Rowing vs. Cycling: Which Provides a Better Workout?

Both rowing and cycling have climbed the popularity charts in the fitness world and for good reasons.

While rowing, often seen as the underdog, promises a challenging full-body workout, cycling, a timeless classic, offers impressive benefits.

Whether you’re looking to switch up your routine or deciding which to start with, understanding the benefits of each can make your decision a lot easier. So, let’s get rolling (and rowing) and see which of these two might be your next fitness obsession!

Rowing vs. Cycling: Which Provides a Better Workout? from Elevate Fitness Gyms in Syracuse, NY


A Full-Body Endeavor

One of the most significant advantages of rowing is that it’s a full-body workout. Imagine engaging nearly 85% of your muscles every time you pull!

Your legs push off, your core tightens to maintain balance, and your arms and back pull the oars with strength.

This symphony of movement ensures that every muscle gets a piece of the action from your calves to your shoulders. It’s efficiency at its best – working out multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Rowing isn’t just about muscle; it’s a phenomenal cardio workout, too. It gets your heart pumping and lungs working, improving overall cardiovascular health.

This means better stamina, more endurance, and a stronger heart. Plus, the rhythmic nature of rowing can be quite meditative, potentially offering some mental health benefits alongside the physical ones.

Gentle on the Joints

For those worried about joint health, rowing is a low-impact exercise, meaning it’s easier on your knees, hips, and ankles compared to high-impact activities.

This makes it a fantastic option for people of all ages and fitness levels, especially for those who need to be mindful of their joint health.


Cardiovascular Benefits

Cycling stands out as a stellar workout for your heart and lungs. It’s a fantastic way to boost your cardiovascular health, increasing endurance and stamina.

Whether you’re sprinting on a stationary bike or cruising outdoors, your heart rate increases, promoting better heart health and lung function. Plus, the option to easily adjust intensity makes it suitable for all fitness levels.

Lower Body Powerhouse

Cycling predominantly targets the lower body, making it an excellent choice for strengthening your legs and glutes. Each pedal stroke powers up your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes, leading to stronger, more sculpted muscles. It’s a great way to build lower body strength without the heavy impact of weightlifting.

The Joy of Accessibility and Outdoors

One of the best parts about cycling is its versatility. You can enjoy a ride outdoors, soaking in the scenery and fresh air- a massive perk for mental well-being.

Additionally, it’s relatively easy to get started with cycling. All you need is a bike, and you’re ready to explore roads, trails, or even the comfort of an indoor cycling class. This accessibility makes it a popular choice for many fitness enthusiasts.

Comparison of Rowing and Cycling

When choosing between rowing and cycling, it boils down to what you’re looking for in a workout and your personal preferences. Let’s break down some key aspects:

Targeted Muscle Groups

Rowing is a full-body workout, engaging muscles from your legs to your upper body, including your back and arms. It’s comprehensive, ensuring balanced muscle development and strength.

In contrast, cycling focuses more on the lower body, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. While it does offer some core engagement, it’s predominantly a lower-body workout.

Calorie Burn and Intensity

Both rowing and cycling are excellent for burning calories and can be adjusted in intensity.

Rowing, with its full-body engagement, can burn a significant amount of calories, especially at higher intensities. Cycling, too, can torch calories, especially during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions or uphill rides.

The choice depends on whether you prefer the full-body aspect of rowing or the targeted approach of cycling.

Accessibility and Equipment

Rowing machines are becoming more common in gyms, but they’re less likely to be a staple in home fitness setups compared to bikes. Cycling offers the flexibility of outdoor and indoor options – you can hit the road or join a spinning class.

While both activities require specialized equipment (a rowing machine or a bicycle), cycling might edge out rowing in terms of accessibility, both indoors and outdoors.


Deciding between rowing and cycling for your workout routine isn’t just about which burns more calories or builds more muscle. It’s about finding the activity that resonates with you.

The best workout is the one you enjoy and can stick with consistently.

Why not try both and see which one you prefer?

You might find that rowing’s full-body challenge is what gets you going, or the freedom of cycling outdoors is what you love. Either way, you’re making a great choice for your health and fitness.

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