Rowing vs. Spin: Why ALL Cyclists Should be Rowing

Atlanta Fitness


Written by Total Row Fitness owner Elliott Smith

In Total Row’s “Rowing vs the World series,” it takes a look at how rowing as a sport and exercise compares to other fitness disciplines. Total Row loves all of our fitness peers, and the desire of this post is not to bash another exercise or class. Instead, this series is meant to inform readers about the benefits of rowing and how it compares to what they have done in the past. In today’s post, Total Row will compare rowing with spin (or cycling).


It’s no secret that over the last decade, spin classes have absolutely exploded in popularity around the country. From local spin classes to international franchises, it seems as though a different spin studio is everywhere you turn. We believe a combination of high-end studios bringing lots of amenities, a low barrier to entry (it’s a relatively easy exercise), and massive marketing budgets are the primary reason for the surge in popularity.

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What works with spin

There are two overwhelming aspects of a successful spin studio.

First, the studios are usually very high-end, playing loud music, and potentially featuring a “celebrity” instructor. As spin studios gained in popularity, the market was quickly saturated. This led gyms to diversify by pushing special amenities, such as a fun atmosphere or exclusive feel. We believe that this feeling of exclusivity, combined with the desire to post on social media and share your workouts, have kept spin studios in high demand.

Second, spinning (or cycling) is both easy to start and low-impact. Spinning carries a relatively low caloric requirement (of course, this is highly dependent on the effort put into the class) and is a very basic movement we are all familiar withs. Combined with being relatively low-impact, spin classes are great for those that are new to fitness.

Combining the two, you get a class that is easy for beginners to start and learn, but that lets you feel as though you are in a fancy, exclusive fitness studio.


Compared with spinning, there are a few aspects that rowing does equally as well, and some that we believe rowing does better.

Similar to Spin

Like spinning, rowing is low impact and easy on the body. This makes it perfect for cross-training, recovering from injury, or trying to protect yourself from future injury. Rowing, also like cycling, is easily scalable. Because you set your own power and intensity, rowing (especially at Total Row!) is incredible scalable to all ages and abilities.

Low impact and scalability make rowing and spin great for both beginners as well as seasoned vets.

However, keep reading to find out what makes rowing really special…

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Better than spin

The most obvious advantage that rowing offers relative to cycling is that it is total body. Each stroke is 60% lower body, 20% core, and 20% upper body. We believe this to be one of rowing’s least appreciated attributes.

Second (and related to the first point), rowing works FAST! While most spin classes are 60-90 minutes long, classes at Total Row are only 30-45 minutes. Because rowing workouts are usually more anaerobic and incorporate many more muscles, its calorie-burn is significantly higher (we’ve seen research suggesting 2x as many calories burned per 50 minutes!!). This allows you to get in a great workout, and complete it quickly.

And third, the posture of a rowing stroke places much less pressure on your shoulders and knees than spinning. While both are “low-impact,” rowing goes a step further in protecting your body:

  • Knees: When rowing, you are sitting in an upright position with your legs extended in front of you. Because you are sliding horizontally on a rail, rather than bouncing up and down (and holding your weight), your quads are able to relax during the recovery part of your stroke. This relieves the pressure that is applied to the ligaments around your knee, reducing irritation and unnecessary strain.

  • Shoulders: A common issue with cyclists is soreness and pain in their shoulders, traps, and even triceps. This is from leaning forward on their handles and placing a good deal of stress around the shoulders. With rowing, this is not a problem. Your shoulders do not hold any weight, and with a correct arm pull, there shouldn’t be any issue in the upper back.


Spin is here to stay and for good reason: it is fast-paced, fun, and low impact. However, we believe rowing offers all of that and more! Specifically, rowing is total body, easier on the knees and shoulders, and more significantly more efficient.

Don’t believe us? Come try a FREE week at Total Row to find out for yourself!