Rowing Machine vs Elliptical: What’s the Better All-Around Workout?

Rowing Machine vs Elliptical: What’s the Better All-Around Workout?

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The world of fitness is now flooded with a wide array of cardio machines that promise great results. Some are effective while others leave you wanting more.

Two machines that do tend to stand out in this day and age would be rowing machines and ellipticals.

However, if you are deciding between these two options, you may get confused as to which one is the best fit. This is where a detailed comparison such as the one below will make your life easier.

Here is a comprehensive look at what each machine is all about and whether or not they are a good option for your workout needs.

What is a Rowing Machine?

a man uses a rowing machine

The average rowing machine is a fascinating option for those wanting to mimic being out in the water on a rowboat. It takes the nuances of rowing on a boat and brings it to your gym.

The goal is to create a movement pattern that is similar to the one you would implement while rowing a boat forward in moving water.


Some machines take this to the next level and use actual water to create resistance making it a more authentic rowing experience indoors.

Pros of a Rowing Machine

  • Low-Impact

The first thing most people will notice with this machine involves the lack of stress on their joints [1].

This is a key advantage because a lot of machines put too much stress on various joints including your ankles, knees, and hips.

Instead of this, a rowing machine is going to keep things as simple as they need to be. As long as you take the time to learn the movement, you are going to be good to go. The results will be on par with what you want and it is going to feel good as you continue to improve your technique.

This is key for those who are worried about ruining their joints and/or ligaments.

  • Efficiently¬†Burns Calories

While a cardio machine that is easy on the joints is great, it is the number of calories you burn that will play a major role in how satisfied you are.

With this machine, you won’t have to worry about that at all.

The number of calories you’re going to be burn will be among the highest when compared to other workout options. This is noted for being a powerful solution that offers a real “bang for your buck” when it comes to per-minute caloric burn.

The reasons include:

  • Constant Movement
  • Uses the Entire Body
  • Requires a Good Amount of Force

If you are thinking about finding a good solution that works well then it is best to start here.

It will help you burn calories and that is good for those who want to go through short workout sessions while getting full value for their time.

  • Full-Body Workout

When rowing, you are going to notice the entire body is engaged to complete the movement pattern.

This is going to include your arms, legs, and everything in between.

It is a full-body workout and that is great for those who want a more well-rounded cardiovascular experience. It is not just about getting the heart rate up but also building the rest of the body up too.

  • Improves Posture

Your posture is going to improve over the short and long-term.

This has to do with how the movement pattern is completed and the amount of resistance it puts on the core. As your core strength improves, you are going to notice a change in your posture too.

This is a positive change for those who do slouch a lot and it often has to do with weak supporting muscles in that part of the body. This won’t be a problem after you go through a consistent run of workout sessions using a rowing machine.

Cons of a Rowing Machine

  • Requires Good Form at All Times

While it is a great cardio machine, you do have to think about your form all the time.

Any slip-ups in this regard can lead to injury.

It is only a low-impact machine as long as you are following the right technique. If you start bending your back too much while pulling/rowing, you are going to end up tweaking something.

The reasons include:

  • Can Lead to Stress Injuries
  • Reduces Impact of the Machine
  • Reduces Calories Being Burned

Repetitive stress on the lower back is common with this machine if your form is off.

Take the time to learn the technique properly as this will ensure the machine is effective for you. Otherwise, you are not going to enjoy the results at all.

  • Takes Up a Lot of Space

It is going to take up quite a bit of space.

If you don’t have a lot of room to put the rowing machine, this might become a little hurdle that you have to deal with.

A lot of apartment tenants will worry about this before buying a rower. It is just going to take up more space than other machines and that is something you have to account for in advance.

Take the opportunity to measure where you are going to set up the rower and ensure it is foldable allowing you to store it during the day.

What is an Elliptical?

working out on an elliptical machine

The elliptical machine is designed to bring the art of walking and climbing stairs to a stationary setup. Rather than constantly going up and down steps, you can put the elliptical to the test.

It creates the same movement pattern and allows you to play around with the stride to maximize how many calories are being burned.

Pros of an Elliptical

  • Low-Impact

This machine is known for being easy on the joints [2].

Since it is designed to help mimic climbing, it does a good job of doing this without putting pressure on the joints.

If you are worried about stressing the joints and ligaments in your body, you should be taking a peek at what this machine has to offer.

  • Improves Mind-Muscle Coordination

Over time, you are going to start understanding the rhythm of completing this movement pattern. It does take a bit of time to learn but it will improve your overall mind-muscle coordination.

It is going to teach you how to get the body moving in sync as you continue with each stride.

The reasons include:

  • The Technique Being Used
  • Overall Rhythm
  • Integration of Different Muscles at Once

This is powerful for those who want to do things the right way.

You are going to notice a change in coordination that is great over the short and long-term.

  • Can Reverse Stride

One of the key tips that can turn into an advantage has to do with changing the strides.

Instead of going with the regular stride, you can also tweak it a bit and go with reverse strides. This means you go in the opposite direction while completing the same movement.

This is great as it works your body out in a different way while still burning calories.

Cons of an Elliptical

  • Unnatural Movement

One of the primary concerns with this machine would have to do with the unnatural movement pattern.

This can bother people that are looking to go with something more natural to them. For example, a lot of people would prefer the idea of walking on a treadmill because it comes naturally to them and it is something they do regularly.

The reasons include:

  • Constant Engagement of the Arms
  • Demands a Set Rhythm

Even the rowing machine might seem more natural because your arms aren’t going to be settled as high as they would on an elliptical.

This comes down to your preference and a lot of people don’t mind the initial setup that comes along with this machine.

  • Limited Stress on the Upper Body

When working on this machine, you are going to realize it doesn’t push the upper body as hard as it should.

For most people, this won’t be a problem when it comes to the standard amount of resistance. However, if they start to kick things up a few notches, the disparity between the upper and lower body becomes obvious.

It becomes a glute-dominant workout and that isn’t always good for those who want a more well-rounded workout experience even when doing cardio.

Final Thoughts

Finding the right machine for your gym is all about understanding the finer details.

If you are someone that is hoping to go for a more full-body movement pattern, it might be more intriguing to use a rowing machine. However, if you are looking to play around with your strides and/or using a standing machine then the elliptical machine is your best friend.

It comes down to weighing the pros and cons to the best of your ability to determine what works well. This is the only way to ensure you find a fit that is on par with what you are on the lookout for.