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Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical: Which Is Better & More Effective?

Exercise is a crucial component of maintaining good health and reducing the risk of chronic disease. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends regular cardio exercise as a way to improve aerobic capacity, lose body fat, and reduce the risk of various diseases.

When it comes to choosing an exercise machine, there are many options available at the gym. However, two of the most popular choices are the rowing machine and the elliptical machine (also known as a cross trainer).

If you’re trying to mix up your exercise routine or are looking for the best at-home workout but only have space and time for one machine, you might be wondering which one provides the best workout: a rowing machine or an elliptical machine. In this article, we will compare and contrast these two popular exercise machines to help you make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

What Is A Rowing Machine And How Does It Work?

A rowing machine, also known as an indoor rower, is a piece of exercise equipment that simulates the act of rowing a boat on water. It typically consists of a sliding seat, a handlebar, a set of pedals to place feet, and a flywheel.

The flywheel provides resistance, making the rowing motion more challenging and helping to build strength and endurance in the upper body and legs thereby combining cardio with light resistance training, giving you a full-body workout. Many rowing machines also have a display screen that shows metrics like stroke rate, distance, and calories burned.

According to a study published by Harvard Medical School, using a rowing machine can be an effective way to burn calories. The study found that participants who weighed 84kg (185 pounds) burned up to 440 calories in a vigorous 30-minute session on a rowing machine.

This is significantly more than many other indoor cardio exercises. It’s important to note that the number of calories burned on a rowing machine will vary from person to person and can be affected by a variety of factors, including your weight, intensity of your workout, and length of your session.

How To Use A Rowing Machine

Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical: Which Is Better & More Effective?

Here are the basic steps for using a rowing machine:

  • Adjust the seat height: Make sure the seat is the right height for you first. Your legs should be able to be fully extended without the need for undue effort or stretching.
  • Grip the handlebars: Hold the handlebars with an overhand grip, palms facing down. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Push off with your feet: Place your feet on the footrests and push off with a strong, steady motion.
  • Pull the handlebars toward your chest: As you push off with your feet, use a smooth, continuous motion to pull the handlebars toward your chest. Keep your back straight and your elbows close to your body.
  • Extend your legs: At the finish of your stroke, you should straighten your legs and push the seat back to the beginning position.
  • Repeat: Keep going, focusing on maintaining a steady, controlled action.

Benefits Of A Rowing Machine

Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical: Which Is Better & More Effective?

Here are some potential benefits of using a rowing machine:

  • Low impact: First off, rowing is a low-impact exercise that puts minimal strain on your joints, making it a good option for people with injuries or chronic pain.
  • Full-body workout: Rowing works a wide range of muscle groups, including the legs, glutes, core, back, and arms. This makes it an efficient way to get a full-body workout in a short amount of time.
  • Cardiovascular benefits: Rowing is a cardiovascular exercise that can help improve your cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and boost your metabolism.
  • Stress-reliever: Exercise has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood, and rowing is no exception. The rhythmic motion of rowing can be particularly soothing and meditative.
  • Easy to use: Rowing machines are generally easy to use and require minimal setup. They’re also low-maintenance and can be used by people of all fitness levels.
  • Versatility: Rowing machines can be used for a wide range of workouts, from short, high-intensity intervals to longer, endurance-building sessions. This makes them a versatile option for a wide range of fitness goals.

Disadvantages Of A Rowing Machine

While there are many potential benefits to using a rowing machine, there are also a few potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Initial cost: Rowing machines can be expensive, especially high-end models with advanced features. This may be a deterrent for some people.
  • Space requirements: Rowing machines can be large and bulky, so they may not be a good option for people with limited space.
  • Potential for improper form: If you don’t use proper form while using a rowing machine, you may be at risk of injury. It’s important to follow proper technique and start with a low resistance setting until you get the hang of it.
  • Potential for boredom: Some people may find the repetitive nature of rowing to be monotonous. If you’re someone who gets bored easily, you may find it hard to stick with a rowing routine.
  • Lower back strain: Rowing can be a strenuous exercise that requires the use of the lower back muscles and can place pressure on the spinal column. It may not be suitable for people with existing back injuries, mobility limitations, or back pain as it may worsen these conditions.

