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Rowing Machine Vs. Treadmill: The #1 Guide For Choosing The Best Machine For Your Goals

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Last Updated on:

November 24, 2022
A girl trying Rowing machine vs Treadmill workouts

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide that cuts through the noise and helps you choose the best cardio machine for your fitness goals, then look no further.

In this article, you will find a thorough comparison between rowing machines vs treadmills.

Whether you’re looking to lose weight, cut belly fat, do some cardio workouts or build muscle, this guide will clear all your doubts.

We’ll cover how these workout machines compare between them on:

  • Weightloss
  • Muscle building
  • Joint impact
  • Storage 
  • Cost-efficiency.

So, buckle up, and let’s settle the Rowing Machine Vs Treadmill debate.

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: Weightloss

When discussing losing weight, we can’t ignore the fact that calories are king.

Understanding how the “energy balance” works is essential in helping us achieve our desired goal, whether increasing, decreasing, or maintaining our current weight.

If you’re interested in losing extra weight, you need to achieve a calorie-deficit state in which your calorie intake is less than your basal metabolism.

Equally, if your goal is to gain weight and building strength, your calories need to increase.

Having cleared this out, how does a rowing machine or a treadmill help us lose weight? And which one is better at it?

Treadmill

Let’s begin with the treadmill. This machine was invented in the 19th century by an engineer named William Cubitt.

One of its first functions was as a device for forced labor in British prisons (1), but it quickly transcended to a more humanitarian use in the health and fitness industry.

A treadmill is a straightforward machine. You can use it for walking, jogging, and running. It’s self-explanatory, and anybody can use it.

You can vary the intensity of the workouts by increasing speed and the incline levels.

There’s no doubt that well-structured treadmill workouts in combination with long-steady walks can help with calorie burn and increase your heart rate.

Nevertheless, the muscles you need to perform these activities are limited to lower-body muscles, thus preventing you from increasing your energy expenditure.

Rowing Machine

The rowing machine provides a different form of cardio since it’s considered a full-body workout tool.

On every stroke, you activate both upper-body and lower-body muscles, helping you burn more calories in a matter of minutes.

Although nutrition has the last say in weight-loss matters, increasing our energy expenditure and burning more calories will increase the chances of losing weight and keeping it off.

Verdict: Rowing machine

Because the rowing machine involves more muscle activation than the treadmill, it increases our energy expenditure, helping us burn more calories.

Although it all comes down to nutrition and energy balance, the rowing machine is a more complete machine than the treadmill, and that is why we pick it as the clear winner.

Muscle Building

Muscle building refers to our body’s ability to increase muscle size when submitted to mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

Source: Flow High-Performance

Under this principle, the more a muscle is exposed to tension and stress, its cells increase their size (2).

Treadmill’s impact on your muscles

The treadmill’s focus lies on the lower-body musculature. That is the reason it is often appreciated in the running world.

A treadmill can help strengthen the core, feet, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glute muscles.

Whether you walk, jog, or run, you can get a lot of work done by increasing the speed and elevation.

Nevertheless, this machine does little to nothing for the upper-body musculature, which is where the rower comes in.

Muscles built with a rower

A rowing machine can activate almost all major muscles through a full stroke, way more than the treadmill.

You can increase the stroke difficulty by modifying the damper settings. A higher damper means a harder pull.

A full rowing motion has three main phases: drive, finish, and recovery.

Combining them, you can fire the lattisimus dorsi, trapezius, posterior deltoids, spine erectors, biceps, hip flexors, quadriceps, glutes, hamstring, and abdominal muscles.

That’s more than double the muscle activation compared to the treadmill. You can even feel the muscles pumped after a rowing workout.

That’s one of the benefits of rowing machines. You can target the entire body, including the core, and get an efficient workout in minutes and great results over time.

Verdict: Rowing Machine

The rowing machine activates more major muscles, thus having more muscle-building potential.

If you take into consideration the total amount of musculature, then the rower has a clear advantage.

More muscles activated means more muscle building independent of your fitness level.

Nonetheless, if you’re a running athlete, it would make more sense to go for the treadmill for apparent reasons.

The ability to control the speed and elevation at will, it’s an excellent commodity for thousands of runners.

One benefit of treadmill training is the ability to properly engage the core, thus avoiding an improper running form.

Joint Impact

Joint health is one of the biggest concerns for anyone living an active lifestyle.

Joint health refers to the integrity within a joint that allows it to endure stress without serious pain.

Everyone will suffer from joint pain at any point in their lives, but the more we can delay it, the better.

Constant impact plays a crucial, pivotal role in joint health. One of the common causes of joint pain is the “runner’s knee,” seen more often in mid to long-distance runners.

