best type of cardio machine

Rowing Machines Vs. Other Cardio Machines: The Ultimate Comparison Guide

When looking for a cardio fitness machine, there are many options available on the market.

There are so many different types of fitness machines, from rowing machines, to ellipticals, to treadmills, etc…

So which fitness machine is the best? Are any of them better than a rower?

Read on below to find out.


treadmill machine

Treadmills are the most popular cardio machine. If you go to any big name gym, you’ll most likely see a mass of treadmills. Compared to a rower, treadmills have pluses and minuses. We’ll dig into whether a rowing machine or a treadmill is better below.

Pro’s of Treadmills:

Treadmills have many benefits to them. We’ll dig into them below.

•Conveniently allows you to run inside whenever you like (even when it’s cold or rainy)

•Easy to use. It’s easy to get setup on a treadmill and start your workout. You can change your running speed as well as incline angle, which allows you to target different aspects of your running gate.

•Provides workout data. Many treadmills provide a bunch of workout data that you can use to analyze your workout. From heart rate data, to steps, to pace, it’s easy to keep track of your workouts and see progress over time.

Cons of Treadmills:

Treadmills are not without their downsides, below are a few major cons.

•Expensive. A good treadmill, such as the NordicTrack 1750, goes for over $1,500. This makes it tough for home gym athletes to afford.

•Size. Treadmills have a massive footprint. This makes it difficult to fit into your gym, especially if you’re tight on space.

•High impact workout. Treadmills simulate running, which has a higher impact rate on your knees and joint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can cause extra stress on your body compared to low impact training.

•Need regular maintenance. Treadmills are big, complex machines. They are apt to breakdown and are not easily fixed.

Treadmill Compared to Rower:

Treadmills are great fitness machines to have, but they fall short when compared to a rowing machine. The main drawbacks are their size and cost.

Rowing machines are much more versatile than treadmills, plus they come at a lower cost and with a smaller footprint.

The rower is the clear winner versus the treadmill.


Similar to treadmills, elliptical machines are very popular pieces of cardio equipment. Most commercial gyms will have a wall of ellipticals. So are ellipticals better than rowoing machines? We’ll dig into the pro’s and cons below.

Pro’s of Ellipticals:

•Elliptical machines are a zero impact machines, meaning that it doesn’t have any jarring movements that can cause joint injuries.

•Full data tracking. Most ellipticals, especially the nice ones in commercial gyms, have full workout tracking data. This is helpful for the data nerds among us, or if you’re trying to do get a highly specific workout stimulus.

•Ability to adjust the level of incline, which allow you to target specific muscle groups.

Cons of Ellipticals:

•Similar to treadmills, ellipticals are costly. A high end elliptical like the Bowflex Results series goes for $1,400.

•Large and hard to move. Ellipticals are not ideal for home gym use. They are big and boxy, and tough to move around. Unlike a rower, such as the Concept 2 Model D which can easily fold up and has a small footprint.

•More intensive maintenance and more likely to break down. There are a lot of moving parts on an elliptical, which means more things can go wrong with it. This leads to more maintenance issues, which can be expensive to repair.

Elliptical Compared to Rower:

When you compare a high end rower to a high end elliptical, the rower is the better buy. Compared to a commercial grade ellptical, which is the kind you want since it’s built stronger, you’ll end up paying $1400. For a commercial grade rower, like a Concept 2, you’re looking at around $900.

With a rower, you’ll have little to no downtime. The maintenance is insanely easy, plus they’re built to be bombproof. Plus, with a rower, you get more of a full body stimulus, compared to an elliptical.

The rower wins hands down.


With the rise of “spin” classes and high octane group workouts, spin bikes have become a popular type of cardio machine.

Most people that enjoy using a spin bike like the group training aspect, with loud music and high energy atmosphere. That said, you can purchase an indoor spin bike for home use.

We’ll talk about the pro’s and con’s of spin bikes below and how they compare to rowers.

Pro’s of Spin Bikes:

Spin bikes (also known as a stationary bike) have many benefits, we’ll go over them below.

•Low Impact. As with most of the machines listed, stationary bikes are low impact. So you’ll save your joint some wear and tear.

