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Elliptical vs. Rowing Machine: Which Cardio Champion Should You Choose?

When it comes to cardio workouts, the choices can be overwhelming.

Elliptical and rowing machines are popular options that promise effective cardiovascular exercise and overall fitness improvement. But how do you decide between the smooth gliding motion of an elliptical and the dynamic rowing action of a rowing machine?

In this detailed comparison, we'll delve into the benefits of both machines, weigh their pros and cons, and help you make an informed decision based on your fitness goals and preferences.

Exploring the Benefits of Elliptical Machines

Elliptical machines, also known as cross-trainers, have gained popularity for their low-impact yet highly effective workout routines. These machines mimic the natural motion of walking or running while providing support for the joints. Here are some of the key benefits of using elliptical machines:

  1. Low-Impact Cardio: Ellipticals offer a gentle, gliding motion that reduces stress on the knees, hips, and ankles, making them suitable for individuals with joint issues.

  2. Full-Body Workout: While primarily targeting the lower body, ellipticals also engage the upper body, thanks to moving handlebars. This results in a comprehensive full-body workout.

  3. Cardiovascular Endurance: The continuous motion of ellipticals elevates heart rate, enhancing cardiovascular health, and improving lung capacity.

  4. Customizable Workouts: Most elliptical machines come with adjustable resistance levels and incline options, allowing you to tailor your workout intensity.

Elliptical machine

Embracing the Advantages of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines, or rowers, offer a dynamic full-body workout that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. These machines simulate a boat's rowing motion, providing cardiovascular and strength benefits. Here's a closer look at the advantages of rowing machines:

  1. Total Body Engagement: Rowers target the legs, back, core, and arms, making them ideal for building strength and endurance in both the upper and lower body.

  2. Low-Impact and Fluid Motion: Similar to ellipticals, rowing machines offer a low-impact exercise, minimizing strain on the joints. The fluid rowing motion is easy on the body.

  3. Calorie Torch: Rowing is an efficient calorie-burning exercise, promoting weight loss and body toning due to the engagement of multiple muscle groups.

  4. Cardiovascular Fitness: Rowing machines provide an intense cardiovascular workout that challenges your heart and lungs, improving overall endurance.

rowing machine at a gym

Differences in Muscle Engagement and Workouts

Rowing Machines:

  • Engage the legs, glutes, back, core, and arms, ensuring a balanced full-body workout.

  • Promote upper body strength and muscle development due to the pulling motion involved.

  • Incorporate resistance settings for customizable intensity, suitable for various fitness levels.

Elliptical Machines:

  • Focus on the lower body, engaging the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.

  • Offer upper body engagement through handlebars, although not as intensive as rowing.

  • Allow for adjustable resistance and incline levels to modify workout difficulty.

Joint Impact and Injury Prevention

Rowing Machines:

  • Offer a low-impact exercise that minimizes stress on the joints, making them an excellent choice for those with joint sensitivities.

Elliptical Machines:

  • Provide a virtually no-impact workout that reduces the risk of joint injuries, making them suitable for individuals with joint concerns.

Calorie Burn and Weight Loss Potential

Rowing Machines:

  • Burn calories at a moderate pace, offering efficient fat burning and muscle toning benefits over longer durations.

Elliptical Machines:

  • Also burn calories effectively, especially when used at higher resistance levels or inclines, aiding in weight loss and overall fitness.

Elliptical vs Rowing Machine: Which One Is Right for You?

Choosing between an elliptical machine and a rowing machine depends on various factors, including your fitness goals, preferences, and physical condition. Let's break it down:

Elliptical Machines:

  • Ideal for those seeking a low-impact, full-body workout with a focus on cardiovascular health.

  • Suited for individuals with joint concerns or those looking to improve joint flexibility.

  • Perfect for those who prefer a smooth gliding motion and adjustable resistance levels.

Rowing Machines:

  • Best for individuals seeking a total body workout that builds strength and improves cardiovascular endurance.

  • Suited for those who appreciate dynamic and fluid motion, engaging both the upper and lower body.

  • Excellent for those who prioritize calorie burn, weight loss, and muscle toning.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - Elliptical vs. Rowing Machine

1. Which is better for weight loss: elliptical or rowing machine?

Both elliptical machines and rowing machines are effective for weight loss. Ellipticals provide a low-impact, full-body workout that burns calories and promotes muscle toning. Rowing machines, with their engagement of multiple muscle groups, also offer efficient calorie burn and aid in weight loss. The choice depends on your preference for a smooth gliding motion (elliptical) or a dynamic rowing action (rowing machine).

2. Do rowing machines work your abs?

Yes, rowing machines engage your abdominal muscles as you maintain proper posture throughout the rowing motion. The core muscles are crucial for stabilizing your body during the pull and recovery phases of rowing. This engagement contributes to a stronger core and better overall stability.

3. Are ellipticals bad for knees?

Elliptical machines are generally considered low-impact and gentle on the knees. The elliptical motion mimics walking or running without causing excessive stress on the joints. This makes them a suitable option for individuals with knee concerns, as long as proper form and technique are maintained during workouts.

4. Can I build muscle with an elliptical or rowing machine?

While both machines primarily focus on cardiovascular fitness, rowing machines have an advantage when it comes to building muscle. Rowing engages multiple muscle groups, including the legs, back, core, and arms. This makes rowing machines more conducive to muscle building, especially in the upper body. Elliptical machines can still contribute to muscle toning, but rowing machines offer a more comprehensive strength-building workout.

5. Is rowing better than running for overall fitness?

Rowing and running offer different fitness benefits. Rowing is a full-body workout that engages both upper and lower body muscles, making it a well-rounded option for overall fitness. It also provides cardiovascular conditioning and helps improve endurance. Running, on the other hand, primarily targets the lower body and offers weight-bearing benefits for bone health. The choice between the two depends on your fitness goals and preferences.

Remember to consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns.

Elliptical machine at a gym


In the elliptical vs rowing machine debate, both options offer valuable benefits for your cardio fitness journey. Elliptical machines provide a low-impact, full-body workout with adjustable resistance and customizable routines. Rowing machines, on the other hand, engage multiple muscle groups and promote strength building, making them perfect for those seeking comprehensive fitness gains.

Ultimately, the decision rests on your personal fitness goals, physical condition, and workout preferences. Whether you're gliding on an elliptical or rowing your way to success, consistency and dedication are key.

Whichever machine you choose, remember that a commitment to regular exercise and healthy habits will lead you toward your fitness aspirations.

It's time to decide: elliptical or rowing machine? Embrace the challenge, push your limits, and elevate your cardio game, one stride or row at a time.

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