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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.


    1. Hi,
      Thanks for the article, I found this very helpful with my health journey.
      I find rowing can be a bit hard compared to running and I noticed I start to sweat after 25 minutes with a resistance at 7. On my Concept 2 rower.
      When I run on a treadmill I start to sweat within 3-5 minutes at a speed of 6 MPH but my legs do get sore afterwards for a few days so I try to incorporate both machines weekly.
      I am a guy and I find when I row my man jewels get squished. Do you have any recommendations on how I can prevent this from happening? I think it’s probably because my legs are close together during the workout.


      1. Hi Joe – thanks for reaching out! I’m glad you are enjoying rowing on your C2. I agree – I think incorporating both exercises into your routine is probably best!

        Unfortunately, I don’t have any tips on the man jewels issue. I think it’s just an issue all men have to deal with when rowing.

    2. Sharon see if you can find the DM rowing machine. Very similar to Concept 2, but about 70% if the cost. Outs gets used about 10 times a week and has held up great so far

  1. What about elliptical vs rowing vs treadmill. Does the elliptical win over treadmill in the category “better for your body” ? Does it tire the joints the same way the treadmill does ?

    1. I personally think the rowing machine is better than the elliptical. I’ve used all 3 and the rowing machine has always given me the best workout.

      There are pros and cons to all exercise equipment but I’m just a big fan of rowing!

  2. Thanks for the comparison. I own both machines now. I can say that the rowing machine (I got the Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge Water Rower)off Amazon for about 425.00. I have owned a treadmill for years. I use the water rower in the winter…. and both now in the warmer months (its in my garage vs. the rower indoors), alternate.

    I think the cardio is best on the treadmill but since I can not run the entire time, I walk .5 miles, run .25 miles, walk .5 miles repeating for 30-40 minutes. With the water rower, I do two 15 minutes averaging about 3.2/3.3meters (1.9miles) with a 1 minutes stretch after 15 minutes.

    The rower works more muscles as stated above vs. the treadmill… I feel easily understood based on the body movements for the two different machines.

    With this being said; I feel I burn more calories on the treadmill… even though the difference according to the units electronics is less than 10%. As stated, the rower doesn’t exhaust you like a treadmill… but it does wear out your arms… especially for the first couple weeks.

    I plan to alternate this spring… so good luck to all!

  3. I just started doing cardio workouts. I am sorry but I hate running. But yesterday I tried the rowing machine and I am in love with that machine. Yes, I want to burn more calories but seems like I can opt out to Rowing machine instead of a treadmill. This article was really helpful. Thank you so much.

  4. Sorry, But I have to say running (outdoors) will push you, much much more than rowing.
    Because of knee and hip issues, I have to restrict how much I can run outdoors, so the rowing machine helps, but rowing at max power for 25 min (30 strokes per min) is far easier than breaking 7 minutes for a mile running.
    You do not believe me, just try it.

    1. Hi Iain,

      Everyone has their own preference but I’m not sure a sub 7-minute mile is equal to rowing for 25 min at 30 SPM.

      Why not try to row a 2K in 7 minutes, which I think is a more apples to apples comparison (the row probably being more challenging). Let me know if you think it’s easier than a 7-minute mile :)

    2. Wow….. I would agree running outdoors, which by the way is completely off-topic and outside the original post comparison (but you’re just trolling…. right) is much more strenuous than rowing…. funny you didn’t compare to a treadmill….LOL!

      Iain, If you’re running 7-minute miles with knee and hip issues, as well as rowing 30 SPM for 25 minutes you are well outside most normal adults, exercise routine my friend and well to be quite frank sir…. you know it. And if you can not exercise like this why quote such high numbers…. many folks are just trying to get fit and understand what might help benefit them the most.

      “you don’t believe me try it” a very arrogant comment don’t you think… I’d be willing to put a few hundred that you’d likely couldn’t do either…LOLOL!

      1. I did not realise these numbers were high, Yes I have been very fit through out my life,but I have never used a rowing machine until late last year
        I purchased a rowing machine (Magnetic Type) and used it over winter to keep fit, this machine does not give distance
        During Easter I managed to get a shot on a concept 2 did 7.52 for 2K
        In March I did do 1 mile on the road 6.57 (6 weeks after my 70 Birthday)
        I am certainly not arrogant, Money should be taken from one pocket and put in the other pocket,
        Never bet on something you are not certain off.
        Remember, keep exercising and over time you will become fitter and have a better quality of life.

        1. SPM should not be a measure of intensity. Speed and/or your heart rate should be used to judge difficulty.

    3. yes running you will get more calories burned but try running everyday vs rowing everyday. I can guarantee you that its very hard to run everyday due to the stress it puts on your body.

    4. I agree with Edwin. Once you learn the stroke you can murder yourself on an erg. I’m just 8 weeks off another meniscus sprain and have resolved (after 2 meniscus repairs and an ACL replacement) to lay off the running ( which I really enjoy).. the latest injury was early in the ‘work from home’ coronavirus world where I was getting in about 25 miles per week outdoors. I’ve had a concept 2 model c for about 12 years and have had a love hate relationship with it. It is an excellent machine and I would encourage anyone considering a rowing machine to definitely take on the added cost of the concept 2 because it is a fantastic company and a fantastic machine. You can have it forever or sell it At a good price because they are extremely durable and well made. As for the work you can do on an erg, if you want more out of it, push, push real hard ,and brace. You can amp up the workout without adjusting any gadgets etc.. Watch dark horse rowing on YouTube, it will help. There is no lack of suffering and gains available in a rowing workout, another thing, running gives you a dorky body, atrophies the upper body muscles.

  5. The best overall workout is the rowing machine. When I was in the USMC my roommate on the ship brought his Concept 2 ERG and we had it in our state room. We called it the death machine. I see people here saying that SPM is indicative of how hard the workout is…WRONG..it is the 500 meters/min. The lower the denominator the harder you are working. You can get the same 500/min reading with 24 SPM or with 19 SPM. At the end of your row it will tell you your average 500/min. I usually did 5000 meters and tried to keep it at 500/2:05 with the last 500 meter around 1:50 or below. On long rows (10,000 meters) I would just row to finish. To Take a break from the death machine I would run for an hour in the hanger bay dodging the chains holding our air craft down. Rowing gave me a much better overall workout.

    1. Thanks for the comment and feedback Misein! You are correct – split time and watts are true indicators of how much work you are performing and not SPM

  6. Hi. I have a challenge going on at work. I had a colleague ask me about rowing…Example, I found that 1 mile of swimming is equal to 4 miles on a treadmill. We are doing a “Mile Challenge” at work and who can obtain the most amount of miles in 9 weeks. Another example would be that 52 flights of steps is equal to 1 mile on a treadmill. Do you know how many meters on a rower is equal to 1 mile on a treadmill? I know the rower exerts way more muscle than a treadmill, so I’m wondering what the equivalent would be? Ty!

    1. Hi Tammy – I’m not sure how people are calculating the conversions. Activities aren’t really an apples to apples comparison. My best guess would be they are doing it by calories burned. Meaning, climbing 52 flights of stairs burns the same amount of calories as 1 mile.

      The average person burns 80-140 calories by running 1 mile. On average, it probably takes rowing about 1,500m to burn the same amount of calories on a rowing machine. 1,500m is actually pretty close to a mile, which makes sense as running and rowing burn similar amounts of calories (a lot of variables though)

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