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Rowing Machine Vs Elliptical Trainer: Which Cardio Machine Is The Better Choice For Maximum Weight Loss?

When people start out trying to lose weight, their initial weight loss plan will usually revolve heavily around cardio. This is because it has garnered a reputation as the best way to achieve your stated goal, while weightlifting is much more associated with building muscle size and strength.

Now, while pigeonholing both of these two types of training isn’t the best idea, cardio is definitely a fabulous option for those looking to achieve consistent and sustainable weight loss. Once you have established that though, the next question you need to ask is, what type of cardio should you do?

While cardio machines are all able to stimulate weight loss, they won’t do so to equal degrees. For example, equipment like stationary bikes and arm bikes are much less effective than things like stair masters, steppers, and treadmills.

When it comes to the cream of the crop of cardio machines though, virtually everyone would agree that rowing machines and elliptical trainers are the best choices. Both options that work both the upper and lower body, they can help to burn fat and calories fast, while even helping you to tone up.

The question is, which of the two is better? Well, that is just what we hope to determine in today’s article. So, if you really want to achieve weight loss as quickly and effectively as possible, our guide to which cardio machine is better for weight loss, the rowing machine or elliptical trainer, is for you.

Why Do Cardio For Weight Loss?

Cardio is a fabulous choice for weight loss as it helps you to burn calories extremely quickly. By burning calories faster than normal, you will not only prevent weight gain but will also cause your body to start burning fat much sooner than it otherwise would, leading to weight loss.

Performing cardiovascular exercise will also keep your metabolic rate up for hours after you finish exercising. This means you will continue burning fat and calories for an extended period of time.

Finally, using cardio machines is much more straightforward than designing a well-rounded weightlifting plan. If weight loss is your only goal, using a cardio machine will allow you to start exercising straight away and prevent you from losing interest and giving up.

How Do You Use A Rowing Machine?

To use a rowing machine, you first need to sit on the seat and strap your feet into the foot plate. You must make sure the foot plate is set so that your whole foot is on it, while the strap needs to be tight enough to stop your feet from moving, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable.

Your starting position will see you with your knees pulled in to your abdomen and you will then grip the handle right by the machine, with an overhand grip.

To start rowing, you need to use the correct pattern, which is to drive with the legs first, then, when they are at full extension, pull the handle in to your waist. You will then return in the opposite order, extending your arms first and then bending your legs.

Once you get into a good rhythm, you will be able to do all of these movements seamlessly. You can then alter the intensity by changing the speed at which you row or altering the resistance or dampener setting, depending on what type of rowing machine you are using.

How Do You Use An Elliptical Trainer?

Starting off on an elliptical trainer is much easier than a rowing machine. You simply stand on the foot plates, hold the moving handles, and begin to move. Again, you can adjust the difficulty of an elliptical trainer either by moving faster or adjusting the resistance setting.

The only thing you need to remember is to always be pushing forwards with both your legs and arms, rather than backwards, in a motion which resembles cross country skiing. This is why an elliptical trainer is commonly known as a cross trainer as well.

Rowing Vs Elliptical: Calories Burned

When it comes to losing weight, one of the most important factors you need to take into account is the number of calories you will burn during an exercise session. While fat burning is the end goal, burning calories quickly will prevent additional weight gain and help you to start burning fat sooner.

People will generally burn a few more calories on a rowing machine than they will on an elliptical trainer when performing workouts of the same duration and intensity on each. This is due to the amount of work each different part of your body has to do when you are on the rowing machine.

On average, you can expect to burn around 800 calories when you are on the rowing machine for an hour training at moderate intensity. On the other hand, you can expect to burn around 700 calories on an elliptical trainer session of the same length and difficulty, so it is around 12.5% less effective.

Muscles Worked By Rowing

Rowing is often said to be one of the best full body workouts you can have with not just cardio equipment but in the whole gym in general. This is because the movements you have to perform to complete the exercise require a variety of muscles to work together at the same time.

There is a huge amount of focus on the legs when you use a rowing machine, as these are the driving force that push your body up and down the frame. This makes rowing a perfect workout choice for helping to strengthen, develop, and tone your glutes.

The biceps and back will also get a significant amount of work while you are rowing as well, as will your rear delts, although to a lesser degree. It is these muscles that will be responsible for rowing the bar into your abdomen and helping to keep the workout flowing.

Speaking of which, the core muscles of the abdomen will also be worked pretty hard, as they will have to remain engaged throughout, in order to keep you upright.

Finally, your triceps and front delts will also get a small amount of work, as they will have to keep your arms in the correct position to maintain your form.

Muscles Worked By Elliptical

An elliptical trainer works a similarly diverse range of muscles to a rowing machine. However, the degree to which it works each muscle is considerably different. An elliptical trainer is great for burning calories, but the only muscle it really engages to any notable degree is your legs.

This makes an elliptical trainer a good option for working on your glutes, thighs, hamstrings, calves, and all the other muscles in the legs. It may be even better than a rowing machine in this regard. It can help to slightly tone the other muscles of the body but will do little more for them than that.

With that said, there are some techniques that you can utilise on an elliptical trainer which can help to add more resistance and even engage your core, to help develop these muscles slightly more.

Comparing Rowing Vs Elliptical Equipment Requirements

Both rowing machines and elliptical trainers will require a specific piece of equipment for you to be able to complete their respective workouts.

If you are looking to train at home, rowing machines can often be quite expensive, while the more affordable options may not be able to offer you the quality or workout intensity you need.

Elliptical trainers are also available in various price ranges, but many people find that even the low priced options are able to give them a good workout, in a way that budget rowers sometimes can’t.

Both will also require users to have a decent amount of balance, mobility, and strength in their muscles. However, a rowing machine will need higher levels of all of these to use effectively than what you can get away with on an elliptical trainer.

