Rowing vs Cycling: benefits, disadvantages, similarities and differences

Rowing and cycling are both highly effective forms of exercise, each offering unique benefits such as low-impact cardio. cycling is a lower-body, aerobic activity that is low-impact on joints, making it ideal for outdoor endurance training and cardiovascular health, while rowing is a full-body workout, engaging both upper and lower body muscles, and can be performed indoors or on water, providing both aerobic and anaerobic benefits. Both rowing and cycling are excellent for burning calories, building muscle strength, and improving heart health, but rowing’s full-body engagement offers a more comprehensive muscle workout and can be more demanding in terms of power output. However, cycling is often more accessible and less costly, requiring less space and equipment compared to rowing, which might require more specialized gear and larger space, especially for indoor rowing machines or access to water for outdoor rowing.

Josh Roman Lindenthaler from Rowing Australia and the University of Canberra, Australia, in a 2018 study found that cycling is a key training modality for elite rowers, offering reduced compressive forces on the upper body compared to rowing while maintaining endurance training benefits. The study showed significant physiological and metabolic differences between Concept II (CII) rowing and WattBike cycling, with cycling allowing for higher maximal power output but similar peak oxygen uptake(VO2 PEAK), suggesting heart rate is a more reliable measure for training prescription in cycling for elite rowers.

Rowing vs cycling, which is better? The short answer is that both rowing and cycling are excellent for specific fitness goals and plans, with rowing being advantageous for full-body conditioning and muscle strengthening, cycling is more suitable for lower body strength and cardiovascular health, and the choice between them often depends on individual preferences for workout environment and accessibility. In this article we will analyze the benefits and disadvantages of rowing and cycling, along with comparisons on burned calories, heart health, muscles worked in each activity, bones and joints impact, the power output of each, cost to start rowing and cycling and space consideration for the workout. Meanwhile, we will go through the details of how to choose between rowing and biking to reach your fitness goals.

Table of Contents

Benefits of cycling vs rowing

The benefits of cycling versus rowing include cycling’s focus on lower body strength and cardiovascular health with minimal joint impact, and rowing’s full-body workout that enhances both upper and lower body strength and cardiovascular endurance. The common benefits of both rowing and biking are significant calorie burn, improved cardiovascular fitness, stress reduction, muscle toning, and enhanced mental well-being, making them both excellent choices for comprehensive physical and psychological health benefits.

Research Consultant Gongkai Ye from the University of Toronto, Canada, in a systematic review found that functional electrical stimulation (FES)-rowing is as effective as hybrid FES-cycling for cardiovascular performance in individuals with spinal cord injury, offering significant benefits for cardiovascular and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, especially in those recently injured or with higher levels of injury.

Biking and rowing offer special benefits because cycling provides a low-impact yet high-intensity cardiovascular workout that improves heart health and builds lower body strength, particularly beneficial for individuals with joint concerns, while rowing offers a unique combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, engaging almost all muscle groups, which enhances overall muscular endurance and cardiovascular efficiency. Both activities are beneficial for improving metabolic health, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and promoting mental wellness, aligning with a holistic approach to health from a medical standpoint.

Common benefits of rowing and cycling

The common benefits of rowing and cycling include weight loss, muscle toning, cardiovascular health improvement, joint flexibility, and stress reduction.

  1. Weight Loss: Rowing offers a full-body workout that leads to high-calorie burn and effective weight loss, while cycling focuses on high-intensity lower-body exercise, also contributing significantly to calorie expenditure and fat reduction.
  2. Muscle Toning: Rowing provides comprehensive muscle toning across the body, including the arms, legs, back, and core, due to its all-encompassing movements, whereas cycling predominantly tones the lower body muscles like quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
  3. Cardiovascular Health: Rowing enhances cardiovascular health through intense aerobic exercise that increases heart rate and lung capacity, while cycling boosts heart health and endurance by maintaining a sustained elevated heart rate.
  4. Joint Flexibility: Rowing improves joint flexibility and range of motion in both the upper and lower body, reducing the risk of joint issues, while cycling focuses on enhancing joint mobility in the lower body, particularly benefiting the knees and hips.
  5. Stress Reduction: Both rowing and cycling are effective in reducing stress, with rowing providing a rhythmic, full-body workout that promotes mental well-being, and cycling offering the dual benefits of physical exertion and outdoor exploration for stress relief.

Special cycling benefits compared to rowing

Special cycling benefits compared to rowing include lower impact on joints, enhanced lower body muscle development, and greater accessibility and convenience. Here’s an expansion of each benefit in the list below.

