Rowing Machine vs Elliptical – Which is the Best Exercise for You?

Updated on

When you visit the gym or consider purchasing exercise equipment for home, which of the two options would you choose: a rowing machine or an elliptical cross-trainer? Both options provide a great cardiovascular workout, an excellent way to increase overall health and fitness.

While these exercise machines offer a great workout, each option varies in design and movement for different effects. Whether you prefer one of the two options or a combination of each machine, it’s useful to know how each may enhance your exercise routine.

The Options: Rowing Machine and Elliptical

At first glance, you’ll notice the rowing machine and elliptical offer continuous motion for the upper and lower body. While you’re getting an extensive range of motion from both machines, they each have a different emphasis on the parts of the body.

A rower, naturally, mimics the action of rowing and the newer fitness machine, the elliptical, otherwise known as a cross-trainer is based on the action of Nordic skiing.

Elliptical or Cross-Trainer

The elliptical motion works from a standing position, offering a fixed set of movements, back and forth, much like running or cross-country skiing. There is more resistance than a treadmill. Inbuilt settings can increase the level of resistance, depending on how much of an intense workout you want.

The elliptical offers either a workout by coordinating footrests and levers for handles that move together as you pedal back and forth. It’s a great overall workout, with no more pressure or burden placed on one area of your body over any other.

Your arms and legs move in conjunction with each other. You can also normally choose to keep your arms from moving by holding on to a central grip.

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines offer more mobility with a bar that you pull back, then return, as you bend your knees and sit on a sliding seat. It’s important to continue each improvement consistently and evenly while maintaining a straight back to avoid injury.

The goal of the rowing machine is to initiate the same type of rowing in a paddleboat, which aims to develop your upper and lower body. As you pull the handle connected to a chain, you bend and return to pull the handle again, back and forth, as your seat slides on a rail to keep moving smoothly.

Rowing Machine vs Elliptical

How do these exercise machines compare to one another, side by side? When you visit the gym, there are loads of types of cardio equipment.

As well as the rowers and ellipticals, there are treadmills and various versions of bikes, recumbent, upright and spin bikes. If it’s your first time using any of these machines, a fitness trainer at the gym will give you a quick tutorial. 

However, we are extolling the virtues of fitness from home on this site so let’s see if we can fill you in.

1. Which exercise machine is more accessible?

The elliptical is more accessible, as you don’t have to pull or use as much force with your upper body. As your feet move with the pedals, the lever handles coordinate, as they are all attached. You can begin slowly, at a reduced level, then work your way to more challenging levels of resistance.

The rowing machine offers a more intense upper body workout, which targets the arms and back. Regular use of the rowing machine strengthens the upper back, spine and the core, developing muscles in and around these areas.

Ideally, both machines are easy to use, and it only takes a few minutes to learn how to exercise with them safely and effectively. Technique and form are, as always, important to master.

I would say the rowing action is a more difficult technique to maintain, whereas the elliptical is straightforward. Once you get your arms moving, your legs naturally follow.

2. Safety precautions in using the machines

If you’re comfortable moving back and forth on the elliptical, you can progress at your own pace, without any risk. It’s an excellent option for people who can’t use treadmills and other equipment that place a strain on the joints and the back.

Most people enjoy using the elliptical machine with no issues or discomfort. It’s a very low impact action.

Rowing machines are similarly easy to use and safe, though they may be difficult for people with knee injuries or bad back pain. It’s essential to use the machine carefully or consult with a physician if you are concerned about the impact on your knees or back from regular use.

Generally, both machines are safe to use, though the elliptical is designed to provide less impact on the knees and back, so you can train regularly and avoid further injury from high-impact exercise.

3. Burning calories: Which exercise machine is more effective?

The number of calories you burn on each machine depends on several factors, including your weight, the intensity of the training, and how long you exercise. So rowing machine vs elliptical is close enough to be a draw when looking to burn calories.

An elliptical machine can help you burn up to 400 calories within 30 minutes, though if you move at a slower, less intensive pace, you may burn closer to 250 calories or a bit higher.

