The Difference Between a Treadmill and a Rowing Machine

Treadmill and rowing machine


By Simon Gould

Treadmills and rowing machines are very different pieces of fitness equipment. This is especially the case in they way they’re used. On one you’re sitting down and the other you’re standing up. They both give you a good workout but we have to decide which is better. So we’ve divided this up into several categories so we can choose which is king.


Treadmill – These are a lot costlier than rowing machines. For a high end treadmill you could pay up to $3,000 and go a lot higher if you wanted to. There is new technology just out called curved treadmills that cost even more and provide a unique running experience. You can buy cheap treadmills but they won’t generally last too long.

Rowing machine – These are cheaper than treadmills for the most part. You can spend a few hundred and get a decent piece of equipment. They have different resistance types and these can often dictate how much you could be spending. There is air, magnetic, water and hydraulic piston. Water tends to be the highest price. Expect to pay $1,000+ for high end machines. Explore the market on prices on Aviron Rower, Hydrow Wave Rower, Peloton Rower, or any other product and make an informed decision.


Treadmill – Unfortunately these have a great impact on the body. The feet land on what is a hard surface, it’s not as hard as concrete but still can cause ailments like shin splints and other over-use injuries. Even at a slower pace the impact is quite high and if you’re overweight it might be advisable to choose an alternative exercise first.

Rowing machine – These have nearly as close to zero impact as you’re going to get. None of your body has any impact against anything. You do need to make sure you’re following good form otherwise you may get other injuries. Anyone can get on a rowing machine and get a good workout in the confidence that your joints won’t get a hard time.

Weight loss

Treadmill – When it comes to burning calories running is simply difficult to beat. As long as you work up to it and in time you could be running for an hour. This would burn between 600 and 1,200 calories, no other fitness equipment comes very close to that. Plus the heavier you are the more calories you burn at the same speed of someone who’s lighter.

Rowing machine – These put up a good fight when it comes to burning calories. The fact that you can change the resistance means rowing machines can be used for weight loss. Per hour you can expect to burn maximum of about 1,000 which is less than a treadmill. It does give a total body workout which is very good for weight loss.

Muscles worked

Treadmill – The treadmill is king at working the lower body. Running is fantastic at toning all parts of the leg and the glutes which is the butt. The arms are used but not necessarily worked on they are used for balance. The arms sway more than anything which is needed for the proper running action. A bit of your core gets used for stabilization too.

Rowing machine – These are superior than the treadmill for the amount of muscles worked. You get a total body workout from the legs, arms, abs and back. With your whole body getting exercised the rowing machine is probably the best cardio out there. Ellipticals are often praised for the muscles worked but the rowers, we think, do better in this regard.

Assembly & location

Treadmill – These are terrible for assembly & location. We always advise that you pay for assembly even if it does cost $200. You then have a professional to bring in the item, where some stores will only deliver to the curbside and they will have the tools to assemble it for you. The location can be a problem too due to the noise.

Rowing machine – These are an awkward shape for placing. They are very long and not very wide. You can get foldable rowing machines but they will still take up a lot of room. Whatever fitness equipment you buy for the home is always going to take up a lot of room and may need a whole room to themselves. Some assembly may be required but they’re not as tricky as treadmills.

Maintenance & longevity

Treadmill – These require regular maintenance. The good thing is that treadmills are so popular that there are plenty of lubricants available and plenty of videos online about how to use them. There are good warranties for the more expensive treadmills that go to 3 years labor. You can expect a well looked after treadmill to last.

Rowing machine – These require less maintenance than a treadmill. If they have a chain then these will need to be regularly lubricated. If the line is fabric or plastic then there is very little maintenance required. You still need to check everything moves smoothly and bolts are tightened. Warranties are respectable and go up to 5 years for Concept2 rowers.


In nearly all the above categories apart from weight loss the rowing machine wins. In weight loss it’s still pretty close and the resistance on the rower helps increase calorie burn. The rowers are cheaper, have much less impact and give you a really good total body workout. They take up less room and are not as noisy so which would I choose?

Even after this I would still choose a treadmill. The movement is more natural and I prefer it. This is the case for most people as well because the use and sales of treadmills are far higher. The rower is a very traditional machine and is very good for some due to the zero impact but give me a treadmill and I’ll be very happy.

Keep reading, we also covered the difference between treadmills and recumbent bikes.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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