Rowing Machine VS Elliptical Trainer

  • August 4, 2018

Rowing machines and elliptical trainers are still two of the newer exercise machines when compared to some of the more traditional types that have been around awhile.

That’s where the similarities end, however. These two machines offer vastly different styles and intensities of workouts and have very different operations in general.

So, if you’re someone who’s been wondering which machine to add to their home gym setup, or are simply wondering which one is best for certain types of workouts, you’re in the right place.

Rowing Machine VS Elliptical Trainer

Below, we’ll go over all the main characteristics of each machine, comparing which one has the advantage in all the major categories, ranging from workout intensity, to cost and ease of use.

Let’s start off with what muscles they work.

Muscle Groups Worked

One of the biggest differences between these two exercise machines is the muscle groups and areas of your body getting the most work.

Elliptical Trainer

An elliptical trainer provides a way for a person to run in place essentially, but without any impact at all, as the machine allows you to swing your legs back and forth in a fluid running motion above the ground, while also working the handles that move in conjunction with your steps.

This does give you a type of full body workout, but most of the emphasis is on the lower body, and the core to an extent as well.

rowing machine muscles actiavtion

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines engage a broader range of your body, and on a more intense level. The pulling involved with the rowing motion gives your arms and back a good workout, while your legs keep you sliding up and down on the platform.

During the rowing motion, your core is being worked as well, so you’re getting an efficient workout in nearly all of the key parts of your body.

Verdict - An elliptical certainly works more than just your legs, but a rowing machine offers a more intense workout in more areas, especially in the upper body.

Type Of Exercise

Aerobic and anaerobic are the two main types of exercise, with the former focusing on repetitive motions to build cardio strength, and the former doing more to build muscle mass and strength.

Elliptical Trainer

The elliptical trainer is strictly a cardio exercise machine, since it is based on a running motion, and uses a minimal amount of resistance. This is good is if you want to get a cardio workout in without a lot of strain or stress.

elliptical for cardio workout

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines have a distinct advantage in that they provide both aerobic and anaerobic workouts at the same time.

The rowing motion is repetitive and limited in its motion, resulting in a cardio exercise, but the strong resistance provided by the machine gives you an anaerobic exercise as well.

By adjusting the resistance levels, you can even tailor the machine to give more of one than the other if desired.

Verdict - Elliptical trainers offer an aerobic exercise almost on par with running, but with less impact. Rowing machines can build muscle and tone while also giving you an aerobic exercise, so that’s a significant advantage regarding sheer efficiency.


Impact within a workout refers to actual impact inside your body from contact, most often with the ground or surface below you. In this aspect, both machines are about the same.

Elliptical Trainer

One of the main reasons people use an elliptical trainer is due to it having no impact at all. You’re basically floating on air, moving your legs back and forth in a running motion, but without the need to strike the ground with each step.

impact on body from rowing machine

Rowing Machine

Although a rowing machine has an opposite form of movement, it still offers virtually no impact at all. Your body gently slides on the rail, while your arms pull back and forth on the handles.

Verdict - Both machines provide workouts with no impact, making them good for those with joint problems or other conditions that can be aggravated by repeated impact.

Number Of Calories Burned

Burning calories is the main priority with the majority of those exercising, so the amount of calories burned per hour is often a significant statistic.

Elliptical Trainer

Elliptical trainers are not too far behind in calories burned when compared to running. The lack of impact and incline reduces the amount of calories burned just a bit, but you can still burn about 600-750 calories an hour when going at a fast rate.

rowing machine burning fat

Rowing Machine

In terms of calories burned, rowing machines rank pretty high when compared to other types of machines. On average, the standard rowing machine workout can burn 600-900 calories an hour.

Verdict - Both machines have the same bottom range for calories burned, but pushing things a bit on a rowing machine will burn a noticeably higher amount.

Miscellaneous Aspects


Both machines have similar price ranges on the low end, but rowing machines can be much more expensive when you get to the mid-range models and beyond.


Ellipticals are known for being low maintenance. Rowing machines will require a bit more, depending on the type you get.

Ease Of Use

Ellipticals have a reputation for being among the easiest exercise machines to use at any skill level. Rowing machines take more coordination and may be hard at first for some.


In the end, it just depends on what type of workout you’re looking for. Ellipticals give you a no-impact and upright way to get an efficient cardio workout fluidly, while rowing machines are more intense and can be used to build muscle as well.

If you simply need a different way to get your cardio in that’s not a treadmill or bike, an elliptical is a great choice. Those looking to work more of their body and are perfectly fine with other forms of cardio will be better off with a rowing machine.

About the Author Daniel Jackson

ExerciseRig.com serves as my way to keep people informed and motivated with their home fitness while providing plenty of guidance and advice when buying new products to help them reach their goals. My own story is a bit unconventional from what you may be used to. Although I was never severely out of shape, a severe knee injury actually resulted in me emerging more in form than ever, mostly thanks to equipment such as exercise bikes that I used during my long rehab journey. I’ve remained in shape ever since, and I now focus my efforts on sharing what I’ve learned from all my research and hands-on experience with a variety of home exercise equipment and workouts, passing it along to my readers. If you’re in need of unbiased, genuine, and real fitness equipment advice, this is where you need to be.

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