The Treadmill vs The Rowing Machine

Joe DynesBlog

Trainers are often asked “which is best, the treadmill or the rowing machine” but the answer will change from trainer to trainer – normally a biased answer depending on which is their personal favourite. My aim is to remove the bias and provide a reliable answer to the question of which is best. But first we must define what “best” mean and for that I have chosen five categories and the “best” will be the one which wins the most categories.

Can It Be Used By Anyone?

The treadmill is arguably the most accessible piece of equipment in the gym and requires little more than the ability to walk and run. However, the treadmill isn’t for everyone. Running is high impact and research shows that running puts stress of between 5 to 12 times bodyweight on your knee during every stride. Sufferers of osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and lower back problems should be careful when using a treadmill as excessive use could lead to injury.

The rowing machine, however, is non weight-bearing and places less stress on joints and bones and with correct technique can be used by the majority of exercisers. Although, without correct technique and posture, those with back problems may experience discomfort when using the rowing machine.

To choose the winner in this first category I will draw on personal experience and award the point to the rowing machine. I rarely see anyone unable to use the rowing machine due to injury but regularly have people telling me they are unable to run due to its high impact nature.

How Easy Is It To Use?

There are many reasons the treadmill has become the most abundant piece of equipment in the cardio section. Not least the fact that beyond being shown how to get it moving and how to change the speed, the treadmill requires zero training – everyone, albeit to varying levels of efficiency and performance, can run.

Conversely, the rower requires a more in depth explanation on how to use it both safely and effectively. Poor posture and an incorrect stroke sequence while rowing can lead to injury. Furthermore, many believe that rowing is simply a leg drive combined with an arm pull, however the most effective stroke on a rower is centred around an explosive hip hinge – a difficult concept to put into practice.



The Treadmill

Can Varied and Interesting Workouts Be Completed?

Exercising on the treadmill doesn’t have to be monotonous and boring. Changing variables such as speed and incline to create interval training sessions are a great way to keep exercise engaging.

Intervals can also be created on the rower, and given the large number of metrics that can be monitored (pace, distance, time, power, stroke rate, calories) there are vast arrays of workouts that can be created in order to keep sessions interesting.

Both machines are very similar here but the rower wins this category.



The Rower

Is It Suitable For Both High and Low Intensity Training?

For most, both treadmill and rowing machine allow exercise across the full spectrum of intensities; from recovery all the way through to maximal power output, allowing you to train all the energy systems in the body. However, for those with a higher work capacity, the treadmill will not allow for maximal power output as the treadmill has a limit on both speed and incline which ultimately put a limit on the intensity that can be achieved.

There is no such problem with the rower. There is no limit to how hard or fast you pull, allowing even the fittest to reach 100% intensity and for this reason, the rowing machine is the winner for Intensity.

And the winner is…

After examining the treadmill and the rowing machine under each category, the rowing machine comes out on top with a score of four to the treadmill’s one, and is the clear winner in the treadmill vs rowing machine debate.

Overall Winner

The Rower

Success in health,


[1] For treadmill running to mimic outdoor running and burn the same number of calories, the running machine must be set to a 1% incline.

Joe Dynes

Personal Trainer at PGPT
With a varied sporting background that includes basketball, rugby and cross-country to name just a few, Joe’s passion for sport and exercise progressed him naturally from participant to trainer. Experience coaching CrossFit underpins Joe’s training style that focuses heavily on impeccable technique whilst still delivering interesting and highly varied sessions that will bring it your very best and help you achieve your goals.

Favourite film: Jarhead
Favourite food: Panang Curry

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