Rowing machine Vs Elliptical Trainer – Which One Is Better?

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The rowing machine vs elliptical trainer, which one suits your needs better? Both the rowing machine and elliptical machine are great to improve your fitness at home. However, they do have their own pros and cons. This article will help you decide which one is best for you.

Calories burned

According to a Harvard Health Publication, you burn the most calories on the elliptical trainer. During their study, they compared the calories burned for several 30 minutes activities. The intensity of the workout was set to moderate.

125-pound person

155-pound person

185-pound person

Rowing machine

210 calories

260 calories

311 calories

Elliptical trainer

270 calories

335 calories

400 calories

The amount of calories burned during these 30-minute activities mainly depends on your weight. A heavier person will burn more calories than a lighter person because the same movement requires more energy. However, no matter what your weight is; you will burn more calories on an elliptical trainer compared to a rowing machine.

For example; a 125-pound person who exercised for 30 minutes on the elliptical with a moderate intensity burns 270 calories. If that person exercises on a rowing machine with the same intensity for 30 minutes then this person would burn 210 calories. Which are 60 calories less!

So if your main goal is to lose weight then you’re better off with an elliptical machine. Read our article about the best high weight capacity elliptical machines to find out which one suits your needs.

Difficulty of use

An elliptical trainer is relatively easy to use because there is not that much that can go wrong. Just step on the pedals and start moving your feet in the pedals. After which, you can grab the handles and start moving your arms. Easy!

Rowing on an indoor rowing machine does require more practice. Practice is necessary to prevent injuries.

Here’s a short tutorial on how to use the rowing machine;

  1. Start with your arms reaching forward, your knees bent and your back straight (very important).
  2. Push yourself backward with your legs. Lean back while pushing yourself backward.
  3. When you are at a 45-degree angle pull the bar back towards your chest.
  4. Move in reverse with your arms straight, after which you have to bend your knees.

It’s always recommended to ask a fitness coach to demonstrate the exercise first.

Muscles worked

Firstly, it has to be said that the main purpose of these machines isn’t strength training. It does, of course strengthen your muscles. Both the elliptical machine and the rowing machine train your lower and upper body.

There are two main differences between the particular muscles that you work out.

  • A rowing machine doesn’t train your chest and triceps a lot. The elliptical does a better job at training your chest and triceps. You train your chest and triceps by moving the handles back and forth on the elliptical.
  • If you want to train the stability of your core, then a rowing machine is a better choice. You train your core during each stroke you perform. You also have to keep your torso straight and balanced, which will help to strengthen your core as well.

Impact & Intensity

Stew Smith a certified strength and conditioning specialist says that both machines will give you a low-impact workout. This has nothing to do with the intensity of the workout. It means that the activity itself doesn’t put so much pressure on your joints compared to other forms of cardio exercises.

He does also mention that rowing is a tough cardiovascular exercise. That might be great if you’re looking for a machine that makes you sweat, but this could be a little bit intimidating for beginners.

An Eastern Washington University study shows that people are working harder on elliptical than they actually perceive. People who participated in the study were asked to give feedback on the perceived intensity of the workout. Most people were underestimating the intensity of the workout based on their heart rate.

That’s great news if you want to lose weight by exercising on a cardio machine with the least amount effort!

If you are looking for a cardio machine which is considered ‘tough’, then you should probably go for a rowing machine. For those of you who want similar results, or even better in terms of calories burned, are probably better off with an elliptical machine.

If you suffer from a medical condition you should always ask your healthcare provider for advice.

Training diversity

When it comes to training diversity there is a difference between both machines. The elliptical as a machine offers a bit more diversity than a rowing machine.

On an elliptical, you have got the ability to move forward or backward. You can emphasize different muscles by moving forward or backward. You have also got the ability to choose whether you want to train your upper body or not. Just let go of the handles if you don’t want to train your upper body.

Of course, both machines usually provide similar training options to choose from. These are programs like interval training and heart rate training.


You’ll have to decide for yourself which machine suits your needs in the best way. If you want to lose weight, then I would personally choose for the elliptical trainer, because the perceived intensity of the workout is much lower than the rowing machine. Plus, you burn more calories.

If you like a ‘tough’ work out then the rowing machine is probably a better choice. So it really depends! If you have any question whatsoever just leave a comment bellow.

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