Source: MOVE PHYSIOTHERAPY AND FITNESS

Treadmill impact is low but present

Therefore, minimizing or gradually exposing joints to impact is key to avoiding this condition.

Because treadmills are mainly used for running, jogging, or walking, more impact is involved.

Although the wheel’s surface is cushioned and can absorb some impacts, it is still present and should be considered.

Rowing machine is a low impact exercise

Rowing machines, on the other hand, have little to zero joint impact.

Due to the nature of rowing, the body remains In contact with the rower’s surface at all times, limiting the physical separation that would create the impact.

This is good news for people with sensitive knees looking for low-impact workouts and exercises.

Verdict: Rowing Machine

Unless you consciously want to expose your joints to some degree of impact, you’re better off without the treadmill.

Rowing machines have little to zero joint impact, which is handy for those looking for full-body exercises with minimal articular pain.

Although, it’s worth mentioning that one of the best ways to strengthen a joint and increase bone density is to gradually expose it to controlled stress and minor impacts (3).

But, if we only consider the joint impact, then a rowing machine is the way to go.

Storage

One of the downsides of owning any piece of equipment is the space it occupies.

This plays a more significant role if you’re trying to build a home gym but don’t have enough room to wiggle.

Rowers’ length and weight

The Concept2 Indoor Rower measures 8’ long by 24” maximum width, which is not that much, but to operate appropriately, Concept2 suggests an area of 9’ by 4’.

Most rowers weigh between 60-180 pounds. They also have wheels on the front end, some way of folding them and standing them up against a wall.

Space occupied by a treadmill

On the other hand, the typical treadmill measures 3′ x 6′ x 5′ on average, although it is recommended at least 7′ x 12′ with a minimum of 8′ of ceiling clearance for safety purposes.

Right at the finish position, where the core is most engaged, the elbows need some room to pass behind the trunk, which requires a little more space.

The average treadmill weighs around 200-260 pounds. You can find options weighing more than 400 pounds and other options weighing less than 100 pounds.

Although some treadmills are foldable, the vast majority are not, plus they also need to be placed close to a power outlet.

Verdict: Rowing Machine

Even though both machines have similar dimensions, the fact that most rowers have wheels and can stand and set aside against a wall are all points in their favor.

And if you can get your hands on foldable models, then it’s even more convenient.

Because of these features, the rowing machine has the upper hand over the treadmill.

Cost-effectiveness

For most people, this kind of decision boils down to affordability.

Both machines share similar prices.

The average cost of a good treadmill is between $500-$1,200. You can find options for $150 but be aware of the quality and guarantee.

High-end models can cost up to $3,000, which usually includes better and more up-to-date features.

The rowers have comparable prices. You will find solid options around $600-$1000, including the Concept2 Model D, which is currently the most famous on the market.

This range includes both water and the air rower. However, water rowers tend to be more expensive and require a little more maintenance.

Verdict: A tie.

Since there’s little to no difference in pricing options, the decision is mainly based on personal preference.

Considering all the differences and similarities explained above, the best cardio machine will be the one that suits your goal the most.

It is clear that both offer effective workout options, each with its pros and cons; regardless, remember that most of the time, you’ll be better off investing a little more for a better product.

Is A Rowing Machine Good For Losing Belly Fat?

Yes, it’s an excellent machine for losing belly fat.

You can perform high-intensity intervals and full-body and cardiovascular workouts, all of which help you lose belly fat.

Can You Get Fit Just Using A Rowing Machine?

Yes, you can.

All fitness enthusiasts can benefit from rowing machine exercises. They offer cardio-based workouts that target many primary muscles.

How Much Rowing Equals 10,000 Steps?

There isn’t an exact conversion rate, but it can be around 45 minutes of rowing time at a steady pace of 700-800 Kcals per hour.

Is It Okay To Row Every Day?

Yes, it is okay. However, resting 1-2 days is commonly suggested throughout the week.

If you know how to row at a moderate and slower pace, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Is A Rowing Machine Good For Losing Belly Fat?

Yes, it’s an excellent machine for losing belly fat.
You can perform high-intensity intervals and full-body and cardiovascular workouts, all of which help you lose belly fat.

Can You Get Fit Just Using A Rowing Machine?

Yes, you can.
All fitness enthusiasts can benefit from rowing machine exercises. They offer cardio-based workouts that target many primary muscles.

How Much Rowing Equals 10,000 Steps?

There isn’t an exact conversion rate, but it can be around 45 minutes of rowing time at a steady pace of 700-800 Kcals per hour.

Is It Okay To Row Every Day?

Yes, it is okay. However, resting 1-2 days is commonly suggested throughout the week.
If you know how to row at a moderate and slower pace, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

About Mauro Castillo Gonzales