  1. Lower Impact on Joints: Cycling provides a low-impact workout, making it particularly beneficial for individuals with joint concerns or those recovering from injury, as it reduces strain on the knees, hips, and back compared to the more physically demanding rowing motion.
  2. Enhanced Lower Body Muscle Development: Cycling specifically targets and develops the lower body muscles, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, offering focused strengthening and toning in these areas, which is more pronounced than the muscle engagement in rowing.
  3. Greater Accessibility and Convenience: Cycling, especially outdoor biking, offers more flexibility and accessibility as it can be easily incorporated into daily routines like commuting or leisurely rides, and requires less specialized equipment and space compared to the setup for rowing, making it a more convenient option for regular physical activity.

Special rowing benefits compared to cycling

Special rowing benefits compared to cycling include full-body muscle engagement, effective cardiovascular and strength training combination, and improved posture and core stability. Here’s an expansion of each benefit in the list below.

  1. Full-Body Muscle Engagement: Rowing offers a comprehensive workout that engages nearly all major muscle groups, including the back, arms, legs, and core, providing a more balanced and thorough muscle-strengthening experience than the primarily lower-body-focused cycling.
  2. Effective Cardiovascular and Strength Training Combination: Rowing uniquely combines cardiovascular exercise with strength training, offering an efficient way to improve heart health while simultaneously building muscle strength, a combination less prevalent in cycling which is more focused on aerobic endurance.
  3. Improved Posture and Core Stability: The rowing motion involves significant core engagement to maintain proper posture, thereby enhancing core strength and stability, which is a distinct advantage over cycling where the posture is more static and the core is less actively engaged.

Common benefits of rowing and cycling

Cycling vs Rowing for Health Benefits

Cycling vs rowing for health benefits offers distinct advantages: cycling focuses on enhancing cardiovascular fitness and lower body strength, ideal for knee health, while rowing provides a full-body workout beneficial for overall endurance and stamina, though it may impact back health due to its rowing motion.

Here’s a table comparing the effects of cycling and rowing on various health aspects.

EnduranceCycling enhances endurance by promoting cardiovascular fitness and lower body strength.Rowing builds endurance by engaging multiple muscle groups in a comprehensive workout.
StaminaCycling boosts stamina through sustained aerobic exertion, improving overall energy levels.Rowing increases stamina with its combination of cardiovascular and strength training.
Heart HealthCycling is excellent for heart health, enhancing cardiovascular endurance and reducing heart disease risk.Rowing effectively improves heart health through its intensive full-body cardiovascular workout.
Mental HealthCycling benefits mental health by reducing stress and improving mood through aerobic exercise.Rowing aids mental health by providing stress relief and improving cognitive function through rhythmic full-body exercise.
Back PainCycling is generally gentle on the back, offering a low-impact exercise alternative.Rowing can sometimes exacerbate back pain due to the repetitive rowing motion and posture required.
Knee PainCycling is beneficial for knee health as it’s a low-impact exercise that strengthens surrounding muscles without excess strain.Rowing, being a low-impact exercise, is generally good for knee health but requires proper technique to avoid strain.

Cycling vs Rowing for Health Benefits

Disadvantages of cycling vs rowing

Disadvantages of cycling versus rowing include cycling’s limited upper body engagement, the potential for posture-related issues due to prolonged sitting, and exposure to outdoor elements which can affect consistency. Common disadvantages of cycling and rowing are the need for specific equipment, the potential risk of repetitive strain injuries, and the requirement of a certain level of physical fitness to start.

Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Verrall from the Department of SPORTMED.SA Sports Medicine Clinic, South Australian Sports Institute, Australia, in a 2014 study found that lower back injuries significantly impact training time in rowers, more so in national level rowers than international, while rib stress injuries are more prevalent in international rowers; additionally, cycling injuries comprised 21% of all significant training time loss injuries in high-performance rowers.

Cycling’s disadvantages include its focus on lower-body exercise leading to potential upper-body muscle imbalance, the risk of posture-related issues from prolonged bent-over positions, and the dependency on weather conditions which can disrupt regular outdoor activity. Rowing entails the need for specialized equipment, especially for water-based activities, poses a risk of repetitive strain injuries due to its repetitive motion, and demands a higher initial level of physical fitness, potentially limiting accessibility for beginners or individuals with certain health conditions.

Common disadvantages of cycling and rowing

The common disadvantages of cycling and rowing include the risk of repetitive strain injuries, lower back pain, limited muscle group engagement, cardiovascular strain, and joint stress. Here’s an expansion of each disadvantage from a medical perspective as below.

