Equipment, Fitness

Exercise Bike Vs. Rowing Machine: Understanding Key Differences

Exercise Bike Vs. Rowing Machine | NordicTrack Blog

When pursuing exercise equipment for your home gym, you’ve probably got one big question on your mind: “How will I know I’m getting the best workout?” This is especially true when comparing machines that seem like apples and oranges—like exercise bikes and rowing machines.

To make sure you choose the right equipment for your needs, it’s important to understand how each machine works, what kind of workout to expect, and how your overall health and fitness may be impacted. That’s why we’re putting these two in the spotlight: exercise bike vs. rowing machine. What are the differences and what do you need to know? Let’s find out!

What Is An Exercise Bike

Exercise Bike Vs. Rowing Machine – NordicTrack Blog

Impressive and eye-catching, an exercise bike may not always look much like its road-friendly counterpart—but they have many of the same potential benefits (3). These shared benefits include:

  • Improved aerobic fitness
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Low-impact joint motions
  • Improved joint mobility
  • Prevention or management of disease

Particularly, a stationary bike mostly works your glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps while also providing a core and back workout (4).

As with most things in life—especially exercise—the bottom line is that you get out what you put in. Just like on an elliptical or treadmill, your effort, resistance settings, and dedication determine the type of results you should expect from indoor cycling.

Types Of Exercise Bike

If you’re looking to add an exercise bike to your home gym, you’ve got a couple of options to choose from:

Upright Bike

An upright exercise bike is probably what you think of when you imagine a stationary bike. They’re the popular choice for cardio and can be used in both standing and sitting positions (4). They also look more like their traditional counterparts, which might make the workout more familiar if you’re already comfortable with outdoor cycling.

Recumbent Bike

A recumbent bike may not be as recognizable, but it functions in basically the same way as other stationary bikes. These machines allow you to sit in a reclined position, which puts even less stress on your back and joints (4). While the position supports your body and can decrease muscle soreness after a heavy workout, it can also reduce the intensity of your workout.

What Is A Rowing Machine

Rowing Machine Vs. Exercise Bike  – NordicTrack Blog

While you may have the option to jump on a bicycle and go cycling around your neighborhood or town, you may not have access to open waterways—which is why a rowing machine can bring something new to your home gym.

Rowing is a low-impact, full-body exercise that can target your back, core, and leg muscles (9). This type of workout is flexible, allowing you to change elements like speed and resistance (9)—all while increasing the release of endorphins (described as feel-good neurochemicals) (10).

Types Of Rowing Machine

If you’re adding a rowing machine to your home gym, there are some things you’ll want to look for to ensure you’ll get the best workout—but perhaps you should pay more attention to the resistance type that you want.


Want to feel like you’re actually rowing across a serene lake? Water resistance is a better option. A water rowing machine has its flywheel immersed in a water tank, which means you get to work against natural resistance every time you pull the handle. 


Air rowers may not have that “splash,” but they are a common type of rowing machine. Instead of a water tank, the flywheel on this exercise equipment uses fans that blow faster the harder you pull.  


Another type of rowing machine is the magnetic rower. If you’ve ever tried to force magnets together to feel them repel one another, you’ve seen this type of resistance in action.


Hydraulic rowing machines are a rarer type. They rely on the mechanical motions of pistons, metal cylinders, and handles to provide resistance. However, since this creates a somewhat of a bumpy workout, some home gym users may prefer other rowing machine types to help get that cardio in.

Exercise Bike Vs. Rowing Machine: The Right Workout for the Right Needs

Rowing Machine Vs. Stationary Bike: Which Is Best  – NordicTrack Blog

Now that you know what each machine has to offer, it’s time to address the big question: When it comes to an exercise bike vs. rowing machine, is one really better than the other?

The truth is that these are different workouts for different needs, which means it’s all up to you. Here are a few things to consider:

Personal Preferences

Since both an exercise bike and a rowing machine can provide cardio workouts, some of the comparison comes down to personal preference. This includes things like:

  • Which type of cardio you find most engaging
  • How you prefer to work out
  • What your health goals are
  • How you’d like to integrate the new machine into your routine
  • Existing injuries or health problems that could be exacerbated by certain motions

Remember, the difference between an exercise bike and a rowing machine doesn’t matter if you won’t actually use the machines—so choose something you’ll enjoy.

