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Rowing machine vs bike: which one to choose?

This comprehensive guide explores the pros, cons, and specialized features of each, so you can make an informed investment in your health.

Both rowing machines and exercise bikes offer outstanding cardio workouts, but choosing between them can be tricky. Your decision may hinge on variables like workout goals, physical limitations, space availability, and personal preference. We’ve broken down these factors to help you make an educated choice between the two.

Weight loss

Both rowing machines and exercise bikes deliver intense cardio workouts designed for efficient fat burning. However, rowing generally burns more calories per hour—an average 185-lb person can burn between 587 to 881 calories during an hour of rowing, compared to 294 to 693 calories burned during an hour of indoor cycling.

 

Nevertheless, the effectiveness of your weight loss regimen ultimately hinges on the duration and frequency of your workouts. Rowing sessions are typically shorter, often around 30 minutes, while cycling allows for extended, lower-intensity workouts lasting up to 90 minutes.

Type of workouts

Both machines are well-suited for High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which is scientifically proven to be among the most effective methods for weight loss. A 20-minute HIIT rowing or cycling workout allows you to acquire the same fitness benefits as a regular 40-minute training session.

CAROL Bike reduces this time even further by introducing a next-generation HIIT workout – its signature REHIT (Reduced Exertion HIIT) program.

 

At the same time, if you prefer different types of workouts, an exercise bike offers you a greater variety and better control over the length and intensity.

 

Rowing machines are suited for shorter, high-intensity workouts. You can’t significantly change workout intensity, and for beginners, it’s hard to row for longer than 30 minutes. It is recommended to start with a 15-20-minute workout 3-5 times a week.

 

With an exercise bike, you get a range of longer endurance workouts that you can use on your recovery days, during rehabilitation, or simply to diversify your workout routine. You can alternate all-out 5-minute REHIT workouts with low-intensity Zone-based Free Rides that last between 60-90 minutes.

REHIT—the shortest, most effective way to exercise

Reduced Exertion HIIT (REHIT) was developed in collaboration with leading exercise researchers to create the shortest, most effective workouts. REHIT creates the most potent training stimulus with just 2×20-second sprints. It’s scientifically proven to deliver superior health and fitness benefits compared to regular cardio exercise in 90% less the time. 

 

CAROL Bike is the only bike fully optimized for REHIT— making it simple, effective, and safe. CAROL’s AI-personalization tailors the workout to you and helps you push to your limits during the sprints. Like in a ‘fight or flight’ situation, your muscles are forced to mobilize about 25-30% of muscular glycogen—your emergency energy reserve—releasing key signaling molecules (AMPK and PGC-1a), telling your body it must get fitter and stronger. 

 

You develop more mitochondria, your blood plasma volume increases, and your heart gets stronger. Resulting in increased aerobic and anaerobic capacity. REHIT allows you to burn more calories on a 15-minute CAROL ride, than a 30-minute run, and improve your VO2max by 12% in just 8 weeks.

CAROL Bike is scientifically proven to deliver superior benefits compared to regular cardio—in 90% less time.

Muscular endurance

Rowing is a full-body workout that utilizes more muscles than cycling. According to research, 60% of power comes through your legs and trunk, while 40% comes from your upper body. When you perform this aerobic exercise, you activate all major muscle groups:

 

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Core muscles
  • Back muscles: trapezoid, rhomboid, and large dorsal muscles
  • Biceps, triceps, and deltoids (shoulder muscles)
  • Calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Thigh muscles

 

In contrast, cycling primarily targets the lower body, focusing on the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, while only marginally engaging the upper body.

 

If you want to pump your entire body, rowing will be more effective.

Cardio endurance

Both cycling and rowing strengthen the heart and improve cardiovascular endurance.

 

A 12-week rowing program showed a 16% increase in VO2max (the main indicator of fitness endurance) among 17 male and female adults.