Overall, the disadvantages of a rowing machine may be outweighed by the benefits for some people, but it’s important to consider these factors before making a purchase.

Now that you know how to use rowing machines as well as their advantages and disadvantages, let’s talk a little about elliptical trainers.

What Is An Elliptical Machine/Cross Trainer And How Does It Work?

The elliptical machine or a cross trainer is a cardio machine that allows for a low-impact workout. Standard components include a stationary platform with pedals that the rider stands on and  and moves in a circular motion while holding onto handlebars for stability. The term “elliptical” refers to the elliptical path followed by the pedals.

Cardiovascular exercise on an elliptical machine is comparable to that of jogging or cycling, but is easier on the joints. It’s an excellent substitute for those who want to get in shape and burn calories but can’t do high-impact activities owing to injury or other physical constraints. The level of your training can be changed by using the elliptical machine’s adjustable resistance and pre-set workout routines.

How To Use An Elliptical Machine

Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical: Which Is Better & More Effective?

Here are the basic steps for using an elliptical machine:

  • Set the machine up for your body type. Altering the pedals’ height, the bike’s resistance, and the angle of incline are all possible options. You shouldn’t have to stretch to reach the handlebars or stand on the pedals.
  • Place one foot on each pedal and grab the handlebars for stability as you mount the machine.
  • The first step is to get going;  Start pedaling in a smooth, circular motion to get rolling. Adjusting the machine’s resistance or incline can change the difficulty of your workout.
  • You can use the handlebars to help you stay balanced and to change up your training by targeting different sets of muscles. If you want to focus on upper body strength, look for an elliptical machine with movable handlebars rather than fixed ones.
  • When using the elliptical machine, it is important to keep an eye on your form to ensure that you are utilizing it correctly. Do not slouch or lean to one side; instead, maintain an upright posture.
  • Slow down and stretch towards the end of your workout to prevent muscle cramps and other injuries.

It’s important to start with a low resistance level and gradually increase it as you get more comfortable and build up your endurance. It’s also a good idea to wear supportive shoes and listen to your body to avoid overexertion.

Benefits Of An Elliptical Machine

Here are some potential benefits of using an elliptical machine:

  • Elliptical machines are a great alternative for persons with injuries or chronic pain since they give a low-impact cardiovascular workout.
  • Many elliptical machines allow you to train both your upper and lower body, making them an efficient method to get a full-body workout in a short length of time.
  • Elliptical machines provide a cardiovascular workout that can help improve your cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and raise your metabolism.
  • Because elliptical machines give a low-impact workout, they’re kinder on the joints than activities like running or jumping. This makes them a viable option for exercise novices and individuals with joint problems.
  • Elliptical machines are adaptable, allowing users to do everything from brief bursts of high-intensity work to prolonged sessions aimed at increasing endurance. That’s why they’re a great choice for achieving a wide variety of fitness objectives.
  • Elliptical machines are easy to use and require minimal setup. They’re also low-maintenance and can be used by people of all fitness levels.

Disadvantages Of An Elliptical Machine

Just like with rowing machines that have its set of advantages and disadvantages, an elliptical trainer also has a few disadvantages which are:

  • Risk of joint and muscle strain: The repetitive motion of the elliptical machine may put strain on your joints and muscles, especially if you have poor form or use the machine for extended periods of time.
  • Limited range of motion: Elliptical machines may not provide as much of a range of motion as other types of exercise equipment, such as running or cycling. This may make them less effective at certain types of workouts.
  • Cost: Elliptical machines can be expensive, especially high-end models with advanced features. This may be a deterrent for some people.
  • Maintenance and repair: Elliptical machines require regular maintenance and may need to be repaired from time to time. This can add to the overall cost of owning an elliptical machine.


Both rowing machines and elliptical trainers are low-impact exercise tools that can improve cardiovascular and muscular endurance and help with weight loss. The choice between the two ultimately depends on individual preferences and physical limitations.

Ellipticals may be more suitable for those who are just starting or returning to exercise or have knee or back pain, while rowing machines may be better for those who are already in shape and want a full-body workout. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any exercise program and to choose a machine that you enjoy using consistently.

Calorie burn for both machines is similar if done for the same duration at a moderate intensity, but consistency is the key to successful weight loss.


Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant. He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves. Rahul has a master's degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.

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