Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: The Best Cardio Choice for 2024 Unveiled

As a fitness enthusiast, I’ve often pondered the question: “rowing machine or treadmill?” Both offer fantastic cardiovascular workouts, but they’re not created equal. Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of these two popular fitness machines.

Treadmills are a staple in most gyms, but rowing machines are quickly gaining ground. Each has its unique benefits and drawbacks, and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference and fitness goals.

Throughout this article, I’ll be comparing and contrasting the rowing machine and the treadmill, shedding light on their effectiveness, impact on joints, and the types of workouts they offer. So, whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or a fitness novice, stick around to discover which machine might be your ideal workout partner.

Understanding the Basics: Rowing Machine vs Treadmill

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the basics of both the rowing machine and the treadmill. The goal here is to provide you with an overview of these machines’ fundamental features and operations.

What Is a Rowing Machine?

A rowing machine, as the name implies, replicates the action of watercraft rowing. It’s a highly versatile piece of exercise equipment that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. For instance, it exercises your upper body components like shoulders, arms, and back as well as your lower body parts including glutes and legs. Each stroke you make on a rowing machine can be broken down into two main parts: the drive and the recovery. These translate into a high-intensity push, followed by a more relaxed phase, creating a balanced workout that targets both strength and endurance.

What Is a Treadmill?

On the other hand, a treadmill is a stationary machine that allows you to walk or run ‘in place.’ It’s predominantly aligned towards cardio workouts but can also promote muscle toning, specifically in your lower body. The key features of a treadmill include a moving belt to mimic natural ground movement and adjustable speed settings that cater to varying fitness levels or workout intensity. Some advanced models also offer adjustable incline or decline settings, amplifying the range and difficulty of workouts. Significantly, a treadmill can provide an effective indoor substitute for outdoor running or walking, and is among the most popular equipment for home and gym workouts.

Evaluating Cardiovascular Benefits

Before going further, it’s crucial to evaluate the cardiovascular benefits of both the rowing machine and the treadmill. Both machines offer robust cardiovascular workouts, yet they target different areas and provide distinct benefits.

Rowing Machine: A Full-Body Workout

A rowing machine stands out as a full-body cardiovascular workout. Each rowing stroke engages the legs, core, and upper body, promoting heart health by requiring multiple muscle groups to work in tandem. In a single hour of rowing, an average person burns around 600 to 800 calories, according to Harvard Health Publications. Additionally, rowing machines offer resistance adjustment to cater to different fitness levels, maximizing the cardiovascular benefits. In essence, it’s a smart choice for comprehensive cardiovascular fitness, toning all muscle groups.

Treadmill: Focused on Running and Walking

On the other hand, treadmills are highly effective for focused running and walking cardiovascular exercises. The modern treadmill features adjustable speed and incline settings, enabling a range of workouts from light jogs to intensive uphill runs. Treadmills can burn between 600 to 1,200 calories per hour, as stated by Mayo Clinic, primarily targeting the lower body muscles. People often opt for treadmills for a quick, convenient cardiovascular exercise that can be as easy or challenging as desired. As such, treadmills offer excellent benefits for heart health, especially for lower body toning.

Analyzing Muscle Engagement and Strength Training

As we delve deeper into the mechanical aspects of both machines, it becomes apparent that unique muscle engagement and strength training opportunities exist for each. Let’s examine these characteristics in detail.

Rowing for Upper and Lower Body Muscles

Rowing stands as a comprehensive workout routine, engaging numerous muscles in the body. Each stroke on a rowing machine marries about 86% of muscles in both upper and lower body. For instance, quads, hamstrings, and glutes which constitute our lower body muscles, and the biceps, triceps, and lats, part of our upper body muscles, all get activated during a rowing session. Hence, when we engage in a rowing workout, we’re essentially facilitating a full-body workout, harnessing strength and endurance simultaneously.

Treadmill for Leg and Core Strengthening

A treadmill workout, on the other hand, primarily focuses on leg and core strengthening. It enhances leg muscle engagement, including calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. To illustrate, increasing the incline on a regular walk or sprint forces our leg muscles to work harder, providing a robust workout for these muscles. In addition, running on a treadmill necessitates a stable core for maintaining balance. Therefore, assorted treadmill exercises can bolster the muscles in our core as well. While not as broad in muscular involvement as rowing, treadmills constitute a reliable choice for specific lower-body and core enhancement.

Considerations for Joint Impact and Safety

The Low Impact Nature of Rowing Machines

Using a rowing machine causes less stress on joints compared to many other types of exercise. This low-impact nature, coupled with even muscle engagement across the body, result in an effective, yet safe rowing workout. Furthermore, the smooth, continuous rowing motion comes with negligible joint impact, lessening the risk of injury. For instance, while running puts three to four times a person’s body weight on their knees, rowing essentially does not contribute to any weight-bearing stress.

Treadmill Use and Impact on Joints

On the flip side, using a treadmill can impose a significant strain on the joints. Each time the foot hits the treadmill, it generates a force of about one and a half times the user’s body weight. This force gets transmitted upwards, creating potential for injury to the knees, hips, and even the lower back. For example, a 150-pound person will experience roughly 225 pounds of force with each step. Therefore, it’s important to use the treadmill with caution, ensuring that the regimen fits the users’ fitness capabilities and adheres to safety guidelines. Using appropriate running shoes and maintaining correct running posture also contribute to minimizing joint impact.

