Which Is Better: Spinning or Rowing?

Experts weigh in on which exercise will benefit you the most.

January 06, 2022

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The boom of instructor-guided exercise in the comfort of your own home is a fitness trend that is here to stay. From the iconic Peloton spin bikes to screen-enhanced rowers and treadmills, there's really something for everyone. However, if you're wondering which machine is best for your overall workout routine, it can be a bit confusing. Here's what some exercise experts had to say about rowing versus spinning workouts.

Breaking Down Spinning

Whether you choose to visit a local spinning studio or prefer to go the interactive Peloton or NordicTrack bike route, spinning (or indoor cycling) classes allow for various types of cardio workouts. The resistance and body positioning on the bike can be altered throughout to target different muscle groups and endurance levels. Class participants can also dabble in the use of light weight lifting and ab exercises during a session. The differences between spin bikes and most stationary bikes can vary, but typically the foot pedals and handlebars on a spin bike are more similar to an outdoor road bike. And, of course, there is also the Wi-Fi connected console that allows you to stream classes and interact with instructors.

Breaking Down Rowing

Rowing machines, or indoor ergometers (aka "ergs"), are seated machines outfitted with pull cables and a sliding seat that simulates the heart-pumping action of rowing (no water required). Machines come in water-less versions and water rowers that use a water-filled basin to create resistence. Proper rowing technique requires core stability and good coordination between upper- and lower-body movements as rowers progress through the movement pattern. Much like other types of at-home equipment, indoor rowers have gone next level with the addition of interactive classes via platforms like Hydrow and Proform that allow for instructor-led workouts and interactive scenery.

Which Exercise Is Better: Spinning or Rowing?

Several factors must be considered when choosing which type of exercise is best for you. In addition to personal preference, orthopedic injury history, cost and what you will stick to long term should all be factors that dictate your choice. "Spinning provides a great starting place to begin working out, using mainly the large muscles of the lower body; spinning can easily accommodate varying levels of fitness," shares Ken Kosior, PT, EdD, MPT, ATC, chair of the Physical Therapy Department at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. "On the other hand, rowing engages both the lower body and upper body in a more challenging, yet efficient, manner for those seeking a demanding total-body workout."

Both spinning and rowing classes can be scaled by fitness level — each type of exercise can be adjusted for beginners to advanced exercisers. One of the biggest draws of both types of training is the experiential classes they offer. "An immersive rowing experience, like that with Hydrow, is a great option," says exercise physiologist and registered dietitian Chris Mohr, PhD, RD (and avid Hydrow user). "From a pure physiology standpoint, though, rowing gets the edge, as it's a more full-body exercise than cycling," adds Mohr.

There is some research to support that rowing gets the edge. Dr. Kristin Haraldsdottir, from Hydrow, measured several outcomes, including heart rate, VO2 max, and calories burned during and after the workout. "In all outcome measures, Hydrow was head and shoulders (and legs, glutes and abs — along with most muscles of the body) above cycling. In other words, you get more bang for your buck," says Mohr.

Bottom Line: Both are great workouts.

At the end of the day, what matters most is: Can you find a way to move regularly, safely and enjoyably? As Kosior points out, "Both are great options for promoting healthy movement, and any exercise is better than none." Mohr agrees: "All exercise is fantastic. Enjoying it is key."

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