Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical: What Is the Better Workout?

Laine Maher and Laine Karwoski
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If you’re looking to switch up your workout routine with a piece of indoor exercise equipment, you’re likely weighing a rowing machine vs. elliptical to see which one of these popular machines is right for you. 

Here’s everything you need to know about both rowing machines and ellipticals, including how they work and the benefits of each. 

Let’s get started! 

Elliptical and rowing machine workouts: The basics

There’s a reason that ellipticals and rowing machines are two of the most popular pieces of workout equipment on the market right now, as they offer a slew of benefits for both fitness newcomers and seasoned athletes alike. But what do each of these machines entail, and how do they work? 

Both machines are indoor options designed to simulate the motions of their outdoor counterparts. Elliptical trainers use a combination of handles and pedals to mimic walking, running, and climbing stairs, while rowing machines include a sliding seat, handle, and chain to simulate the motion of rowing a boat. 

Ellipticals and rowing machines are known widely for being low-impact workouts. Their smooth, gliding motions mean you aren’t putting any undue stress on your joints, which means they’re the perfect workout option for beginners or those prone to injuries. These workouts will go easy on your joints without sacrificing your calorie burn — a win-win! 

The benefits of rowing machines vs. ellipticals

Rowing machines offer a ton of perks when compared to their elliptical counterparts. Below, we’ll dive deeper into each of the benefits of rowing machines vs. ellipticals, including: 

  • Cardiovascular system domination

  • Full-body workouts

  • Calorie-burning potential 

  • Versatility and variability

  • Core strength and posture improvement

Here we go! 

1. Cardiovascular system domination

Rowing machines are the superheroes of cardiovascular workouts. They take your heart rate to new heights, pumping up your cardiovascular system like never before. With each stroke you take, rowing will engage your entire body, demanding more oxygen and blood flow to fuel your muscles. 

It’s a heart-pounding, pulse-racing adventure that leaves your cardiovascular system stronger and more efficient. Get ready to feel the rush!

2. Full-body workouts

Are you tired of workouts that only target a single muscle group? Say goodbye to monotony, because rowing machines offer a full-body extravaganza, targeting both your upper and lower body to build muscle. Your legs will drive your initial push, your core and back muscles will work during your drive, and your chest and triceps will kick into action during the finish, engaging your entire body in a symphony of muscle power. It’s like a workout concert where every muscle gets a chance to shine!

While ellipticals certainly offer more of an upper-body workout than treadmills or traditional running, the emphasis is still mainly on your legs (particularly if your elliptical model only offers stationary handlebars).

3. Calorie-burning potential 

Your time is precious, and rowing machines definitely jive with busier schedules. In just 30 minutes of rowing, you can ignite a calorie-burning inferno that would make any fitness enthusiast weak in the knees (literally).

Rowing combines cardiovascular intensity with muscle engagement, creating a perfect storm for torching calories and melting away unwanted pounds. Say hello to a more efficient and effective fat-burning journey with this efficient cardio workout!

3. Versatility and variability

You’ll never be bored on a rowing machine! Rowing machines offer a range of workout options, including different resistance levels, interval training, and even simulated rowing workouts. This versatility can help keep your workouts challenging and engaging, preventing the monotony that makes you dread lacing up your sneakers day after day.

While ellipticals do offer different resistance levels and workout programs, the range of motion and exercise options may be more limited compared to rowing machines.

4. Core strength and posture improvement

If you’re looking to focus some attention on your core, a rowing machine is a fantastic pick. Rowing requires a strong core and promotes proper posture throughout the exercise. The pulling motion engages your abdominal and back muscles, helping you to develop a stronger core and even improve your overall posture. 

Ellipticals provide less emphasis on core activation, so depending on your fitness goals and which parts of your body you’re most looking to target, a rowing machine may be the better option for you.

The benefits of ellipticals vs. rowing machines

Now, don't get us wrong—ellipticals have their merits, too. They bring their own unique flavor to the fitness party, including benefits such as: 

  • Customizable intensity

  • Lower barrier to entry

  • Potential space savings

Let’s dig in!

1. Customizable intensity

Elliptical workouts give you the power to control your intensity with adjustable resistance levels on the machine. While rowing, you’ll increase your own pressure to customize the intensity. 

2. Lower barrier to entry

Ellipticals are relatively straightforward to use, with a simple pedal motion and adjustable resistance levels. Rowing machines, on the other hand, may require some initial practice and training to learn proper technique and coordination. 

3. Potential space savings 

Depending on which model you choose, you may be able to save some space in your home with an elliptical. Very basic models tend to take up less space than a rowing machine, so if you’re working with a smaller footprint, you may favor an elliptical. 

So, should you buy an elliptical trainer or rowing machine?

When it comes to overall effectiveness, rowing machines definitely take the crown. They offer a superior combination of cardiovascular engagement, full-body muscle activation, and calorie-burning potential. So, if you’re looking for a workout that delivers maximum results in minimum time, rowing machines are the way to go.

Looking to take your fitness journey to the next level? Embrace the power of rowing with Hydrow. Our rowing machines offer all the above benefits of a rowing machine along with an immersive experience that transports you to the most beautiful places on earth. Plus, our workout library includes over 4,000 workouts, all led by world-class Athletes who will keep you motivated and help you improve no matter where you’re at on your fitness journey. 

Get on board, grab those handles, and row your way to a fitter, stronger, and more fabulous you!

Laine Karwoski

After a successful rowing career at the University of Wisconsin, Laine shifted her mindset to tackle 2 marathons while also working full time. This experience taught her the value of creating efficient, tough and exciting workouts that can fit easily into any schedule. With experience training for a variety of sports, Laine will make the most of your time on your Hydrow and will always be there to push you to new limits.