  1. Repetitive Strain Injuries: Both activities involve repetitive motions (pedaling in cycling and rowing stroke) which can lead to overuse injuries such as tendinitis and bursitis, particularly in the knees for cyclists and shoulders for rowers.
  2. Lower Back Pain: The sustained posture in both cycling (bent-over position) and rowing (repetitive forward flexion) can contribute to lower back pain due to prolonged stress and strain on spinal structures.
  3. Limited Muscle Group Engagement: Cycling mainly engages the lower body, potentially leading to muscle imbalances, while rowing, though more full-bodied, can still neglect certain muscle groups like the lateral and medial stabilizers of the legs.
  4. Cardiovascular Strain: High-intensity sessions in both cycling and rowing can place considerable strain on the cardiovascular system, posing risks for individuals with underlying heart conditions or inadequate fitness levels.
  5. Joint Stress: While cycling is generally low-impact for joints, prolonged periods in a fixed position can lead to hip and knee stress; rowing’s repetitive motion can stress knee and ankle joints, especially if proper technique is not maintained.

Special cycling disadvantages compared to rowing

Special cycling disadvantages compared to rowing include a higher risk of lower body overuse injuries, increased exposure to outdoor environmental hazards, and the potential for less effective upper-body muscle engagement. Here’s an expansion of each disadvantage as listed below.

  1. Lower Body Overuse Injuries: Cycling primarily targets the lower body, especially the knees and hips, leading to a higher risk of overuse injuries like patellofemoral pain syndrome or hip bursitis due to repetitive pedaling motions, a concern less prevalent in the more evenly distributed muscle engagement of rowing.
  2. Exposure to Outdoor Environmental Hazards: Outdoor cycling exposes riders to environmental factors such as traffic, road hazards, and air pollution, which can pose safety risks and health concerns, unlike indoor rowing which offers a controlled environment with reduced external risks.
  3. Less Effective Upper Body Engagement: While cycling is an excellent cardiovascular and lower body workout, it does not engage the upper body as effectively as rowing, potentially leading to imbalances in muscle development and strength between the upper and lower body, a disparity not seen in the more full-body workout of rowing.

Special rowing disadvantages compared to cycling

Special rowing disadvantages compared to cycling include a higher risk of upper body repetitive strain injuries, increased potential for lower back pain due to rowing posture, and greater difficulty in accessibility and setup. 

  1. Upper Body Repetitive Strain Injuries: Rowing involves repetitive upper body movements, particularly in the shoulders and wrists, increasing the risk of injuries such as rotator cuff tendinitis or wrist tendonitis, issues less common in cycling which predominantly stresses the lower body.
  2. Increased Potential for Lower Back Pain: The rowing motion requires a forward flexion and twisting of the lower back, which can lead to strain and discomfort in the lumbar region, a concern less pronounced in cycling where the back is more static and supported.
  3. Difficulty in Accessibility and Setup: Unlike cycling, which can be easily done outdoors or on a stationary bike, rowing often requires specific equipment such as rowing machines or boats and access to water for outdoor rowing, making it less accessible and more complex to set up for regular workouts.

Common disadvantages of cycling and rowing

Cycling vs rowing injuries

In cycling, common injuries include knee pain, such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, due to repetitive pedaling, lower back discomfort from prolonged static posture, and wrist strain from handlebar pressure, while in rowing, frequent injuries encompass lower back pain from the repetitive rowing motion, shoulder injuries like rotator cuff tendinitis from upper body exertion, and wrist strain due to the gripping and pulling action, with both activities sharing risks of repetitive strain injuries due to their respective continuous motion patterns.

Cycling vs rowing

Cycling and rowing are both effective cardiovascular exercises with distinct focuses, offering unique benefits and challenges from sports, medical, and recreational perspectives, in both indoor and outdoor settings.

From a sports view, cycling emphasizes lower body endurance and strength, particularly beneficial for outdoor terrain navigation and competitive racing, while rowing provides a more comprehensive full-body workout, enhancing overall muscular endurance and power, which is crucial for water-based rowing sports. Medically, cycling has a lower impact on the body, making it preferable for joint health and rehabilitation, whereas rowing’s full-body engagement offers better overall muscle balance but requires attention to back and shoulder health due to its repetitive motion. 

Recreationally, cycling offers the freedom to explore varying landscapes and is easily integrated into daily life as a mode of transport, both in outdoor and stationary indoor formats. Rowing offers a rhythmic, meditative experience with the potential for outdoor water-based activities, and indoor rowing machines provide a controlled environment for a comprehensive workout. 

Each activity, whether performed indoors or outdoors, caters to different lifestyle preferences and fitness goals, with cycling favoring those seeking lower body focus and outdoor exploration, and rowing appealing to individuals looking for an all-encompassing strength and endurance challenge.

