Rowing machine vs treadmill – Which is the best for home cardio workouts?

There can only be one winner in the battle of full-body cardio machines

rowing machine vs treadmill: Pictured here, a rowing machine on purple background (left), treadmill on blue background (right)
(Image credit: NordicTrack)

Rowing machine vs treadmill: which home gym equipment should you get if you want to get rid of fat from your abdominal area? 

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 of us run than row: rowing is hard.

Both the best rowing machines and especially the best treadmills come in many shapes and sizes; no wonder we have dedicated guides for the best cheap treadmills and best folding treadmills. There are just so many of them.

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

Rowing machine vs treadmill: Price and availability

Rowing machines can come as cheap as $200/£190 but we would recommend spending a bit more on them, especially if you are planning on using them 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.

For the best prices right now, check out the widgets below:

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 a 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.

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 that 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.

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 with these classes will help you build up confidence more steadily than trying to work out how to move correctly by yourself.

Woman pacing on a running machine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rowing machine vs treadmill: Verdict

Should you get a rowing machine or a treadmill?

As always, the answer is 'it depends'. If you're tight on budget, a mid-range running machine is your best bet; these are accessible not just from a price but also from the workout point of view. It's almost always easier to hop on a treadmill than to work up the mental capacity to work out on a rowing machine.

That said, we'd argue that mid-to-high-end rowers are the best cardio machines money can get as they provide a full-body workout and can keep you entertained. Who wouldn't want to melt fat off their body while watching Netflix? Develop a stronger grip while looking at gorgeous rivers on the huge screen?

If you're really tight on budget, you might be better off getting a pair of running shoes or trail running shoes and heading outside for a workout. Nothing beats a bit of fresh air!

Matt Kollat
Fitness Editor

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 (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).