Rowing Machine vs Cross Trainer: Choosing the Best Cardio Workout

Rowing Machine vs Cross Trainer: Choosing the Best Cardio Workout

  • 11 min read

When considering the purchase of cardiovascular exercise equipment, two popular choices are the rowing machine and the cross trainer. Each of these machines offers a unique approach to fitness, targeting different muscle groups and providing various health benefits.

Rowing machines give an effective full-body workout, engaging both the upper and lower body while also offering a low-impact cardiovascular exercise.

On the other hand, cross trainers, also known as elliptical machines, provide a similarly low-impact workout, but with a focus on the mimicking of natural walking or running motion, which can be less strenuous on the joints than actual running.

Rowing machine vs cross trainer

In comparing the two, it's important to evaluate which machine aligns best with individual fitness goals. Rowing machines tend to engage more muscle groups simultaneously, potentially leading to increased muscle strength and endurance over time. They can particularly benefit the back, shoulders, and arms, as well as the legs.

Cross trainers are excellent for those looking to improve cardiovascular health without the stress on their joints, offering an adjustable resistance to tailor the intensity of the workout. In terms of calorie burning, both machines can be highly effective, but this largely depends on the intensity of the workout and the individual's effort.

Key Takeaways

  • Rowing machines provide a comprehensive full-body workout and can improve muscle strength.
  • Cross trainers offer a low-impact exercise ideal for cardiovascular health without joint stress.
  • Both options can be effective for calorie burning, dependent on workout intensity.


Overview of Rowing Machines

Overview of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines, commonly known as indoor rowers, are designed to simulate the action of watercraft rowing for the purpose of exercise or training for rowing. The indoor rower is an effective piece of gym equipment that targets various muscle groups and provides a comprehensive cardiovascular workout.


Essential Features

Rowing machines typically consist of a braking mechanism, known as the resistance system, which provides the feel of rowing on water. The resistance can come in various forms:

  • Air resistance: Generated by a flywheel that spins against air.
  • Magnetic resistance: Created through the magnetic brake that doesn't contact the flywheel.
  • Water resistance: Uses paddles in an enclosed tank of water to provide resistance reminiscent of actual rowing.
  • Hydraulic resistance: Operates with cylinders filled with fluid for resistance.

In addition to resistance, a key feature of a rowing machine is the ergometer, which measures the amount of work performed. The display monitors generally show data such as distance rowed, calories burned, and stroke rate.


Types of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines come in a variety of models to suit different preferences and budgets:

  • Air Rowers: They are favoured for their smooth action and natural rowing feel.
  • Magnetic Rowers: Known for their quiet and smooth operation; ideal for home use.
  • Water Rowers: Offer a sensation close to actual water rowing and often feature aesthetically pleasing designs with wood construction.
  • Hydraulic Rowers: These are typically more compact and affordable, making them suitable for smaller spaces and tighter budgets.

Each type of rowing machine offers a unique combination of feel, resistance, and potential benefits, encouraging users to consider their specific fitness goals and space constraints when choosing the appropriate model.


Overview of Cross Trainers

Overview of Cross Trainers

Cross trainers, commonly known as elliptical trainers, are staples in cardio fitness, offering a low-impact exercise option that mimics natural motion. They provide full-body workouts and are a popular choice for both gym and home use.


Key Characteristics

  • Low-Impact Exercise: The design of cross trainers ensures minimal stress on joints, making them suitable for a wide range of users, particularly those with concerns about joint impact.
  • Full-Body Workout: Elliptical machines often include handles to engage the upper body, providing a comprehensive workout that can improve overall fitness and muscle tone.
  • Cardiovascular Improvements: Regular use can enhance heart and lung health, increase stamina, and contribute to better cardiovascular performance.
  • Calorie Burning: The combination of upper and lower body exercise can lead to significant calorie expenditure, aiding in weight management.

Variations of Cross Trainers

  • Flywheel Position: Cross trainers can have the flywheel located at the front, rear, or centre, which affects the stride length and motion.
  • Resistance Technology: Machines use various forms of resistance (air, magnet, or mechanical) to increase workout intensity.
  • Incline Adjustments: Some models offer incline settings to simulate hill climbing and target different muscle groups.
  • Console Features: Modern elliptical trainers may include advanced consoles with workout programs, heart rate monitors, and entertainment options.


Comparing Exercise Impact

When choosing between a rowing machine and a cross trainer, the impact on one's body is a pivotal aspect to consider. Both machines offer effective workouts but differ significantly in how they affect joints and the potential for injury.


Rowing Machine Impact

The rowing machine is typically considered a low-impact exercise option; it is gentle on the joints and can be a suitable choice for people with joint concerns. Rowing provides a full-body workout, engaging multiple muscle groups without imposing harsh impact on the body's joints.