Cycling vs rowing calories

Cycling and rowing burned calories depend on several factors including intensity, duration, and body weight, with the calorie burn rate varying significantly based on these parameters. While cycling generally burns more calories during the workout, especially at moderate intensities, rowing, especially when performed vigorously, can lead to greater overall calorie expenditure due to its full-body engagement (including the back, arms, legs, and core, as opposed to cycling’s primary focus on lower body muscles) and the significant Excess Post-Workout Oxygen Consumption (EPOC effect or Afterburn) compared to cycling.

Ph.D. Dr. Fredrick C Hagerman from the Department of Zoological and Biomedical Sciences, Ohio University, USA, in a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that energy costs for rowing ergometry were significantly higher than for cycle ergometry at all comparative power outputs, including maximum levels, indicating that rowing could be a more effective activity for physical fitness and exercise rehabilitation programs, despite cycling showing higher average maximal power outputs for both men and women.

However, the actual burned calories in both activities can vary greatly from person to person. Factors such as individual fitness level, metabolic rate, and specific exercise intensity and duration play crucial roles. For instance, a more vigorous cycling session with high resistance or uphill riding can rival the calorie burn of rowing. Additionally, an individual’s specific body composition, including muscle-to-fat ratio, also influences how many calories they burn during either activity, making the comparison highly individualized.

Here is a 30-min calories burned from cycling and rowing comparison, based on the Metabolic Equivalent of Tasks(METs) method: Calories Burned per minute =MET value × body weight in Kg × 3.5/200, METs values are directly from The Compendium of Physical Activities 2011 database.

Activity150 lbs / 68.04 kg175 lbs / 79.38 kg200 lbs / 90.72 kg225 lbs / 102.06 kg
Rowing, General125.02145.86166.70187.53
Cycling, General267.90312.55357.20401.85
Rowing, Light Effort100.02116.69133.36150.03
Cycling, Light Effort242.90283.38323.86364.35
Rowing, Moderate Effort207.18241.71276.24310.77
Cycling, Moderate Effort285.76333.39381.02428.64
Rowing, Vigorous Effort446.50520.92595.34669.76
Cycling, Vigorous Effort357.20416.74476.27535.81

Cycling vs rowing calories

For a 175 lb (79.38 kg) person, cycling at a general intensity burns 312.55 calories, while rowing at the same intensity burns 145.86 calories; however, at a vigorous intensity, cycling burns 416.74 calories, whereas rowing burns significantly more at 520.92 calories.

Does rowing or cycling burn more calories?

Rowing burns more calories at vigorous effort compared to cycling, reaching 520.92 calories for a 175 lb person versus 416.74 in cycling, but in general and moderate intensities, cycling tends to burn more calories, such as 312.55 versus 145.86 for general intensity, because it requires continuous, consistent pedaling which increases overall energy expenditure.

How many calories does an exercise bike burn?

An exercise bike’s calorie burn varies significantly depending on the intensity level and the body weight of the person exercising. For a person weighing 175 lbs (79.38 kg), cycling on an exercise bike at a general intensity burns approximately 291.72 calories in 30 minutes.

Here’s a 30-minute burned calories table for various intensities of stationary biking, accommodating body weights of 150 lbs, 175 lbs, 200 lbs, and 225 lbs. 

Activity150 lbs / 68.04 kg175 lbs / 79.38 kg200 lbs / 90.72 kg225 lbs / 102.06 kg
Stationary Biking, General250.04291.72333.39375.06
Stationary Biking, Very Light to Light Effort125.02145.86166.70187.53
Stationary Biking, Moderate to Vigorous Effort242.90283.38323.86364.35
Stationary Biking, Vigorous Effort (101-160 watts)314.34366.73419.12471.51
Stationary Biking, Vigorous Effort (161-200 watts)392.92458.41523.90589.39
Stationary Biking, Very Vigorous Effort500.09583.43666.78750.13
Stationary Biking, Light-to-Moderate Effort171.46200.03228.61257.19
Stationary Biking, RPM/Spin Bike Class303.62354.23404.83455.43

How many calories does an exercise bike burn

How many calories does a rowing machine burn?

A rowing machine burns calories at varying rates depending on the intensity level and the body weight of the individual. For instance, a 175 lb (79.38 kg) person burns approximately 200.03 calories in 30 minutes on a stationary rowing machine at a general moderate effort.

Here’s a 30-minute burned calories table for various intensities of stationary rowing.

Activity150 lbs / 68.04 kg175 lbs / 79.38 kg200 lbs / 90.72 kg225 lbs / 102.06 kg
Rowing, Stationary Ergometer, Vigorous214.32250.04285.76321.48
Rowing, Stationary, Moderate Effort171.46200.03228.61257.19
Rowing, Stationary, 100 watts, Moderate Effort250.04291.72333.39375.06
Rowing, Stationary, 150 watts, Vigorous Effort303.62354.23404.83455.43
Rowing, Stationary, 200 watts, Very Vigorous Effort428.64500.09571.53642.97

How many calories does a rowing machine burn

Is rowing or cycling better for weight loss?

