Rowing Machine vs Treadmill 2023: Which is Better?

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When you want to get fit, it can be a challenge to decide which workout machine to use. Do you need the heart-pumping intensity of the treadmill? Or the low-impact efficiency of the rower?

This article will help shed some light on the rowing machine vs treadmill debate.

rowing machine vs treadmill

As a personal trainer, I’ve seen both sides of this rower vs treadmill argument.

I know that some people prefer the treadmill, because it can give them more flexibility with their workouts. While others love the predictability of a rowing machine.

But when taking a closer look at the benefits and features of each machine. We’ll find that treadmills are great for burning calories, and rowing machines are great for building muscles.

However, this is just one observation. There are also other factors to the equation.

That is why I decided to write this article to delve deeper into the differences and similarities of each machine.

So let’s get started.

Table of Contents

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill Comparison

Type of exercise

The rower and the treadmill are both cardio machines. So what’s the difference?

When you use a treadmill, you stand up and use your lower body during the exercise. When you use a rowing machine, you sit down and use your arms and back to pull on handles that simulate the action of rowing on water.

rower vs treadmill

If you want to focus on your lower body, use a treadmill. But if you want to focus on your arms and back, use a rowing machine.

For both machines, you can adjust the workout intensity. You can adjust the speed and incline for treadmills. For rowers, you can adjust the resistance.

Winner Type of Exercise Comparison

The type of exercise comparison is a draw, as it depends on which type of movement you prefer.

Calories burned

Based on a Harvard article about the calories burned in 30 minutes by different activities and weight. The chart includes the calories burned when using a rowing machine and treadmill.

Exercise125-pound person155-pound person185-pound person
Rowing, Stationary: moderate210252294
Running: 5 mph (12 min/mile)240288336
Running: 6 mph (10 min/mile)495360420

The table above includes the calories burned by rowing moderately. According to Healthline, the average running speed of a man is 5.9 mph and 5.0 mph for a woman [1].

Since I used the moderate pace for rowers, I decided to include 5 and 6-mph running data for treadmills.

Looking at the data, whether you run at 6 mph or 5 mph, you will still burn more calories when using the treadmill.

Winner Calories Burned Comparison

The treadmill is the winner in the calories burned comparison, because it burns more calories than the rower.

Targeted muscles

The rowing machine provides a full-body workout that targets 85% of your body’s muscles, engaging both your upper and lower body [2]. 

The rowing stroke predominantly involves approximately 65-75% leg work and 25-35% upper body involvement [3].

While treadmills target your quadriceps, calves, glutes, and hamstrings, which are all lower body muscles [4]. The treadmill may also work your upper body muscles, but the involvement is not as pronounced as it is with the rowing machine.

Winner Targeted Muscles Comparison

The rowing machine is the winner, because it targets more muscles than the treadmill.


When using a treadmill, you can choose between walking, running, jogging, sprinting, and side-stepping workouts. Apart from that, treadmills also come with incline and speed settings and workout programs, allowing you to have more variety in your exercise routine.

You can also do exercises at different speeds on a rower. However, it only has one workout setting, which is resistance. So if you tend to get bored easily, you may find it harder to stick with the rowing machine.

Winner Versatility Comparison

The treadmill is the winner, because it offers more workout versatility than the rowing machine.

Impact and intensity

Since the treadmill has speed and incline settings, you can adjust your workout intensity. You can choose from low-intensity steady state (LISS) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Additionally, treadmills often come with safety features such as handlebars and deck cushioning. However, there’s no denying that treadmill exercises require you to perform them standing up.

So no matter how much you try to avoid it, your joints will still experience some pressure or impact on your joints and knees during treadmill exercises.

When it comes to writing, you can also adjust the workout intensity by adjusting the resistance settings. You perform rowing exercises while sitting down, so you don’t have to worry too much about pressure on your joints or knees.

