Treadmill vs Rowing Machine: Comparing Popular Cardio Machines

July 14, 2023
  • Sydney Kaiser
    Product Reviewer, Content Writer, Certified Personal Trainer

*TreadmillReviewGuru helps consumers find the best home fitness products. When you buy a product we recommend, we may earn a commission.

While most gyms are back open after weathering the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t slowed sales of home gym equipment. The desire to workout at home has been a boom for the fitness equipment industry, with sales growing by 170% over the past two years. Of those sales, cardio equipment has been a significant share.

Treadmill vs Rowing Machine Comparison

We get many questions about which cardio machines are best. So today, we’re going to talk about treadmills and rowing machines. Which cardio machine is better?

They’re both excellent cardio machines for your home gym, but one may be better for you than the other. Let’s find out.


Treadmills are one of the most popular pieces of home cardio equipment sold over the past 50 years, and that trend continues today. Treadmills allow you to train all year round. You can get your cardio work in with no thoughts of time of day or if the weather has turned sideways.

Of course, there are many other reasons treadmills are the go-to workout machines in many homes. Technology has vastly improved since the first treadmills of the 1960s, and they are now high-tech machines offering an interactive training experience.

There are still some negatives to owning a treadmill, but the positives far outweigh them. Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying a treadmill for your home and see if it’s the right choice for you.

Pros of using a treadmill for cardio:
  • Comfort: Most treadmills have cushioning built into the deck to lessen the impact on your joints, unlike running outside on concrete which has no shock absorption.
  • Easy To Use: You can select an onboard workout beforehand or adjust the treadmill yourself.
  • Similar to training outside: You can use treadmills to train for outdoor events or take outdoor filmed workout classes that make you feel like you’re outside.
  • For Balance: Steady surface is suitable for those who have trouble negotiating curbs and other obstacles.
  • Varied Training: Many treadmills incline and some even decline to add more variables to your workouts.
  • Entertainment: Most treadmills come with onboard workouts, but some have virtual training programs and other entertainment options to keep you from getting bored.
  • Workout Anytime: Training inside allows you to workout any time day or night.
  • Heart Rate Tracking: Most treadmills have pulse grips or are compatible with heart rate monitors.
  • Bone Health: The impact from your feet hitting the deck can help improve bone density and stimulate bone growth.
Cons of using a treadmill for cardio:
  • Cost: Some commercial treadmills can cost upwards of $10,000+. Home treadmills can range from thousands to a few hundred however.
  • Space: Treadmills are large and can take up space. Some aren’t suitable for shared spaces like apartments because of their size and weight.
  • Regular Maintenance: Treadmills require regular maintenance to keep them in proper working order.
  • Noise Output: While there are some quiet treadmills, overall treadmills can generate noise from the motor as well as thudding when your feet hit the deck. This noise might not be appropriate for some homes.

Rowing Machines

Rowing machines are a great option for cardio in the home. The lower profile and portability make them an attractive choice. These machines provide a near full-body workout and are designed to help you burn calories and work your muscles by creating resistance as you move the sliding seat. When you bump up the resistance, you’ll work harder, giving you a more challenging workout.

We all like a little variety, and when it comes to purchasing a rowing machine, you certainly have your choices. There are three main types of modern rowers- air resistance, magnetic resistance, and fluid/water resistance. Which is best if you choose to purchase a rower comes down to your needs and preferences.

An air rower is preferred by the more hardcore rowers because it does a great job replicating the feel of pulling against water. Great for off-season training, It creates resistance how you think it would, using the airflow across an internal flywheel. These can be noisier than other rowers, though, so that’s something to consider.

Magnetic resistance rowers are a prevalent choice for in-home use because they are virtually silent. Thanks to the wonder of magnets, no friction. They’re also smaller since the magnets take up less space than an air or fluid resistance model. The user controls the distances between the magnets and thus creates or lessens the resistance. These machines don’t do a great job replicating the feel of rowing in water, so if that’s a priority for you, check out one of the other types.

The water resistance rower is the new kid on the block in the rower industry. It uses paddles and water, varying the resistance. The water provides a smooth and steady stroke which is a plus, but they tend to be heavier overall. It seems like the two would go hand in hand in trying to replicate that “on the water experience,” and some users claim that to be true.

So there are plenty of options for in-home rowers, and you can see there are a lot of upsides. To make the best choice, you have to explore the pros and cons.

Pros of using a rower for cardio:
  • Affordability: Costs less than most treadmills or other home cardio machines.
  • Low Impact: Zero impact activity is good for the joints.
  • Hits Most Muscle Groups: Works your legs and upper body with every stroke.
  • Super Calorie Burn: The average adult will burn around 500 calories per hour of rowing.
  • Balance Friendly: Since you are seated, rowing is suitable for those who have some balance issues. Your feet are secure, and you’re grasping the handle.
  • Cross-train: Great piece of equipment to cross-train with.
  • Content: Some rowers come with attached touchscreens and workout programming like guided classes, as well as computerized gaming content.
Cons of using a rower for cardio:
  • Need Space: They aren’t tall or bulky but are long and can be challenging to find a space for it.
  • Tough on the Back: If your posture isn’t correct, the rowing movement can hurt.
  • Can be Noisy: Unless you purchase a magnetic resistance model, rowers tend to be noisy.
  • Less Entertaining: It’s tough to watch something or read while rowing
  • Learning Curve: New users can find it challenging to get the movement, speed, and rhythm down.
  • Not Great for Existing Injuries: It’s hard to work around most injuries because many muscle groups are engaged while rowing.

Bottom Line: Treadmill vs Rowing Machine

Both treadmills and rowing machines are excellent additions to any home gym. However, most people have the room and budget for only one. Which is best for you depends on your training goals, your preferences, and joint health.

A treadmill will always be best for runners who train for marathons or triathlons and need an indoor option. A rowing machine would be great for cross-training but a poor substitute for actual running. Luckily, there are modern treadmills that provide immersive and real-world-like training options.

If you want a high-intensity–but low-impact– workout, a rowing machine might be for you. You will get excellent full-body training while keeping your heart and lungs healthy without killing your joints and feet.

We like and recommend both treadmills and rowing machines. You can’t go wrong with either. If you have any questions, reach out and let us help.