However, it is important to maintain proper form to minimise the risk of back pain. Those using a rowing machine should ensure they use a smooth, controlled motion to avoid unnecessary strain on the lower back.


Cross Trainer Impact

Conversely, the cross trainer, also known as an elliptical machine, is also acclaimed for its low-impact benefits. This machine is designed to mimic the natural motion of walking or running with reduced stress on the joints, particularly the knees and hips.

The cross trainer is highly beneficial for individuals seeking a cardio workout with a minimal risk of joint-related injuries. Its design supports the back, making it a less likely candidate to exacerbate existing back pain, assuming the user maintains an upright posture throughout their workout.


Effectiveness for Muscle Groups

Selecting the right exercise equipment for achieving specific fitness goals often comes down to the effectiveness of that equipment in targeting muscle groups. Both rowing machines and cross trainers are excellent for engaging various muscles and promoting muscle mass development. However, they differ in the specific muscle groups they focus on and how they benefit the body.


Muscles Worked by Rowing Machine

Rowing machines offer a full-body workout, actively engaging both upper and lower body muscles. Back muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius are substantially worked when the user pulls the handle towards their torso. Meanwhile, core muscles including the rectus abdominis and obliques are instrumental in maintaining stability and posture during rowing motions.

Biceps and forearms are involved in the pulling action, while the triceps may assist during the 'return' phase. For the lower body, rowing machines demand considerable work from the quadriceps in the legs as part of the pushing phase. The calves and glutes also receive a workout as they engage to extend the legs and hips. Together, these muscle groups make rowing an integrated and dynamic exercise that can increase overall muscle mass and endurance.


Muscles Targeted by Cross Trainer

Cross trainers, also known as elliptical machines, target a slightly different array of muscles, with a focus on mimicking the natural movement of running without the high impact. They predominantly challenge the quadriceps, calves, and glutes as the legs alternate between bending and extending. The user's core muscles are constantly engaged to maintain balance and posture, contributing to a stronger midsection.

The moving handlebars on many cross trainers mean the biceps and triceps can be engaged when pulling and pushing the bars. Consequently, cross trainers provide a balanced workout that can help in toning muscle groups across the body without the stress on joints that comes with conventional running.


Benefits for Cardiovascular Health

When comparing the cardiovascular benefits of a rowing machine and a cross trainer, one must consider how each exercise modality can enhance the function of the heart and cardiovascular system.


Rowing Machine Cardio Benefits

The rowing machine offers a comprehensive cardiovascular workout that engages multiple muscle groups, which can lead to an increase in heart rate and cardiovascular endurance. Due to the full-body nature of the exercise, rowing has the potential to improve the overall efficiency of the cardiovascular system.

Studies have shown that using functional electric stimulation–assisted rowing can be safe and effective for individuals, even those with spinal cord injuries, indicating its utility for a broad range of users.


Cross Trainer Cardio Advantages

On the other hand, cross trainers, also known as elliptical machines, provide a low-impact cardiovascular workout that can be easier on the joints while still offering a heart rate-increasing exercise. A cross trainer allows for customisation of workouts that can target different aspects of cardiovascular fitness.

For example, changes in resistance and pace on the cross trainer can help maintain or improve cardiovascular endurance, potentially offering benefits to the cardiovascular health of older adults.


Weight Loss and Calorie Burning

When considering the effectiveness of gym equipment for weight loss, the rowing machine and the cross trainer stand out for their ability to burn calories and ultimately help lose weight. They engage different muscle groups and offer varied calorie-burning potentials.


Calories Burnt Rowing

The rowing machine is a powerful tool for weight loss as it provides a full-body workout, engaging the legs, arms, and core. On average, one can burn approximately 600-800 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of the workout and their body weight. It's important to maintain proper form to maximise calorie expenditure and reduce the risk of injury.


Calorie Expenditure on Cross Trainer

The cross trainer, also known as an elliptical machine, targets the lower body and can be adjusted to involve the upper body, offering a less intense workout than rowing, but still effective for weight loss. On average, individuals can expect to burn around 400-600 calories per hour. The cross trainer provides a low-impact exercise, which reduces stress on the joints while still helping to burn fat.


Utilisation for High-Intensity Interval Training

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) harnesses episodes of high-intensity work followed by rest or moderate intensity activity. Both rowing machines and cross trainers are effective tools for HIIT, offering unique benefits based on the user's fitness goals.


Rowing and HIIT

Rowing machines engage the entire body, combining cardiovascular exercise with strength elements. HIIT workouts on a rowing machine can dramatically increase endurance and speed, employing the synergy of both the upper and lower body. An intense session might involve 30 seconds of all-out rowing followed by 60 seconds of a more moderate intensity pace. This type of exercise not only promotes muscular endurance but also enhances caloric burn due to the compound movement.