Rowing is generally better for weight loss than cycling especially at vigorous intensities, as it not only burns more calories (520.92 vs. 416.74 calories at 175 lbs for vigorous rowing and cycling respectively) but also engages more muscle groups and has a higher afterburn effect due to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). However, cycling at moderate to general intensities tends to burn more calories (312.55 for general cycling vs. 145.86 for general rowing at 175 lbs) and is still beneficial for creating a calorie deficit.

Can rowing reduce belly fat?

Yes, rowing can reduce belly fat as it is a full-body cardiovascular exercise that effectively burns calories and engages the core muscles, aiding in the reduction of overall body fat, including visceral fat around the abdominal area, when combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise routine.

Cycling vs Rowing for Heart Health

Cycling versus rowing for heart health presents a nuanced comparison, as both activities offer significant cardiovascular benefits but in slightly different ways. Cycling as a lower-body workout, is excellent for enhancing cardiovascular endurance and promoting heart health, as it elevates the heart rate consistently, especially during prolonged or high-intensity rides. It’s particularly beneficial for those seeking low-impact exercise, reducing the risk of joint strain while effectively improving heart function and circulation. 

Rowing provides a more comprehensive cardiovascular workout by engaging both the upper and lower body, leading to higher overall oxygen consumption and heart rate. This full-body engagement in rowing not only strengthens the heart muscle but also improves overall vascular function and cardiac output. Moreover, the intensity and resistance involved in rowing can be more demanding on the cardiovascular system, potentially offering greater benefits for heart health, especially in terms of heart rate variability and aerobic capacity. 

Former president Pekka Oja of the Urho Kaleva Kekkonen Institute for Health Promotion Research, Finland, in a 1988 study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, found that the heart rate in middle-aged nonathletic men during long-distance mass events was lower in rowing compared to cycling, indicating a lower cardiorespiratory strain in rowing, despite all activities including cycling, jogging, and skiing showing high and relatively comparable cardiorespiratory strains to those of well-conditioned athletes.

Both cycling and rowing, when performed regularly, contribute to reducing the risk of heart diseases, lowering blood pressure, and improving cholesterol levels, but rowing’s full-body workout might edge out cycling in terms of overall cardiovascular benefit.

Cycling Muscles vs rowing muscles

Cycling Muscles versus rowing muscles involve distinct groups of muscles, each tailored to the specific mechanics of the activities. In cycling, the primary muscles engaged are the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles. The quadriceps are crucial for the downstroke, while the hamstrings and glutes predominantly aid the upstroke. Additionally, the calf muscles work to stabilize the legs. The core muscles, including the abdominals and lower back, provide stability and support but are not as actively engaged as in rowing. 

Rowing is a full-body workout that involves not only the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) during the drive phase, but also heavily engages the upper body. The upper body muscles used in rowing include the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius in the back, the biceps, triceps, and deltoids in the arms, and the pectoralis major in the chest. The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and lower back muscles, play a significant role in stabilizing the body and transferring power between the upper and lower body. This comprehensive muscle engagement in rowing not only builds muscular strength and endurance but also contributes to higher overall calorie expenditure, making it a more intense full-body workout compared to cycling, which primarily focuses on the lower body.

Muscle GroupCyclingRowing
Gluteus MaximusYESYES
Calf Muscles (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)YESYES
Core Muscles (Abdominals and Lower Back)Core Muscles (Abdominals and Lower Back)Core Muscles (Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, and Lower Back)
Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, and TrapeziusNOYES
Biceps, Triceps, and DeltoidsNOYES
Pectoralis MajorNOYES

Cycling Muscles vs rowing muscles

Does riding a bike build muscle?

Yes, riding a bike builds muscles particularly in the lower body, like the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles, because the repeated pedaling motion provides resistance that strengthens these muscles, especially during uphill cycling or high-resistance stationary biking.

Does rowing build muscle?

Yes, rowing builds muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, biceps, triceps, deltoids, and core muscles (including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and lower back), because it is a full-body workout that involves both pulling and leg pushing motions, engaging a wide range of muscle groups across the upper body, core, and lower body.

Does rowing work glutes?

Yes, rowing works the glutes because during the drive phase of the rowing stroke, where you push off against the foot stretcher, the gluteus maximus muscles are actively engaged to extend the hip. This movement is a key component of the powerful leg drive that is fundamental to the rowing motion, ensuring that the glutes are effectively targeted and strengthened throughout the rowing exercise.

