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When choosing the most suitable home gym equipment for cardio training, you may consider a rowing machine and a treadmill.
Which is better: a rowing machine or a treadmill? Treadmills burn more calories (between 300 to 400 per 30 mins) but are harder on your joints, heavier, and cost between $300 and $10,000. Rowers are better at building muscle, versatile, and cheaper ($200 to $2,000). Beginners can also use rowers for high or low-intensity workouts without straining their joints.
Investing in home gym equipment like a treadmill or a rowing machine can be significant, and you don’t want to get the wrong piece. It could mean spending thousands of dollars to take up space in your basement.
Read on to compare a rowing machine vs. a treadmill, including the differences, how they work, benefits, and drawbacks.
Rowing Machine vs. Treadmill: 5 Differences
|Workout Intensity and Impact||High or low intensity Relatively high impact on the lower body joints||High or low intensity Relatively low impact on all joints|
|Weight Loss and Calorie Burning||Burns around 300 to 400 per 30 minutes of use||Burns around 150 to 200 per 30 minutes of use|
|Price Range||$300 to $10,000||$200 to $2,000|
|Storage and Size||Larger, heavier, and less easy to store||Smaller footprint, lighter, and easy to store|
1. Workout Intensity and Impact
You can vary your workout intensity on both a treadmill and a rower, but each exercise's impact varies drastically.
With a treadmill, you can perform low-intensity steady state (LISS) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), depending on your needs and preferences. But regardless of whether you’re doing LISS or HIIT, using the treadmill still places more force and pressure through your joints (especially the lower body joints) than a towing machine does.
You can also practice steady state or interval training on a rowing machine. However, the impact is lower on your joints due to your seated position, which eliminates gravity and reduces force through your joints.
So, in terms of intensity and impact, is a rowing machine better than a treadmill? I’d say, yes, a rower is a better option than a treadmill due to its lower impact on the joints, which reduces the risk of injury and pain in the long term.
2. Muscle Building
While rowing machines aren’t better than resistance training in muscle building, they are slightly better than treadmills.
Rowing machines target all areas of your body. You can build muscle and gain strength in your legs, shoulders, chest, back, arms, and core with regular rowing workouts.
3. Weight Loss and Calorie Burning
If your main aim is weight loss, you can benefit from using both treadmills and rowing machines. Treadmills burn more calories per minute than rowers, but rowers enable you to build more muscle, increasing the number of calories your body burns at rest.
Of course, weight loss also depends largely on your lifestyle and diet too. Treadmills and rowers form just a small component of your overall weight-loss journey.
4. Price Range
The price of a treadmill and a rower can vary significantly depending on the fitness brand you’re buying from and the quality of the cardio machine. You’ll need to consider your budget when purchasing either for your home gym.
You can buy a treadmill for as little as $300 or as much as $10,000 if you want one with advanced features and technologies.
For a basic rower, you can expect to pay around $200 or up to $2,000 for a top-quality one.
5. Storage and Size
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a large area for your home gym, you need to consider the space that you have available when you’re building a home gym.
Rowing machines have an average footprint of 8 by 3 feet, making them space efficient and easy to store. You can store a rower upright against the wall when you’re not using it to save as much space as possible in your home, and some can be split into two parts for even easier storage.
Treadmills are much heavier and bulkier than rowers, so they’re not as easy to store or transport. They usually have a footprint of 6 by 3 feet and weigh hundreds of pounds.
So, if space is your main concern when considering a rowing machine vs. a treadmill, the former is a better option.
Want to try alternative home gym equipment? Try looking at the benefits of the Best Cable Machines.
Rowing Machines: What They Are, How They Work, Benefits, Drawbacks
Let’s take a detailed look at what rowers are, how you use them, and their benefits and drawbacks.
What Are Rowers?
The rowing machine is designed to emulate the action of rowing a boat or canoe on a river. It comprises a seat that slides along a platform, a straight bar that you hold with both hands, and two straps to hold your feet in place. Towards the back of the machine, a lever allows you to adjust the rower's resistance to change the workout's difficulty.
Rowers work your whole body, including your:
You can adjust the intensity of the exercise by changing the rower’s resistance and your workout length and style.
However, a rowing machine doesn’t place large amounts of stress or force through your joints due to your seated position, making it a low-impact exercise.
How Do You Use a Rower?
You can use a rowing machine by following a few basic steps:
- Sit on the sliding seat and place your feet in the straps to use a rower.
- Grab onto the handlebar with both hands using an overhand grip.
- To begin the exercise, push your feet into the pedals to push yourself backward along the sliding platform. Pull the bar along with you.
- As you extend your legs, bring the bar towards your torso.
- Reverse each of these steps to return to the start position with your knees bent, and repeat to form one continuous movement.
What Are the Benefits of Rowers?
The main benefits of rowing machines are:
- Total body workout
- Low impact on the joints
- More affordable than treadmills
- Great for muscle building and weight loss
- Relatively small and light
- Easy to store in a home gym and can be stored sideways
What Are the Drawbacks of Rowers?
The drawbacks of rowing machines include:
- Burns fewer calories than using a treadmill
- Can be difficult to get your form and technique right
Our Favorite Rowing Machines:
Concept 2 Rower – Best Overall
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine – Best Budget Pick
Treadmills: What They Are, How They Work, Benefits, Drawbacks
Now, let’s look at treadmills to learn what they are, how they work, and their benefits and drawbacks.
What Are Treadmills?
Treadmills are probably one of the most commonly-used and well-loved cardio machines. They have a large rectangular platform that moves at a consistent speed, enabling you to walk or run on the spot.
They have a variety of settings and programs, so you can adjust the speed at which walking and run or change your workout style and intensity. Many treadmills also offer incline options so you can emulate the action of traveling up a hill.
