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Is Rowing Machine Better Than Weights?

Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Jeff

Is Rowing Machine Better Than WeightsThe question of whether a rowing machine exercise machine is better than weights to lose weight and/or build muscle is common and can be tricky to decide, as they are both highly beneficial forms of exercise. 

Weights might be the most common choice to bulk up muscles and strengthen the body, but the rowing machine provides an all-in-one workout that also strengthens all major muscle groups and does it in just one swift movement. 

We compare the two within key fitness criteria and explore the benefits of each to guide you in what would better suit your particular fitness needs and goals, and fit into your ideal exercise regime. 

Rowing machine versus weights (Compared)


  Product A Product B
Weight loss 200-350 calories in 30 minutes 180 -250 calories in 30 minutes, plus additional burn afterward
Muscle-building Full-body workout Targeted muscle groups, more intense 
Price $500-$100 Dumbbells: $15-$20

Barbells: $250-500

Weight plates: $5 per kg

Weight Loss

Exercising on a rowing machine can burn anywhere between 200-350 calories in a 30-minute workout, depending on the individual’s weight and the rigorousness of the session. This is comparative to the calories burned in other popular forms of cardio, such as a rowing machine vs running.

If done regularly and combined with a healthy eating plan, this is a relatively effective way to lose weight when comparing, for example, a rowing machine vs walking

Lifting weights doesn’t just pack on the muscle – it is an incredibly effective way to lose weight, too. You can burn anywhere between 180 and 250 calories in 30 minutes. In addition, when lifting weights, you end up building muscle tissue which burns more calories than fat tissue. 

This means that even after you are done with your workout, your body continues to burn calories. It also works to boost your metabolism, which aids in weight and fat loss. 

While rowing is an effective weight loss exercise, the added benefits that come with weightlifting, such as increased metabolism and muscle tissue, results in a more sustainable weight loss journey. 


A rowing machine provides a total body workout within one variation of movement. The rowing motion works the lower body (glutes, calves, hamstrings, quads) and the upper body (shoulders, arms, back) while simultaneously engaging the core. 

In addition to this, you can also increase the resistance on a rowing machine to work the muscles harder, and take fitness levels up. The resistance levels are a similarity when comparing a rowing machine vs an exercise bike

Weight lifting is one of the most common forms of effective muscle-building. You can target specific muscle groups with particular exercise types, such as bicep curls for arms, or weighted squats for glutes and legs.

Challenging yourself to lift a heavy weight, and increasing the weight as your muscles build, will continuously increase your muscle mass (while simultaneously burning fat). 

While rowing is a lower impact, less intense way to build and tone muscle, if your main aim is muscle growth, lifting weights is a more intense form of strength training that will achieve this faster. 


A rowing machine will set you back around anywhere between $500-$1000, depending on the brand and type of machine you go for. 

The cost of weights varies. A simple pair of dumbbells might cost you between $15-$20, but keep in mind that as your fitness levels increase, you will need to increase your weights. You can opt for a barbell, costing around $250-$500, and then add on weight plates (around $5 per kg) as you progress. 

When you compare the continuous costs of weight lifting versus the one-off cost of a rowing machine, they equate to about the same amount. 


A rowing machine is incredibly low-impact. The machine allows you to control your movement and does not put any serious pressure on the joints and muscles. It is a popular exercise for active recovery, as well as recovery for those with injuries. 

The only part of the body that might commonly experience issues from a rowing machine in the back, but ensuring you maintain a proper posture when exercising should prevent this. 

Weight lifting is generally a low-impact form of training. While it does entail lifting heavy weights, the movements are controlled, and both feet remain on the ground. 

It can also be tailored to accommodate any joint or muscle issues, by lifting lighter weights and moderating areas of concern. 

Both exercises allow for close control of movement that supports the body and reduces strain, making them both great low-impact options. 

Rowing Machine versus Weights 

We have established that both a rowing machine and weights are effective ways to achieve any fitness goals you might have, and the better-suited option to you depends on what you are specifically trying to achieve. 

We look at each of the two options, their benefits and downsides, and which you should opt for to aid you in your personal fitness journey. 

Rowing Machine

rowing machine better than weightsA rowing machine requires you to complete the motion of rowing a boat, by pushing out and extending your legs while pulling the handle towards your chest, then bend your legs, and pull yourself back in – all done in a vertical motion. You should also keep your back straight and core engaged throughout. 

This motion works all muscle groups in the body (lower, upper, and core) while working up a sweat in a cardio manner. It burns a significant amount of calories (between 300-500 within an hour) and improves fitness levels, in addition to strengthening muscles throughout the body. 

The ability to increase resistance levels using an adjuster dial on the rowing machine also allows you to work your muscles further. 

The rowing machine’s ability to work the full body makes it stand out when compared to other exercise machines, such as a rowing machine vs a vertical climber

The low-impact nature of the exercise reduces the risk of injuring yourself, and supports the joints and muscles, making it a great option for those who are in recovery. It also makes it a good option for beginners to both cardio and strength training. 

It is important to maintain good posture when rowing, to avoid back pain or injury, which in turn results in a general improvement of your posture outside of the exercise.

A good quality rowing machine will cost anywhere between $500-$1000. 


  • Aids weight loss
  • Builds muscle
  • Low-impact
  • Convenient 
  • Improves posture
  • Improves mental health 


  •  Can be pricey
  •  Lack of variation  


Weights can be used in a number of ways to lose weight and build muscle – the variations are endless. 

You can either lift heavier weights for fewer repetitions or lighter weights for more repetitions, depending on whether you want to increase muscle mass or muscle endurance (respectively). 

The most obvious benefit of weights is that it strengthens and tones your muscles, which has a positive impact on daily life. In addition to the increase in muscle mass, it can also strengthen and improve bone density, which reduces the risk of injury and chronic physical issues. 

rowing machine better than weightsSimilar to the rowing machine, weights can improve your posture, along with your coordination and balance, too. This stems from the coordination and form needed during the exercises, but also a natural result of a stronger body.

There is also the benefit of weight loss, with weight lifting effective in increasing metabolism and burning calories during a workout, as well as a while after the workout is over. 

This form of weight loss through weight lifting is also more long-lasting and sustainable – the improved metabolism and increase in muscle mass paired with fat loss mean that you are unlikely to regain the weight as easily as a cardio-focused regime. 

Finally, it is a low-impact exercise. Your movements are completely under your control and can be adjusted according to your body’s needs.


  • Aids weight loss
  • Builds muscle
  • Improves posture, balance, and coordination
  • Improves mental health 
  • Low impact 
  • Variation
  • Money spent can be controlled according to budget


  • Can be expensive

Rowing machine versus weights (FAQ)

Is rowing better than lifting weights?

While a rowing machine can be used to strengthen muscles, lifting weights is a more effective way to achieve this in a shorter span of time.

But, while weights are better for targeting and growing specific muscles, rowing is better for a full-body workout. 

Should I row before or after weights?

This depends on your exercise focus, but lifting weights first is generally better as it is a more intense workout. Rowing is an ideal recovery exercise. 

Are 30 minutes on a rowing machine enough?

If you are rowing to maintain a healthy lifestyle, 30 minutes is sufficient. But, if you are looking to lose weight or build muscle, you might want to increase the time or pair it with another form of exercise.

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