there are most likely a few built-in workouts on the bike you choose. 

While you can still connect up to Zwift or other smart platforms on an indoor bike, it doesn’t offer as much fun and variation as smart rowers do. You’ll most likely be able to follow along routes in the screen, and some indoor smart trainers will automatically increase the resistance to match the video. 

In some cases, you can do virtual spin classes with instructors, or follow a spin class on YouTube. But there are no fun games built in to vary up your workouts.

Winner: Rowing Machine 

Is the Rowing Machine or Spin Bike Better for Rehabilitation Training? 

The better choice between a rowing machine vs spin bike depends on which muscles or joints are recovering from injury. Both machines are low-impact, which makes them good options for anyone who has joint troubles. 

Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is heavy on the back muscles and on the knee joints. Although the exercise works on strengthening the back, it might not be a good choice for those who have existing back pain. 

In the same vein, because the motion of rowing requires you to bend your knees almost 90 degrees, those who struggle with knee pain may find that it places more strain on the joints. 

While it is low-impact, it’s a better choice if you’re healthy, strong, and have no existing pain or weak areas. There’s also a higher chance of getting your form wrong, which can compromise sore backs and knees. 

Spin Bike 

The spinning bike is also a low-impact form of cardio. While it may seem like it’s tough on the knees, it doesn’t require the knee joints to bend fully, making it a better choice for those recovering from knee injuries. 

At the same time, as long as you maintain good posture on the bike, it’s an effective choice for those with back pain or other upper body issues. 

Winner: Spin Bike 

Which Is Easier To Use: Rower or Spin Bike? 

Both seem relatively easy to use, but if you get your form wrong, you may injure yourself on both machines. 

Rowing Machine

There’s a significant learning curve to rowing correctly. Rowing form is harder to get right than biking, as the upper and lower body need to move together in order to complete the movement properly. 

If you get your rowing form wrong, you can place extra strain on the back and knees. It’s easy to injure yourself due to the level of resistance you’re pulling against, so be aware that it can take some time for new rowers to get to the point where they can row safely. 

Spin Bike 

Most of us know how to ride a bike, but getting on the bike at the gym for spin classes or even at home might not always be easy and safe. Your bike should be adjusted to your height, so that there’s no added strain on your muscles or joints. 

If you’re 6’4” and you get on a bike that was previously ridden by a 5’8” person, the stride length is going to be far too short for you. It’s not difficult to adjust it, but it’s often forgotten, which can lead to injury. 

Keep in mind that you should also make sure that the ball of your foot rests on the pedal as you’re cycling—not the midfoot. Wear firm-soled shoes too! 

It’s easier if you have your own spin bike in a home gym, but you’ll still need to adjust it every time if more than one person uses it. 

However, the action of riding the spin bike safely and with good form once it’s at the right height for you is much easier than the action of rowing safely. 

Winner: Spin Bike 

Which Is Better for a Home Gym: Rowing Machine or Spin Bike? 

If you’re considering choosing a cardio machine for your home gym, here are the things you’ll need to consider and how the rowing machine vs spin bike fit into them. 

Space 

Rowing Machine 

Rowing machines usually take up more floor space, but many of them can also be folded up to save space when they’re not in use. It does depend on the type of rowing machine you have, but the most popular types usually are able to fold. 

Spin Bike 

Spin bikes take up less floor space but have more height. You can’t fold a spin bike, but for most people, they’re more convenient than a rower as you can simply push them into a cupboard or against the wall when they’re not being used. 

Winner: Spin Bike 

Noise 

Rowing Machine 

Magnetic rowers are quieter than others, and water rowers have a pleasant swishing sound. Air rowers can be a little noisy, though. It’s all about the type of resistance. While none of them are excessively loud, it may make a difference if there are other people in the house. 

Spin Bike 

Spin bikes with friction resistance and chain drive can be noisy. If you want the lowest noise level possible, choose a bike with magnetic resistance and belt drive

Winner: Both, depending on type 

Price 

Rowing Machine 

Traditional rowing machines can vary in price, depending on their type and capabilities. For example, smart rowers can cost a small fortune, but regular rowers are generally less expensive than spin bikes

Spin Bike 

Spin bikes are usually the more expensive of the two machines. If you’re on a budget, you might want to skip the spin bikes and look at rowers—provided you don’t have back or knee issues. 

Winner: Rowing Machines 

The Final Verdict 

Who Should Choose a Rowing Machine? 

Those with no back and knee problems and who have the patience to take time to get their form right may consider a rowing machine over a spin bike. 
If you’re looking for a smart machine that has gaming capabilities to keep you entertained during your workout, you might also prefer a rower. 

Who Should Choose a Spin Bike? 

Who Should Choose a Spin Bike? 
Those who are recovering from knee injuries would do better with a spin bike. You can also burn more calories on a bike at high intensity, so those who want to lose weight fast might prefer this form of cardio. 

About Julien Raby

My name is Julien Raby and I’m one of the owner of BoxLife. Here’s my background on LinkedIn if you want more info. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 7 years ago. I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment. You have a question? Get in touch!