Which is better, a treadmill or a rowing machine? This topic is dear to my heart because I used to be an avid runner, both indoors and outdoors, before I hurt my left ankle and knee not too long ago (or so it seems) while running in my last marathon. After my leg injuries, I discovered the many wonderful benefits of rowing on an indoor rowing machine so this is going to be a difficult question to answer since I have grown to love both so much.
Since I have a lot of experience with both, I would be a qualified person to answer the question but then another question remains, what defines “better”? It depends who you ask because one person’s idea of better is the machine that burns the most calories. Another person’s idea of better is which machine builds the most muscle. In other words, people’s definition of “better” will differ.
For the sake of this article, I’m going to answer the three questions below objectively and will pick either a treadmill or rowing machine based on my opinion:
- Which machine provides a better overall workout?
- Which machine is better for your body?
- Which machine is the better value?
Which Machine Provides a Better Overall Workout?
Both machines provide a great cardiovascular workout that:
- Strengthens your heart and lungs
- Increases bone density
- Reduces stress
- Brightens up your mood
- Reduces risk of heart disease and some types of cancer
- Increases confidence
- Increases energy level
- Improves sleeping conditions
- Burns calories
- Promotes weight loss
- …The list goes on and on but hopefully you get the point
Treadmills typically provide the ability to adjust your running speed and incline levels to offer a more challenging workout. In addition to providing a great cardio workout, the muscles worked out during a workout session on a treadmill include mostly your leg muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quadriceps.
Rowing machines typically have adjustable resistance to cater to the users’ strength level and a user can row as fast as they can possibly row. In addition to providing a great cardio workout, the muscles worked out during a workout session on a rowing machine are most of the muscles in your body. You get a great leg workout from pushing off and the “pull” works the entires upper body. Rowing is truly a great functional fitness exercise that require your whole body to work hard.
Verdict: Rowing Machine
Both machines provide a great cardio workout, but the rowing machine works out your lower and upper body simultaneously while a treadmill primarily works out just your lower body.
NOTE: For burning calories, running on a treadmill at a steep incline will burn more calories than rowing on a machine according to this article. However, for overall weight loss, a rowing machine is the better option because it provides an equivalent cardio workout to a treadmill but it also builds more muscle. Rowing machines have also been shown to elevate metabolism for hours after a workout, so just don’t look at the calories burned screen when comparing treadmills vs. rowing machines.
Which Machine Is Better For Your Body?
In other words, which machine is less harmful to your body?
Running (indoors or outdoors) is a weight-bearing exercise and a runner puts 4 to 8 times their weight on each step, which can harm your joints. Recent studies have shown that the damage to joints is minimal and not as much as previously reported, but there’s no denying damage occurs.
Rowing (on a machine or outdoors) is a non-weight bearing exercise that puts minimal stress on your joints. People rehabilitating after an injury or surgery often use this machine.
Verdict: Rowing Machine
I’m being totally objective here. Yes, I did damage my left ankle and knee due to years of running, but I threw that out when answering the question. What led me to pick a rowing machine is based on how I feel after a long run and a vigorous rowing session.
After a long run (> 5 miles), I feel exhausted; my knees hurt, my ankles hurt, my body hurts; I feel the wear put on my body for the rest of the day and sometimes the following day(s) depending on how far I ran.
After a vigorous rowing workout, I feel exhausted and my legs feel like jello for a little bit, but I definitely don’t feel ‘beat up’ all over and most times I don’t feel any lingering effects on my body for more than just an hour or two tops post-workout.
Which Machine Is The Better Value?
The cost of either machine isn’t the key factor here; it’s which one provides more “bang for your buck”.
Before writing this article, I thought this would be a more difficult question to answer, but based on rereading the questions above and thinking about it more, there’s no question on my mind which machine is the winner here:
Verdict: Rowing Machine
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A rowing machine provides a challenging cardiovascular workout, builds muscle on your lower and upper body, and is non-weight bearing so you won’t beat up your body while getting a kick-butt workout. There’s a reason why doctors tell their patients to use a rowing machine rather than a treadmill when rehabbing after surgery.
A treadmill is a great workout machine and I’m not bashing it at all, but when you put it head-to-head with a rowing machine answering the three questions above, one is clearly ahead of the other.
Another thing I wanted to note, you can spend $0 to run (outdoors), the same can’t be said about rowing.
Whichever machine you ultimately prefer, keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to mix up your workouts by using different machines and routines so your body won’t get used to what you’re doing. Once your body adapts to a workout, the effectiveness vastly decreases so always make sure to mix things up!
Want more information about the benefits of rowing machines? Check out all my Rowing Machine King Articles.
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