Rowing vs Cycling: Should I Buy A Rower Or An Exercise Bike?

woman using rowing machine at the gym

If you’re stuck choosing between an indoor cycle and a rowing machine

There are many benefits to having a home gym. You never have to wait to use the equipment, you save travel time, and there are no monthly membership fees draining your bank account. The only drawback is that, for most people, space is limited, so you need to be smart when buying fitness equipment. We always recommend that people start out with one piece of cardio equipment and some free weights, as this provides a solid foundation on which to build an exercise regime.

In this post, we are going to look at two popular cardio machines – a rowing machine and an exercise biken bike (such as a spin bike) – and give you some advice on choosing between them.

Give me the quick answer: is cycling better than rowing?!

There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ options here, rather it is about selecting the machine that most suits your needs.

Exercise bikes vs rowing: which burns the most calories?

The calorie-burning potential on a rowing machine is pretty impressive. During a 30-minute session of moderate-intensity rowing, a 125lb person burns around 210 calories, a 155lb person burns 260 calories, and a 185lb person burns 311 calories. If you go all out, a 30-minute session of vigorous rowing will see a 125lb person burn 255 calories, a 155lb person burn 316 calories, and a 185lb person burns 377 calories.

While these are some spectacular numbers, they are not unique to rowing machines. Indeed, a spin bike offers something very similar. During a 30-minute moderate-intensity workout, a 125lb person will burn about 210 calories, a 155lb person will burn 252 calories, and a 185lb person will burn 294 calories. Kick this up to a high-intensity workout and a 125lb person will burn around 315 calories, a 155lb person burn 378 calories, and a 185lb person will burn 441 calories.

If your goal is to lose weight, then a few sessions per week on either a rowing machine or a spin bike will help you to shed those excess pounds. When choosing between the two, remember that the best workout is the one that you do regularly. Do not opt for an intense spin workout for the sake of 50ish calories if you prefer rowing.

Body conditioning

woman exercising on rowing machine

Neither a rowing machine nor a spin bike will provide a strength workout, so you should train weights in addition to your rowing/cycling session if you want to build a strong and toned physique. In saying this, both machines have the option to increase the resistance level on each stroke/pedal, so they offer a degree of body conditioning.

Conditioning the muscles train the general strength and endurance ability of your muscles. It will not, however, build bulk muscle or increase your maximum strength. For this, you will need to train with weights.

A rowing machine wins out over a spin bike in this respect because it offers full-body conditioning, whereas a spin bike will only condition your core and lower body. Also, contrary to what you might have heard, combining a spin workout with an upper-body free weights workout is not a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Quite the opposite, it hampers the quality of both exercises and increases the risk of injury.

Training options

In many ways, rowing is a very simple exercise. While it can be tricky to get to grips with good rowing form at first, once you have surmounted this challenge you just perform the same move over and over again. Some people really like this style of training because they can put on music or a podcast and allow their body to autopilot through their session.

If you want a more engaging session, you can follow a HIIT style format by varying your speed and resistance level, although we would caution against rowing too fast if you do not feel confident in your form. It is too easy to make a mistake if you are rushing and this can lead to injury.

Spinning is comparatively easier than rowing because the setup of a bike is such that your feet are locked into place and your bum is on the seat. The only thing you could do wrong on a spin bike is lean forward and rest your body weight on the handles, but this is quite easily avoided. There is more variety to spinning because you can ride in the saddle, out of the saddle, and – if you fancy a challenge – hover right above the saddle.

Another benefit is that there are a lot of different types of classes that you can participate in online. Some people like to focus on their gear and cadence stats, to push themselves and maximise the intensity of the session; whereas other people prefer a workout that is tailored to a playlist and less serious.

Fun factor: Which are bikes more fun than rowing machines?

Let’s face it, pedalling or rowing for hours on end isn’t the most exciting prospect

Don’t you just love it when there’s something new on the way that has the potential to do something as important as improving your body, making you healthier and even helping you live longer?

Then you get your rowing machine or bike and after a while, you get a bit, well, bored.

Let’s face it, pedalling or rowing for hours on end isn’t the most exciting prospect so which bit of gym gear is the most fun?

Both machines actually have some pretty decent third-party apps you can use alongside your exercise bike or rowing machine. For cycling, there’s obviously Zwift, iFit and Rouvy. For rowing, you’ve got things like Archon and also iFit. There are also dedicated rowing machines with screens too, as well as bikes like NordicTrack, Peloton, Echelon and Pro-Form which have built-in interactive screens.

Your rowing machine or bike make come with an app or be compatible with a third party app beyond just rowing or cycling along with the trainer. Check before you buy to see what online features and connection options your new rower or bike has.

You’re also free of course to watch Netflix on both and most new bikes and rowers have a good tablet holder. If you get one that doesn’t you can buy one cheaply at amazon that will hold your phone in place.

Bikes do pull ahead in terms of the sheer number of spinning classes and workout videos available on Youtube and normally bikes have more content on services such as iFit.

It's also worth noting that bikes tend to have a broader range of programs that can help break the monotony and make each workout feel at least a little different.

Both cycling and rowing are repetitive by their nature but both have plenty of ways to make the workouts more interesting. Bikes have a slight edge in terms of program variation and the amount of live workout content available on places like Youtube.

Final verdict: Bike or rowing machine – what’s best for you?

Both a rowing machine and a spin bike offer a serious calorie-burning session; however, only the rowing machine combines this with full-body conditioning. If you want a more engaging workout with access to a range of online classes, then a spin bike will be more suitable. On the other hand, if you just want to switch off and smash out a workout, then rowing would be your best option.

Overall, the two machines are very similar in terms of the physical benefits that you can gain, so it really is a matter of personal preference.

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