Rowing Machine VS. Elliptical

Cardio machines are a great way to improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, burn calories and fat, control your weight, and get healthy. There are several different types of machines you can use, including stationary bikes and treadmills. Two of the best choices for home exercisers are rowing machines and ellipticals.

But which is the right for you, and which one should you choose? That’s the subject of this article!

Brief Rowing Machine Overview

Rowing machines mimic rowing a boat on water. They offer a full-body low impact workout that is easy on your joints. There are several different types of rowing machine, and each one has a different source of resistance. The main types are:

  • Hydraulic rowers
  • Fan rowers
  • Electromagnetic rowers
  • Water drum rowers

Getting a good workout from a rowing machine requires proper technique. Correct rowing technique involves four steps which should, with practice, flow seamlessly together:

  1. Initial push off with your legs
  2. Pull the handle(s) with your arms and back
  3. Extend your arms to return the bar to the starting position
  4. Bend your legs to slide your body back to the starting position

Rowing with poor technique, such as rounding your lower back or using your arms more than your legs, could result in injury. Learning how to row correctly can take time. This may involve watching YouTube videos, reading guidebooks, or even getting hands-on coaching. Your efforts will be rewarded though as once you master rowing, you’ll be able to row more comfortably and efficiently.

Most rowing machines are supplied with a performance monitor that displays useful measurements such as speed, pace, distance, strokes per minute, calories, and time. Some are programmable, which makes them suitable for interval training.

Rowing machines are generally light and compact, and many can be stood upright for easy storage. However, they are usually quite long, which may make them tricky to transport. You’ll also need enough space so that you can row without obstruction.

Brief Elliptical Machine Overview

Elliptical trainers, often just called ellipticals or cross-trainers, are a variation of a stepping machine. They have foot pedals and arm levers, which means you can work your upper body and lower body at the same time. Most allow you to use your legs without your arms should you wish to have a more lower-body-focused workout.

Like rowers, ellipticals are low impact exercise machines that are easy on your joints. However, unlike the aforementioned rowing machine, you use ellipticals while standing, which means they involve more weight-bearing. While this might be a disadvantage for some users, it may also lead to increased bone mass and leg strength.

Because they are used standing, and some ellipticals have quite high pedals, overhead space is an important consideration. While you could row in even a low basement, you’ll need to put an elliptical in a room with more head clearance.

Ellipticals are very easy to use and require no special technique. You simply climb onto the footplates, grab the handles, and push your legs around forward or backward while pumping your arms. It’s very hard to misuse an elliptical, and you should master it after just one workout.

Ellipticals tend to work using electromagnetic resistance, although some cheaper models may use hydraulic resistance. Most have performance monitors that display things like workout duration, steps per minutes, and calories. Some have built-in workouts that you can modify and follow instead of just making up your own workout as you go along.

couple on ellipticals in the gymMuscles Worked

Ellipticals and rowers are full-body workouts. They involve all of your major muscles and many minor ones too. That’s one of the reasons they are so effective for weight management. Using all those muscles at the same time burns a lot of calories.

The main difference between rowers and elliptical is that rowers tend to involve more core and lower back action, but very little chest and triceps. In contrast, the upright position features a much more upright position, which means less core involvement. However, as you can push and pull on the handles, your chest and triceps get a good workout along with the rest of your upper body muscles.

Despite these differences, it’s really not important that each one uses slightly different muscles. None of the muscles involved are really worked hard enough to have anything more than a gentle toning effect. If you really want to strengthen or build these muscles, you’ll need to target them with calisthenic or weight training exercises.

Pros And Cons For Rowing Machines And Elliptical Trainers

Both of these machines can deliver a safe, fun, and effective workout but each one has pros and cons that should be considered before buying.

Rowing Machine

Pros Cons
Low-impact Requires good technique
Easy on the joints May take a while to master
Good for the core Can be uncomfortable for long workouts
May improve posture Performance monitors are often very basic
Suitable for all fitness levels – even advanced Do not normally feature pre-programmed workouts
Some rowing machines can be used for races (C2) Some users experience back pain when rowing


Pros Cons
Low-impact Ellipticals tend to be large, high, and immovable
Easy on the joints Many need electricity to work
Weight-bearing for increased bone strength Weight-bearing can be a problem for heavier users
Built in workouts to follow May not be challenging enough for advanced users
Comfortable, upright position Minimal core involvement
Ideal for beginner and intermediate users Rowers tend to burn more calorie per hour

So, Which One Should You Choose?

Rowers and ellipticals both provide a low impact, full-body workout. They can be used for a wide range of workouts, including steady-paced cardio and interval training. Both of these machines can help you get fit, lose weight, and tone up. However, that’s where the similarities end! These machines are different enough that you need to consider the pros and cons of each one so that you end up with the right one for you.

Rowing machines have the potential to deliver a more demanding workout. While they are suitable for beginners and intermediate exercisers, they are especially useful for those who are already fit.

Learning to use a rower can take time, but it’s crucial that you row with proper technique, otherwise you could end up injured. Even with good rowing technique, you may still experience backache, especially on long workouts.

Ellipticals are very easy to use. There is no learning curve to navigate, and most users master this machine after just a few minutes of use. It’s very hard to use an elliptical incorrectly, and there is minimal risk of injury. Because ellipticals are so simple, you can hop on and exercise without using your brain too much. There are no tricky techniques to learn and remember.

On the downside, ellipticals are less well suited to advanced exercisers. If you are already very fit or want to build a very high level of fitness, you may find that you outgrow your elliptical trainer.


The best machine for you depends on your fitness aims and goals. Rowers take longer to master but ultimately deliver the better workout, especially for more advanced exercisers. In contrast, ellipticals are easy to use and master, but if you are very fit, you may find that they don’t offer enough of a challenge.

But, the most important thing to consider is which one will you enjoy using the most. Why is that important? Because even the best workout machine won’t produce the results you want if you don’t use it!

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