Rowing Machines Vs. Exercise Bikes

Rowing machines provide an upper-body workout exercise bikes don’t.

Rowing machines provide an upper-body workout exercise bikes don’t.

Rowing machines and exercise bikes both help you create effective cardio workouts, but with different levels of resistance. A rowing machine provides a more full-body workout and more resistance and therefore might be your best choice for toning and shaping routines. Understanding the differences between these two machines will help you choose the right one for your fitness goals.


If you use an upright model, a stationary bike helps you burn calories by pedaling just as you would on a road bike . A recumbent bike requires you to lean backward, which takes stress off your back. Rowing machines, also known as ergometers, require you to push and pull your body’s weight while sitting, using your arms and legs in a motion similar to rowing a boat.


You increase resistance on an exercise bike by changing gear settings or by standing on the pedals of an upright bike. If you want an upper-body workout on an exercise bike, you’ll need to add dumbbells, which might require you to reduce your speed to maintain your balance. Creating spinning intervals usually requires a low resistance setting. A rowing machine lets you use all of your muscles during your workout, emphasizing upper- and lower-body muscles by reducing the use of one area of your body. For example, to focus on your upper body, you don’t use your legs as much as you pull yourself with your arms and torso. If you want to emphasize lower-body work, you use less arm and torso effort. Changing the resistance settings on an ergometer increases your strength training benefit.

Impact and Stress

Both rowing machines and exercise bikes create non-impact workouts. Both create repetitive stress, but rowing machines might cause more ankle, knee, hip and lower back problems because of the increased resistance of your body’s entire weight.

Toning Workouts

Toning consists of burning fat all over your body while you build targeted muscles. A rowing machine helps you create an efficient balance of whole body resistance and cardio exercise, which is trickier to do on an exercise bike. If you don’t have the muscular endurance to perform a long rowing workout, start by doing 10 to 15 minutes of high-resistance rowing and finish with 30 minutes or more on a bike. This creates a toning workout.


A 125-pound woman will burn approximately 630 calories per hour with a vigorous workout on a stationary bike, according to the Harvard School of Medicine. Using a rowing machine at that intensity, she’ll burn about 510 calories per hour. The increased resistance required for rowing might result in a longer post-workout calorie burn.

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About the Author

Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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