As you begin using the cross-trainer machine, there is the option of gradually increasing the resistance and incline levels, which can burn more calories within a shorter time.

Rowing machines similarly burn calories at a rate of approximately 300 calories within 30 minutes. This equipment may increase with a higher weight and a more intense pace. Some rowing machines offer more resistance than other models, impacting the number of calories you burn during your workout.

4. Home suitability

Rowing machine vs elliptical: which is the best for home.

Both rowing machines and ellipticals come in different sizes and shapes and there is even a rowing / elliptical combo that you can choose for the home. This hybrid keeps the advantage of a low impact workout with added movement features that activate different parts of the body.

From an aesthetic point of view, I rate the rowing machine top, especially the water rowing machine which wins not only for its stylish design but also for its quiet operation.

There are several types of rowing machines that can all potentially take up less room and can in some cases be folded up to store.

The cheaper ellipticals have a smaller footprint than the rower but because of more moving parts can’t usually be folded away. And it’s because of the higher complexity of the ellipticals that I believe they are more likely to require extra maintenance than rowers. Look for a long warranty on frames and parts.

The length of the rowing machine doesn’t equate to the total that’s required when in action with proper form as you need to lean back at the end of the stroke. For the elliptical the reverse is true. You need to be aware of the total height when in operation.

Discover the best rowing machines for the home including the best value option. We’ve also covered the value options for ellipticals here. Awesome!

Stand out Features: Questions and Answers

Elliptical and rowing machines offer a great workout for cardio exercise and burning calories. When you exercise with one or both machines, you’ll notice significant results combined with a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle.

Question: Which exercise machine is more effective for weight loss?

Answer: Both the elliptical and rowing machines are excellent options for weight loss. It’s also important to consider other factors that will improve this process, including other forms of exercise, a healthy diet, and the number of calories you consume. Both machines offer roughly the same overall weight loss results.

Question: Is there a safer option for exercise?

Answer: The elliptical machine offers a safe, low-risk option for low to moderate impact exercise. While the rowing machine is relatively easy and safe to use, there is a slightly higher risk of straining your knees and back. With careful use, both machines are generally safe and easy to use.

Question: Which one of these exercise machines provides muscle toning?

Answer: Elliptical and rowing machines provide cardiovascular exercise, though you won’t see the same results as strength training exercises or toning with weights.

However, the rower activates the core area more than the elliptical even though both machines’ actions will help with keeping the arms and legs trim.

Question: Which machine is better for targeting belly fat?

Answer: Rowing machines are more effective in targeting belly fat, as the motion of pulling the handle with resistance works the back and abdominal muscles.

Question: Do you need to exercise more on one machine than the other for more fantastic results?

Answer: Each machine offers similar results, whether you’re counting calories or looking for physical results. Using a machine or not, you only need to exercise 30 minutes a day to see results.

If you’re physically active in cycling, swimming, or team sports, you can enhance your exercise routine with either or both equipment options, though you can reduce the frequency of usage.


So, rowing machine vs elliptical; which of the two exercise machines is better for you? The answer depends on your personal goals and needs. 

A rowing machine or an elliptical can be an a big purchase for the home. On the other hand and I’ve discovered this myself, if you buy something poorly made with few features you may end up with a machine gathering dust in the corner.

Choose rowing machines if you want an intensive workout that targets abdominal areas while offering your body a complete workout. With this machine you can get a great cardio workout but extend yourself and the core, back and legs will benefit.

Choose elliptical if you want the benefits of a full-body, low-impact cardio workout without risking injury to your body or straining your joints.

And don’t forget to check out our list of rowing machines for the home including the best value option and the value options for ellipticals here as well.

Photo of author


Jenny Churchill

Always being a fitness fanatic saw Jenny become a Level 2 Certified Personal Trainer. She was able to maintain her enthusiasm for her own fitness after the arrival of 2 more mouths to feed. And now it's more about helping others through her writing, something she can do from home.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.