Rowing Machine vs Elliptical

If you want to kickstart your aerobic capacity by doing cardiovascular exercises, you might have heard of the rowing machine and elliptical. While both give you the cardiovascular workout you want, which one works better? In this article, we’ll tackle the battle of the rowing machine vs elliptical to see which one fits your needs. 

Rowing Machine vs Elliptical

Both the rowing machine and elliptical give you indoor cardio workout training. It’s down to your preference that you would pick one over the other. While they both give you the same benefits, the way they approach fitness is different. 

What is a Rowing Machine?

A rowing machine mimics the motion that rowers do when they row a boat through the water. Some people like to call it the ergometer. You’ll find it simple to use yet you’ll need some experience if you want to make the best out of its unique features. 

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Man using a rowing machine

You can adjust the level of difficulty that makes you feel like rowing a light or heavy boat. You can find a lot of different types of rowing machine like:

  • Air rowing machines: commercial gyms and rowing clubs commonly use air rowing machines. A lot of Olympic rowers like to use this type of rowing machine.  
  • Magnetic rowing machines: magnetic rowing machines use cheaper materials, that’s why they’re one of the cheapest ones you can get. They’re the most basic rowing machine. Using cheap materials means they’re not as durable compared to other types of rowing machines. 
  • Air and magnetic rowing machines: air and magnetic row machines combine magnetic and air resistance. If you want a cheaper alternative for air rowing machines, then you can try this one out. You can adjust how difficult your workout is going to be.
  • Water rowing machines: this rowing machine accurately simulates rowing on water. Water rowing machines use water resistance for the workout. 
  • Hydraulic rowing machines: Hydraulic rowing machines also provide you with a cheaper option. However, the build quality won’t last you if you want a rowing machine for the long term. Most people won’t recommend you buy this one. 

What is an Elliptical?

Elliptical simulates how you stair climb, walk or run without giving too much pressure on your joints. People with joint problems use this to stay fit while avoiding the risk of impact injuries.  

Elliptical machines have several benefits:

  • They lessen the stress on your knees, hips, and back compared to treadmills
  • Feature movable upper body handles or poles to work out your arms. 
  • Allow you to pedal in reverse to work your calf and hamstring muscles in a more forwarding motion. 

Most people consider using the elliptical machine as a low-impact activity. If you don’t like going outside to run or jog because of joint pain and arthritis, then elliptical machines will help you stay fit. 

Primary Use

Rowing machines mainly mimics the motion you do from rowing a boat. A lot of professional rowers use the rowing machine to practice with their rowing skills. It improves your cardio and primarily builds your arm muscles and improves entire body strength. 

Man using an elliptical machine

The elliptical machine imitates the movements of walking, jogging, and stair climbing. While it also improves your cardio, it primarily builds your leg muscles

Both have a lot of difference in terms of its main use so it depends on you what you prefer to build on and if rowing or walking simulation is the thing for you. 


Rowing machine requires a lot of technique than you do with elliptical. Elliptical may be hard to learn at first yet once you get the hang of it, it becomes easy to perform. You basically mimic running with more resistance and a fixed range of motion. 

While rowing machines primarily focus on your arms, they also target other parts of your body. The bar you pull doesn’t stay fixed in place. Therefore, you apply more effort into keeping it in a constant position. Here are some tips to do a correct rowing technique:

  • Use your legs to push
  • Pull the bar using your arms and back
  • Relax your arms and back when you bring your body back to the starting position
  • Relax your legs when you bring your body back to the starting position

Learning the rowing machine may require you to do 1 or 2 lessons with a certified trainer to properly do it. 

Fat Burning

If you do them at the same intensity, you get almost the same amount of calories fat burned. If you want to work on your cardio and burn fat at the same time, the most optimal way to do it is to choose the machine you’re most comfortable to workout in. 

If you’re comfortable working out on one machine, you’re more likely to work out at a higher intensity level. You’ll burn more fat this way instead of forcing yourself to do a workout that you’re not comfortable in. 

Impact on the Joint

You don’t get that much impact on your joints as both rowing machine and elliptical are non-impact. The machine supports your body weight so there’s less stress on your joints. 

People using an elliptical at a gym

If we’re to pick which one gets to impact your joints more, it would be the rowing machine. Rowing machine movement involves pushing your feet against a resistant force. It applies a bit of pressure to your joints and may build up over time. 

Risk of Injury

Both machines have the risk of injuries on their own. For rowing machine, you’ll likely get injured on your knees. In the rowing machine, your knees move from a fully stretched position into a bent position. 

When you use the elliptical, you need to have proper back alignment. If you don’t properly align your back, you’ll probably have back pains after a workout. 

It depends on what body part you’re more sensitive in. However, if you properly perform the workouts, there’s a low chance you can get injured. 

Ease of Use

It depends if you’re familiar with the machines. Most people find the rowing machine easier to pick up at first. Elliptical can feel difficult at first since a lot of people are used to treadmills and the normal running motion. 

However, once you get the hang of elliptical, it becomes a lot easier. There’s not much of a gap in the learning curve and both use movement that most people are familiar with. 


While rowing machines and elliptical may both be the same under the category of the non-impact machine, they offer a different experience. The rowing machine mainly focuses on giving you cardio through boat rowing simulation while elliptical simulates that of running, walking, and climbing upstairs. 

Make sure you use this information to choose a machine that’s right for you and your fitness goals. 

Robert Lemus has been a natural competitor for 6 years, starting in Men’s Physique, then Bodybuilding, and then into Classic Physique. He is the Orange County Bodybuilding champion in 2016 for the Musclemania Organization. In 2018, he received his Pro Card with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Classic Physique.