Ranking The Beginner Friendliness Of Rowing Machines And Elliptical Trainers

The great thing about both of these exercise machines is the fact that they are ideal for beginners.

You will not need to be exceptionally fit to get on either a rowing machine or an elliptical trainer and begin performing an effective workout. That said, they both offer plenty of room for you to progress as your fitness and physical abilities advance.

Some people may find that it takes less effort to complete a workout during the earlier stages of a workout plan on an elliptical trainer when compared to a rowing machine though. This is because of the fact that a rowing machine requires more effort from the user in order to be used effectively.

How Does The Difficulty Of A Rowing Machine Compare To An Elliptical Trainer?

While neither machine is that complicated to use, a rowing machine is usually considered to be one of the hardest cardio machines to use, while an elliptical trainer is one of the most straightforward.

All you need to do to use an elliptical trainer is simply hop on and start moving, making it a very low difficulty option that is much more inviting than even a rowing machine.

Is A Rowing Machine Or Elliptical Trainer Better To Help You Build Muscle?

A rowing machine is by far the better choice of the two machines for people looking to build muscle. This is due to the fact that you will need to use both your arms and legs to drive your body and pull the handle, while there is minimal resistance involved on an elliptical trainer.

While many people won’t be too worried about developing their muscles if weight loss is their only goal, it can be extremely beneficial as greater muscle mass will help to speed up your metabolism.

A faster metabolism means you will continue to burn fat and calories at an accelerated rate, even outside of workouts. This makes a cardio exercise that almost doubles as an alternative to a seated cable row extremely beneficial.

Is A Rowing Machine Or Elliptical Trainer Better For Your Fitness And Endurance?

Rowing machines and elliptical trainers are both good options for your fitness and endurance levels. That said, a rowing machine is still a far better option in this regard.

Rowers are known to be one of the most difficult workouts you can have on a cardio machine and are excellent for developing your strength, stamina, and fitness all at the same time. Cross trainers may be good but even they simply can’t compete with what a rowing machine is able to offer.

Is A Rowing Machine Or Elliptical Trainer Better For Home Use?

If you are planning to do your training at home, there are a few more things you need to take into consideration than people who are training in a gym. The most important things you need to think about in this regard are the price of the equipment and how much space it is going to take up.

While neither machine is going to be cheap, the bottom end of the price range is usually lower with elliptical trainers than it is with rowing machines. Cheap cross trainers are also known to usually be more effective than cheap rowers. This makes a cross trainer a better choice for those on a budget.

When it comes to space, however, rowing machines are clearly the superior choice. Not only do they require far less space to be used, but they are also usually foldable or easily dismantled, making them better for storage as well.

While you can get some foldable cross trainers, they are usually quite ineffective and still take up much more room than a rower.

As a result, people training from home will need to think about whether space or money are more important to them.

Does Your Injury History Affect Your Decision?

Rowing machines and elliptical trainers are two of the best cardio options available to people who are suffering with an injury, as there is virtually no impact involved. That said, an elliptical trainer is the better option of the two if you are worrying about any niggling aches and pains.

This is because, although you are seated, rowing machines can place strain on your knees and back. With an elliptical trainer, there is virtually no strain or impact anywhere, making it an ideal choice for anyone dealing with an issue, no matter what it may be.

Rowing Machine Pros & Cons


  • Incredibly good at burning fat and calories
  • Can help to build and tone muscle
  • Works both the upper and lower body
  • Takes up very little space
  • Very low impact


  • Can take some time to get the form right
  • Even the cheapest rowing machines are quite expensive
  • Puts some strain on the body, which can aggravate some injuries

Elliptical Trainer Pros & Cons


  • Can burn a lot of fat and calories
  • Works both the upper and lower body
  • Virtually no impact, so ideal if you have an injury
  • Incredibly easy to get the hang of


  • Won’t help you to build muscle
  • Takes up a lot of room

Best Rowing Machine For Weight Loss – Aviron Rowers

Aviron are a company that produce two fabulous rowing machines, the Aviron Impact and the Aviron Tough. Both options are incredibly well built and loaded with features and functions to make rowing enjoyable, all while pushing you to your limits.

Neither machine is cheap, but the Aviron Impact was designed as a more affordable option, making it an option even for people with a tighter budget. If you are committed to losing weight and want to do it as effectively and enjoyably as possible, an Aviron rower is a good way to go.

Best Elliptical Trainer For Weight Loss – Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine

The Sole Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine is an incredibly versatile piece of kit that can be used by virtually everyone. A very straightforward to use machine, it will allow even those with no experience to quickly jump on and start having an incredibly intense and effective workout.

It isn’t as large or heavy as some ellipticals, while it isn’t too expensive either, which also makes it a good choice for those who want to train from home.

It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that some of the top of the line cross trainers have, but it still has plenty of options to keep your sessions fun and your weight loss coming. This makes it a fabulous option for those who have decided that an elliptical machine is the way to go.

Conclusion: Is A Rowing Machine Or Elliptical Trainer Better For Weight Loss?

Rowing machines and elliptical trainers are two of the absolute best cardio machines around for people trying to lose weight. That said, rowers are able to offer far greater results in this regard.

Not only can they cause you to burn an incredible amount of fat and calories, but they can also help to tone your entire body and increase your strength, stamina, and overall fitness at the same time.

Elliptical trainers are a great option for those who want an activity that is extremely straightforward or are being cautious due to an injury, as well as people on a budget who are looking to train at home. For everyone else though, a rowing machine is a slightly better option and the way to go.

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Steve is a retired professional wrestler with over 10 years of experience in the personal fitness industry. He is a certified personal trainer working with a wide variety of athletes as well as a fitness writer.

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