However, a rowing stroke engages your arms and back muscles. So you can expect some pressure on your back, shoulder, elbows, and wrists.

But the fact that your body is constantly in contact with the rowing machine means the pressure is low-impact.

When using a treadmill, your body loses contact with the machine on every stride, so there will always be an impact.

Winner Impact and Intensity Comparison

The rowing machine is the winner, because you can adjust the workout intensity and the impact is lower than a treadmill. 


The average dimensions of a treadmill are around 64 x 28 inches [5]. So the treadmill itself takes a floor space of 1,792 square inches.

I could not find the average dimensions for rowers. So let’s use the Concept2 RowErg which is one of the most famous rowers, as a reference.

Concept2 RowErg has a dimension of 95 x 24 inches, which takes 2,280 square-inch of floor space.

So the rowing machines take up more space than the treadmill. 

If you look at the build of each machine, the treadmill seems bulkier. Oftentimes, you can store both machines upright. When stored, the treadmill takes up more space because of its handlebars, and rowers take up less space.

One thing to consider is the ceiling height. You perform treadmill exercises while standing and rowing exercises while sitting down. So if you have a low ceiling, rowing is the better option.

Winner Space Comparison

The space comparison is a draw, because the treadmill takes up less space when unfolded and in use. However, the rower takes up less space when stored, and also takes up less headspace.


You can get a functional treadmill for under $300 but they can also be as expensive as more than $3000.

For rowers, I’ve seen some functional ones under $200. But like treadmills, they can also be expensive.

Winner Price Comparison

The cost between the two machines is a draw, as it depends on which model you like. Both have affordable and expensive models.

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: The Winner

In this rower vs treadmill review, we found there is no clear winner between the two machines.

The treadmill is great if you want to focus on burning calories and targeting your lower body muscles. While the rower is a great exercise machine for toning your whole body with less impact on joints.

So depending on your priorities or goals, the rowing machine or the treadmill is a good choice. Of course, you still have the option to use both machines for best results. 

Which workout machine is best for YOU?

Which is better for losing weight: the treadmill or rowing machine?

When it comes to burning calories, the treadmill is better than the rowing machine. But when your goal is to lose weight, you should also aim to build muscles which the rowing machine is best for.

You can still lose weight if you choose either machine. But you’ll reach your goals faster if you use both in your routine.

Which workout machine is best for beginners?

Both the rowing machine and treadmill are great for beginners. But most beginners are more familiar with treadmills, and they are very straightforward to use.

So I recommend treadmills for beginners to avoid getting overwhelmed and stick to exercising.

Which workout machine is best for your budget?

Generally, rowing machines are more affordable than treadmills. So I recommend rowers when you have a tight budget.

However, both machines have affordable and expensive models. So depending on the quality and features you want, the price may vary a lot.  

FAQs About Rowing Machine vs Treadmill

  • Is a rowing machine better than a treadmill?

    The rowing machine is better than a treadmill in terms of muscles targeted and impact on joints. But the treadmill is better than a rowing machine in terms of burning calories and workout versatility.

  • Does rowing burn more calories than running?

    Based on a Harvard article, running burns more calories than rowing [6].

  • Is rowing better than running?

    Rowing is better if you want to build muscles. But running is better for burning calories.

  • Do rowing machines help you lose weight?

    Yes, a rowing machine can help you lose weight. Rowers can target 85% of your body’s muscles, and it is a cardio machine so it can also help burn calories.

What to do next?

So there you have it. I hope this article cleared up some of your questions on the rower vs treadmill debate.

If you still have questions, please leave them in the comments below.

And for those looking to buy a rowing machine or treadmill for your home gym, here are some guides for you:


Rowing Machine:

Photo of author


Inge van Haselen is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritional Coach. For over 17 years, she has been coaching hundreds of clients in her gym. Inge published several programs on health and fitness. It is her passion to help you have the best Home Gym for your needs, so you can be in the best shape of your life. More info: About Us

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