Rowing Machine and Treadmill: Which Gives The Better Workout?

Options. We have a lot of those. When it comes to keeping fit, losing weight, and staying healthy, there are a number of programs you can choose from. Similarly, when it comes to working out, there are also several exercise machines and equipment you can choose from. Not surprisingly, the treadmill is the most well-known among them, with the rowing machine also slowly giving it a run for its money. But given the choice of one between the two, which should you choose, in terms of achieving your exercise or workout goals? To find out which is better, it would be a good idea to look into the many treadmill and rowing machine benefits, and make a comparison.

Rowing Machine Workout

Total Body Workout

If you are looking to have a complete body workout, the rowing machine is, hands down, the best choice. Many are under the assumption that the benefits only the upper body, but they have been proven wrong, since it works out both the upper and lower body simultaneously. It focuses on the large muscles on the entire back and the shoulders, as well as the arms, while the lower body component works the buttocks, glutes, thighs, legs, and the calves. Many rowing machine reviews laud this feature of the rower since it saves you the need to use two or more exercise machines just so every part of your body gets a workout.

Treadmills, on the other hand, generally work on the lower body only, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. However, we might be seeing some changes in this front, since a few of the more recent models have been redesigned with moving handlebars so you can also get some upper body exercise while on one of your ‘treadmill runs’.

Building Muscles and Increasing Muscle Endurance

Many people make it their fitness goal to build muscles, and this certainly ranks high on the treadmill and rowing machine benefits list. However, as mentioned earlier, the treadmill works on the lower body only, which means that its muscle-building benefit is concentrated on the lower body. But, with rowing machines, your whole body is engaged, so you can build more muscle. It will also zero in on the muscles you already have and strengthen them further, increasing your overall muscle endurance. All you have to do is raise the resistance level of your rowing workouts to accomplish this.

Burning Calories for Weight Loss

Both rowing machines and treadmills provide workouts that can burn calories at a fast rate. According to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2001, out of all the exercise machines out there, the treadmill burns calories at the highest rate, which is 17 calories per minute. However, the rower is not too far behind, burning 11 calories for every minute spent on the machine. You can even tweak it by manipulating the resistance settings of the rowing machine.

In another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, rowing for one hour can burn 520 calories to 632 calories, depending on the intensity and pace of rowing put into it. An hour of brisk walking on the treadmill burns approximately 300 calories, while jogging burns up to 600 calories per hour. Running full out, at around 8 meters per hour, will burn 1,100 calories.

Looking at these figures, it would appear that the treadmill is the faster calorie burner; some even say that it is the fastest calorie burner. However, if you factor in other considerations, such as the comfort, impact, and the settings chosen, you can no doubt achieve the same results when using a rowing machine. Some users even pointed out in their reviews that, since the rowing machines utilize more muscle groups, they actually burn more calories.

Low Impact Activity

Running is a high impact activity, which means it is not for everyone. People of more advanced ages, or those who are suffering from certain injuries or illnesses (e.g. back problems, joint problems on the knees and ankles), cannot be expected to take on such a high impact activity. Granted, they have the option to walk on the treadmill instead of run. However, this means their workout is limited, particularly in terms of intensity.

Meanwhile, rowing machines provide a low-impact workout, regardless of the level of intensity. In fact, at times, they are referred to as “non-impact workout machines”, since the feet is in constant contact with the machine. Therefore, users can work out as hard, and as often, as they want, without risk of too much impact aggravating any condition they may be suffering from.

Cardiovascular Health

Several reviews showed a clear preference for the rowing machine as a good cardio exercise machine. While it is true that it is not the only exercise machine that can help you meet your cardiovascular requirements – the treadmill, elliptical trainer and stationary bike are also excellent cardio equipments – the mere fact that it engages both your upper and lower body guarantees overall cardiovascular health.

There is also the variety and fun factor involved. A cardio routine that involves purely running on a treadmill can be quite boring because, let’s face it, running is something we can do even without a treadmill. For more variety, it is highly encouraged to incorporate some rowing into your routine as well.


So which exercise machine is more effective in helping you achieve your workout goals – the treadmill or the rowing machine? Both machines are great calorie-burners, but in everything else, they have marked differences. They both contribute to building muscle endurance and cardiovascular stamina, but at varying degrees. Even their body workout coverage is not the same. We can list down all the many treadmill benefits and rowing machine benefits right here, but the answer to the “which is better, the treadmill or the rowing machine?” question will most certainly depend on your specific health and fitness goals.