Space In Your Home Gym

Your home gym doesn’t have infinite space, so it’s important to consider the footprint of each exercise machine.

For example, the NordicTrack S22i Studio Cycle has the following dimensions: 55.0″ L X 29.1″ W X 56.9″ H. Meanwhile, the NordicTrack RW900 Rower has these dimensions: 86.5″ L x 22.0″ W x 50.4″ H. 

That means the exercise bike is best for home gyms with wider spaces, while the rowing machine is better for home gyms that have long sections of available space.  This is generally true of each machine type, so keep that in mind when choosing your exercise equipment.


One of the biggest determining factors in the exercise bike vs. rowing machine showdown is, of course, the list of potential benefits.

Many benefits are shared between the two machines, like low-impact joint motions (3, 9). The biggest difference is that rowing workouts can target your whole body while cycling workouts focus more on the lower body (9, 4). 

However, it’s important to note that trying to achieve potential exercise benefits, such as overall body composition control, is a product of numerous factors besides equipment choice, including using proper workout form, workout frequency, proper planning, and a healthy diet, staying hydrated, basal metabolism, ambient temperature, your sex and height, etc. 

Planning The Best Workout For Your Exercise Equipment

Which Is Best - Stationary Bike Vs. Rowing Machine  – NordicTrack Blog

Although the exercise bike vs. rowing machine debate comes down to personal preference, there’s one thing you can do to make either machine—or any exercise equipment at all— work better for you: planning the best workout.

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your exercise equipment at home:

Utilize iFIT

With a paid iFIT membership, you have access to personal trainers who are experts on every type of exercise equipment—not to mention guided workouts that take you to thrilling locations during each routine. Sort through a variety of workouts like interval training, bootcamps, and active recovery in places like Croatia, Thailand, and Hawaii. Check it out!

Also, your iFIT trainers will help you choose workouts that highlight the best elements of your exercise machine, no matter what that machine might be. And when you’re away from home, you can stay on track with the iFIT app.

Use Intensity To Your Advantage

There are two ways to measure workout intensity: How you feel and how your heart rate changes (16). The more intense your activity, the more intense your benefits may be—so keep this in mind when planning workouts for your exercise bike or rowing machine.

Moderate Intensity

A moderate-intensity cardio workout should feel like you’re working, but not like you’re working too hard (16). You should be able to carry on a conversation (so you shouldn’t be out of breath) and you should work up a sweat after about ten minutes.

If your heart rate is between 50% and 70% of your maximum, you’re at moderate intensity.

Vigorous Intensity

Vigorous intensity, on the other hand, causes rapid breathing and sweating after only a few minutes (16). You probably won’t be able to carry on a conversation—so this isn’t the time to start a chat! 

When you’re doing vigorous-intensity exercises, your heart rate should be between 70% and 85% of your maximum.


HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, involves intervals of activity at varying intensities. It can keep you from getting bored with steady activity on your rowing machine or exercise bike, but the benefits go far beyond that.

According to research by the University of Nis, HIIT increases maximal oxygen consumption or VO2max (17). The University of Virginia explains that VO2max refers to the amount of air you can use when performing aerobic activity, and that it’s considered the best benchmark for cardio fitness (18).

Furthermore, research by the University of Queensland suggests that performing HIIT workouts 3 times a week for 12 weeks can enhance vascular function (19).

If you have a rower, check out the iFIT workout below with iFIT trainer, Gerell Webb. Challenge yourself without dedicating too much time.  

Consider Your Routine

If you have other exercise equipment or cardio routines you love, there’s no need to replace them when you get a new machine. Instead, consider ways to integrate the new equipment into your workout.


Whether you want to cycle your heart out on an exercise bike or row, row, row your rowing machine, one thing is clear: You have the final say in what this exercise equipment can do for you. There are ways to get even more out of your routine, like utilizing iFIT and sticking to a healthy diet, but the important part is to use each machine to your advantage.

Get started outfitting your home gym with all the exercise equipment you’ve been dreaming of today!

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This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. NordicTrack assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article. Always follow the safety precautions included in the owner’s manual of your fitness equipment. Shipping times are dependent on in-stock inventory and delivery timeframes may vary. Make sure to check the website for any specific delays in delivery and shipping.