Rowing Machine Vs. Treadmill: 6 Main Differences

Both rowing and running on the treadmill are excellent ways to become healthier. You know that exercise, in general, can make you happier and fitter, decreasing your risk for chronic disease. 

But here’s the thing:

You need to find the fastest and most pleasant way to reach your goals.

So, the first thing you have to do is establish your objectives. Most people want to:

  • Lose weight quickly
  • Lose fat weight steadily in the long term
  • Build muscle
  • Become more flexible
  • Sleep better
  • Increase endurance
  • Recover after an injury

Next, you’ll have to prioritize these goals. Although you may say, you want all of the above – which one is your dream?

You’ve come to the correct webpage because we’ll compare rowing machines vs. treadmills starting from your possible goals. Keep reading below.

Rowing Machine Vs. Treadmill Cardio Intensity

Cardio intensity is essential for most people who start exercising because: 

  • Some want low impact, and others prefer higher impact. 
  • You may wish to exercise your heart better.
  • You may have specific heart conditions that you need to consider.

From a general cardio standpoint, there’s not much difference between rowing machines and treadmills. Both exercise your heart quite well, and you can adjust your intensity according to your needs.

So, you can set the resistance very low on your rower and make the motions slowly – that’s low impact. You can also increase your resistance and row harder to grow your cardiovascular intensity.

And the same goes for the treadmill. The faster you run and the more you increase the angle, the harder your heart will work.

But here’s the thing:

Joint Impact

rowing machine vs treadmill for joint impact

Rowing machines are friendlier on your joints because the forces on your knees and ankles are reduced when you’re sitting. Yes, even when you’re rowing really, like really, fast.

So, if you’re one of those people who hate running because you simply can’t handle those shocks to your knees or even to your belly, rowers are better.

Side-note: from that regard, running on pavement is much harder on your joints.

There’s a “but,” though:

Rowers are less weight-bearing than treadmills. 

So, even though you get a reasonably good muscle tone from them, treadmills are better at increasing your bone density. And we all know that strong bones are critical after a certain age.


Rowers can be painful on your lower back.

If you have chronic or acute back pain, rowing will aggravate your symptoms.


Rowing machines and treadmills burn almost the same amount of calories if you’re doing the same intensity – that’s 300/ 30 minutes of moderate intensity.

But here’s the thing:

Few people can handle the same intensity on rowers and treadmills.

Let’s say you prefer low-impact workouts.

In this case, you’re going to burn more calories on the rower because you’ll increase your resistance. And, as you push with your whole body, you activate more muscles, so you burn more calories. 

Conversely, if you work out on a treadmill, you’re going to increase the angle to get more of a challenge and burn more calories. Of course, you’ll have to purchase a treadmill with a sufficient angle first.

Or, if you’re running on pavement, you’ll want to run uphill.

However, in this case, you’re only going to push your lower body harder, so you’ll burn fewer calories. 

Pro tip: If you want to increase your calorie burn by doing low-impact on a treadmill, consider free weights or resistance bands for your upper body.

Rowing Machine Vs. Treadmill Weight Loss

treadmill vs rower for weight loss

Rowing machines and treadmills have the same performance for short-term weight loss if you’re looking at the cold numbers. Here are two more factors you want to consider:

  • Which machine you’ll be pushing yourself harder on – and that’s entirely up to your fitness level, preexisting medical issues, and even what triggers your boredom. Alternatively, you can watch/ listen to something while you’re exercising.
    • Pro tip: rowers have fewer built-in options, whereas some treadmills have more programs, including virtual reality.
  • Suppose you’re interested in long or short-term fat loss. In this case, you’ll want to increase your resistance and try to increase your muscle mass. That’s easier with a rowing machine, especially if you’re pushing against higher resistances. However, you’ll have to add your weights or add some weight training if you’re getting a treadmill.

Read more: Rowing Machine Vs. Treadmill: 6 Main Differences

Fat Loss

Fat loss is different than weight loss because you can lose a lot of water weight when you first start exercising. And that happens especially if you’re overweight.

But you’ll soon experience a weight loss plateau if you’re only doing cardio.

So, from that point of view, it’s easier to lose fat weight with a rowing machine because it will build your muscle mass faster throughout your body. Increased muscle mass helps you burn more fat weight.

By comparison, excessive cardio without any muscle-building and severe caloric restriction will:

  • Damage your muscles
  • Slow down your metabolism

Basically, you’ll gain more weight in the long term unless you keep reducing your calorie intake and exercising for hours. That’s not sustainable.

Remember: Long-term excessive cardio decelerates your metabolism and causes many health issues, including weight gain. If you want to lose fat, try to tone your muscles as well.

Muscle toning is easier with rowers, but you can also do it with a treadmill if you’re using:

  • Free weights
  • Resistance bands
  • Doing separate strength training days – even just bodyweight strength produces terrific results

Muscle Gain

rowing machine vs treadmill for muscle gain

We agreed that rowing machines could theoretically increase muscle gain faster because:

  • You’re working against a higher resistance
  • You’re training your entire body

But treadmills can increase muscle gain, too, if you’re walking on a higher tilt and using free weights. 

There are some differences in the muscles you train with these two machines:

  • Upper body: a rower focuses on your chest and upper back, though your biceps, triceps, and rotator cuffs are supporting muscles. However, you can train your upper body more comprehensively with a treadmill because you decide how to use those free weights. The point is to get them in the first place.
  • Core: the rower exercises your core muscles better because you’re leaning forward and back. Conversely, your core acts as supporting muscle on a treadmill, so you can’t actively build muscle on it.
  • Lower body: rowing machines target your entire lower body at a 10/10 level. By comparison, treadmills activate your inner thighs and hamstrings less than rowers.

In Conclusion

Both rowers and treadmills are excellent tools for weight loss, endurance, and muscle toning – if you know how to use them properly. But, if you follow the tips and tricks in this article, the results will soon follow.

Also, here’s a quick rundown of what we just discussed to help you make a faster – and better choice – according to your goals:

GoalRowing MachineTreadmill
Cardio IntensityFrom low to high – easy to customizeFrom low to high – easy to customize
Joint impactLower impact; More strain on the lower back; Not as good for bone strengtheningHigher impact; More stress on the ankles and knees; Better for bone density
CaloriesBurns more calories at a lower intensityBurns more calories at higher intensities
Weight LossBest for long-term weight lossBest for short-term weight loss
Fat LossPromising fat loss in the long-termRequires additional weight training for fat loss
Muscle GainGood overall muscle gain for the whole bodyRequires additional weights for comprehensive total body muscle gain; Good lower body muscle toning, especially at higher angles
Mary D. Brown

Leave a Comment