Rowing Machine Vs Treadmill: Cardio Comparison (Strength & Weight Loss)

Figuring out which piece of gym equipment is best for your specific goals is a problem many face. Cardio sucks, and this can make the decision even harder. In this article, we will examine the main differences between the humble treadmill and the mighty rowing machine for cardio, weight loss, and strength purposes.

Both pieces of equipment excel in certain fields, and by the end of this article, you should know exactly which one you should spend your time on.

If your goal is to get fitter physically, then you will want to pick the machine that trains your cardiovascular system the most. Luckily both machines will provide the following benefits:

  • Heart and lungs will get stronger.
  • Bone density will be higher.
  • Stress reduction after workouts due to endorphin release.
  • A better mood following workouts due to endorphins and dopamine.
  • Lower risk for a number of illnesses such as heart disease and cancers.
  • Higher levels of energy during the day and better sleep.
  • Both machines burn huge amounts of calories when used correctly.

As you can see, no matter what you choose, incorporating cardio workouts into your weekly routine will benefit you in numerous ways.

Rowing Machine Vs Treadmill

Comparing Rowing Machines Vs Treadmills

Muscles Worked

When it comes to the muscle groups worked, both machines differ quite drastically.

Treadmills are designed to replicate running and allow you to change the resistance to simulate things like running uphill or at a faster pace.

Running incorporates your whole body but targets the large group of muscles found in the lower body the most. By running on a treadmill, you will burn the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and a fair bit of core.

This type of cardio is used for calorie-burning and fitness purposes and will not provide the kind of strength training that the rowing machine is capable of.

The rowing machine utilizes the same muscles as the treadmill and adds the upper body to the mix. You will be working out your whole body while rowing with specific burns on your shoulders, upper back, arms, and legs.

Winner: Rowing Machine

Calories Burnt/Weight Loss

When it comes to pure calorie burning, both the treadmill and the rowing machine are mighty powerhouses.

Running on an incline on the treadmill will burn an incredible amount of calories in a single hour. In terms of pure calorie burn, the treadmill wins out over the rowing machine. This is partly because it is near-impossible to do an hour-long rowing machine workout.

Rowing machines are more like HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), whereas treadmills utilize steady-state cardio, which is best done in more extended periods.

It isn't as easy as just calculating the calories burnt during your exercise, however.

A good rowing machine workout will cause your body to use both aerobic and anaerobic systems. This means that after the initial period of exercise, your body will go on to burn more calories over the next 24 hours.

In our opinion, the rowing machine is better for long-term weight loss as it allows you to build muscle while burning huge calories and fat.

Winner: Rowing Machine

Strength Training

When it comes to building strength and muscle, the treadmill falls behind as it is designed for a different purpose. Rowing combines cardio with strength training and requires you to use your muscles in a different way.

This means that you will build a lot more muscle on the rowing machine than on the treadmill. That being said, the treadmill does a good job of training your quads and your glutes as long as you run on a high gradient.

If you want to incorporate some cardio into your strength training or bulking routine, we highly recommend you use the rowing machine.

Winner: Rowing Machine


In terms of building your cardiovascular ability, there is a reason why so many athletes and celebrities love to run. Running is the ultimate cardiovascular workout.

Anyone who has decided to get fit and pulled out their old running boots will be able to tell you how difficult it is. Running requires dedication and will subject your body to pain and stress like nothing else.

If you are focused on becoming as fit as you can possibly be, the treadmill trumps the rowing machine every time.

That being said, the rowing machine is still an excellent source of cardio training, and if it fits your other goals better, you should stick to it.

Winner: Treadmill

Impact on Joints/Injuries

If you have injuries or joint problems to consider, then you will want to consider what kind of impact each machine is going to cause.

Unfortunately, running is extremely high impact, and while running on a treadmill is less stressful than running on the road, it still places a considerable strain on your ankles, knees, hips, and back.

Suppose you really prefer the treadmill over the rowing machine, or the rowing machine irritates specific injuries. In that case, you can make the treadmill lower impact by walking or jogging at a slower pace.

Rowing is a much lower impact in comparison. You get to sit down throughout the entire workout, meaning your joints will receive less of a beating.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that on a rowing machine, you need to really perfect your form. If you don't and use the rowing machine incorrectly, you will be extremely likely to injure yourself or cause joint damage.

Winner: Rowing Machine (With the right form)


If you live a busy lifestyle and struggle to spend hours training at the gym every day, you need to make every second count.

This is where the rowing machine really shines. The recommended workout plan for using a rowing machine is to simply do 15 minutes, 3-4 times a week on 80% of your full intensity. Compared to the treadmill, which requires a much longer sacrifice of time of around 1 hour on average, this amounts to 52 hours a year of workout time instead of 208 hours.

Winner: Rowing Machine


If you are researching these machines because you want to buy one, either for your home or commercial gym, it may be important to find the more cost-effective machine.

