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Treadmill Versus Rower: Which Is Superior?

Ever find yourself wondering which is better? The treadmill vs. the rower? Which machine should you devote your workouts to? There’s no question that when you hit the gym, you want to see optimal results as quickly as possible. You don’t have hours each week to exercise, so getting the best overall progress from every minute you put in becomes incredibly important.

Like most decisions in life, there are going to be pros and cons to each of these cardio methods. The treadmill is a great calorie burner, but not so great at keeping you injury free. The rower is low impact, but does require a bit more skill to perform.

Which is ideal? Let’s take a closer look at the comprehensive benefits so that you can figure out where you should devote your time.

Treadmill Vs. Rower – The Showdown

Below are the main pros and con’s of each of these machines to consider. Think about what you value most in your workout and let this guide your decision.



  • Great calorie burner
  • Can walk or run – your decision
  • Easily allows you to add resistance by going uphill
  • Is perfect for those looking to build endurance
  • Will promote a slim, streamlined physique
  • Is quite simple to get started with – no learning curve


  • Your injury risk can be quite high – back, knee, or ankle pain is quite likely
  • You may suffer from a mishap while using the machine such as falling off or rolling an ankle, which can take you away from the gym for weeks, or even months
  • Is a high impact activity
  • May not provide you with the muscle strengthening benefits you’re looking for
  • Is not ideal for preserving lean muscle mass tissue



  • Engages both the upper as well as the lower body
  • Gives a complete conditioning workout so is great for those who aren’t doing any other form of activity
  • Is non-impact
  • Burns a high number of calories
  • Can increase intensity by either increasing resistance or increasing speed
  • Is ideal for those who are hoping to build muscle while burning fat


  • May lead to a risk of knee or shoulder pain
  • Does have a bit of a learning curve to get used to the pattern of movement
  • Does not allow for ‘mindless’ exercise as well as the treadmill does

Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

Injury Risk

The first point to look at when considering the treadmill vs. rower is the injury risks associated with each of these movements. Here, the treadmill does come out ahead. There are just simply more ways that you could potentially injury yourself while on a treadmill compared to a rower.

Not only do you have that high impact nature acting against you, potentially threatening your joints and bones, but you also have the risk of rolling an ankle or worse, falling off the treadmill entirely.

For those who like to push their limits and do very intense sprint training, don’t bypass the fact that rolling an ankle can be quite likely!

The rowing machine can definitely lead to overuse injuries if it’s performed too often with not enough rest time in between, but usually the risk of these injuries is quite low. Most often people don’t have too many problems.

Body Composition Changes

Now let’s consider the body composition changes you can expect to take place. While both of these methods of cardio training are excellent at boosting your daily calorie burn, doing a high volume of each of them is unlikely to lead to the same result.

Case in point, take a close look at a marathon runner and a rower. Do they have similar bodies? Not at all! The marathon runner is usually quite thin and gaunt looking while the rower is more muscular and chiseled. This is thanks to the fact that running doesn’t have you working against much resistance, while rowing does. Therefore, rowing integrates more muscle power into the mix, enabling you to retain and build muscle better.

The only exception to this rule is if you happen to be a sprinter. If you are doing intense sprint training on your treadmill and that’s it, then you will likely find that you can develop more of that muscular base that you’re after.

So ask yourself, what look do you want here? If you aren’t interested in building much muscle and just want to be thin, then jogging is probably a terrific option for you.

If, on the other hand, you want that athletic look where you have muscular shape to your body, rowing is what will deliver.


In terms of running a program on both machines, you’ll find the treadmill a bit easier here. The nice thing with the treadmill is that you can either choose between walking or running. So on your off days from running, you could just walk as a easy workout that gives your body a break from the pounding. It’s a bit of a different movement pattern as well, so can ward off overuse injuries quite well.

On the flip side though, if you are rowing, you can’t do anything but row, so you’ll likely have to take time completely away from the machine on your off days.

The treadmill also gives you a bit more versatility in what types of workouts you can do. You can do a slow walking workout, a fast walking workout, an incline walking workout, a mix of incline walking and jogging, a jogging workout, a sprinting workout, an uphill sprinting workout – there are many different combinations that can be done.

With rowing, you can either do a slow row, a high resistance row, a fast row, or a combination of those. There aren’t quite as many options for creating your own programs so if you are someone who gets bored from time to time, then you’ll want to go this route instead.

Continually changing your workout program around is going to be critical to seeing ongoing results, so this is something that can’t be overlooked.


Finally, also think about things from a practicality standpoint. Which transfers over to your everyday life better? Here, the treadmill will be the answer for most people. Unless you are doing a lot of rowing type of movements in your profession, you’ll simply get greater bang for your buck from becoming more proficient in walking and running. Building up your endurance in these two modalities is great for everyday life and keeping your body active and in motion.


So there you have the main points to know about the treadmill vs. rower. Both are excellent pieces of equipment and will without a doubt serve you well, so you really can’t go wrong with either.

It all comes down to selecting the one that you feel will best help you establish excitement in your workout and capture the specific goals you are hoping to reach. Spend some time thinking about these factors along with your injury risk potential before making your purchase and you will make an informed decision that will have you enjoying your workout sessions for months to come.

Photo credit: Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock; By Maksym Bondarchuk/Shutterstock; Lucky Business/Shutterstock; VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

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