Is rowing or cycling better for building muscle strength?

Rowing is better for building muscle strength overall compared to cycling because it engages a wider range of muscle groups including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, back muscles (like the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius), shoulders, arms, and core, providing a comprehensive full-body workout. The resistance involved in rowing works both the upper and lower body, offering a more balanced muscle-strengthening effect compared to cycling, which primarily targets the lower body muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Therefore, rowing’s broader muscle engagement makes it more effective for overall muscle strengthening.

Cycling vs Rowing for Space Requirement

In terms of space requirements, cycling and rowing differ based on the equipment type, with each having specific needs for indoor width, length, and height. Indoor cycling can be done on a stationary bike or using a bike trainer. A stationary bike typically requires about 4 feet (1.22 meters) in length and 2 feet (0.61 meters) in width, with a variable height generally not exceeding 5 feet (1.52 meters). Many advanced models also need an electricity plug for electronic features. Bike trainers, which allow for the use of a regular bicycle, demand slightly more space, approximately 5 to 6 feet (1.52 to 1.83 meters) in length.

Rowing machines come in four main types: water, air, magnetic, and hydraulic, generally require more length space, averaging around 7 to 9 feet (2.13 to 2.74 meters), but are narrower, typically needing only 2 to 3 feet (0.61 to 0.91 meters) in width. The height varies but is usually not a significant factor in space consideration. Among these, hydraulic rowers tend to be the most compact. Most rowing machines do not require an electricity plug, except for certain magnetic models with digital features.

Therefore, while both indoor cycling and rowing are space-efficient exercises, rowing machines typically need a longer but narrower space. In contrast, stationary bikes and bike trainers require less length but a bit more width, and sometimes an electricity source.

Length (feet/meters)4 ft / 1.22 m7-9 ft / 2.13-2.74 m
Width (feet/meters)2 ft / 0.61 m2-3 ft / 0.61-0.91 m
Height (feet/meters)5 ft / 1.52 mVariable

Cycling vs Rowing for Space Requirement

Cycling vs Rowing for bones and joints

Cycling versus Rowing for bones and joints reveals different impacts due to their distinct movements: cycling is a low-impact exercise that is gentle on the joints, making it ideal for those with joint issues or arthritis, as it strengthens the bones of the lower body without significant stress. Rowing is also low-impact but offers a more comprehensive workout that involves weight-bearing phases, particularly beneficial for bone density, and it engages both the upper and lower body joints, promoting joint health and flexibility through its full range of motion.

Professor Ewa Śliwicka from the Department of Hygiene, University School of Physical Education in Poznań, Poland, in a 2014 original research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism, found that systematic training in master rowers has beneficial effects on total and regional Bone Mineral Density (BMD), indicating that rowing exercises can significantly improve bone health and may be recommended for preventing osteoporosis.

Which is safer for people with joint issues, rowing or cycling?

Cycling is safer for people with joint issues than rowing because it is a non-weight-bearing, low-impact exercise that minimizes stress on the knees, hips, and ankle joints, making it ideal for maintaining joint health and mitigating the risk of joint-related pain or injury, especially for those with arthritis or other joint conditions.

Cycling vs Rowing Power

Cycling versus rowing power output in watts highlights the differences in how each activity generates and measures power: cycling power primarily comes from the lower body, especially the quadriceps and glutes, and is measured in terms of watts produced during pedaling, which can be consistently high over long periods. In contrast, rowing power is generated through a coordinated full-body effort involving legs, back, and arms, with the power output typically showing higher peak values for short bursts due to the intense full-body engagement required for each stroke. 

Comparison PointCyclingRowing
DistanceIn cycling, the distance covered can be significantly long, often measured in kilometers or miles, due to sustained, consistent lower body effort.In rowing, the distance is typically shorter than cycling, measured in meters, as it requires intense bursts of power over a shorter duration.
PowerCycling power output is focused on the lower body, especially the quadriceps and glutes, measured in watts produced during pedaling, and often maintained consistently.Rowing power is derived from a coordinated full-body effort, involving legs, back, and arms, with higher peak power values for short bursts.
WattsIn cycling, wattage reflects the continuous effort and endurance of the lower body, with professional cyclists achieving high watts over extended periods.In rowing, wattage can show higher peaks but for shorter durations, reflecting the full-body explosive power required in each stroke.

Cycling vs Rowing Power

Emeritus Professor Donald A. Mahler from Dartmouth Medical School (now known as Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth), Hanover, USA, in a testing study found that collegiate women rowers exhibited a significantly greater maximal oxygen consumption and oxygen-pulse on the cycle ergometer compared to the rowing ergometer, suggesting the cardiovascular system might limit exercise performance during rowing, while untrained subjects showed similar physiological responses in both cycling and rowing.

