Rower vs Elliptical For Home Gym

Rower vs Elliptical For Home Gym

When building your home gym, there are so many different types of workout equipment to consider. And since each of us have our own unique fitness goals—whether it be losing weight, improving cardio, training for a specific sport/activity or just getting into better all round shape—the type of fitness equipment you choose can help you achieve your goals. And since most of us don’t actually have a room dedicated to a home gym, we can’t just purchase all the toys. Instead, we need to consider our space, cost and what equipment can provide the most benefit to our entire workout routine.

2 of the most popular exercise machines in gyms are rowing machines and elliptical machines. But which one is the best one for your home gym? In this comparison article, we’ll cover everything you need to know when considering a rower vs elliptical and by the end, you can make an informed decision about what works best for your lifestyle and fitness regime.

How do rowing machines work?

Rowing machines have a sliding seat that moves back and forth on a rail, a footrest for you to brace your feet against, and handlebars to grip with your hands. You sit on the seat and push off with your legs to propel the seat along the rail, simulating the motion of rowing a boat.

Rowing machine technique

Mastering proper form on a rowing machine can seem a bit tricky at first. Pull with your arms? Push with your legs? How fast should you go? It’s important to get your technique right to not overdo it and get all the fitness benefits that you get from using proper form.

The number 1 tip when it comes to rowing is that it’s about power, not speed. Focus on deriving all your power from the muscles in your lower body (quads, hamstrings and glutes) to push out from the starting position and then gently glide back once reaching full extension.

To get the maximum benefit from a rowing machine and avoid injury, it’s important to have your head in a neutral position, have an open chest and level shoulders and use your core muscles for support throughout the stroke.

If you’re having trouble getting the form and movement right, try practicing using just your legs and keep your arms extended. Then once you feel you have the proper technique with your legs, use just your arms to pull the cable through the flywheel whilst keeping your legs straight. Practicing this before doing everything together will ensure you prevent overuse injuries by stopping poor wrist position.

Now that you’re feeling confident you can bring it all together and start your rowing cardio workouts.

woman working out on rowing machine in her living room home gym

What are the different types of flywheels on rowing machines?

Magnetic, air or water resistance. Which to choose? Let’s break it down and understand the different types and how they work.

Magnetic resistance rowing machines are very quiet and because of this, they’re very popular for home gyms. Using 2 strong magnetics, they offer little to no resistance and can be adjusted based on your preferences. Magnetic rowers are usually smaller than the other two types. But the downside is you don’t really feel like you are rowing in water.

Air resistance rowers are the ones you’ll most likely see in your local gym. As you pull, air is forced through a flywheel and the quicker you spin it, the more resistance you create. Being able to control how much air goes into the flywheel, allows you to make your workout harder. But these are a bit noisier than the other options as you hear the air as it moves through the flywheel.

Water rowers use an oval tank that holds a flywheel and water. The resistance on every stroke is consistent and provides a  super smooth motion. Hearing the water sloshing around can be somewhat noisy, but for many people, that’s why they love their water rower. I can sound like you’re actually on a lake.

How do elliptical trainers work?

Let’s be honest, at first glance, an elliptical looks a little bit like Frankenstein’s monster alongside other exercise equipment. A mix between a treadmill, exercise bike and stair climber, it has become one of the most popular cardiovascular training tools in people’s home gyms. And for good reason as it provides little or no impact on your joints, for a full body, cardiovascular workout.

The main parts of an elliptical trainer include the pedals, which you stand on and move in an elliptical motion; the handles, which you hold onto for balance and to provide an upper body workout; and the console, which displays your workout statistics and allows you to adjust the resistance.

To use an elliptical machine, you stand on the pedals and grip the handles. You then begin moving your legs in an elliptical motion, similar to if you were walking or running. The machine provides resistance to your movements, which you can adjust using the display console. As you move the handles and pedal, you can increase your heart rate and get a great cardiovascular workout.

Elliptical trainer technique

Elliptical machines are quite easy to use once you get in the rhythm. If you get a chance to try one out at your local gym and get pointers from a fitness professional that’s a good place to start. But if you want to get going on your elliptical workout now, here are a few things you’ll want to think about when first starting out.

  • Set the workout to a preset program with the easiest resistance settings and stride length

  • Stand up straight

  • Grab onto the handles but don’t lean your body weight on them

  • Your feet should be pushed up so your toes are just touching the front of the foot pad

  • Move your feet like you would when running, making long strides

  • Gently push and pull on the handles which will make you feel more confident

man using elliptical machine in apartment home gym

Rowing machine benefits

There are many benefits to using a rower and some of them aren’t just fitness related. As one of the best overall cardiovascular fitness machines you can have in your home gym, your heart and lungs will grow stronger and your overall muscle endurance will increase. 

As with any new workout routine, the human body will take some time to show results. A rowing session will burn approximately 210-311 calories per 30 minutes, depending on your body weight. So rowing machines are great to help you lose weight and as a non-weight bearing exercise, it’s one of the best. For muscle development, over time you‘ll see a huge improvement in the strength of your core muscles, legs and upper back muscles.

