Cardio should be an essential part of any exercise regime as it helps us build up stamina and cardiovascular endurance. 

Cardiovascular endurance is how efficiently your heart, blood vessels, and lungs can supply oxygen-rich blood to working muscles during a work-out.

It’s essential for keeping you fit, and for keeping your heart in its best shape whilst also reducing your risk of developing heart-related illnesses and diseases later in life. 

When it comes to cardio workouts, there are a variety of apparatus to choose from, from exercise bikes, to treadmills, to cross trainers and rowing machines.

While most of these are pretty similar, the treadmill and rowing machine are probably the least alike. 

Whether you’re looking to purchase a treadmill or rowing machine for your home, or you’re simply wondering which one you should spend more time on at the gym, we’re putting the two head-to-head to decide which one provides the best cardio workout.

We’ll explain how they work, what parts of the body they work out, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each. 

The treadmill 

The treadmill is one of the staples of any gym and is a device generally used for walking, running, or climbing while staying in the same place.

As the belt moves to the rear,  the user is required to walk or run at a speed matching the belt, and the rate can be increased or decreased according to the needs of the user.

treadmill

The incline can also be altered to increase the steepness of the belt, which provides a greater challenge for the user.  

Leg-focused workout 

Running or walking on a treadmill is the perfect work-out for your legs.

When you run, you’re making explosive contractions in your leg muscles which drive you forward at a great speed.

As a result of this force, running builds muscle in your legs and lower body, in particular, your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.

You can walk or run for long distances, which will help you build stamina and muscular endurance, or you can run faster for shorter periods to improve your speed. 

Increasing the incline 

Like we said above, if you want to increase the difficulty of your workout, not only can you alter your speed, but you can increase the incline rate on the treadmill.

This will raise the conveyor belt at an angle so that you’re not walking on a flat surface, but an angled one.

This not only increases the intensity of your workout by making it more strenuous, but it allows you to improve your power, as well as your speed and stamina.

Working on an incline allows you to burn more calories and will also tone your calf muscles; it’s also great for LISS and HIIT workouts

Keeping it versatile 

The treadmill is a great piece of equipment for both fitness fanatics and amateurs alike.

Most treadmills allow you to alter the speed of the belt as well as the incline rate, which means you can vary your workouts between a fast-paced walk, a long-distance run or a powerful climb depending on your goals, ability, and even your mood.

It’s also great if multiple people will be using the treadmill, as a treadmill requires virtually no strength, so anybody can use it. 

Benefits of the treadmill 

  • Great workout for your leg muscles 
  • Improves your cardiovascular endurance 
  • Works on power and speed 
  • Versatile - run, walk or climb 
  • Alter the speed and incline 
  • Perfect for all abilities

Drawbacks of the treadmill 

  • It neglects your arms 
  • Can become monotonous 

The rowing machine 

Unlike the treadmill, the rowing machine works out your entire body, as you’re using both your arms and legs.

On a rowing machine, you mimic the actions of rowing a boat, so as the legs continue to full extension, you engage your core to begin the motion of the body levering backward which pushes the legs further.

Rowing machine

Then, when the legs are flat, the rower begins to pull the handle toward them while keeping their arms straight and parallel to the floor.

When rowing, you’ll feel the burn in your arms, legs and also your core. 

Full body workout 

As we said, the rowing machine is well-loved because it provides a full body workout.

Not only will this machine give your back and biceps an incredible workout due to the pulling motion, but it will also build muscle and endurance in your legs as you’re trying to perform the motion as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This makes it ideal for improving your cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance and strength, and allows you to tone your core. You’ll also burn a load of calories.

The rowing machine is great as part of a regular cardio workout or can be used to diversify your routine and shift the attention partially away from your legs and onto the rest of your body. 

Varying your resistance 

The rowing machine is similar to the treadmill in that you can alter the intensity of your workout.

For example, if you are going down the route of a harder workout, you can increase the resistance on your rowing machine which will make the handle harder to pull to your chest. 

Boosting the resistance on your machine is a great workout for those bigger muscles such as your lats, rear delts and your biceps, and the greater the resistance, the bigger the challenge, and the more you train, the faster and stronger you’ll become. 

You can also use the rowing machine in various workouts. You can go full-power HIIT workout to test your strength, power and speed,  or try a long-distance row to improve your muscular endurance.

This will have the same impact as the treadmill in terms of your cardio training, but will actually utilize the muscles in your arms and core, as well as just your legs. 

The rowing machine can also be incredibly useful for certain injuries such as back pain or tightness from sitting at a desk all day long -  which is a common issue for many of us.

Thanks to the rowing motion of sliding forward and then pulling the handle back, you’ll be giving your body a good stretch from head to toe, as well as toning those muscles and burning calories.

Benefits of the rowing machine 

  • Provides a full-body workout 
  • Adjustable resistance 
  • Versatile - can be used for endurance training or HIIT training
  • Builds muscle in your arms and legs, as well as your core 
  • Also works on your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, and speed and power if you wish 
  • Can be great for certain back problems 

Drawbacks of the rowing machine 

  • It’s a little trickier to get the hang of than the treadmill 

Final Verdict 

Both of these machines are great pieces of equipment and if possible, they should both feature in your regular fitness routine as both apparatus train different parts of the body. 

The treadmill is brilliant for improving your cardiovascular endurance and is accessible for almost anyone.

You can increase the speed for a faster, more intense workout, or run or walk at a steady pace to build your stamina. 

You can also increase the incline for a more challenging workout which will really build muscles in your quads and calves. 

The drawback of the treadmill is that it totally neglects the arms, but as long as you’re tending to your arms at other points in your regime then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

On the other hand, the rowing machine provides a full body workout, and engages your arms, legs and core muscles.

It will also improve your cardiovascular endurance, but also builds and tones muscle, and can be used to improve your strength and power, too.

The rowing machine can be a little difficult to get the hang of at first, but once you do, it’s a pretty versatile piece of equipment, and can be used for short and intense sessions or longer periods of exercise where you want to build muscular endurance and improve your cardio. 

When you weigh up a treadmill vs rowing machine, you have to consider that while both provide a great cardio workout, they also both offer their own unique benefits, and are fantastic workout tools in their own right. 

Whether you prefer a long distance run to get your heart pumping, or a burst of high-intensity rowing to burn some serious calories, it’s entirely up to you and with either of these machines, you’re guaranteed a great workout.

The main thing is to keep your regime varied and interesting to keep it as exciting as possible, and to ensure you are utilising all of your muscles and improving all aspects of your fitness and wellbeing. 

About the author

I'm Jamie and I test out new models in sports retailers, or buy and sell them new or second hand so I can review a wide range of models and put together the best advise on which treadmill is right for you. So if you are looking for a cheap treadmill for walking, a gym quality treadmill to run sprints, or something in-between I can point you in the right direction.