Rowing machine vs elliptical

Rower vs. Elliptical: Which is Better for Improving Fitness?

By Team PelotonApril 21, 2023


Are you looking for more cardio options? Or simply looking to mix up your usual workout routine? You may be wondering which cardio machine is the best fit for you between the rowing machine vs. elliptical.

So, how do you choose? In the end, it really depends on your personal preference. But if you have specific fitness goals in mind, it’s important to consider things such as the muscles you want to work, the whether calorie burn is important to you, the amount of stress you want to put on your joints, as well as the workout versatility you’re seeking.

Read on as we explore the pros and cons of these top two cardio workouts, with the aim of helping you decide which will help you reach your goals.

Rowing Machine Workout vs. Elliptical Workout

Both the elliptical and rower offer benefits and challenges, making each suitable for different personal goals and needs. We break down the basic differences of each—elliptical vs. rower— in the following categories: 

Muscles Worked 

The rowing machine provides a full-body workout, engaging major muscle groups in both the upper and lower body. In fact, it works a whopping 86 percent of your muscles in each stroke. During the pull-push of each rowing motion, you'll target your legs (quadriceps, hamstrings and calves), core (abs and lower back) and upper body (back, shoulders and arms). Rowing is especially well-known for its ability to strengthen the back muscles, making it an excellent choice for individuals looking to improve their posture and overall back strength.

The elliptical primarily focuses on the lower body, targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. While some elliptical machines feature moving handles that enable you to engage your upper body muscles, the emphasis is still predominantly on your lower body. While the elliptical does work a range of lower body muscles, it’s not the best tool for building strength. The elliptical is a solid option for those who want a low-impact workout that is primarily focused on endurance, and therefore cardio.

Strength and Endurance 

The rowing machine excels in building both strength and endurance. The resistance offered by the machine during each stroke allows you to work on building muscle strength in your legs, core and upper body, combined. It simply works more muscle groups than the elliptical, meaning you’ll build more strength on the rower than you would on an elliptical. Its cardiovascular challenge helps to improve your endurance and overall health and fitness.

Elliptical training, primarily known for its cardiovascular benefits, can also help build lower body strength and endurance. The elliptical's focus on maintaining a steady pace also helps to improve overall endurance and cardiovascular health.

Calories Burned 

Well-known for its calorie-torching potential, according to the Adult Compendium of Physical Activities, a 150 lb. person rowing at a moderate effort for 30 minutes would burn around 250 calories. This will vary  depending on your intensity level and based on factors such as your weight, age, and overall health. The full-body engagement of the rowing machine, along with the intensity of the workout, contributes to its high calorie-burning capabilities.

That same 150 lb. person working at a moderate effort on the elliptical would burn around 179 calories in 30 minutes, according to the Adult Compendium of Physical Activities. Again, this will vary due to many factors.

Fitness Goals 

If your fitness goals include improving cardiovascular endurance and building total-body strength, the rowing machine is a fantastic option. Its full-body engagement and high-intensity nature make it a versatile and effective workout for individuals with various fitness goals, from getting trim to increased strength and improved athletic performance.

On the other hand, the elliptical is an excellent choice for those with fitness goals centered around cardiovascular health and lower body strength. Its low-impact design is particularly beneficial for anyone with joint issues or those looking for a gentler workout that still packs a punch when it comes to calorie burn and cardiovascular challenge.

Using a Rowing Machine vs. Elliptical Machine

Part of what drives the differences in benefits of the rowing machine vs. the elliptical is the motion of your body on each machine.

With the rowing machine, each rowing stroke involves four separate steps: the catch, drive, finish, and recovery. You’ll start in the catch position with your knees bent, shins vertical, and arms extended while gripping the handle. Then, in drive, you’ll push your legs out, extending your knees while keeping your back straight. As your legs straighten, to finish, you’ll lean back slightly and pull the handle toward your lower ribs, using your back and arm muscles. The recovery is the reverse motion: extend your arms, lean forward, and bend your knees to return to the catch position. If you’re using the Peloton Row, you’ll also get real-time corrections on your form using the Form Assist feature so you can avoid some of the most common rowing mistakes.

With the elliptical, make any necessary adjustments to the incline and resistance before you begin—then just maintain a good posture and keep your core engaged as you pedal smoothly. 

Key Similarities

Despite being very different, there are a few key similarities between the rowing machine and elliptical, including that both involve:

  • Low-Impact Exercise. Both rowing and elliptical workouts are considered low-impact, meaning each is gentler on your joints than high-impact activities like running or jumping.

  • Multi-Muscle Engagement. While rowing machines primarily target the full body and ellipticals focus on the lower body, both workouts engage multiple muscle groups, contributing to your overall strength. 

  • Hefty Cardiovascular Boost. Both workouts are primarily designed to improve your cardiovascular fitness by increasing your heart rate to promote better circulation.

Key Benefits

Rowing and elliptical workouts each offer distinct benefits that cater to different fitness goals and preferences. Here are the key benefits of each:

Rowing Machine

Rowing engages 86 percent of your muscles, offering a full-body workout for muscle groups in your upper and lower body, and specifically targets the legs, core, back, shoulders, and arms. Because of this, rowing can dramatically improve your posture and back strength, helping to relieve or prevent back pain for those predisposed to it. Additionally, rowing contributes to your endurance and cardiovascular health. 

Elliptical Machine

Unlike rowing, the elliptical is a weight-bearing form of exercise. However, similar to rowing, it is low impact. This means it's easy on your joints and so it may be a healthier option for those with certain medical conditions. The elliptical targets lower body muscle groups, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. It can also improve your cardiovascular health and endurance.

Which to Choose: Rowing or Elliptical?

So, which one is right for you? For a workout that targets your entire body, from your legs and core to your back and arms, rowing is your go-to choice. Not only is it a fun and efficient workout, but it gives you the dual benefits of cardiovascular and muscular endurance that come with every stroke.

On the other hand, if your only goal is cardiovascular health and you want an exercise that is weight-bearing, the elliptical may be a better option for you.

Achieving Your Fitness Goals with Peloton Row

If it sounds like the rowing machine is the right option for you to achieve your strength and cardio goals, get ready to enjoy the whole-body engagement of rowing! Find out more about Peloton Row and all of the features that make Peloton Row a total game changer.


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