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Rowing Machine vs Treadmill – Which Is Better?

Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Jeff

Rowing Machine vs TreadmillRunning on a treadmill is the most popular form of cardio the world over. It’s an easy, no-nonsense exercise that is highly effective in getting the heart rate up and burning calories. 

Few can match its weight loss power, but the rowing machine is a worthy opponent. It provides a total body workout that not only results in weight loss, but also strengthens the body’s major muscle groups. 

We look at how the two options compare, and the benefits of each, to help you decide which one suits your needs better. 

Rowing Machine versus Treadmill (Compared)

  Treadmill Rowing machine
Muscle strengthening  Lower body Full body
Impact High-impact  Low-impact
Weight loss 280-400 calories per 30 minutes 150-250 calories per 30 minutes

Weight Loss

When comparing a rowing machine vs running on a treadmill, there is a fairly significant difference in calories burned. 

Running on a treadmill for 30 minutes will burn 280-400 calories in 30 minutes, while rowing for the same period will burn 150-250 calories in 30 minutes— the exact amount will depend on your body weight and workout intensity, among other factors.

Looking at calories burned alone, the treadmill significantly edges out the rowing machine. 

Muscle strengthening

 rowing machine versus treadmillWhen it comes to muscle strengthening, the treadmill and rowing machine are generally not the first options that come to mind, with exercises like weight training available. But, they both work various muscles in the body – it just depends on what your target areas are. 

Treadmills require running, which does require full-body movement but tends to work the lower half of the body more dominantly. You can up the speed, and/or increase the incline, which both help to push the muscles further. You mainly work your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves, but running also engages the core and arms to a lesser extent. 

The rowing machine provides a full-body workout that is not just cardio but also strengthening. You move with your whole body, including quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, arms, and back. Upping the resistance levels on a rowing machine also allows for a more intense muscle burn. 

When it comes to strengthening muscles, the rowing machine beats out the treadmill. The rowing motion works the muscles on a deeper level than running does, plus it targets more muscle groups. 


treadmill vs rowing machineImpact levels of a workout are determined by how much strain, from the motion and gravity, is placed on your muscles and joints. The impact levels of a rowing machine versus a treadmill differ massively, with the treadmill being a notoriously high-impact exercise, and the rowing machine offering a low-impact workout. 

Running on a treadmill results in a high impact on your body, specifically your feet, back, and knees, which can result in pain in the short term and injury in the long term. This can be avoided if you opt to walk on the treadmill instead of run, but that will result in a lower heart rate, thus a less efficient workout. 

The rowing machine provides fantastic cardio and strengthening options while remaining low-impact. The seated position eliminates the gravity, and the motion is completely controlled. However, it is important to maintain a straight back and ensure your foot is flat against the pedal, to prevent strain or injury to the back or feet. 

The low-impact nature of the rowing machine makes it a more favorable option for beginners, or those in recovery from injury, who want an effective workout without the strain. 


A decent rowing machine might set you back between $200-$600, with the more high-end models going up to $2,000. 

A basic treadmill will be around $250-$300, with more durable and better quality options around $650-$800. The high-end options can cost up to a whopping $25,000. 

It is recommended you go for at least a mid-range option, to ensure that it lasts forever and does not let up after a few months, which will cost you more. Between the two options, the rowing machine offers a full-body workout which eliminates the need for other equipment, making it more cost-effective.

Rowing Machine versus Treadmill

Rowing Machine

The rowing machine edges out the treadmill in several categories and is ideal for those who prefer a low-impact workout that is still effective in weight loss and muscle strengthening. 

We look at some of the benefits of the rowing machine, and what fitness goals it might be ideal for. 


Total Body Workout

The rowing machine targets all major muscle groups in the body with its exercise motion including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, abdominals, arms, shoulders, chest, and back. 

This allows for cardio and strengthening workout that covers all bases, and can be done alone if desired with no supplementary exercises. The resistance levels also allow you to push yourself further and increase fitness level and ability, as well as increase variation to complete High-Intensity Training Interval (HIIT) workouts. 

