Which Is Better: Treadmill or Rowing Machine?

Rowing Machine vs. TreadmillWhich is better, a treadmill or rowing machine?

A lot of people ask this question so they can better understand what piece of equipment to use.

While this is a tough match up, when I put the rowing machine vs. treadmill through a few tests, there was only one winner!

This topic is dear to my heart because I used to be an avid runner, both indoors and outdoors.

Then I sadly obtained a few injuries that prevented me from running long distance. After my leg injuries, I discovered the many wonderful benefits of rowing on an indoor rowing machine.

So choosing between a treadmill or rowing machine is going to be a difficult question to answer since I have grown to love both so much!

When matching the rowing machine vs. treadmill to ask which is better, we first need to define better”.

The definition of “better” depends who you ask. 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” can be very different.

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 of:

  • 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?

When comparing rowing vs. running, both 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 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 on a rowing machine are most of the muscles in your body. I even have a breakdown of every muscle used while rowing.

You get a great leg workout from pushing off and your entire upper body is excercised during the “pull” portion of rowing. Rowing is truly a great functional fitness exercise that require your whole body to work hard, not just your legs.

Verdict:  Rowing Machine

Both machines provide a great cardio workout, but the rowing machine works out your lower and upper body simultaneously.  A treadmill primarily works out just your lower body, which is great but it just can compete against a full body workout from a rower.

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 a treadmill vs. rowing machine.

Which Machine Is Better For Your Body?

When comparing the rowing machine vs. treadmill for a better overall workout, we touched on which machine was best for cardiovascular, weight loss, and muscle strength.

Now we will discuss which exercise, running or rowing, is better for your body.

In this question by ‘better’ we mean, which machine is less harmful to your body?

Running (indoors or outdoors) is considered a weight-bearing exercise. Studies show that runners put 4 to 8 times their weight on their joints each step. This added force can cause serious damage to your joints.

Rowing Machine for Knee Pain

Every year thousands of runners have joint related injuries and entire industries have formed due to this problem.

Most injuries occur when people run with weak muscles from a sedentary lifestyle or improper running form.

This is a recipe for disaster when you couple this with the massive force that is constantly applied to your knees, ankles, and hips

Rowing on an indoor rowing machine or outdoors is a non-weight bearing exercise that puts minimal stress on your joints.

Rowing while seated means you are not constantly working against gravity, so there is no pounding on the joints.

People rehabilitating after an injury or surgery often use a rowing machine to help recover and gain strength.

Verdict:  Rowing Machine 

While you may think I’m being bias, I can assure you I’m not.

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, and 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 while, but I definitely don’t feel ‘beat up’ all over. Most times I don’t feel any lingering effects on my body for more than just an hour or two. I will feel muscle soreness the next day but not the aching joint pains I get when running. 

Which Machine Is The Better Value?

The total cost of either machine isn’t the key factor to measure here. I want to measure which one provides more “bang for your buck”.

Before writing this article, I thought this would be a more difficult question to answer. However, after re-reading the questions above and thinking about it more, there’s no question on my mind which machine is the winner here:

Verdict:  Rowing Machine 

A rowing machine provides a challenging cardiovascular workout, builds muscle on your lower and upper body, and is non-weight bearing.

There’s a reason why doctors tell their patients to use a rowing machine rather than a treadmill when rehabbing after surgery.

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black


A treadmill is a great workout machine and I’m not bashing it at all! However, when you put it head-to-head with a rowing machine answering the three questions above, one is clearly ahead of the other.

One thing to mention is you can spend $0 to run (outdoors), the same can’t be said about rowing.

If buying a treadmill or rowing machine from an online retailer like Amazon you can expect to see similar prices. Both have high-end and low-end machines but let’s compare the #1 rowing machine vs treadmill.

Read my full Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower review by visiting my article here.

Whichever machine you ultimately prefer, keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to mix up your workouts. You can do this by using different machines and changing routines so your body won’t get used to what exercise your performing.

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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