Treadmill vs rowing machine: which is the best cardio machine for home full body workouts?

Rowing machine vs treadmill: there can be only one winner in the battle of full body cardio machines

rowing machine vs treadmill
(Image credit: NordicTrack)

Rowing machine vs treadmill: which home gym equipment should you get if you want to most bang for your bucks? Most people would naturally gravitate towards a treadmill – more of us run than go rowing, after all, but those in the know consider the rowing machine to be the superior device. On the other hand, there is a reason more us run than row: rowing is bloody hard.

Both the best rowing machines and especially the best treadmills are still in short supply, thanks to everyone wanting to get fit indoors over the last year or so. This doesn't mean you can't get one for a reasonable price, but it does mean you should weigh up the pros and cons even more carefully, before making your purchase.

Should you add a running machine or a rower to your home gym setup next? Here are the facts.

Rowing machine vs treadmill: ergonomics

Home cardio machines are not small. If anything, the word 'imposing' pops into mind when thinking about premium rowing machines and treadmills. Some models, such as the ProForm Pro 2000, will take up considerable amount of space in your living or spare room, wherever you want to house the device.

Some running machines are foldable, meaning you can raise the running deck so it takes up slightly less space when not in use. Nevertheless, given the weight of an average treadmill, it's unlikely you will be able to move it around the house still. This is not a huge problem but it certainly doesn't make treadmills the most flexible pieces of home gym equipment.

rowing machine vs treadmill: man rowing on a NordicTrack RW900 rower

(Image credit: NordicTrack)

Rowing machines are not small either. They are narrower than treadmills but equally as long, when in use anyway. However, some rowers can be folded up when they aren't in use, which wouldn't be all that exciting in itself but given the weight of an average machine and the transport wheels which most foldable rowers have, it's much easier to wheel them out of the way.

This is not only great because it makes storing the rowing machine easier, but also because it makes it more convenient to orient the rower wherever the entertainment system is in your home. Although some rowing machines come with a screen, others don't, so if you don't want to bore yourself to death by staring at the wall while rowing, you will need to set these machines up facing the TV.

A good example of a rowing machine with a screen is the excellent NordicTrack RW900 Rower, while screen-less rowers, such as the Echelon Smart rower, can benefit from facing a smart TV.

rowing machine vs treadmill: person looking at the multimedia screen of a Bowflex Treadmill 22

(Image credit: Bowflex)

Rowing machine vs treadmill: workouts

Running is probably the most accessible of all cardio workouts: it's easy to scale it up or down, depending on the desired intensity of the workout. Running on a treadmill is also said to be easier than running on the road because you 'only' have to keep up with the belt when running on a treadmill as opposed to pushing yourself forward when you're running outdoors.

Running by its nature is mainly a lower body exercise but in order to keep your body moving, you will require to use your upper body for balance and to keep the momentum going. Running is great for improving cardio performance and heart health as well as being a great way to boost metabolism. It's not so great for building muscle but there aren't many better ways to lose weight than running frequently.

rowing machine vs treadmill: woman in starting position on a rowing machine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You will need to use your back and arm muscles more when rowing, though. Rowing is great for elevating the heart rate and improving grip strength but admittedly, it has a steeper learning curve than running. To achieve that fluid rowing movement, you will have to follow a sequence of motions which takes some time to get used to, not to mention the strength and endurance it takes to get real good at rowing.

Especially in the case of rowing machines, we would recommend getting a 'smart' model and one that can be used for online workouts. Many manufacturers now offer some sort of on-demand and/or live classes to stream, either on the machine's screen or on a tablet. Following along these classes will help you build up the confidence more steadily than trying to work out how to move correctly by yourself.

rowing machine vs treadmill: woman pacing on a running machine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Treadmill vs exercise bike: price and availability

Rowing machines can come as cheap as $200/£190 but we would recommend spending a bit more on it, especially if you are planning on using it for more than once. You can get very decent rowing machines for around $550/£500, but you will need to spend a lot more if you want a rower that comes with a screen and solid build quality. High-end NordicTrack models cost around $2k/£2k.

Treadmill prices range from around £160/$200 for the really basic, self-propelled models, but these tend to offer a very unrealistic running experience and might fall apart after a couple of uses. The sweet spot between performance and price starts at around £600/$700. Top-tier treadmills, such as the Technogym Artis Run (opens in new tab), can cost as much as £20k.

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym reviews.