Treadmills predominantly target the lower body muscles, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. They also work the core, but to a lesser extent than a rowing machine, and may work the upper body at higher intensities.
How Do You Use a Treadmill?
Using a treadmill is pretty easy, even for beginners. To begin, step onto the platform and turn the machine on using the start button. This will cause the platform to start rolling at a low speed.
Use the speed buttons to increase the speed to your desired level. You can also adjust the incline on many treadmills using the relevant buttons. When you set the treadmill to an incline, the front of the platform will rise, creating a small hill. Walking or running on an incline makes the exercise harder and places more emphasis on your glutes.
When you want to stop using the treadmill, slowly lower the speed to gentle walking before pressing the stop button. When the platform stops rolling, you can safely step off the machine.
What Are the Benefits of Treadmills?
The benefits of treadmills include:
- Great for burning calories and weight loss
- Targets the lower body muscles
- Ideal for beginners and easy to operate
- Can be used to improve cardiovascular endurance
- Easy to adjust your speed and incline to change the intensity of your workouts
What Are the Drawbacks of Treadmills?
The drawbacks of treadmills are:
- Very little upper body work
- Often pricer than rowers
- High impact on the joints, especially those in the lower body
Our Favorite Treadmills:
NordicTrack T Series 6.5 S Treadmill – Best Overall Treadmill
UREVO 2-in-1 Under Desk Treadmill – Best Budget Treadmill
Bowflex has other high-quality treadmills that you'll want to consider too.
Read more: The Best Home Gym Treadmills
Is a Rowing Machine or Treadmill Better for Building Muscle?
Although neither a rower nor a treadmill is superior to resistance training in gaining muscle size and strength, they can be somewhat effective at building muscle.
Comparing the muscle-building potential and physiological changes induced by a rowing machine versus a treadmill depends on which muscle groups you’re trying to target.
Treadmills primarily target the lower body muscles, although the core and upper body muscles are required for higher-intensity treadmill-based exercise (like power walking or running). You can work your muscles harder by increasing your speed and intensity on the treadmill, but you will eventually reach a plateau in your strength gains unless you also lift weights.
Rowing machines target the whole body and are highly effective at building strength and muscle in the legs, arms, back, and core. Increasing the rower's resistance level will enhance the exercise's muscle-building potential. Although you’ll also reach an eventual plateau with the rowing machine, it beats the treadmill regarding muscle growth and strength gains.
Is a Rowing Machine or Treadmill Better for Burning Calories?
When looking at a rowing machine vs a treadmill for weight loss, it can be difficult to answer which is the best. The number of calories you burn when using any cardio machine depends on the length and intensity of your workouts (and your unique physiology too).
On average, running on a treadmill for 30 minutes burns around 300 and 400 calories, whereas the same amount of time on a tower burns between 150 and 200 calories.
Based on these numbers, the treadmill is a better cardio machine for burning calories than a rower.
Is a Rowing Machine or Treadmill Better for Cardio?
When your main workout focus is improving your cardiovascular systems, is a treadmill vs a rower better?
Generally, to get a good cardio workout, you need to exercise intensely. It’s easier to exercise intensely with a treadmill, yet you can also get a great cardio workout with a rowing machine.
Your progress largely depends on how often you work out and your workout style, not necessarily the cardio machine you use.
Is a Rowing Machine or Treadmill Better for Weight Loss?
If you’re aiming to use a treadmill or rowing machine for belly fat loss or overall weight loss, I recommend using the rowing machine. Although you will burn fewer calories during a workout on the rower than you will for the same length of time on a treadmill, the rowing machine offers higher muscle-building potential.
The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolism. You’ll burn a higher number of calories on a day-to-day basis, and this can make weight loss easier.
Is a Rowing Machine or Treadmill More Expensive?
A treadmill with basic functions will cost around $300. You could pay several thousand dollars if you want a premium treadmill with various advanced options.
A basic rowing machine can cost anywhere from $200 to $600. If you want a higher-quality option, you’re looking at up to $2000.
Whether you go for a treadmill or a rowing machine, I recommend going for a mid-range product (unless you’ve got a large budget to work with, in which case, you might be able to splash out on a premium option). Mid-range treadmills and rowers won’t cost you an arm and a leg but will still offer durability and versatility.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Okay to Use a Rowing Machine Every Day?
Using the rowing machine daily is fine if you’re doing short and low-intensity workouts. Exercising intensely on the rower for long periods every day could increase your risk of injury and stunt your progress.
Is a Rowing Machine Better Than a Treadmill?
A rowing machine is better than a treadmill regarding price, versatility, and muscle-building capacity. It’s a low-impact exercise and carries a lower risk of injury, but you can adjust the intensity of your workouts easily by changing the resistance on the rower.
So, which is better: Rowing machines vs treadmills?
When comparing all the drawbacks and benefits of a rowing machine vs a treadmill, the rower takes the cake. Although both machines are highly effective for cardio training and weight loss, the rowing machine promotes better all-around fitness.
Rowers enable you to perform full-body workouts without worrying about the impact of the exercise on your joints. You can easily adjust the intensity of your rowing workouts and enjoy both strength gains and fat loss simultaneously.
It may take a little longer to learn the correct form and technique when you first start using a rowing machine than using a treadmill. However, after a few rowing workouts, you will be able to use the rower to its full potential and make progress in your workouts.
About The Author
Athina is a Biochemistry and Genetics graduate, and a qualified personal trainer with a passion for women’s health and fitness. She is passionate about helping women to learn more about the importance of the menstrual cycle and how to balance their hormones. She is the host and producer of Fertility and Freedom podcast, which covers all things women’s health and hormones.