Rowing Machine VS Treadmill

  • August 5, 2018

Rowing machines and treadmills are two very different pieces of exercise equipment indeed. As you can imagine, these machines offer different types of workouts, and vary in their benefits and usage

While some exercise machines come down to a matter of preference, that’s not entirely the case when you stack these two up against each other.

Rowing Machine VS Treadmill

Ever wondered which one offers a better workout, or which is easier to use and keep around in general?

Let’s break it all down and see what the finding are.

Muscle Groups Worked

The first thing to consider in regards to both machines is what types of muscles get worked when you regularly use them.


This one isn’t hard to figure out. When running on a treadmill, you’re using the same muscles as when you run any other time. This includes only the lower body, such as your calves, quads, hamstrings, and a little of the glutes as well.

muscles worked on treadmill

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines work a surprising amount of muscles that you may not initially realize at first.

Although your arms seem to be the ones doing most of the work, You’re engaging plenty of muscles elsewhere as well. In addition to your forearms, biceps, and triceps, you are also engaging muscles in your upper back and your lats.

It doesn’t stop there. Your core is involved as well, and also your lower body due to the pushing back each time you do the rowing motion with your arms.

So, a rowing machine is engaging most of your major muscle groups all at once.

Verdict - Treadmills are more effective for just your lower body, but rowing machines engage your upper body, lower body, and core, making them better at providing an all-around workout.

Type Of Exercise

Exercises can generally be broken up into main types: aerobic, and anaerobic.

Aerobic exercise is an exercise that relies on repetition and does not target building muscle mass and increasing strength. Anaerobic exercise is generally more intensive and meant to tone, sculpt, and increase strength in a particular area of the body.


The treadmill is the king of aerobic workouts regarding common exercise machines. It provides a way to run in place, and running is the most popular aerobic exercise of all time. But that’s where it stops.

exercising with rowing machine

Rowing Machine

A rowing machine is one of the only types of exercise machines that can offer both aerobics and anaerobic all at once.

The sliding up and down, combined with the constant pulling of the handles is a form of aerobic exercise. If you use the machine on a lighter resistance for longer periods, you can encourage an even higher amount of aerobic exercise.

Since the machine uses both resistance and your bodyweight, you’re also getting quite the anaerobic workout, which can help tone and sculpt your arms, back, and your legs a little as well.

Verdict -  The treadmill is ideal if you want a simple aerobic exercise you can zone out to, while the rowing machine can offer both forms of exercise all at the same time.


The impact of a workout typically refers to the physical impact on your body. For example, running places an impact on your feet, legs, and spine, while riding an exercise bike does not, since you’re never making an impact with the ground.

Impact workouts are not inherently bad or anything, but if you have problems with your joints or feet, or if you’re recovering from injury, they can cause significant pain, or not be an option at all.

This aspect is where treadmills and rowing machines differ greatly.


Treadmills involve walking and running, so you’re constantly putting stress and weight on your knees and feet.

treadmill workout

Rowing Machine

A rowing machine seat slides up and down the body, while the handles simply go in and out. There is no impact involved at all.

Verdict - There is no real way to avoid impact when on a treadmill, even if you’re taking things easy. Rowing machines have no impact regardless of your workout intensity, so you can use them to burn fat and sculpt your body without ever worrying about impact.

Number Of Calories Burned

This is always a big factor with any exercise machine. The more calories burned per hour, the better.


Running and walking are time-tested ways to burn calories. On average, you can expect to burn about 400-800 calories an hour, all dependent on how hard you’re going.

rowing machine cardio workout

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines are incredibly efficient with calorie burning due to being both aerobic and anaerobic. On average, the standard rowing machine workout can burn 600-900 calories an hour.

Verdict - Treadmills are always an excellent way to burn calories, but they are not as efficient as a rowing machine.

Miscellaneous Aspects


Treadmills generally require more maintenance over time due to more moving parts, and the need for electricity to move the belt.

Rowing machines come in many different types, but none of them require an extensive amount of maintenance or care.


Cheap treadmills tend to be fairly poor in quality. You’ll likely have to spend a decent amount if you want a bigger model that offers more variance and controls.

Rowing machines can definitely get up there in price, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to end up with a quality and effective piece of equipment.

Ease Of Use

Treadmills are pretty much self-explanatory, it doesn’t take long to figure one out.

Rowing machines do require a little practice and more coordination.


Treadmills usually have a bigger footprint when fully set up, while rowing machines are often smaller, and can be compacted more when not in use.


Treadmills are here to stay; nobody is disputing that. They will always have their place in gyms, and many home gyms as well.

And while treadmills have a better lower body workout, that’s all they offer. Rowing machines work more of your muscles and tend to be cheaper.

In terms of value, workout intensity, and maintenance, the rowing machine is the winner, although I’m sure most of us will never give up our treadmills. Why not use both?

About the Author Daniel Jackson

ExerciseRig.com serves as my way to keep people informed and motivated with their home fitness while providing plenty of guidance and advice when buying new products to help them reach their goals. My own story is a bit unconventional from what you may be used to. Although I was never severely out of shape, a severe knee injury actually resulted in me emerging more in form than ever, mostly thanks to equipment such as exercise bikes that I used during my long rehab journey. I’ve remained in shape ever since, and I now focus my efforts on sharing what I’ve learned from all my research and hands-on experience with a variety of home exercise equipment and workouts, passing it along to my readers. If you’re in need of unbiased, genuine, and real fitness equipment advice, this is where you need to be.

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