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Rowing Machines vs Treadmills: Which is best for home use?

Rowing Machines vs Treadmills: Which is best for home use? Image shows a rowing machine compared to a treadmill
(Image credit: Future)

If you are thinking about buying a rowing machine or treadmill, first you need to consider if you've got space for this kind of home workout equipment. Then you'll need to ask yourself which one is best for your needs, and which is most suitable for home workouts? It's probably unlikely that you'll have the space and budget to buy both, so this article will help you decide which machine to invest in; you can also check out our roundup of the best rowing machines of 2021. And if dropping pounds is your ultimate goal, make sure to check out our articles on how to use a rowing machine to lose weight and is running good for weight loss.

Gym owner and personal trainer Steve Hoyles told Live Science: "I use both machines in my work, and I own multiples of both! This article will explain which one is best for you and why. I’ll share the realities of owning both, the points to consider and what the key differences between the two are. Whilst both are great, I’ll give you the information you need in order to make the right choice for you."

Steve will explain the practicalities of owning a rowing machine vs a treadmill, so you can make an informed decision about where to invest your hard-earned dollars.

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Rowing machine vs Treadmill: Cost

There are two types of costs when it comes to fitness equipment. There’s the up-front cost (purchase price) and the ongoing costs (running and maintenance). When it comes to treadmills and rowing machines, these are vastly different…

The up-front cost of a treadmill is significantly higher than a rowing machine. While some are cheaper, you won’t get a good quality treadmill for less than $3,000. You’ll get one of the top rowing machines on the market, the Concept2 Model D, for around $1,200.

Rowing Machines vs Treadmills: Which is best for home use? People using rowing machines

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Treadmills are motorized, they have belts, shock absorbers and a more complex computer. They are used at high speeds and high intensities. Alongside an annual service, any repair work is likely to cost significantly more. You also have to plug a treadmill in, so it’s adding to your electricity bill, although this usually works out at less than $1 per hour, according to most calculations.

A rower is a much more simple machine. The computer is an LED set up, there’s no motor (just a chain and a flywheel) and the moving parts are limited to a simple chain, fan and seat. Maintenance and replacement are easy. Rowing machines aren’t plugged in, they’re powered by the user. These factors keep the ongoing costs down.

Rowing machine vs Treadmill: Workout type

The rowing machine is a full body workout and there’s almost no impact on the joints. The injury risk is really low, but the calorie burn is high. It’s also a pulling-heavy movement which helps to counterbalance the fact that we spend so much time in an internally-rotated shoulder position. The fact that both the upper and lower body are trained on a rower makes for an efficient workout.

The treadmill is an excellent calorie burning machine - research shows that treadmills burn more calories than many other exercise options, but this can come at a price. Injury incidence in runners is one of the highest of all recreational activities, with estimates suggesting 19-79% of runners will develop an injury of some sort through the sport.

Whilst both machines are excellent, you have to factor in the all-body workout and the reduced injury risk of the rower.

Rowing Machines vs Treadmills: Which is best for home use? image of runner's feet on treadmill

(Image credit: Getty)

Rowing Machine v Treadmill: Space and storage

When you’re putting together a home gym, space and storage have to be a consideration. If you’ve got a large, dedicated gym room then you can largely ignore this section but, if not, read on.

A rowing machine has an approximate footprint of 8’ x 2’, meaning it doesn’t take up much space. It can be pushed up against a wall or stood on its end. In the case of the Concept2, it can even be broken into two sections for easier storage. A rowing machine is light and easy to move around.

A treadmill can vary enormously, but most are around the 6’ x 3’ footprint mark. While this isn’t a dramatic difference in size, it’s significant if you’re in a small room. They also lack the ability to be folded down or moved around easily. Most treadmills will weigh around 250lbs, so you won’t be able to shift them easily!

People using rowing machines

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rowing Machine v Treadmill: Neighbor-friendliness

This may not jump out as an obvious point to consider, but it’s an important one to consider when you go to splash your cash. If you find your neighbors complaining after your first workout, you won’t be very popular!

There’s no impact on the rower, so you don’t have to worry about the constant banging every time you use it. There’s noise from the flywheel, which will be louder the harder you’re rowing. It’s not deafening, but you have to consider it if you have neighbors.

If you live in an apartment block or have an attached neighbor, a treadmill won’t be the most courteous option. The motorized belt can be loud for a start, then there’s the pounding with every foot strike. If you have neighbors below you in particular, you won’t be very popular. The only suitable places for a treadmill (if you have neighbors) are a garage or basement.

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: Do you need them?

The idea behind buying home workout equipment is to provide yourself with a workout option you don’t already have. Ask yourself then: can each workout be easily replicated without spending money?

In the case of a rowing machine, unless you’re a member of a rowing club, or you have access to a river/lake and a boat, then no - it can’t. Your only option is with a rowing machine.

Rowing Machines vs Treadmills: Which is best for home use?: image of woman running outside

(Image credit: Getty)

Running is a much easier thing to do. As long as you’re injury free, strap on a pair of running shoes and away you go!

That’s a little dismissive - you might want to control speed, split times, intervals with precision, and that’s fair enough. Treadmill running might be safer in your neighborhood, and it's certainly so during winter if you don't want to run in the dark or rain. 

Ask yourself is it worth spending big money on though, or could that money be better spent elsewhere? You can run anywhere, but rowing is a much harder workout to replicate.

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill: Final thoughts

Both of these machines are excellent and have their place in a workout regime, but if we’re considering functionality, user experience, budget and the realities of owning both, the clear winner is the rowing machine.

A rowing machine provides a workout that’s as good (if not better), it’s certainly safer, significantly cheaper, easier to store, costs less to run, is harder to replicate and won’t see you upsetting your neighbors. I can’t put it any clearer than that.

Steve Hoyles is a personal trainer and gym owner. He has written about health and fitness for over a decade, including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, BBC, Catalyst Athletics and hundreds of fitness websites as clients. He’s usually found at his gym or taking one of his two sons to their various sporting commitments!