What Is Better: Treadmill, Rowing Machine, or Indoor Cycle?

You know you want to get in shape to improve your health, maybe lose a few pounds and increase your longevity. The best way to achieve these goals eludes you. The gym offers an array of machines, all promising a quality cardio workout -- but figuring out which one is best is almost more challenging than committing to a routine. If you've narrowed it down to the treadmill, rowing machine and indoor cycling, rest assured that any of these machines can get you fit -- as long as you use them. The better machine is ultimately the one you like using, as this will make you more likely to incorporate it as part of a regular routine.


The rowing machine, the treadmill and indoor cycling can help you meet your cardiovascular requirements for exercise. You should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity -- that's a 30-minute, 3.5- to 4.0-mph walk on the treadmill five times per week or a moderate effort on the indoor cycle or rowing machine. You can also fulfill the minimum exercise requirements with 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity like jogging, running or race walking on the treadmill or using a vigorous workout on the rower or indoor cycle. The cardio benefits of working out at high intensity are not determined by any one type of machine -- they provide equal benefits.


Calorie Burning

When your goal is to burn the maximum amount of calories, the treadmill may be your best option. A study published in a 2001 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine" compared calories burned while using six of the most popular cardio machines. The Dublin City University researchers asked participants to rate their perceived exertion while working out on treadmills, rowing machines or stationary bikes. Participants burned the most calories while using the treadmill at each rating of perceived exertion. To equal the same number of calories burned on the rower or the indoor cycle, they perceived they were working much harder. A 155-pound person jogging at a modest 12-minute mile burns on average 298 calories in 30 minutes; a moderate-intensity cycling or rowing session burns 260 calories. When going at a vigorous pace, cycling burns 391 calories in 30 minutes while rowing burns 316; running a 9-minute mile burns 409 calories.


Joint Protection

Walking on the treadmill is considered low impact, but long bouts may be too aggressive for people with sensitive knees, ankles and backs. To get to a satisfyingly high intensity, fit people may need to jog or run on the treadmill -- which is even more taxing on the joints. Indoor cycling affords a low-impact way to achieve a high-intensity workout. Those who are more than 50 pounds overweight may feel most comfortable cycling, notes the Cleveland Clinic. Rowing is another low-impact activity that doesn't put load on the joints, but might irritate sensitive knees as you push off the front plate. Rowing does provide an upper-body workout, too. That generally can't be achieved with indoor cycling or treadmill exercise.


Fitness Level and Motivation

A treadmill and indoor cycle are among the simplest machines to use at the gym. You know how to walk and pedaling a bicycle is easy to learn. Rowing may take a bit longer to master as you figure how to best coordinate your arms and legs. People who are intimidated by the gym may feel most comfortable starting with treadmill walking. As confidence improves, you can move to the indoor cycle or rowing machine to add variety to your cardio routine. Indoor cycling is often offered as a class, which can be motivating. If you are a runner or a cyclist, you are better off using the machine that matches the mode of exercise you are trying to master. Don't discount the benefits of cross training, though. A runner will benefit from a short once- or twice-per-week workout on an indoor cycle or rowing machine to activate muscles not usually used during running.