Rowing machines are generally less expensive than treadmills; this is both for brand new machines and second-hand machines.

It may not look this way if you look online at second-hand marketplaces like Facebook or Craigslist. This is only because there are a huge number of low-quality treadmills on the market.

Good treadmills come equipped with features and technology designed to reduce the impact on your joints and muscles. Bad treadmills will not have this technology, so you will suffer in the long term.

Rowing machines do not need this kind of protection as they are not classed as high-impact machines. Treadmills are also powered, meaning they require a motor to keep the pathway moving. Rowing machines do not require this kind of movement, so they are a lot cheaper, even for a higher quality model.

Winner: Rowing Machine

For Bodybuilding

If you are a bodybuilder looking to incorporate some cardio into your workout, then you will need to decide which machine is better for your specific needs.

If you are in the middle of bulk and you are looking to build muscle mass and strength, you are going to want to introduce some HIIT sessions on the rowing machine. This is a much better form of cardio for keeping your body in an anabolic state. HIIT sessions balance muscle building and cardio perfectly.

During your cutting season, you will want to be more catabolic, and for these purposes, you should introduce some steady-state cardio, such as an hour on the treadmill at a comfortable pace. Steady-state cardio burns more calories and will require less energy compared to a hardcore HIIT session.

For Runners

While it may seem like the treadmill is the ultimate tool for training if you are a runner, it isn't quite that simple. For long-distance runners, the treadmill is the king as it replicates normal running in the most accurate way. By training on the treadmill, you will be working on both techniques and building the relevant muscles in your body.

However, if you are a short distance runner, you might be better off ditching the treadmill and moving onto the rowing machine. Short distance runners put a huge strain on their joints and muscles. On days where you aren't at the track, you will want to keep those joints and muscles as relaxed as possible for them to recover.

Short distance runners also put a lot more importance on their upper body. Building a powerful core and upper body will be crucial in increasing that short-distance power. This means that if you stick to the treadmill, you will be neglecting the upper half of your body which will prevent you from reaching your full potential.

For Ab Workouts

If you are looking to build those summer 6/8 packs and need to pick a machine to help you get there. Remember, abs are made in the kitchen, so you will need to get your diet in order.

If you are higher body fat and need to cut down to get your abs to show, you will be better off doing some steady-state cardio on the treadmill while eating at a deficit and hitting your daily protein goals to cut body fat without losing muscle.

If you are already at the body fat percentage that you want to be at, but you want to build those ab muscles up in order for them to show better, the rowing machine is going to be better for you.

Rowing on a high weight will allow you to get the cardio workout you need to stay cut while allowing you to progressively overload your abs, which will cause them to grow in mass, size, and strength.

For Belly Fat

If you are looking to get rid of that spare tire or muffin top, then you will need to drop your body fat.

The machine you should use will depend on how over your goal weight and size you are. If you class yourself as unfit or overweight, you should start out using the treadmill and build up your cardiovascular ability. This will allow you to work out more often, which over the long term will allow you to get to your goals quicker.

If you are an experienced gym user and are just looking at dropping your winter blubber, then you should stick to the rowing machine. This will allow you to retain the muscle you have hiding while still cutting down on your body fat.

For Toning Legs/Bum

If you are looking at toning up your legs and bum, then the treadmill will be your best friend. The easiest way to tone these areas is to pair a cardio workout that heavily targets your legs with a strength training program that builds the muscle in the same areas.

A good way to do this is to alternate workout days, one workout day doing an hour of steady-state cardio on the treadmill and then the next workout day doing heavy squats, leg press, and deadlifts.

Rowing Machine Vs Treadmill Comparison

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Rowing machine vs. treadmill: Which is better?

This will depend upon your goals. For muscle building, strength, and fat burn, the rowing machine is king, but for cardio ability and running training, the treadmill can't be beaten.

Are Concept2 rowers any good?

Concept2 rowers are some of the best quality machines that money can buy. They also retain their value exceptionally well, so buying one is always a good investment as they can be resold for close to what you pay.

How does an exercise bike compare to a treadmill or rowing machine?

Exercise bikes are less effective in both of the areas that the treadmill and rowing machine shine in. The only reason you might have a better time on an exercise bike is if you have injuries that prevent you from using the more difficult machines.

How does an elliptical compare to a treadmill or rowing machine?

Elliptical machines are great for those that have injuries or are in recovery, but in our opinion, we would always pick the treadmill or a rowing machine over an elliptical if we had the choice.


In our comparison, if you are looking for a machine for your own collection and want the machine that has the most versatility, then you will be better of buying a rowing machine. It is better for most forms of muscle building and body toning and only misses out on the treadmill in terms of raw calories burnt. Rowing machines are also better for those who have injuries and joint problems.

The treadmill is better suited for those that want to train their cardiovascular system to the max, and it does burn more raw calories, but in our honest opinion, you will get more bang for your buck with a rowing machine.


Last Updated on August 20, 2021