Rowing Machine vs Elliptical: Which is Better?

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As a personal trainer, I often get asked which exercise equipment is better for my overall fitness: the rowing machine or the elliptical.

Rowing Machine Vs Elliptical

But, the answer is not so simple. That is why I decided to write this rowing machine vs elliptical article to give you some insights and help you decide which one to choose. 

In a nutshell, elliptical machines can help you burn more calories than a rowing machine. 

However, building muscles is equally important. And the rowing machine is better in that aspect than the elliptical.

If you have the space and the budget, I would suggest both. Apart from their exercise benefits, there are also other factors to consider when choosing a workout machine for your home gym.

So what are these factors? And which workout machine is better?

Let’s find out.

Table of Contents

Rowing Machine vs Elliptical Comparison

Type of motion

The elliptical and rowing machines are both considered cardio machines. However, the type of movement you do when you use them is different.

Here’s what I mean:

rowing machine

When you use a rowing machine, you are in a seated position. Your feet will lay on the pedal parallel to the ground, and you move forward and backward with each rowing stroke.

At the same time, you use your upper body to pull the handle of the rower.

Whereas, you are in a standing position on an elliptical machine. Elliptical machines work like a bike, where you can pedal forward and backward.

elliptical machine

However, with elliptical machines, the pedaling motion is on an elliptical shape, while it is a circular pedaling motion on a bike.

Elliptical machines also have moveable arms, where you can push and pull the handles. These handles are connected to the arms. So if you use the handles, there is less resistance on the pedals.

When I look at myself, I tend to start my workouts more often on the elliptical than on the rowing machine. But that’s just me.  I feel rowing is more intense, it could be a workout in and of itself.

Winner Type of Motion Comparison

There is no winner in this comparison, as it depends on your preferences.

Learning curve

Based on my experience, you can do elliptical machine exercises immediately, even if you’ve never used it before. You just need to step on the pedal and move your legs.

The handles will automatically move, you just need to hold them. You can add force to the movement or just rest your arms on the handles.

As for rowing machines, sometimes you need to learn the proper form first to row effectively. It might take a few sessions to get used to it.

If you need some guidance on how to row properly, watch this video from Training Tall.

Winner Learning Curve Comparison

The winner is the elliptical machine, as it is more beginner-friendly than rowing machines.

Calories burned

The table below shows the estimated calories burned when you use the rower and the elliptical in 30 minutes.

Exercise Machine125-pound person155-pound person185-pound person
Rowing, Stationary: moderate210252294
Elliptical Trainer: general270324378

As you can see, you’ll burn more calories when you use the elliptical machine. So if you want to lose weight, an elliptical machine is the faster option.

I think it is because you are in a standing position when you use an elliptical, so you burn more calories.

Winner Calories Burned Comparison

The elliptical machine is the winner, because it burns more calories.

Muscles worked

Rowing is a full-body workout that targets 85% of your body’s muscles, engaging both your upper and lower body [1].

According to One Peloton, a rowing stroke engages the following muscles [2]:

  1. Calves
  2. Quadriceps
  3. Hamstrings
  4. Glutes
  5. Abs
  6. Obliques (waist)
  7. Pecs (chest)
  8. Biceps
  9. Triceps
  10. Deltoids (shoulder)
  11. Upper back
  12. Latissimus dorsi or lats

Since most models have moveable arms, elliptical machines can also provide a full-body workout.

According to Healthline, an elliptical machine engages the following muscles [3]:

  1. Glutes
  2. Hamstrings
  3. Quads
  4. Chest
  5. Back
  6. Biceps
  7. Triceps
  8. Core muscles

Winner Muscles Worked Comparison

The rowing machine is the winner, because it targets more muscles.

Impact and intensity

Both of these machines offer low-impact exercise. They don’t require jumping or exerting too much force, so they are not adding a lot of pressure on your knees or back.

The elliptical machine is popular as a knee-friendly exercise machine due to the smooth gliding motion of the pedals. And you are in a seated position when rowing.

As for the intensity, it depends on how you use the machine. You can pedal or row faster to make it a high-intensity exercise. Or pedal or row slower to make it a low-intensity workout.

Winner Impact and Intensity Comparison

This comparison is a draw, as both exercise machines offer low-impact exercise. And the workout intensity depends on how you use them.


Both cardio machines may take up a lot of space in your home gym.

The elliptical machine takes up a lot of vertical space, since you are standing up. But it doesn’t take up much floor space

The rowing machine takes up a lot of floor space because it is long. But it doesn’t take up a lot of vertical space because you are sitting down.

So it depends on how you organize your home gym space.

Winner Space Comparison

This comparison is a draw, as it depends on your preference and home gym space.


So I’ve checked some rowing machines and elliptical machines on Amazon, and you can get a decent elliptical for $500+ and a decent rowing machine for $200+.

I also checked other blogs, and they all agree that ellipticals are more expensive than rowing machines.

Winner Cost Comparison

The rowing machine is the winner, because it is more affordable than the elliptical.

Rowing Machine vs Elliptical: The Winner

In this elliptical vs rowing machine article, we found that there is no clear winner between the two exercise machines.

The elliptical machine burns more calories than the rowing machine. And the rower targets more muscles than the elliptical.

When it comes to space, the elliptical occupies more headspace, and the rowing machine covers more floor space.

Depending on your home gym space or goals, the rowing machine or elliptical machine is a good choice. Of course, there is no rule that says you can’t use both machines for best results.

Which workout machine is best for YOU?

Which is better for losing weight: the elliptical or rowing machine?

If your goal is to burn calories, it’s better to choose the elliptical machine than the rowing machine.

But you should also aim to build muscles—something that the rowing machine is best for.

You can still lose weight if you use either of these machines. But you’ll reach your goals faster if you include both in your routine.

Which workout machine is best for beginners?

The elliptical machine is easy to use even for beginners. You simply step on the pedals and move your legs while holding the handles.

On the other hand, rowing machines may require learning the proper form initially to row effectively, and it may take a few sessions to get used to them.

Which workout machine is best for your budget?

In general, rowing machines tend to be more budget-friendly than elliptical, making them a recommended choice for those on a tight budget.

Nevertheless, it’s essential to note that both machines offer models at various price points. The price variation depends on the quality and features you seek in the equipment.

FAQs About Rowing Machine vs Elliptical

  • Which is better: a rowing machine or elliptical?

    The rowing machine is better than the elliptical in terms of muscles worked, as rowers target more muscles. But the elliptical is better than the rowing machine when it comes to burning calories.

  • Is rowing or elliptical better for knees?

    Both the rowing machine and elliptical offer a low-impact exercise, so they are good for your knees. The elliptical machine offers a smooth gliding motion when you pedal and you are in a seated position when rowing.

  • Is rowing or elliptical better for weight loss?

    Generally, the elliptical machine burns more calories. But you also need to build muscles when losing weight, which the rowing machine is best for.

What to do next?

Now that you’ve reached the end of the elliptical machine vs rowing machine article, I hope it provided valuable insights and addressed some of your questions.

However, if you’d like further clarification on any aspect, please don’t hesitate to share your queries in the comments section below.

If you are interested in purchasing a rowing machine or elliptical for your home gym, here are some helpful guides for you:

Check out our other articles about Rowing Machines:

Check out our other articles about Elliptical Machines:

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Inge van Haselen is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritional Coach. For over 17 years, she has been coaching hundreds of clients in her gym. Inge published several programs on health and fitness. It is her passion to help you have the best Home Gym for your needs, so you can be in the best shape of your life. More info: About Us

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