Rowing Machine VS Elliptical: The Differences And How To Make The Most Of Each

We all know how important cardiovascular exercise is. For your cardiovascular health, two of the best machines in your gym are the rowing machine and elliptical a.k.a the cross trainer.

However, there is still an ongoing argument about which is superior over the other. In this rowing machine vs. elliptical article, you’ll find out the key differences to help you choose which is best for you. So, keep reading for more information!

Benefits Of Rowing Machines And Elliptical Trainers

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Before I walk you through the main differences between a rowing machine and an elliptical, let us first discuss their benefits.

Both of these exercise machines offer low-impact cardiovascular stimulation. This helps reduce your overall body fat, manage your weight, improve your heart health, improve your lungs’ aerobic capacity, and reduce your risk of acquiring or developing a wide array of diseases.

To be able to reap the most cardio rewards, maintain a high-speed movement on either machine for at least thirty minutes. Set the resistance on low if using an elliptical trainer or set the damper settings to low on a rowing machine.

According to in their published article with the title, “Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to get Physical”, performing at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day can help you live a healthier, longer, and more independent life.

The other amazing benefits of regular cardio and aerobic exercise also include the following:

  • Improved mood
  • Higher energy levels
  • Stronger cardiovascular system
  • Better stamina and endurance
  • Boosted immune system strength

Rowing Machine Vs. Elliptical: Posture

Women with Ellipticals

Both the rowing machine and elliptical offer low-impact full body cardio workout as well as excellent ways to strengthen your lower and upper body. However, their main difference lies in the posture you maintain while using each of them and the workout styles they offer.

When using a rowing machine, you remain in a seated position throughout the workout. The motion also mimics the way you would manually row as if propelling a boat through the water.

With an elliptical machine, on the other hand, you will be standing erect while striding. Some machines can also be adjusted to simulate climbing or walking against some resistance.

Workout Style And Target Muscles

There is also a difference in how a rowing machine and an elliptical machine works your muscles. Primarily, rowing machines focus more on your upper body than an elliptical would. Some ellipticals may not even come with moving arms.

Rowing machines, therefore, are more effective in strengthening your arms and core as you will be using your abs to keep your torso straight and maintain the proper form as you workout.

An elliptical trainer does not offer this core-strengthening benefit. However, it does target the triceps and chest muscles more than a rowing machine would. Note that an elliptical trainer is not an actual strength-training tool, but depending on how hard you push against the handlebars as you pedal, you can sufficiently involve and work on your chest and triceps.

Caloric Burn

When it comes to burning calories, you would generally burn fewer calories on a rowing machine than you would on an elliptical trainer but not by much. Of course, the amount of calories you will burn will still depend on other factors like your weight and your workout intensity.

For a better illustration, a person weighing about 155 pounds can typically burn an average of around 670 calories per hour on an elliptical trainer and around 630 calories per hour on a rowing machine.

Again, both machines offer a low impact workout, which means your feet and hands must stay in contact with the machine as you exercise. So, when it comes to stress on the joints and caloric burn, they are pretty much the same.

Rowing Machine Vs. Elliptical: Space Requirement

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In terms of their footprint and overall design, rowing machines generally take up more space than elliptical machines because they are longer. This design allows you to sit on the rower with extended legs. There is also a flywheel connected to the handle which you will pull that is located a few feet in front of you.

Rowing machines are long, narrow, and lower in height. This makes them ideal for spaces with low ceilings, and are longer than they are wide. There are also some compact rowers for places with minimal floor areas.

On the contrary, ellipticals require much more vertical clearance since the user will be standing up instead of sitting down. Also, elliptical pedals are designed to keep you elevated at least a few inches from the floor.

The total height requirement for an elliptical machine is around the user’s height plus anywhere between 15 to 20 inches. There are also some manufacturers that produce ellipticals suitable for low-ceiling environments.

Muscle Gain And Toning

The movement on a rowing machine is a two-dimensional combination of cardio and weightlifting. The intensity of the exercise comes from a repeated alternating movement with brief recovery. You push with the legs and pull through your arms and core.

Therefore, the muscles are targeted similarly as when you are lifting weights. The movement on a rowing machine allows you to actively build your core, legs, arms, and back muscles.

The movement on an elliptical trainer, on the other hand, is more of the circular type. You use a continuous stepping stride without a distinct starting point or stopping point. But don’t worry because you will still feel your muscles burn.

An elliptical trainer is also more versatile than a rowing machine since you can adjust not only the resistance but also the shape and length of each stride, the incline, and maybe even reverse the pedaling. This allows you to target a slightly different group of muscles of the legs, core, back, and arms.

Learning Curve


Whenever you use an exercise machine, there is always a learning curve which your rate of progress as you get the hang of using it.

Elliptical trainers are relatively more comfortable and straightforward to use. Simply step on the pedals and start moving as if you are walking or running. Hold the handlebars and move your arms back and forth for a whole body cardio workout.

However, intuition and instinct are not quite enough to be able to use a rowing machine properly. You might need at least one session with an informative training video or a good trainer to learn the proper form and stroke motion.

Weight-Bearing and Osteoporosis

According to an article published on Mayo Clinic, weight-bearing exercises such as using an elliptical trainer can help slow down or reduce mineral loss in the bones of the hips, legs, and lower spine for people with osteoporosis. It can also help improve your bone density.

Rowing machines do not have this benefit since rowing is not a weight-bearing exercise. However, it does help strengthen the back, which can also help in preventing osteoporosis.

Reliability And Operation

Rowing machines are manually operated and simple. They are pretty straightforward to use and require no electricity.

Some versions of the elliptical machine can be manually operated, but they often come with programmable electronic settings which are what makes them so versatile. Because of the more complex operation for elliptical machines, they also require more maintenance and are less reliable in terms of longevity.


Since the mechanism at which rowing machines work are much simpler than those of elliptical trainers, the latter are generally more expensive. You also have a higher chance of finding a cheaper piece of equipment that will withstand regular use with a rowing machine than you would with an elliptical trainer.

However, low-end rowers and low-end elliptical trainers can come with the same type of problems like less-than-smooth operation and motion, flimsy construction, and a noisy drive mechanism.

A good quality rowing machine can cost anywhere between $600 to $800. Find the best rowing machine that is a bang for your buck here.

The prices of a decent elliptical trainer may start at a similar approximate price range but can go as high as $1000 or more for quality models.

To know which type of exercise equipment is suitable for you, watch this video:


In summary, the winner between the rowing machine vs. elliptical machine will depend on your personal needs, fitness goals, and preferences. Both offer similar and amazing advantages that even the healthiest person can benefit from.

If you want to work on your back, chest, and core, a rowing machine could be your best option. Otherwise, if you want a more gentle workout for your whole body, then, by all means, go for an elliptical machine.

At the end of the day, the results of your exercise will be determined by your perseverance and the amount of effort you put in, no matter what machine you use. So, I hope you find what you’re looking for with the help of the information you learned from this article!

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