Convenience and Space: Setting Up at Home

Space Requirements for Rowing Machines

Rolling out a rowing machine in your home isn’t as complicated as it might appear. It does, on average, measure about 8 feet in length, and around 2 feet in width. So, a spacious area, preferably 9 by 4 feet, can accommodate a rowing machine comfortably.

A significant benefit of having a rowing machine at home, is that they come in a range of styles, some of which are foldable. For example, the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine folds up vertically, occupies a mere 2 by 3 feet of your floor space when not in use, making it an ideal choice when working out in tighter spaces.

Space Considerations for Treadmills

Treadmills, on the hand, in general, demand more room. With typical dimensions spanning 7 feet in length and 3 feet in width, you’d require at least an area of 8 by 4 feet. Moreover, bearing in mind the safety aspects, an added 2-feet space on either side and 6-feet space at the back is optimal for a treadmill setup.

Unfortunately, treadmills don’t offer the same space-saving features like rowing machines. Although some models like the LifeSpan TR3000i Touch Folding Treadmill do fold up, they still take a hefty chunk, around 3 by 4 feet, of floor space.

Conclusively, both the rowing machine and the treadmill have distinct space requirements, and the decision ultimately comes down to your individual home-space constraints. Being aware of these necessary specifications, however, can make the process of selecting and setting up your fitness equipment at home a lot smoother.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

In this segment, I’ll take an analytical dive into the perks and drawbacks of both rowing machines and treadmills. Breaking down these key categories expedites an informed choice based on your personal fitness needs and environment constraints.

Rowing Machine Advantages

Recognizing the advantages of a rowing machine starts with acknowledging its comprehensive muscle engagement. A rowing exercise calls upon 86% of your muscles, crafting a full-body workout. This includes significant work in areas like your back, arms, core, and legs. Additionally, rowing is considered a low-impact exercise. This means it applies minimal strain on your joints, ideal for people encountering joint concerns or arthritis.

Next in line is the convenience factor. Many rowing machines, including options like the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine, are compact and some models can even fold. These features make rowing machines an ideal selection for those challenged with space constraints.

Treadmill Advantages

Claiming its advantages, treadmills present a user-friendly and highly interactive operation. Most designs incorporate advanced digital features, providing a surfeit of guidance and entertainment during a workout session. Furthermore, treadmills offer versatile workout options that encompass walking, running, and hill climbing. Customizable settings allow you to moderate the intensity and incline to suit individual fitness levels and goals.

Despite the footprint, the treadmills, including foldable models like the LifeSpan TR3000i Touch Folding Treadmill, provide a familiar and impactful cardio workout with the ability to accurately count calories burnt.

Limitations of Each Machine

Despite their positives, both machines carry their own share of limitations. For rowing machines, the workout dynamics necessitate a certain form of skill and correct technique. Incorrect methodology, especially in the repeated action, can lead to back strain.

Switching to treadmills, one common concern revolves around joint stress. The continuous impact of each footstep could lead to knee or ankle discomfort over time. Other concerns include the machine’s larger size making them less feasible for smaller living spaces.

In a nutshell, individual fitness needs coupled with space limitations shall dictate whether a rowing machine or treadmill suits your workout regimen better. Whichever way the dart lands, both machines deliver substantial cardiovascular benefits along with other significant pros.


So there you have it. Both the rowing machine and treadmill offer unique benefits for cardiovascular workouts. If you’re after a full-body workout with low joint impact, a rowing machine like the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine is your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re looking for versatile workout options with interactive features, the LifeSpan TR3000i Touch Folding Treadmill might be more your speed. It’s all about your individual fitness needs and the space you’ve got. Remember, correct technique is key for rowing machines, and treadmills can pose risks to your joints. Choose wisely and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your fitness goals.

1. Which machine is better for a full-body workout?

Rowing machines, as they engage about 86% of the body’s muscles, are better for a full-body workout than treadmills, which primarily target the leg and core muscles.

2. What is the joint impact of rowing machines and treadmills?

Rowing machines provide a low-impact workout with less strain on joints, unlike treadmills, which can potentially cause more stress on the joints during a workout.

3. Can you find interactive features and calorie tracking in a treadmill or a rowing machine?

Treadmills such as the LifeSpan TR3000i Touch Folding Treadmill provide interactive features and calorie tracking. Although rowing machines focus more on muscle engagement, some modern models may also offer these features.

4. Which machine requires more technical mastery?

Rowing machines require correct technique to avoid back strain, making them a bit more technical compared to treadmills.

5. Which machine is more space-efficient?

The WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine is noted for being space-efficient, making rowing machines generally more suitable for smaller living spaces than treadmills.

6. Which machine is a better choice for my cardiovascular workout?

The choice between a rowing machine and a treadmill for cardiovascular benefits largely depends on individual fitness needs and available space. You may choose a rowing machine for a full-body, low-impact workout, while a treadmill can be a better choice for leg and core workout with more interactive features.

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