Rowing Machine Vs Elliptical: Which Provides the Best Workout?

Rowing Machine Vs Elliptical
If you want aerobic activities to lose body fat while reducing disease risks, look at a rowing machine vs an elliptical.  

Both machines deliver a cardiovascular, high-calorie-burning, non-impact workout. However, when it comes to a rowing machine in comparison to an elliptical machine, there are a few differences.

Rowing machines, using a push-pull style, deliver a full body workout, emphasizing muscle strength and calorie burning.

An elliptical machine, on the other hand, works the lower body with pedaling motions for meeting weight-loss goals.

So, is one workout machine better than the other? Let’s take a quick look each one so you can decide.


While at first look, grabbing the handles and moving seems like an easy prospect with a rowing machine. However, using the proper technique with a rower isn’t as intuitive as you might think.

To get the most out of your exercise regime, you need at least one workout with an experienced trainer. You can also benefit from watching good training videos. Rowing involves proper stroke motions, more than just scooting back and forth on the machine.

Even though elliptical trainers look intimidating, they’re much easier to use than the rowing machine. Using the elliptical machine is simply putting your feet on the pedals then moving in a walking or running motion.

You add the upper body workout by grabbing the handles and moving your arms in a backward and forward movement. The upper and lower body movements deliver a challenging cardiovascular workout.


The elliptical trainer’s weight-bearing pedaling exercise motion offers medical benefits to those suffering from osteoporosis.

An article published on, Exercising with Osteoporosis: Stay Active the Safe Way, says ellipticals helps the condition. Elliptical trainers help slow bone mineral loss in the lower spine, hips, and legs.

Since rowing machines aren’t a weight-bearing exercise, they don’t offer the same health benefits as the elliptical trainer. However, rowers help strengthen the back and are a preventative strategy for osteoporosis.


Both the elliptical machine and rower offer a non-impact workout. For those users suffering from back, hip, knee, or ankle issues, the elliptical and rower are the quality-exercise choice.

With other cardiovascular activities, like rope jumping or jogging, the joints handle the biggest load of the activity. These exercises can cause injuries like knee tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, and shin splints each time you land.

With the rowing and elliptical machines, your feet stay on the pedals. With your feet remaining stationary, your joints don’t get a jolting load like they do with other activities.

Repetitive Stress

Most cardio workouts and exercises require both your feet leaving the ground at once. This type of motion creates a high-impact force on the joints, each time you land. The continued landing motion with both feet eventually leads to repetitive stress injury.

The elliptical exercise machine puts all the body weight on your feet during the workout. By keeping your feet on the pedals throughout the entire session, you get a non-impact workout. Depending on the pedal location, whether in front, even with, or behind your hips, the elliptical creates varying stress levels.

Like elliptical exercisers, a rower is a non-impact machine. Depending on the resistance used and the effort needed for moving your body weight, it can cause pain. These factors can create repetitive stress on your lower back, hips, knees, and ankles.


Many elliptical machines don’t provide a lower body, back, arm, or chest benefit. Other machines, however, have moving arm levers that with the right resistance, build upper-body strength.

Rowing machines are more efficient at working the upper-body muscles and more effective for upper body strength. With a rower, you can emphasize the various muscle groups.

Increasing or decreasing the amount of arm and leg motion used affects the muscle building strength. However, overuse of the arm and leg muscles with a rower can create painful back strain.

The rowing machine is efficient for toning arms and shoulders, but the elliptical is better for targeting calve muscles.

Because rowing involves extra muscle use, seeking advice from an experienced user is recommended. By working with someone knowledgeable with a rower, you reduce your risk of back, hip, or knee strain.

If you don’t know an experienced user, consider a demonstration or instructional video. Look for a credible website with instruction videos, before using a rower for the first time.


When it comes to burning calories per hour, the elliptical machine comes out slightly ahead of the rowing machine.

According to Harvard School of Public Health, a rowing machine helps a person weighing 155 pounds burn 520 calories. At vigorous speed, the rower burns over 630 calories per hour.

The same person using an elliptical machine burns about 670 calories per hour. However, because of the increased muscle usage from rowing, the metabolism stays elevated longer.

Maintaining the increased metabolism after the workout means the post-workout calorie burn is higher with rowing.


Rowing machines are a mechanically simpler trainer than elliptical machines. Chances are, getting a lower cost rower that stands up to regular use is easier than getting an elliptical.

However, a low-cost rower still has the same problems as the lower priced elliptical. Some of the issues you run into with low-cost machines are rough motion, loud drive mechanism, and flimsy construction.

Expect to hand over between $900 and $1,200 for a good quality rowing machine. An elliptical machine of the same quality will cost about the same. However, for a quality model elliptical, expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,000.


With both machines, you can create an interval-training workout. Decreasing the resistance level and working faster varies the workout intensity. The elliptical machine allows for mimicking running sprints if you prefer this type of training.

A rowing machine requires a resistance level, too strong for training your high-twitch muscle fibers. The rower also works against other forms of low-resistance training like the elliptical’s sprinting option.

Many elliptical machines come with electronic consoles for creating varied cardio workout routines. The consoles normally provide workout data like calories burned with real-time heart-rate data and post workout summaries.

Elliptical trainers help improve bone density through weight-bearing exercise.

When starting a fitness program, talk to your doctor about which exercise equipment and what exercises are safe for you.

Rowing Machine Pros

  • Needs little space
  • Easy storage with fold away capabilities
  • Budget-friendly
  • Works the entire body
  • Improves cardiovascular fitness
  • Low impact exercise
  • Rowing vigorously burns up to 850 calories per hour
  • Most rowers are quieter than a treadmill
  • Does not require a power supply

Rowing Machine Cons

  • Budget priced machines are unreliable
  • Many users find rowing dull and unmotivating

Elliptical Machine Pros

  • Budget-friendly
  • A good machine for beginner users
  • Can use with or without arms
  • Low joint stress
  • Good for rehabilitation patients
  • Very low injury risk
  • Tones both lower and upper body
  • Good cardio fitness machine

Elliptical Machine Cons

  • Takes up more space than other trainers
  • Some users find repetitive action unmotivating
  • Budget models have a short stride that limits benefits

There it is for our roundup of elliptical machines vs rowing machines. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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