Is a rowing machine better than weights for muscle strengthening? No, but it is still highly effective. 

Weight Loss

benefits of rowing machine vs treadmillThe cardio nature of the rowing machine is a calorie burner and can help reach your weight loss goals. With a calorie burn rate of 150-250 calories per 30 minutes, depending on the intensity of the workout and body weight, it is a highly effective way to lose weight. 

It is comparable with other cardio machines, such as a rowing machine vs vertical climber, when it comes to calories burned. 

You can also incorporate HIIT workouts to maximize the burn, and shed calories long after the workout ends. 

However, this is also dependent on other factors such as diet and lifestyle. A healthy eating plan and sufficient sleep need to be consistent alongside the exercise to result in sustainable weight loss. 

Low Impact

The shining feature of the rowing machine is the ability to burn through fat and boost muscles without putting strain on your joints. 

Being able to sit and steadily control the motion of the rowing machine protects your body from serious pain and/or injury that is common in high-impact alternatives. 

This makes it a great option for those who are recovering from an injury, or even beginners to exercise, who are looking to ease their way in without compromising on results. This makes it a worthy opponent when comparing the low-impact nature of the rowing machine vs a recumbent bike.


A rowing machine works the entire body’s muscles, making it a ‘one-stop shop’. You can purchase a rowing machine to lose weight and strengthen all major muscle groups, eliminating the need for other exercise equipment. 

This is not only convenient but also cost-effective. 


  • Low-impact
  • Full-body muscle strengthening  
  • Effective in weight loss
  • Cost-effective 


  • It burns fewer calories than running 
  • Can hurt back and feet if the form is incorrect 


rowing machine or treadmillTreadmills have an excellent reputation for weight loss and are incredibly popular exercise machines. It is the perfect option for those looking to lose weight, increase fitness levels, and enjoy variation. 

We explore the benefits of treadmills, and whether they are the most suitable option for you. 



Treadmill workouts offer more variation than more specific motion machines, such as a rowing machine, with its range of options. 

You can adjust speed levels and incline levels to change things up, and many treadmills come with loaded workout variations to follow. With your hands being free, you can even incorporate weights into your walk/run to increase the difficulty level of your workout. 

Muscle strengthening 

While it may not cover as many bases as the rowing machine, the treadmill primarily does effectively work your lower body with the walking/running motion, including the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads.

If you want to work the upper body, you can either add supplementary weight training to your routine, or you can pick up a pair of dumbbells and do exercises such as bicep curls while you are walking on the treadmill. 

Weight Loss

Running on a treadmill is a powerful calorie burner, as its high-impact nature sends the heart rate through the roof. 

You can burn between 280-400 calories while running on a treadmill for 30 minutes, which is a massive amount in a relatively short time. Paired with a healthy eating plan and lifestyle, it is a surefire way to see quick results. 

Low Impact 

While running on a treadmill is a high-impact exercise, opting for a walk can provide a good low-impact option. It may not burn quite as many calories as running, but doing it for a slightly increased duration will burn a good amount of calories. 

This is a good option for beginners, who want to work their way up to running. To push yourself a bit further, the incline option makes it more challenging. 

The ability to hold onto the handrails also makes it an accessible workout for those who need a bit of support while exercising. 


  • Effective weight loss 
  • Works lower body muscles 
  •  Low-impact when walking 
  • Good for beginners
  • Accessible for those who need support 


  • Little engagement of the core and upper body muscles
  • More expensive 
  • High impact when running 

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill (FAQ)

Is a rowing machine better than a treadmill?

This depends on your fitness goals. While a treadmill burns calories at a faster rate, the rowing machine also strengthens the muscles, which has the additional benefit of calorie burn even after the workout ends. This together with the low-impact nature means that overall, the rowing machine has more benefits than a treadmill. 

Is it okay to use a rowing machine every day?

If you are doing short and less intense workouts on some days, then yes. However, doing long and/or intense workouts every day with no rest can result in injury or burnout – it is wise to set aside one day per week for rest.

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