Rowing Machine vs. Treadmill – Which Is Better?

rowing machine vs treadmill

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Choosing fitness equipment when building a home gym is not an easy task. Not only that cardio equipment is expensive, the budget is usually not the biggest limiting factor – it’s constricted space. You will rarely have room to put more than one cardio machine in your home gym, which is why it is imperative to pick one that will satisfy your needs long-term.

rowing machine

In this article, we compare rowing machine vs. treadmill, telling you which is better and why. Once you finish reading this post, you will have a much better understanding of each equipment piece, so you know exactly what you can expect and which one is a better choice for you. Let’s roll!

Is Rowing Or Running Better?

Defining which type of activity is better depends on many criteria, and like many other things in life, personal preference plays a huge role. After all, you are reading this article on JoggingAddiction, not RowingAdditction!

Jokes aside, personal preferences are very important. If you like rowing but hate running, there is no reason why you should run, no matter how effective it is, and vice versa. Doing things you hate is a sure-fire way to get demotivated and quit, hindering your health and fitness goals.

It comes to your personal fitness goals too. If you want to run a marathon, it makes sense to run more. On the other hand, if you and your buddies want to sign up for a crew race, rowing regularly would be a better choice.

However, besides personal preferences and sports-specific goals, both rowing and running have distinct advantages, and so do their indoor versions. Below, we will discuss the pros of rowing machines and treadmills so you know exactly what to expect when working out.

Benefits Of Rowing Machines: Total-Body Low-Impact Workouts

girl on rowing machine

Enjoy Full-body Workouts

Rowing activates both your upper and lower body musculature simultaneously, which is something treadmills don’t do as well. In particular, rowing machines are great for developing your back muscles, but also your biceps, core, as well as the muscles of your lower body.

Keep in mind that full-body only means that both your upper and lower body work together. But that doesn’t mean every single of your muscles is activated. For example, your chest muscles aren’t involved when rowing. So, don’t just replace strength training with rowing – you still need to work on your muscle development separately.

Because rowing is hard, and it hits so many muscle groups at the same time, rowing machines are one of the best cardio equipment pieces for developing muscles all over your body. Also, because they emphasize back musculature so much, they are excellent for improving posture if you perform the exercise with good form.

Rowing Is A Low-Impact Activity

If you have issues with ankles and knees or are very heavy, you will likely find activities such as running difficult on the joints. Rowing, on the other hand, is a low-impact activity. Your weight is resting on the seat, and you move your body horizontally over the sled which means minimal force is distributed to your knees and ankles, as no impact needs to be absorbed.

Because rowing is low-impact, and because it is very hard to fall off a rowing machine during workouts, rowing machines carry fewer injury risks. They are a better option for people who have joint issues than some other pieces of equipment.

Rowing Burns A Lot Of Calories

This University of Rochester calculator shows that a 185-pound person can burn up to 714 calories per hour when rowing vigorously. If you are heavier than that, you will burn even more. That makes rowing an excellent option for burning fat, and when combined with the fact that it works great for building (upper body) muscles too, it really is a unique option for cardio. 

What’s more, once you become more muscular, your new muscles will demand more calories, which will also help you shed down fat. That’s why it is crucial to keep your muscles activated when trying to lose weight, to ensure your muscle mass stays intact while you burn fat for fuel. Because rowing activates your upper body musculature too, it will help with that cause as well.

Benefits Of Treadmills: Old-School Fat Furnace Workouts

man running on treadmill

Running Is The Most Natural Of All Cardio Activities

Running is as natural as it gets, period. To run, you don’t need any equipment, and even sneakers are optional (shout out to barefoot and beach runners). Therefore, even running on a treadmill is more natural than using any other cardio equipment you can find in the gym or buy for home use.

Because it is so natural, running is an integral part of so many everyday activities and sports. We don’t have to explain how running can be helpful (and even lifesaving) in everyday situations. As for the sports, almost any conventional sport involves running – football, soccer, basketball, tennis; they are all based on running. Therefore, running regularly, even on a treadmill, will positively impact many other areas of your life.

Running Is The Most Effective Way To Burn Calories

Not only that it’s natural, running is the most effective way to burn calories. As this Harvard Health chart says, a 185 lbs person will burn more than 600 calories per hour when running 5 mph. The calories skyrocket when you run faster and if you weigh more.

When you think about the numbers and look at the chart, it doesn’t seem like running is that great, at least not at first glance. But, not many people can row with good technique for 30 minutes, let alone a full hour. On the other hand, running on a treadmill for 30+ minutes will be something you will be able to pull off in no time.

Running Strengthens Bones

Running is a high-impact activity, which can be problematic for people who have bad joints or carry too much weight. However, if your limbs are healthy, running will make your bones even stronger, preventing further problems.

While running primarily activates leg muscles, the improved bone density is not only noticeable in the lower limbs. Studies show that running helps increase bone mineral density even in older adults, not only in the legs but also in the lumbar spine area. This finding is extremely important, as we all know that bone and muscle decay creates so many problems for older people, which is why preventing it makes a lot of sense.

Treadmills Are Not Reserved Only For Running

While running is natural, burns a lot of calories, and strengthens bones, it is not for everyone. As we said, it is a high-impact activity, and people with injuries usually find it a bit too aggressive. However, if you have an injury history, you can still benefit from treadmills by walking on an incline.

Walking on an incline allows you to burn calories while still keeping the activity low-impact. Even though running burns more calories than walking, the fact is that it is not ideal for obese people, which makes incline walking a better choice. Also, because it is less strenuous, you will be able to do it for longer and stay pain-free. Plus, walking on an incline has additional benefits too, as it helps you strengthen lower leg muscles.

Rowing Machine Vs. Treadmill: Equipment Size Factor

Sections above listed pros of both rowing machines and treadmills when it comes to working out, but there’s also one more factor you need to consider if you plan to get a rowing machine or treadmill for your home gym – size.

As for the rowing machines, most have wheels. Once you finish working out, you only need to tilt them and roll them away, putting them up vertically, which saves an enormous amount of space. But, if you don’t like it that way, most rowing machines let you break them apart completely and store them away. Plus, most rowing machines are pretty lightweight, which also contributes to easy storage.

On the other hand, while there are some foldable and compact treadmills, they still take up a lot of space when folded. Additionally, foldable models are usually not the best ones when it comes to performance, features, and longevity, especially for heavier runners. Sure, most treadmills usually have wheels too, but bigger, commercial-grade models will usually require you to keep them assembled, and require a power source to operate, which means you need to keep them in place.


If you have a gym membership and have access to both rowing machines and treadmills, there’s no reason to pick sides – use both. They are excellent pieces of equipment with so many benefits and will help you reach your fitness goals faster.

But, if you are looking to buy a cardio machine for your home gym, rowing machine vs. treadmill will most likely come to personal preference. Treadmills are a safe choice, as you know exactly what you get from running and walking. But, if you had leg injuries, or you look for a bit different workout that will target your upper body as well, buying a rowing machine might be a good idea. 

Keep in mind that there are no wrong answers here – both machines are great for burning calories and improving your fitness. The only important thing is to exercise regularly. If you do that, rowing machine or treadmill, it won’t matter – your investment will pay off in no time. 

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