Indoor Cycle / Spin Bike vs. Rowing Machine: Which Should I Choose?

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By Katie Pierson, Certified Spinning® Instructor & Personal Trainer.

If you are searching for a total-body workout that torches calories while remaining gentle on joints, indoor cycling or rowing are great options. Stick around to learn which piece of exercise equipment is right for you. 

Spinning vs. Rowing Workout: Quick Comparison

Spinning and rowing workouts are both excellent for cardiovascular conditioning. These workouts scorch calories and challenge the entire body. Intensity can continue to grow as your fitness level improves, therefore minimizing the chance for a plateau. Check out the table below to see how these two workouts stack up.

SpinningRowing
Calories Burned in 60 Minutes400-800400-800
Total Body Workout4/55/5
Good for BeginnersYesNo
Good for Intermediate & AdvancedYesYes
Low-impact WorkoutYesYes
Spinning vs. Rowing Comparison Table

Indoor Cycle / Spin Bike

commercial spin bikes guide featured

Advantages Over a Rower

  • Great for Apartments & Smaller Workout Spaces: Most commercial-grade exercise bikes are approximately 4’ long and 2’ wide. These measurements are much smaller than rowing machines which measure 8’ long and 2’ wide. So if workout space is a factor, an indoor cycling bike is the clear winner.
  • All Fitness Levels Are Welcome: With a quick turn of the bike’s resistance knob, you can increase or decrease the resistance level, impacting the intensity. Adjusting your intensity level so quickly is a wonderful feature for all fitness levels but especially helps those beginning riders. At the same time, this capability enables seasoned riders to strive for greater athletic performance.
  • Easier on Joints: Knees, ankles, backs can rest easy with an indoor cycling workout in the correct riding position. Hence, indoor cycling has staying power as it can be enjoyed from a young age into the rider’s golden years.

Disadvantages Over a Rower

  • Upper Body Not as Challenged: Riding a spin bike is indeed a total body workout. However, the activation of the upper body, including the chest, is somewhat limited compared to using a rowing machine.

Muscles Worked

  • Pedaling Power: Since the only way to turn the weighted flywheel of a spin bike is to rotate the pedals, an enormous amount of effort is needed from the lower body. The glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves drive each pedal stroke.
  • Stabilizers: The core is vital for stabilization on the bike, so you can continue to hold your riding position if you are in or out of the saddle. Remember, the core includes the abdominals and lower back.
  • Supporters: Your shoulders, chest, upper back, and arms play a role in maintaining riding position. In addition, they make riding position changes seamless by offering support.

Rowing Machine

a woman using a rowing machine

Advantages Over a Bike

  • A Real Total Body Workout: On a rowing machine, specific muscle groups are not allowed to coast through the workout. Instead, each muscle group is required to pull their share of the load to make this incredible workout possible.
  • Ideal for HIIT Classes: We are not saying that spin bikes are not great for HIIT. However, the complete body activation required when using a rower is ideal for short bursts of work and rest. The afterburn from a 20-minute workout can keep scorching calories for hours after the training has ended.

Disadvantages Over a Bike

  • Not Ideal for Beginners: The athleticism required to complete a single-row on a rowing machine requires a higher exertion than rotating the pedals on an indoor cycling bike with minimal resistance. Due to this exertion requirement, newer rowers might not have the aerobic capacity to row for long periods. 
  • More Space Required: A rowing machine requires a larger area than an indoor cycling bike since it is approximately 4’ longer.

Important Note for Beginners: Don’t let this fact discourage you. Continue to use your rower for smaller timeframes to build your endurance.

Muscles Worked

EVERYTHING! Using a rowing machine is an actual total body workout. When pulling the handle towards your chest, the muscles in your upper body are activated, including your back, chest, arms, and shoulders. Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves also work as the seat of rower moves throughout the rowing motion. In addition, the core plays a crucial role in stabilization and support throughout the movement.

Related:
Types of Rowing Machines: Air vs Magnetic vs Water

Air Bike: How it Differs from a Classic Indoor Cycle & How it Compares to a Rower? 

a girl on an air bike in gym

Air Bike vs. Classic Indoor Cycle

A classic indoor cycle and an air bike are incredibly different. An air bike operates by a large fan turning when the handles and pedals begin to move. The faster the pedals and handlebars move, the quicker the fan rotates, increasing wind resistance. On an indoor cycling bike, the weighted flywheel also rotates based on how quickly the pedals turn through the help of a belt or chain drive. However, resistance increases with the turn of the resistance knob based on either friction or magnetic resistance system. A cloth pad moves either closer or farther away from the flywheel to adjust the resistance level with friction resistance. Magnetic resistance uses magnets that move closer or farther away from the flywheel.

Air Bike vs. Rower

Like an air bike, a rower also uses a similar design where air resistance is created through the turning of a fan. The fan on a rower turns as the long-cabled handle is extended and shortened throughout the rowing motion. Although the designs are similar, the caloric burn between these two machines is quite different. An air bike only burns about 70% of the calories expended during the same length workout on a rower.

Spinning vs. Rowing for Weight Loss: Which is better?

The number of calories that are burned on an indoor cycling bike or rowing machine is surprisingly similar. Below we have put together a table depicting a rough estimate of the caloric burn for sixty minutes of indoor cycling or rowing ranging from low to high intensity. Remember that these numbers will vary from person to person since calories burned are also based on age, gender, weight, and height. 

60 Minute WorkoutCalorie Expenditure
(Low-High Intensity)
Indoor Cycling Bike400-800 
Rowing Machine400-800

Pro Tip: Cardio alone will not provide the impressive results that can be achieved by also focusing on strength training and a clean diet.

How To Choose What Is the Best For My Needs? 

Body Ailments

Although both workouts are considered low-impact, that doesn’t mean that certain joints are not affected more than others during either rowing or cycling. However, with great form, injuries can be minimized. Let’s look at each workout individually for things to keep in mind.

Cycling is relatively easy on all of your joints while in the saddle. With the help of cycling shoes, knee safety increases even more. Remember to focus on driving your knees up to avoid “mashing down” your pedals, which can aggravate your knees. In addition, improper riding form can negatively affect your back and knees when climbing out of the saddle.

Rowing requires total body movement to make the stroke happen. Rowing can aggravate your back since it is a prime mover for those who suffer from low back pain. Also, since your feet are anchored into the machine, the ankles experience more stress than when using another exercise machine.

Motivation

Some people require more motivation than others to strap or click in for a workout. In comparison, others don’t need any outside support to have a great training session. Spin bikes and rowing machines offer a variety of options for spicing up your workout.

Indoor cycling consoles and an extensive collection of apps offer a spectrum of training opportunities. If you love to feel part of a team or enjoy an instructor-led activity, an indoor cycling bike might best fit your needs.

Rowing alone or competing in a virtual contest are all options when using a rowing machine. There might not be as many rowing apps available on the market compared to cycling, but there are enough available to find one that you might enjoy. 

The Bottom Line

The piece of equipment that is best for you is the one that will not be collecting dust in the corner of your room. We recommend that you test drive each type of equipment before purchasing to see which one lights your athletic fire and inspires you to strive to reach your goals.

Katie Pierson

Katie is the creator of MT Girl Fitness and has been a certified fitness professional for almost twenty years. She currently holds ten different fitness certifications, including Group Fitness, Spinning Elite, Rockstar Spinning, and Personal Training. Fitness is her passion, and she loves seeing her clients reach goals they never imagined.