Treadmill vs Rowing Machine: What Experts Say

Last updated November 2, 2020
Treadmill vs Rowing Machine

So you want to get fit.

But you can't decide between a treadmill vs. rowing machine.

Well, both have their own advantages.

And disadvantages too.

How is Rowing So Effective

Let's look at rowing.

Rowing works 86% percent of the muscle groups in your body. You get a full-body workout. Most of it is cardio but you also build strength with a consistent workout routine.

See how rowing can literally change your body:

rowing machine before and after


Imagine having a transformation like this:

female rowing body before and after

Amazing, right?!

Whether you want to get toned, build muscle or just get in a better mindset, rowing can do it all.

Rowing has become the new trend - for good reason. Even though running has been the go-to exercise people chose for years, rowing gives a slight advantage.

Well two, if we look closely.

Why Rowing is more effective than running:

1. Rowing works more muscles than running.

Want proof?

An Olympic athlete literally measured it using electrodes.

Rowing engages your upper and lower body, tones your arms and strengthens your back.

Imagine getting a full-body workout in 20 minutes.

Yes, you don't need to sweat in the gym for one hour and do a separate cardio session.

2. Rowing is not as hard on your joints as running.

We all love the runner's high. But all runners know that running can cause strain on your joints. Professional runners need a lot of recovery time to heal their joints after a race.

You don't want to go to work while feeling sore in your joints.

It is not fun.

Rowing is low-impact.

You sit down, practice the rowing stroke for 20-30 minutes.

And done.

But don't mistake low-impact for easy.

A good rowing workout will leave you exhausted. It will just not hurt your knees or your back.

And who doesn't want that, right?

If you are recovering from an injury, rowing can help you rehabilitate, improve movement and build strength. Rowing is also better for the elderly or people with disabilities.

3. Rowing gives you a wide range of intensity

Rowing allows you to choose from a larger range of resistance.

Most rowing machines allow you to choose from as many as 8 resistance levels. You can also row faster to increase the resistance and vice-versa.

Running doesn't give such a broad range of intensity, you can either jog, run or sprint.

Sure, you can vary the speed but there is little range of intensity as compared to rowing.

Imagine coming home in the evening after a long day.

Would you rather run on a treadmill or sit on the rower's seat and do some low-impact workout?

Running on a Treadmill

Now let's talk about running.

Running can give you a different kind of high. It feels powerful.

But running engages only your lower muscles - quads, hamstrings and glutes.

See the difference?

Calories Burnt: Treadmill vs Rowing Machine

See running isn't bad at all.

In fact, it burns more calories than rowing - about 16 percent more.

But it is hard on your joints. It takes a toll on your body. Runners have to deal with pain in knees, back, foot and other areas.

Buying a treadmill may limit your workout options, though. This is because you can always go outdoors for a run.

But rowing requires a proper setup in terms of a boat, oars, seats and sculls.

Learning the proper form on the water is also more complex than just going for a run in a nearby park.

The point is - when you buy a rowing machine, running is always an option.

But not vice-versa.

So choose wisely.

Running Helps You Retain Minerals

One lesser known benefit of running is that it slows down the loss of minerals in your legs, hips and lower spine. This happens with all exercises that require you to use your weight. You cannot get this benefit with rowing.

Running Works Lower Body

Running primarily focuses on the muscles in your legs.

First, understand the mechanism of running. You push through your feet to move forward at a steady speed. This involves muscle contractions that create explosive energy for each "jump" forward. We have learnt this as a part of survival, to run from dangerous animals and reach safety.

So running is all about the legs. You feel a noticeable burn in your hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves. But you don't get any toning or strength benefits in your upper body.

So if looking better is one of your priorities, rowing machine can give you the kind of workout you need. It can help you tone and strengthen your entire body including your arms, back and abs.

Technique: Treadmill vs Rowing Machine

Rowing requires you to learn the proper form and technique. There are four phases you need to learn: catch, drive, release and recovery. However, since there is just one type of exercise you need to learn, rowing is rather easy.

A slight variation of the technique allows you to get a vigorous workout too.

Running, on the other hand, is straight-forward. It doesn't have any learning curve.

Cost: Treadmill vs Rowing Machine

Which machine gives more bang for the buck? Treadmill or rowing machine. When it comes to value, the rowing machine is the clear winner.

Rowing machines cost less than treadmills and yet provide a full-body workout unlike treadmills. Quality rowers like Concept2 cost about $1000, while quality treadmills can be as expensive as $3000.

So in the price of a treadmill, each of your family members can probably have their own rower.

Best Rowing Machine for the Money

So now you know how rowing machine can give you your dream physique without being hard on your body. So with that clear, here is the best rowing machine you can buy.

Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine

The Concept2 Model D rowing machine is literally the bestselling rower on the planet. From Olympic athletes to fitness experts, all vouch for its quality.

The Concept2 Model D is an air rower, so it operates with a variable resistance. The harder you row, the more resistance you feel. It also comes with damper settings to adjust resistance manually.

If you want something for the long-term, close your eyes and buy the Concept2. Concept2 rowers last more than a decade and still function well.

Read the in-depth Concept2 Model D Review here.

Frequently Asked Questions - Treadmill vs Rowing Machine

Which burns more calories treadmill or rowing machine?

Running on a treadmill burns about 16 percent more calories. But it mostly works on your legs. Rowing machine, on the other hand, works on your entire body. Rowing is not just good for cardio but also for building muscle mass.

Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine?

Yes, you can lose belly bat with rowing. But you have to workout at a high intensity consistently over a period of a few months. You cannot workout at average intensity and expect to lose belly fat.

Is rowing as good as running?

Rowing is better than running in many ways. First, it works almost all the muscles in your body unlike running which works mainly on your legs. Second, rowing isn't hard on your joints or back like running. Runners often need time to recover from back or knee injuries.

Does rowing tone your arms?

Yes, rowing works extensively on your arms, chest, shoulders and upper back. If you want to build toned biceps or triceps, rowing is exactly what you need. In the before and after images above, you can see how rowing can tone your arms as well as abs.

About Richard Miller
Richard Miller is a proud father of two who balances business life with his passion for rowing. When the weather doesn't allow for outdoor rowing, Richard finds joy in indoor rowing, as it satisfies his desire to challenge himself. With a love for the outdoors and a dedication to fitness, Richard tries to maintain a balanced and active lifestyle.
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