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rowing machine vs bike - man on rower with bike in background

Rowing Machine Vs Exercise Bikes: How To Pick The Best One For Your Needs

When it comes to home workouts, you need a solid piece of cardio equipment. But you might be thinking, “I like both rowers and bikes. So what should I get?”. Well, we’re going to compare rowing machines vs bikes in this post.

We’ll show you the pros and cons of each as well as who should choose a rower vs who should choose a bike. 

If you’re in a rush, here’s the quick answer. A rowing machine is our favorite between the two. The reason being that the calorie burn is similar between a rower and a spin bike. Therefore, it comes down to which one has the most side benefits and is the most fun to use. 

With that in mind, a rower works more muscles than a spin bike. And as you know, the more muscle you build, the more fat you burn every day. On top of that, a rower can do wonders for your posture and it’s fun to use.  However, a rower isn’t the best choice for everyone.

Below, we’ll make the case for both a rower and bike so you can make the best choice for yourself.

Let’s get to it…

Rowing Machines

man and woman on rowing machine

Rowing machines are good for all fitness levels. It’s also low impact so you can burn serious calories without punishing your joints. In fact, it’s often recommended as an exercise for people with early-stage osteoarthritis. 

How a rowing machine works is easy enough to understand. It comes with a body and a flywheel that connects to a handle — it simulates the feeling of being on a rowing boat. You simply need to push your body backward using your legs and draw the handle in towards your lower rib cage.

This motion recruits the biceps, back muscles, legs, shoulders, and abdominal muscles making it a nearly perfect full-body exercise.

That being said, rowing isn’t designed to “build muscle” necessarily. It’s designed as a piece of cardio equipment first. Building and toning muscle is a side benefit and it’s no coincidence that all serious CrossFit athletes use rowers. 

Benefits of Rowing 

The benefits of rowing are undeniable. Just look at CrossFit athletes and college kids who row actual boats for their school. You won’t find anyone who’s not in shape in either of these categories. Getting in shape is just one of the benefits though. Here are a few other highlights: 

  • A rowing machine is great cardio, which is good for your heart
  • It pumps up your muscles while also firming them (like weight lifting without the weights)
  • It uses most of your body’s muscles including your thighs, glutes, legs, calves, arms, abdomen, and back
  • A rowing machine can burn around 400 to 800 kcal per hour, from low to high intensity.  
  • It’s virtually zero impact so anyone can do it 

Advantages of a Rowing Machine Vs Bike

man on rowing machine

When comparing a rowing machine and bike there are a few other factors to consider. First, the amount of space you have. I have both a spin bike and rower. The rower is in my garage gym and the spin bike is upstairs in my room.

With the rowing machine, I can simply move it out of the way and up against the wall.

With the spin bike, on the other hand, it’s basically just there. Sure, it has wheels so I could move it around but the flywheel (large metal front wheel) is very heavy and makes the spin bike awkward to carry. So I can never really move it out of the way. 

Next, the exercise experience on a rower vs a bike.

The experience of riding a spin bike vs rower is very different. With a spin bike, I usually turn on the T.V. and watch a show or two while I ride.

That makes the time go by a little faster. But the seat really gets in there if you know what I mean. It’s pretty uncomfortable. However, it’s a great workout if you push yourself. 

The experience of rowing is totally different. My rower is an air rower – so it’s loud.

Instead of watching a show, I put in headphones and listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook. You would have a hard time watching T.V. on an air rower. You could watch T.V. if you bought a magnetic rower though because these make virtually zero noise.

They’re just not as high quality as the fan/air rowers usually. And when I’m done, I’m not in pain from sitting on the seat. 

Another noticeable thing between the rower and bike is that you can kind of skate by with a bike. You can get away with pedaling on low resistance and never really getting a good workout.

With a rower, it’s harder to do that. You basically row or you don’t. Sure, you can adjust resistance and move slower but it’s ultimately still going to challenge you more so you’ll get to your goal faster. 

  • It’s harder to “skate by” on a rower so you ultimately get a better workout
  • Most models can be folded for easy storage
  • They don’t need a power supply 
  • Rowers are very effective for weight loss

Disadvantages of Rowing Machines

  • Budget models can be unreliable
  • Quality rowers are expensive
  • They can be noisy 
  • It’s hard to row for more than 20-30 minutes at a time

Spin & Recumbent Bikes 

group spin class with orange spin bikes

Like rowing, spin bikes are low impact. This means they’re a good option for people with injuries or who simply don’t enjoy cardio and want to watch a movie while they exercise.

Because this is a piece of cardio equipment, you get the same health benefits as you would on a rower – aka heart health, improved conditioning, etc. 

You can also burn just as many calories on a spin bike as you do on a rower – assuming you stay disciplined and push yourself.

Like I was saying above though, it’s easy to be tired and simply go through the motions on a spin bike. 

One advantage of the spin bike over the rower is that you’re sitting up high and in a more natural position. We’ve all ridden bikes so you basically already have a good idea of how it feels to use a spin bike.

This position might be more comfortable for you and therefore mean you’ll use the bike more often. 

Another advantage of the bike is that you can crank up or lower your resistance. So, you can put on a YouTube spin class and follow along with their workout.

Spin classes are very challenging, to say the least, so if you do them a few times a week, you’ll get results.

As far as the muscles worked, you’re only working the muscles in your legs and glutes. Granted, it’s a good workout but you’re not activating all of the different muscle groups like you do on a rower. 

Types of Exercise Bikes

Spin Bikes

Spin bikes are used for spinning group fitness classes and are often used by those who participate in cycling as a sport. These also closely mimic the body position that outdoor bikes have — the handlebar is at a lower position, so you’re more hunched over when using them. 

These are the bikes with the heavy flywheel in the front and the tiny hard seat. They’re not the most comfortable but you can get an exceptionally good workout on a spin bike. 

Recumbent & Semi-recumbent Bikes