  • Sample HIIT Rowing Structure:
    • 30 seconds of high-intensity rowing
    • 60 seconds of moderate-intensity recovery
    • Repeat for 10 cycles

On the Effects of a Novel High Intensity Interval Training Protocol, collegiate rowers experienced specific improvements in performance using HIIT over continuous training, demonstrating the efficacy of HIIT protocols in a rowing context.


Cross Trainer for HIIT

Cross trainers, otherwise known as elliptical machines, offer a low-impact form of HIIT, desirable for individuals with joint concerns. These machines are splendid for mimicking the natural stride movement, thus reducing the stress on the knees and hips. A HIIT workout on a cross trainer can amplify heart rate quickly, alternating between high-resistance sprints and lower-intensity periods, leading to improved aerobic capacity and fat loss.

  • Sample HIIT Cross Trainer Structure:
    • 1 minute of high-resistance sprinting
    • 2 minutes of low-resistance walking pace
    • Repeat for 20 minutes

Guidelines for the delivery and monitoring of high intensity interval training in different populations endorse the adaptability of cross trainers for HIIT, accommodating various fitness levels and physical conditions.

By employing these machines for HIIT, users can effectively enhance cardiovascular health, boost metabolic rate and improve recovery efficiency through disciplined, structured workouts tailored to their capabilities and needs.


Considerations for Home and Gym Use

Choosing between a rowing machine and a cross trainer for either a home environment or a gym involves understanding their size and space requirements as well as considering the ease of use and learning curve associated with each piece of equipment.


Space and Size Considerations

When considering space and size, rowing machines typically require more length due to their sliding seat motion. In a home setting, they can be quite large and may not be suitable if space is limited. However, many models can be upright stored to save space when not in use.

In contrast, cross trainers, also known as elliptical machines, often have a smaller length but can be wider and taller. They are generally more stationary than rowing machines, which can make them less flexible in home environments where space versatility is necessary.

For gyms or fitness centres, space might be less of a constraint, and both machines can be organised effectively to maximise the available area. Gym-goers often expect to have access to a variety of machines, so accommodating both options is usually a priority.


Ease of Use and Learning Curve

In terms of ease of use and the learning curve, cross trainers are often considered more intuitive and can be easier to use for beginners. They do not require the same level of coordination as rowing machines, where maintaining proper form is crucial to prevent injury and ensure an effective workout.

Both types of equipment will require some initial learning, but typically, mastering the rowing technique may present a steeper learning curve for users new to exercise, particularly at home without the guidance of a trainer.

In a gym setting, newcomers can benefit from the assistance of qualified staff to ensure they use the equipment correctly. Gym staff can provide on-the-spot guidance on proper form, which is invaluable for those new to rowing machines and those who want to optimize their workouts on a cross trainer.

Fitness enthusiasts looking for equipment should consider not only the physical dimensions of each machine but also the comfort and accessibility of the exercise modes offered by each, thinking about their individual needs and the context in which they'll use the equipment.


Frequently Asked Questions

In addressing common queries, this section provides clarity on the efficacy of rowing machines and cross trainers for weight loss, the muscle groups they target, their calorie-burning capacity, selection criteria for home use, specific fitness goals, and potential disadvantages.

Which is more effective for weight loss, the rowing machine or the cross trainer?

The rowing machine and the cross trainer both offer robust workouts, but the choice between the two for weight loss depends on individual preference and the intensity of the workout. A rowing machine can provide a full-body workout, potentially leading to higher calorie burn if utilised vigorously.

What are the main differences in muscles targeted by rowing machines compared to cross trainers?

Rowing machines primarily engage the back, shoulders, and arms, alongside the legs for a complete compound exercise. Cross trainers, on the other hand, tend to focus more on the lower body but also offer an upper body workout when using the handles, promoting overall muscular balance.

How do the calorie-burning potentials of rowing machines and cross trainers compare?

Calorie burn is influenced by workout intensity and the individual's weight and fitness level. Generally, rowing machines can burn a significant number of calories due to the full-body effort required, potentially more than cross trainers which offer a lower impact workout.

What are some key considerations when choosing a rowing machine for home use?

When selecting a rowing machine for home use, one should consider the available space, the machine's size, and how it stores. It's also important to look at the different types of resistance and whether they meet the user's fitness requirements.

Can a rowing machine effectively flatten the stomach area?

Using a rowing machine can contribute to overall fat loss and can help flatten the stomach area as part of a broader fitness and diet regimen. Consistent cardiovascular workouts coupled with strength training on the rowing machine target fat loss across the body, including the abdominal region.

What are potential drawbacks to using a rowing machine for exercise?

Potential drawbacks of rowing machines include the risk of lower back strain if one does not maintain proper form. A rowing machine might not be the best choice for individuals with pre-existing lower back issues. It is also imperative to ensure the workout is varied to avoid overuse injuries from repetitive motion.

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