•Great calorie burner. Like rowing machines, stationery bikes do a great job of quickly burning calories.

Cons of Spin Bikes:

•Price. Buying a spin bike can be an expensive undertaking, if you want a fancy bike with a TV screen attached, like the NordicTrack S22i, it’ll cost around $2,000. That said, you can find low cost options, like this Sunny Health & Wellness bike for $300, but it’s low tech and basic. Additionally, spin bikes classes are expensive, ranging from $100 a month and up.

•Limited upper body usage. Unlike a rowing machine which truly works your entire body, stationary bikes only work your legs. If you wanted to get more bang for your buck (as far as workouts go), then a spin bike isn’t ideal.

•Maintenance. Spin bikes are more apt to breakdown and require repairs as compared to other pieces of cardio equipment.

Spin Bike Compared To Indoor Rower:

In my mind, the benefit of stationary bikes is access to group classes. Doing a spin class with 15 other people in an amped up environment is fun, doing it along in your garage at 7pm is not so fun.

It may just be me, but using a stationary bike seems to be one of the more mind-numbing forms of exercise. Rowing has data readouts, plus it involves your whole body. Plus, rowing is less expensive and has less maintenance/down time.


Assault Airbike

In the Crossfit world, the two most popular cardio machines are rowers and air bikes (also known as Assault Bikes or Airdynes). Both machines allow for brutal, soul sucking workouts. So which one is better?

Pro’s of Air Bikes:

•Air Bikes are excellent for interval training. If you need to get in a quick HIIT wokrout, this is where the air bike shines. There is no better machine for raising your heart rate quickly.

•Price. Air bikes are priced fairly well. Assault Fitness Airbikes run around $700, with fancier models getting into the $1,000 range. They’re a bit cheaper than rowers, but they are a good deal cheaper than other fitness machines like elliptical trainers.

Cons of Air Bikes:

•Maintenance. The big knock on air bikes like the Airdyne (or even the Assault AirBike) is that they tend to breakdown frequently. There are lots of moving parts on these machines, this complexity adds to the need for more TLC between workouts.

•Not for long workouts. Airbikes are not designed for 30+ minute workouts or endurance. They are more for high intensity, quick sprint sessions.

•Uncomfortable seat. The seats are just plain uncomfy.

Air Bike Compared To Indoor Rowing Machine:

The rower is a better, longer lasting piece of machinery. You can daily use a rower for 10+ years with little to no maintenance. Not so with an airbike. Also, Airbikes don’t hold their value like a Concept 2 rower, they tend to drop in value on the secondhand market. The airbike (or Airdyne) is also not so great for workout variety, the Concept 2 rower is better at long or slow workouts.


concept 2 skierg machine
Concept 2 SkiErg

One of the big comparisions that people ask me for is the Concept 2 rower vs. ski erg. I’ve used both machines and have the answer you’re looking for, read on below.

Pro’s of the Ski Erg:

•Unique movement. I you’ve ever used a SkiErg, you know that it’s a unique way to do cardio. There’s nothing else out there like it. This unique way of working out can add nice variety to training, plus it hits different muscles groups that usually don’t get worked.

•Abs. This movement is amazing for sculpting a strong sixpack. You’re essentially using a cardio machine to work your heart, but one of the main muscles groups that it uses is your abs. You’re basically doing a crunch with each stroke. Killer.

Con’s of the Ski Erg:

•More of a novelty, not an every day form of exercise. This is my #1 knock against the SkiErg, it’s a fun machine, but it’s more of a novelty than anything else. Unless you’re Bode Miller training for the winter olympics, I find it difficult to see someone using a SkiErg daily. It’s a machine you use occasionally to switch things up, not a daily form of exercise.

•Not for long workouts. A limitation of the SkiErg is that it’s mainly use for short to medium length workouts. It’s really not designed for hour long endurance session. So if you want to work your endurance, there are better machines out there for you.

