How Does the Rowing Machine Compare to Other Cardio Equipment?

When it comes to cardio equipment, the first think that comes to most people's minds is the treadmill, the elliptical, or perhaps the stationary bike. There are, however, other machines that can help you burn a lot of calories and develop your cardiovascular endurance as well.

Ironically, one of the best machines for cardio workouts is also the one that few people use – the rowing machine. The indoor rower is an extremely versatile machine that can help you lose weight, strengthen and tone your muscles, and improve your stamina.

What makes the rowing machine a great choice for cardio workouts and calorie burning? How does it compare to other types of cardio equipment? Let's take a closer look...

Advantages of the Indoor Rower

advantages of the indoor rower

1. You get a total body workout.

Contrary to what many people think, the rowing machine is not just meant for upper body workouts alone. Rowing is an action that requires effort from your upper body as well as your lower body. It works nine different muscle groups in your body including shoulders, biceps, triceps, lats, core, back, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

2.  It's very low impact.

Activities like running, jogging, and stair climbing can take a toll on your joints, particularly if you are old or have back or knee problems. Rowing, on the other hand, is a low impact workout that does not jolt your joints. Since you are in a seated position while rowing, your joints do not have to support the weight of your body. This is one of the reasons why indoor rowing is recommended for people who are looking to rehabilitate and recover from injuries.

3. It improves joint mobility.

Rowing is one of the few activities that can increase the flexibility of your joints without straining them. It loosens your muscles and joints and improves circulation, which is highly beneficial for people who lead a sedentary lifestyle and those who work a desk job, which requires them to sit on a chair for hours on end.

4. Strengthens your muscles.

Rowing is an activity that can build serious muscle strength. Especially, if you add more resistance to your workouts, you can strengthen the muscles in the upper and lower body – your quads in particular. With increased quad strength, you will be able to do lunges and squats a lot easier and a lot more efficiently.

5. You get a full hybrid workout.

Rowing helps you burn calories, improve your cardio, strengthen your muscles, and increase your flexibility. No other cardio machine comes close to an indoor rower in terms of providing such a wide range of benefits.

Rowing Machine vs. Other Equipment

Rower vs treadmill vs elliptical vs bike

Let's now take a look at some of the most popular cardio machines and see what they bring to the table in terms of burning calories...

Stationary Bike

The pedaling motion of a stationary bike can help you burn anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories per hour. You need to, however, choose a higher resistance to burn more calories. Many people tend to take it easy with the pedaling, allowing the natural movement of the pedals to do most of the work for them. It is of no use and results in fewer calories being burned.


The amount of calories that you can burn on an elliptical depends on the type of elliptical trainer you use. If it only works the muscles in your lower body, you can burn up to 600 calories per hour. If it works the muscles in your upper body as well, you can burn up to 900 calories per hour. Just like in the case of the stationary bike, you need to choose higher resistance settings to be able to burn more calories and make the most of your workout session.


The amount of calories you can burn on a treadmill depends on the way you use it. If you walk on the treadmill, you can only burn 150 to 400 calories per hour. If you jog or run, particularly up an incline, you can easily burn anywhere from 600 to 1200 calories per hour. For better results, you should avoid holding on to the handrails while running.

Stair Climber

A stair climber with pedals can burn 400 to 500 calories an hour, whereas a climber with a moving belt of stairs can burn at least twice as much per hour. You have to make sure that you do not lean on the handrails, as it can bring down your workout efficiency considerably. Climbing stairs, however, can take a toll on your joints and is generally not recommended for people with back or knee issues.

Rowing Machine

An indoor rowing machine can burn well over 1000 calories per hour, if you work out at a brisk pace. For better results, you can incorporate high-intensity-interval-training (HIIT) – short bursts of intense rowing followed by periods of slow to moderately paced rowing – into your training routine.

In terms of calories-burned-per-hour, the rowing machine is just as effective, if not better, than the stationary bike or treadmill. Fitness trainers, however, believe that the indoor rower burns more calories overall when compared to other types of cardio equipment due to various reasons.

Activities like walking, jogging, and climbing stairs increase your basal metabolic rate considerably, but you burn calories at a higher rate only as long as you work out. Rowing, however, is similar to a resistance training workout. So, you continue to burn calories at a higher rate long after you finish your workout. Also, unlike walking or climbing stairs, rowing is not an activity your body is generally used to. So, it is more challenging to your body, which requires you to put in more effort and burn more calories as a result.

Cardio machines like treadmill, stair climber, and stationary bike only work the muscles in your lower body. The elliptical trainer is the only other cardio machine that provides total body workouts. It, however, does not work as many muscle groups as an indoor rower.

So what's the bottom line?

If you are only focused on burning as many calories as possible, you can opt for a treadmill, stationary bike, or a rowing machine. If you are looking for a total body workout, it is a tossup between the elliptical trainer and the rowing machine.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a hybrid workout machine that can help you burn calories, develop cardio, tone your muscles, and increase your core strength, the indoor rower is the best choice for you.

Moreover, if you are old or suffering from back or knee problems, working out on a treadmill, stationary bike, or stair climber is not advisable as jogging, cycling, and climbing stairs can be taxing on your joints.

In such cases, an indoor rowing machine is the right choice for you as it allows you to work out while remaining in a seated position, without putting any weight on your joints.

Lastly, you need to remember that a rowing machine, or any cardio equipment for that matter, is only as effective as the way you use it. To get the best results, work out regularly and use proper form without cheating or taking it easy.

Challenge your body constantly and mix up your training routine to achieve your fitness goals faster.

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