Cycling vs Rowing Cost

Cycling and rowing differ in costs, considering the expenses of equipment, learning curve, and time investment; rowing generally has a higher initial cost due to the price of rowing machines, whereas cycling can vary widely based on the type of bike and gear. Cycling can be more budget-friendly initially, but costs can accumulate with higher-end bikes, equipment and gears. Rowing involves a higher upfront cost for the machine but requires less additional equipment and maintenance. 

Comparison AspectCyclingRowing
Equipment CostBicycles range from $500 for entry-level to several thousand dollars for high-end models, plus additional gear costs.Rowing machines start around $900, with high-end models reaching $2,000 or more, and fewer additional gear needs.
Learning Curve and TrainingRelatively easy, with additional time needed to master road safety and endurance for longer rides.Requires learning specific techniques to be efficient and avoid injury, possibly needing trainer guidance.
Time InvestmentRequires maintenance and longer session times, especially for long-distance rides.Less maintenance, with shorter but intense workout sessions, suitable for a busy schedule.

Rowing vs Cycling: How to choose?

To choose between rowing and cycling, consider your fitness goals, physical health and injury history, and available time budget. Cycling, available both indoors on stationary bikes and outdoors, is excellent for cardiovascular health, lower body strengthening, and is a low-impact option suitable for those with joint concerns; it’s also ideal for those who enjoy outdoor activities and longer endurance sessions. 

Rowing, on the other hand, whether indoors on a rowing machine or outdoors on water, offers a comprehensive full-body workout that improves both strength and cardiovascular fitness, is low-impact, and requires less time for a high-intensity session, making it suitable for those with a busy schedule and those aiming for overall fitness. Your choice should align with your specific health needs, such as injury prevention or rehabilitation, and personal preferences in workout environment and type.

Is rowing better than cycling?

Yes, rowing can be better than cycling when aiming for a full-body workout and higher calorie burn, especially for individuals seeking comprehensive strength and cardiovascular training, because it engages more muscle groups including the upper body, core, and legs, making it ideal for those looking to improve overall fitness and not just lower body strength.

Is rowing or cycling better for knees?

Cycling is better for knees than rowing because it is a low-impact exercise that places minimal stress on the knee joints, making it suitable for individuals with knee problems or a history of knee injuries. From a medical and sports perspective, cycling’s smooth, repetitive pedaling motion helps strengthen the muscles around the knees without the strain caused by weight-bearing or high-impact activities, thus reducing the risk of exacerbating knee conditions like osteoarthritis or meniscus injuries.

How long should you use a rowing machine?

You should use a rowing machine for about 20 to 30 minutes per session, as this duration effectively balances cardiovascular and strength training benefits without overstraining, making it ideal for achieving a comprehensive full-body workout within a relatively short time frame.

Indoor cycling vs rowing

Indoor cycling, involving stationary bikes, Peloton, or spin bikes, typically focuses on lower body strength and cardiovascular endurance, often burning fewer calories compared to rowing in vigorous intensity, which uses a rowing machine to engage a broader range of muscles (including legs, back, arms, and core) for a more intense full-body workout, leading to higher calorie burn and strength gains in a shorter time frame.

Indoor rowing vs indoor cycling

Indoor rowing, using a rowing machine, offers a convenient full-body workout targeting legs, back, arms, and core, often supported by online platforms like Concept2’s ErgData, whereas indoor cycling, with stationary bikes or Peloton, focuses primarily on lower body and cardiovascular endurance, also boasting extensive online support through platforms like Zwift and Peloton classes, making both activities convenient with distinct muscle engagement and rich online community features. 

ComparisonRowing Machine vs Stationary BikeRowing Machine vs PelotonRowing Machine vs Spin Bike
ConvenienceBoth offer at-home workout options; rowing machines are generally larger and require more space.Rowing machines require more space; Peloton offers interactive classes and a more compact design.Spin bikes are more compact; rowing machines need more space but offer a different exercise dynamic.
Muscles UsedRowing machines engage full-body muscles; stationary bikes focus on lower body and cardiovascular endurance.Rowing machines work full-body muscles; Peloton bikes target lower body and cardio with a community aspect.Rowing machines target a wider range of muscles; spin bikes focus mainly on lower body and cardio.
EfficiencyRowing machines offer a more efficient full-body workout in less time compared to stationary bikes.Rowing machines provide a more comprehensive workout, but Peloton offers engaging instructor-led sessions.Rowing machines are more efficient for full-body fitness, while spin bikes excel in cardio and endurance.