As with any home gym cardio equipment, ease of use is key to making it a part of your daily workout routine.

Ellipticals machine benefits

There are a variety of benefits for your physical health and well-being when using an elliptical. Just like a rowing machine they can help you burn calories and lose weight (an elliptical session will burn approximately 270-378 calories per 30 minutes), improve your cardio, and provide a low-impact workout, which is great for people with joint issues or injuries. 

An elliptical machine gives you all the benefits of running without the impact, but unlike running or cycling, your arms also get involved. So as aerobic exercise goes, an elliptical also adds a great low-impact upper and lower body training to your workout session, working your biceps, triceps, shoulders, calves, glutes, hamstrings and quads. It really is a full-body workout!

Being able to target different muscle groups by changing the incline, resistance and direction of pedal stroke can give you a varied lower body workout. For example, increasing the incline to target your glutes and decreasing it to work your quads.

Key differences: rower vs elliptical machine

While both a rowing machine and an elliptical machine are considered low-impact and boost cardiovascular health, there are some key differences we think you should consider when choosing one machine.

Ease of use

One of the main differences between an elliptical machine and a rowing machine is ease of use. On a rower, proper form is key to getting the most benefits during your cardiovascular exercise. Bad form can lead to injuries, due to overutilization of your back muscles. Ellipticals are easier to figure out right away and poor form can still cause issues but not as severe as with rowers.

Muscle groups worked

While both target your major muscle groups, there are some differences in which muscles get worked. Rowing targets muscles in your lower and upper body. Your quads and glutes will be working hard and your deltoids (shoulders), lats (back) and core abdominal muscles will also feel the burn.

Ellipticals also target a few of the same muscle groups such as the glutes, quads and core, but also work your calves, hamstrings, triceps and biceps.

Range of motion

The motion during the rowing workout mimics 2 exercises you may have done in the gym before. The pulling motion with your arms is essentially a barbell pull, which works your upper body and your lower body is performing a squat.

Ellipticals move your arms in a way similar to a boxing workout while your leg muscles are moving like they would on a walk or jog.


Price-wise, rowers can be slightly more expensive than elliptical machines but this all depends on the model and features you want. Since elliptical trainers can have more features the pricing can really vary. Base models can sell for $400 and up to $1000+ for more high-end units. 

Rowers start around $500 for magnetic flywheels, then increase if you go for an air flywheel or water resistance flywheel.

Key similarities: rowing machine vs elliptical

Although these 2 exercise machines look completely different and have some key differences, there are also some shared traits.

Each can target the upper body muscles and increase your muscular endurance and they’re both cardio machines.

Beginner friendly

Being a beginner, choosing which provides the best exercise can be confusing and each machine can look daunting. But both of these aerobic exercise machines are very beginner friendly, as you can make your routine as easy or as hard as you like. Looking to build your cardiovascular endurance? Do a moderate-intensity workout. Need to recover from a previous high-intensity rowing workout? Do a gentle recovery session. Overall the pace and intensity are up to you.

Home gym space considerations

How much space you have is something to consider as each of these machines can take up considerable room in your home gym. Some rowers fold up but most high-quality ones do not. An elliptical may take slightly less space but they’re pretty similar overall.

Is rowing better for weight loss than an elliptical?

Weight loss is a popular goal for many people when choosing one machine to get the job done. While calorie burn has many factors that we won’t go into in this article, it’s worth noting that there are many factors that come into play such as your current fitness level, body type and composition and the overall effort you’re putting in during your workout. That being said, studies show that if you did a workout with similar intensity and duration, a rowing machine would burn slightly less calories. Here are the numbers based on a 30-minute moderate workout according to Harvard Health.

  • Elliptical: 324 calories per 30-minute workout

  • Rower: 252 calories per 30-minute workout

Is rowing a better workout than an elliptical trainer?

Rowing, when done correctly, can really work your cardiovascular system when you do a moderate or high-intensity session. Elliptical trainers are also a great cardio workout and are weight-bearing which is great for building stronger bones. So rowing machines don’t necessarily give you a better workout, just a bit of a different one.

Which exercise machine is right for you?

Rewards will come from both elliptical trainers and rowing machines. Each one will burn a lot of calories, provide major benefits to your cardiovascular system and can be used by fitness novices. Each exercise machine will need a dedicated space and price wise you can get started for around $500, which is the cost of a 6-month gym membership.

Check out the entire line of Ascend Rowers and Ellipticals to choose the right one for you. If you’re unsure about which one to go with or you’re still not sure which one is the best cardio equipment for you, get in touch via our contact page or click the chat icon below.

Justin Tardif-Francoeur

Justin Tardif-Francoeur

With over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry, Justin has a rich background ranging from personal training in bustling gyms to practicing massage therapy in health centers, and eventually running his own practice. An avid advocate for self-improvement, he tirelessly pursues the latest research to broaden his knowledge of human physiology and the body's potential. When he isn't enriching his understanding or assisting clients, Justin can be found embracing the great outdoors through paddle boarding, yoga, and hiking, or immersing himself in a challenging workout. His passion transcends personal growth, as he's equally committed to inspiring others on their own journey of self-improvement.



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