SkiErg Compared To Indoor Rowing Machine:

So what’s better, a SkiErg or an indoor rower? The rower wins. A rower has so much more maneuverability. You can do short and long workouts. You can track distances and times. The SkiErg is more of a fun way to mix up training. It’s a lot of fun, but I see it as a secondary piece of equipment. If you already have a rower and you’re looking for a way to add variety, then by all means get a SkiErg. But I wouldn’t go with a SkiErg for my primary homegym cardio machine.


Stairmaster machines are a favorite of many people. It’s a tough workout, but one of the best ways to burn calories and build some lower body strength. How does a Stairmaster compare to a rowering machine? Read belwo to find out.

Pro’s of Stairmaster:

Stairmaster – SM3 StepMill

•Calorie burn. Stairmaster machines do an amazing job of burning calories. While using the machine can be brutal, there’s nothing better for working up a sweat.

•Lowerbody sculpting. The Stairmaster targets your glutes like no other machine. This helps to build muscle and sculpt your lower body. You usually don’t get this type of muscle sculpting benefit from a cardio machine, which is why the Stairmaster is so popular.

Con’s of Stairmaster:

•Expensive. Really, this is the major con of the Stairmaster, it’s costly. A lower end model, the SM3 StepMill, which is still very nice, goes for $3,300. This is why you usually only see them in big box gyms. It’s tough to buy one of these for home use, especially when there are other machines that give you better bang for your buck.

•Bulky. Stairmaster machines are very bulky. If the price doesn’t scare you away, the sheer size of the machine might. These cardio machines have a large footprint, both horizontally and vertically. You’ll need plenty of space if you plan on getting one.

Stairmaster Compared To Indoor Rowing Machine:

When looking at the Stairmaster compared to a rowing machine, in my mind, the choice is pretty obvious. Rowing machines offer so much more bang for your buck. Unless you love the Stairmaster and are a true believer in it, I’d suggest that you go with a rowing machine. It’s cheaper, smaller, and more versatile from an exercise standpoint.


versaclimber machine

The VersaClimber is a more obscure form of machinery. Most commercial gyms don’t have them, much less home gyms.

A VersaClimber essentially mimics the movement of climbing a steep mountain. It’s brutal.

We’ll dig into the pro’s and con’s below.

Pro’s of the VersaClimber:

•A true full body workout. The VersaClimber works EVERY muscles in your body. A lot of machines claim this, but not many back it up. Not so with the VersaClimber. It works both your upper and lower body. This will work to both get your heart rate up, and also to build small amount of lean muscle mass.

•Calorie burner. The VersaClimber burns more calories than “lower body” only machines, like ellipticals, spin bikes, and treadmills. In fact, the VersaClimber claims that 20 minutes a day is all you need to stay in tip top shape. As an outside voice, I have to agree with that. 20 minutes would be brutal, but it would be effective.

Con’s of the VersaClimber:

•Cost. With all benefits of the VersaClimber, you just knew that there were going to be some downsides. There are limited downsides to the physical use of the machine, but there are downsides to actually getting one of these machines, and cost is the main one. The baselines consumer model, the H H/P, starts at $2,000 and quickly goes up to $5,000. These are expensive machines.

•Size. Another major con of the VersClimber is its size. It actually has a fairly small footprint, but its height is going to be a problem for most. It’s 7’6″ (or 90 inches) assembled, which could make it tough for many people to have in their homes.

VersaClimber Compared To Indoor Rowing Machine:

The VersaClimber vs. the rowing machine, a classic duel of brutal exercise machines. In my mind, the rower still takes the cake. It’s more affordable, it requires minimal maintenance, and it’s easier to store when not in use. That said, VersaClimbers are very nice machines, I’d love to see them do a lower cost option that’s easier on the wallet.


Thanks for reading along as I compared various types of exercise machines. You may think that I’m biased towards rowers, and I may have to agree, but looking at the benefits you get from rowing for the price, it’s hard to disagree with me.

Rowers provide the best bang for your buck.

Specifically, I think the Concept 2 Model D is the best exercise machine that money can buy. You can’t beat it’s build quality or durability. It’ll allow you to get any type of workout stimulis that you want. It’ll also allow you to join an online community of rowing fanatics that can provide support (and competition).

Thanks for reading along, let me know which exercise machine you think is best in the comments below!