 

At the same time, REHIT on CAROL Bike shows greater improvement in VO2max over the same period of time. The supra-maximal intensity of sprints trains your heart in the shortest timeframe and allows you to increase your VO2max by 12% in just 8 weeks.

Physical limitations

While both machines are relatively low-impact, there are differences in the physical demands each places on your body. Rowing requires more from your lower back and upper body, making it less suitable for those with back or shoulder issues. In contrast, stationary bikes offer greater control over workout intensity, making them more accessible for those with injuries or chronic conditions.

Other factors to consider:

Space

 

Rowing machines are generally longer but more narrow, so choose based on your home gym’s layout.

 

Technique

 

The rowing technique is more complicated than cycling and requires a longer learning curve. Poor technique may lead to overexertion of certain muscle groups, strain, and imbalance. Cycling requires minimal technique, and beginners can get started right away. Cycling has a lower injury risk than rowing, too.

 

Equipment cost

 

Depending on the type and functionality of the rowing machine you are looking for, you can find a piece of gym equipment below $500. Sunny Health & Fitness has the most affordable options starting at $249. Advanced rowing machines may cost up to $2,000.

 

Exercise bikes have a similar price range with budget-friendly options starting between $200-$500 and going up to $3,000 for superior models. CAROL Bike is on the high end offering a $2,595 model.

 

Entertainment

 

Exercise bikes often feature built-in screens or device holders, making it easier to stay entertained during longer workouts. CAROL Bike’s integration allows you to enjoy shows on Netflix, Disney+, and YouTube or use a Wi-Fi connection for any other platform.

 

A growing number of rowing machines are being built with in-built displays. However, the rowing technique requires more concentration on your movements, and it may be more difficult to immerse yourself in a movie as you move back and forth.

Some extra factors to consider when deciding between an exercise bike and a rower include space, technique, cost and entertainment options.

Rowing vs cycling: Workout examples

Rowing machines and stationary bikes allow you to do a variety of HIIT workouts and cardiovascular exercises for different fitness goals and levels.

 

 

Example of a 21-minute HIIT rowing workout

 

 

This is a HIIT workout for beginners where you gradually increase intensity during short intervals.

 

  • 5-mins – Warm Up (row at a leisurely pace)
  • 2 mins – Row at 22 strokes per minute (spm)
  • 1 min – Rest (row at a leisurely pace)
  • 2 mins – Row at 24 spm
  • 1 min – Rest
  • 2 mins Row at 26 spm
  • 1 min – Rest
  • 2 mins – Row at 28 spm
  • 5 mins – Cooldown
 

Example of a 5-minute REHIT cycling workout

 

 

REHIT is the shortest cycling workout that you can easily fit into even the busiest schedule. You have to perform at supra-maximal capacity during the 2×20-second sprints followed by recovery time.

 

  • 20 sec-2 mins – Warm-up
  • 20 secs – Supra-maximal sprint
  • 1-3 mins recovery
  • 20 secs – Supra-maximal sprint
  • 3 mins – Cooldown

Rowing machine vs bike: Which one to choose?

The choice between a rowing machine and an exercise bike hinges on numerous factors—your fitness goals, available space, and any physical limitations you might have.

 

The rowing machine is a great choice for people who:

 

  • Are interested in getting short, intense training
  • Want a full-body workout
  • Don’t have any back issues
  • Ready to invest in learning the correct technique
  • Have a long section at your home gym

 

The exercise bike would be the best option for people who:

 

  • Prefer to have different types of workouts in their practice
  • Are looking for a low-impact workout on their back and knees
  • Want to get started right away
  • Are looking for primarily a lower-body workout
  • Pressed for time and want to get the shortest workout possible with CAROL Bike
 

Regardless of your choice, both machines offer effective cardio workouts, muscle engagement, and health benefits that make them worthwhile investments in your fitness journey. The key to a successful fitness regimen is consistency, so choose the machine that you’ll enjoy using regularly.

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