Indoor rowing vs indoor cycling

Outdoor cycling vs rowing on water

Outdoor cycling vs rowing on water differ in that cycling primarily strengthens the lower body and offers varying terrain experiences like road cycling or mountain biking, making it suitable for endurance and exploration, whereas rowing provides a full-body workout, is closely tied to specific water environments, and offers a unique blend of strength, coordination, and balance challenges.

Rowing vs cycling for runners

Rowing versus cycling for runners offers different cross-training benefits: rowing for runners provides a low-impact, full-body workout that complements running by strengthening the core and upper body muscles, which are less emphasized in running, thus enhancing overall fitness and reducing injury risk. Cycling for runners focuses more on lower body endurance and cardiovascular fitness, closely mirroring the muscle use and aerobic demands of running, making it an excellent alternative for maintaining cardiovascular endurance and leg strength without the high impact of running. Both rowing and biking are beneficial for runners who are looking to diversify their training while minimizing the risk of overuse injuries.

Rowing vs cycling vs running

Rowing vs cycling vs running in terms of calorie burn varies with intensity and duration: at general intensity levels, running typically burns the most calories, followed by cycling, and then rowing, while at vigorous intensities, running still leads in calorie expenditure, but rowing overtakes cycling. 

However, for duration, cycling can be sustained for much longer periods than rowing and running, due to its lower impact nature and the efficiency of energy use, which allows cyclists to cover greater distances or train for extended durations without the same level of fatigue or stress on the body as experienced in running or rowing. This makes cycling a preferred option for long-duration endurance training, whereas rowing and running are more effective for shorter, high-intensity workouts.

Cycling vs rowing vs elliptical for knees

Cycling, rowing, and using an elliptical are all low-impact exercises, but they differ in their impact on the knees: cycling is the most knee-friendly as it involves smooth, controlled movements with minimal joint impact, making it ideal for people with knee pain or recovering from knee injuries. Rowing, while also low-impact, requires more knee flexion and extension, which might not be suitable for those with severe knee issues. The elliptical offers a middle ground, with a motion that mimics running without the high impact, but it still involves more knee movement than cycling. Therefore, for individuals with knee problems, cycling is typically the safest option, followed by the elliptical, with rowing being less recommended if knee pain is a significant concern.

HIIT cycling vs rowing

HIIT cycling and rowing share the common ground of offering high-intensity interval training that boosts cardiovascular fitness and burns calories efficiently; both involve short bursts of intense effort followed by periods of rest or lower intensity. However, the key difference lies in the muscle engagement – HIIT cycling predominantly targets the lower body, enhancing leg strength and endurance, while vigorous rowing provides a more comprehensive full-body workout, engaging everything from the legs to the core and upper body, offering a more balanced muscle strengthening and aerobic fitness regime.

Is rowing or cycling better for the elderly?

Cycling is better for the elderly than rowing because it provides a low-impact, safe, and easily modifiable form of exercise that is gentler on the joints and back. With its primary benefits focus on lower body endurance, cycling helps in maintaining leg strength and balance, crucial for mobility in older adults, without the risk of strain associated with the more vigorous full-body workout of rowing. Additionally, the upright position in cycling, especially on stationary bikes, can be more comfortable and less challenging for maintaining posture, which is beneficial for elderly individuals who may have limitations in flexibility or core strength. 

Cycling’s adaptability, including the ability to adjust resistance and pace, makes it a more suitable and sustainable option for maintaining cardiovascular health and physical fitness in the elderly population.

Is rowing or cycling better for younger people?

Rowing is better for younger people than cycling because it offers a more intense full-body workout that engages a variety of muscle groups, including the legs, back, arms, and core, providing both cardiovascular and strength training benefits. The dynamic nature of rowing, with its combination of aerobic and resistance elements, suits the typically higher energy levels and physical resilience of younger individuals, allowing them to maximize their workout efficiency. Additionally, rowing’s emphasis on core strength and full-body coordination can be particularly beneficial for younger people, fostering overall physical development, balance, and postural control, which are crucial in these formative years of physical fitness.

Is rowing or cycling better for pregnancy?

Cycling is better for pregnancy than rowing because it provides a low-impact, safer exercise option with less risk of strain on the abdominal area and lower back. Cycling, particularly on a stationary bike, offers pregnant women the flexibility to control intensity and maintain balance and comfort, which is crucial as the pregnancy progresses and the center of gravity shifts. Additionally, cycling minimizes the likelihood of overexertion and avoids the potential back strain that can come from the rowing motion, making it a more suitable and comfortable exercise choice during pregnancy, especially for maintaining cardiovascular fitness and leg strength without undue stress on the body.