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Rowing vs. Cycling: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?
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Rowing vs. Cycling: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on November 22, 2022
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7 min

We can’t spend all day in the gym. If losing weight is your main priority, make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts by choosing the best fat-burning exercise.

rowing vs cycling

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Rowing and cycling have a lot in common. They are both low-impact exercises that do wonders for your aerobic fitness.

While they share certain similarities, they also have some big differences. Rowing is a full-body workout, while cycling affects mainly the lower part of the body.

This has an impact on the muscle tone, as well as the number of calories you can expect to burn.

In this article, we will be doing a deep dive into the key differences between rowing vs. cycling, so you can get the most out of your workouts and start shedding pounds.

Cycling vs. Rowing

Rowing and cycling are both great exercises for weight loss and overall muscle strengthening. But the real question is: which is better?

A rowing machine is a piece of equipment that allows you to get all the benefits of rowing, but indoors. 

You begin by hinging forward and extending your arms out in front of you. In a single movement, you push your body away from the machine using your legs. As you extend away from the machine, you simultaneously draw the handle in toward your body. 

This movement allows you to work your lower body, core, and upper body.

Riding a stationary bike gives you most of the same benefits as regular cycling but can be done from the comfort of an indoor facility or even at home.

It is a great lower body exercise that targets your leg muscles, including your glutes, quads, and calves.

Deciding which exercise you should add to your workout routine will depend on what your fitness goals are. 

Things like how much time you have to work out or whether you want to focus on building muscles or burning calories will affect which exercise is best for you. People also often compare rowing vs. running.

Calorie Burning Comparison

A 60-minute moderate-intensity workout burns around the same number of calories. You will burn around 500 calories if you spend an hour on an indoor rowing machine or exercise bike. 

Workouts that go longer than 60 minutes and are more intense will begin to show changes in the number of calories expended.

A high-intensity rowing exercise can help you burn around 740 calories, which is approximately 200 calories more than cycling. 

The main difference here is that most people would struggle to complete a workout of this intensity on a rowing machine. Cycling for 60 minutes is more manageable.

Both exercises, when done at a high intensity, can give you the added bonus of the ”afterburn” effect, where your body will continue burning calories even after your workout is completed.

For these reasons, whether you decide to cycle or row could depend on how long you have to work out. 

If you are looking for a quick 20-minute calorie-burning session, spending your time on a rowing machine might be your best bet. Rowing burns up to 300 calories during a 20-minute high-intensity session.

If you are looking to spend an hour in the gym doing cardio, cycling on an exercise bike could be a better option. A 60-minute moderate-intensity workout on an exercise bike can help you burn around 500 calories and burn belly fat.

Muscle Gain Comparison

Another factor that could affect your decision to choose rowing vs. cycling is which exercise will help you gain muscle strength more quickly. 

If your main focus is losing weight, which muscles you will be working on might not be important, but it’s good to know nonetheless.

Rowing machines use a whopping 86% of your muscles, according to studies done by Harvard Medical School. They provide an exceptional upper body and core workout. 

Surprisingly, 60% of the muscles used are actually in the lower body, making it a great full-body workout compared to an exercise bike, which mostly targets the lower body.

Cycling on a stationary bike is an excellent workout for your glutes, thighs, and calves, which are areas of the body that many women want to improve. 

Cycling will provide you with a slight core exercise by stabilizing your upper body, but it will not grow muscles in your arms or core.

Heart Health

Aside from losing weight and gaining muscle, cycling and rowing are both great cardio workouts. 

Cardiovascular workouts are anything that increases your heart rate, raises oxygen levels, and increases blood flow throughout the body. 

Focusing on cardiovascular fitness is important for everyone, and studies show that just 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week – like cycling and rowing – can decrease your likelihood of a heart attack by 21–29%.

When it comes to your heart health, both rowing and cycling have wonderful benefits. As long as you are working hard and getting your heart rate up for an extended amount of time, you can’t go wrong.

Toning Muscles

If muscle composition is important to you, it’s imperative that you’re aware of which muscles you will be targeting with each workout.

A lot of women are worried about appearing “too bulky,” especially on their upper body. Since rowing is a full-body workout, you can expect muscle growth in the upper arms and shoulders. If having broad shoulders or built upper arms is a concern of yours, then rowing might not be the best option for you. 

Indoor cycling is the perfect workout to help you tone just your lower body. You can adjust the resistance on the machine to help you choose a workout level that helps you tone your muscles exactly as you see fit.

Both exercises will help you increase your muscle tone, just in different areas of the body. Deciding which is the best fit for you will depend on where you want to see your gains.

Budget Comparison

Investing in an exercise machine to use from home can help make workouts more accessible. 

If you’re thinking about investing in a home gym, then it’s good to be aware of the price difference between stationary bikes and indoor rowing machines.

According to the statistics, the average price of an indoor rowing machine is $362. This price can be higher or lower depending on how specialized you want your machine to be but doesn’t appear to go much higher than $1,100.

The variance in stationary bike prices seems to be quite higher, depending on how high-tech you want your machine to be. The average price of an exercise bike is around $1,330, with prices ranging anywhere from $200 to $6,000. 

If you are looking to keep your workouts strictly to the gym, then pricing should be relatively similar between the two, as you can find most machines at any standard gym.

The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to cycling is that you have the option to do it outside on a standard pedal bike. This will obviously be the cheapest option because it won’t require at-home equipment or a gym pass, and you can often find used bicycles starting as low as $100.

Injury Prevention

Cycling and rowing are both low-impact sports, meaning they are exercises that minimize wear and tear on your weight-bearing joints.

Research has found that high-impact exercises like running can lead to an 87% increase in muscle soreness and can increase inflammation in the body by 256%.

This makes both rowing and cycling great options for anyone who is currently overweight or just generally out of shape. Doing either of these exercises can be a good in-between to help you get back into better shape before taking on more high-intensity training.

The only thing to keep in mind is that rowing has a higher possibility of injury. This is because it is a more complicated exercise that requires a better form. 

Take the time to perfect your form before beginning your rowing workouts. If you do, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy all the benefits without having to risk injury.

A Word From Our Coach

Regular exercise is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. But exercise alone isn’t enough to lose weight and won’t get you all the way to accomplishing your fitness goals.

Any lifestyle changes you make should also be centered around healthy eating and contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle. If you are making changes to your exercise and eating habits out of shame or guilt, there’s a good chance they won’t last.

Choosing to make changes in your life should be done out of a desire to love yourself more, not from hating yourself into change. Eating healthy food and exercising regularly should be about feeling better, not hitting a number on the scale.

The Bottom Line

It’s difficult to say without a doubt that one of these exercises is better than the other. 

When it comes to working out, you should prioritize exercises you enjoy doing. 

Rowing burns more calories during a 20-minute session than riding an exercise bike, but if you hate doing it, you’ll be less likely to continue showing up for your workouts.

Create a workout plan for yourself that makes you feel good and excited to show up every day. This will help you create change in your life that lasts.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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