Rowing Machine or Exercise Bike: Which is Best?

Do you hesitate to try the exercise bike at the gym, and play it safe with your familiar workout choices? Or do you walk past the rowing machine every day, but are unsure if you are overlooking a hidden gem?

Could you be missing out on a great cardio routine, or not burning as many calories as you could? To help you make the right choice, read this comparison and discover the strengths and weaknesses of rowing machines and exercise bikes.

Losing weight by burning calories

On both machines, the strength of your legs powers the machine. They both burn within 400 and 800 calories per hour on HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), meaning they are both great fat burners.

However, if your primary goal is purely to lose weight, then I would recommend the exercise bike, because it won’t exhaust you as quickly as the rowing machine will. You can easily switch on the bike between extended one-hour cardio workouts and 20-minute HIIT workouts to burn plenty of calories.

While bikes do burn calories, though, they only primarily work your leg muscles and your heart, while rowing machines cover a whole range of muscles.

Winner: exercise bike – you’ll be pedalling for longer.

Training your heart through cardio

Cardio is a great benefit from exercising, as it trains your heart and lungs, making them more efficient and more durable as you age. Both exercise bikes and rowing machines are great cardio choices, as well as all their other benefits.

On both of them, you can adjust the difficulty of the workout by adjusting resistance levels, which will make your heart beat faster and your lungs gasp for more air. They are also excellent for toning and strengthening your muscles.

Winner: draw! Both are equally good for cardio.

Working hard and building muscles

As I’ve pointed out, it’s much easier to cycle for an hour or more on an exercise bike than a rowing machine. The bike requires a small number of simple movements that feed back into each other as your legs and knees make circular motions on pedals.

Rowing, however, can be very exhausting because of the lateral position, the significant knee bending and the number of unique motions requires much more effort and then slackening in order to work the machine.

Rowing also works more muscles than the bike, working the core, back and chest as well as the thighs and legs. It is said that 60% of the effort comes from the legs, 30% from the pendulum movement and 10% from the arms.

A rower usually lasts around 20 minutes before needing to rest, while an exercise bike workout session can last at least 30 to 45 minutes, but you will still have to come up with a high-intensity routine to be able to incorporate more muscle groups.

Both can have their difficulty adjusted through altering the resistance, meaning you can pedal or row for longer or shorter with a corresponding fall or rise in the rate of calorie consumption.

Winner: rowing machine – it works more muscles simultaneously.

Healing joints after injuries

Exercise is also an important way to restore your body to full working order following an injury, and both bikes and rowing machines are very useful for this task. Exercise bikes are less harsh on your joints because you’re not thumping into the ground, and your motion is constantly fluid.

In terms of stress upon your body, the exercise bike does not strain your back much and is easy on your knees, making the bike useful for avoiding and for recovering from knee injuries or surgery.

Rowing, on the other hand, can be quite tough on your knees, as you must bend your knees completely and reverse direction constantly mid-stroke. For that reason, it is not recommended for those with knee problems.

In addition, while rowing has an advantage in its ability to engage lots of core muscle groups including the back, rowing can be very wearing on your back if your technique isn’t spot-on. It can even lead to lingering pain and injury. Rowing is also not recommended for those recovering from heart attacks.

Winner: exercise bike – it’s gentler.

Can they fit in your house?

Many exercise bikes are arranged so the rider sits upright during use. This means their Horizontal profile is smaller and takes up less space. One potential benefit of exercise bikes is the possibility of using a reclining machine, which allows for improved posture for the back, athough you lose the smaller profile of the vertically-oriented version.

Rowing machines require the user to set their legs out horizontally, meaning they are longer and take up more space. In the greater scheme of things, however, you won’t lose a huge amount of space compared to the vertical bike.

Winner: draw, unless you have a vertically arranged bike

Final Verdict

The choice of which machine to choose for your future exercise regimen depends on what you want out of your exercise. If you are exercising to lose weight, pure and simple, then the exercise machine will be best, as it burns plenty of calories by working your leg muscles without draining your stamina or stressing your joints.


Similarly, if you are recovering from an injury and need to get your limbs back up to strength, the exercise bike is perfect.

However, if you’re after some good cardio as well as losing weight, or just enjoy a challenging workout, then you can’tgo wrong with a rowing machine. It engages more muscles and pushes your body hard, elevating your heart rate and breathing. Finally, if you’re short of space, certain choices of exercise bike have a slight advantage.

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