Rowing Machine or Elliptical Trainer
February 3, 2014 9:26 AM   Subscribe

The impact of running has made it no longer a good cardio option for me. I've narrowed my 'non-impact' cardio options down to a rowing machine or an elliptical trainer, but am having trouble decided between them. Special snowflake details, as always, are inside.

I'm a late 30 woman, 5'9", ~150lbs.

I used to run 3 miles on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, but multiple injuries to my foot have made that impossible. My doctor says low/no impact is the only option for me now.

My current exercise regimen is as follow:
Mon & Thurs - upper body with bodyweight and dumbbells
Tues, Fri, Sun - lower body with bodyweight and kettlebell (including HIIT via the kettlebell swing on Tues & Fri).
Wed, Sat - Yoga & cardio

Please assume that finding a way to run again is not an option, and I have investigated and ruled out other machines (stationary bike, stair climber, etc).

I am already doing HIIT with the kettlebell - I'm looking for a low-intensity cardio workout for the off days. I had originally thought a rowing machine was the best option, but am rethinking that.

Rowing Machine -
Pros: Fuller body workout, including upper body and core.
Cons: Takes away 'rest time' needed after weight training, easy to injure back & knees (and I'm prone to lower back pain).

Elliptical -
Pros: Significantly lower chance of injury, less strain on muscles trying to recover from strength training
Cons: Basically just works lower body and cardio system - not efficient?

The challenge I'm having is that both options seem fine - there's no clear "obvious" one. So I turn to the minds at MetaFilter.

Based on my current workout schedule, does one option or the other stand out as the "right" choice? Why?
posted by dotgirl to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Which one do you enjoy doing more? I know you say both options seem fine, but is one machine more fun for you to use than the other? Personally I enjoy using the elliptical more (though I do enjoy the rowing machine) so I would choose that. Your decision does not have to be based upon a clear scientific objective detail. If they are equally good, then you can/should/have to decide based upon other criteria like fun, space in your house, noise, usefulness to hang clothes on it to try, etc.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:28 AM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with PuppetMcSockerson. Buy the one that is the most "fun" for you. Actually doing the exercise is the more important that the form.
posted by OtisTheStig at 9:29 AM on February 3, 2014

I know this is stupid but I'd like the elliptical better in this scenario because Id worry about the rowing machine's lower back impact and because you can watch teevee/ipad with the elliptical.
posted by jessamyn at 9:30 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd prefer the rowing machine simply because it works my back and core, and I don't get enough of that. I feel comfortable using it and not injuring myself, though.
posted by jsturgill at 9:31 AM on February 3, 2014

I can't do the rowing machine due to a rotator cuff injury. One's ability to do the rowing machine can be affected by quite a few more injuries than the elliptical. I.e. if you hurt your wrist, arm, ankle, knee, shoulder or back, you can't do the rower.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 9:36 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have to choose? Why not alternate between the two?
posted by something something at 9:36 AM on February 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I own a rowing machine. The first thing I would say is that if you are getting knee and back pain you may well be doing it wrong. It is not easy to injure your knees on a rowing machine - there is no impact. It is not easy to injure your back if you have the correct technique.

Rowing is harder work. If your goal is to attain fitness quickly or burn fat quickly, then row. It is easy to choose between a high intensity style row or a lower heart rate fat burn row. If you adjust the pull setting and/or stroke rate you can work your upper or lower body more. However, it can be deathly boring and my experience is that a lot of people row for a bit then stop, and then go back to it. You can watch TV when you row though. Perfectly possible and I've done it: your head should only be moving horizontally.

If you want something to balance out your other exercise, I would choose the elliptical trainer. It is easier to do it at lower intensity, in particular for arms, and it's a better substitution for running if you're doing upper body work already. It is not as efficient, but given you're substituting for running and already doing weight work that's not really an issue.

Also: you're exercising every day of the week and you're still looking for more cardio to do on the off days. What off days? Be careful not to overdo it or burn yourself out.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:50 AM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not sure about rowing machine plus foot injury, although it's worth trying and seeing how it affects you, definitely. Some of the force you produce will probably go to the seat, but a lot will go through your legs and feet to where you're strapped to the footplate. You push your entire bodyweight plus added flywheel (or water) resistance backwards with your legs in the first part of the stroke, anchored at your feet. It's less impact than running, and a different sort, but I'd be cautious how it'll affect an injury.
posted by lokta at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2014

Voting for the elliptical.

Although working the lower body is more intuitive on an elliptical, you can actually get an excellent upper-body workout on an elliptical. On the right machine, the programs it runs will prompt you to push-pull more with your arms than moving the pedals with your legs. I have actually been able to reduce the forces on my legs by using my arms more and feel thoroughly thrashed in a good way afterward.

Also - for what it's worth - I travel a lot, and I see far more elliptical machines in various gyms than I do rowing machines. Anecdata, true.
posted by Thistledown at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2014

I like my Waterrower, and switched to it from a Concept II because the latter gave me back pain. The Waterrower doesn't hurt my back at all, so if back pain is your concern, then I'd think this rower would address that.

I also like that it's quite attractive and stands up so takes up very little space on the floor and that it's quiet and sounds nice.

It's also entirely mechanical, so is unlikely to need expensive repairs, unlike an elliptical trainer which (based on the out-of-order signs that appear on these regularly at my gym) is pretty finicky. The computer on the rower is an attachment, so it can be replaced without replacing the whole machine, again unlike the elliptical.

And finally, I can use the Waterrower's pulling mechanism for pure upper-body work (without rowing) so if I do have a lower-body injury it's still useful.
posted by Capri at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2014

Are you going to a gym that has both? If so, I'd alternate for awhile and see what you like best.

Caution with the rower, though: pay attention to your back and keep it straight and your abdominals engaged. I see more people rounding their back on this machine and that can often lead to injury.
posted by Kurichina at 10:34 AM on February 3, 2014

I agree with PuppetMcSockerson too: what do you like better? I've used both at different times as my main cardio for months at a time. I enjoy rowing more, but I suspect that's because I prefer upper body-intensive cardio more than lower (e.g. swimming > running). I think it's easier to get a better cardio workout with the elliptical. Nth-ing the form caveat, because rowing exacerbated my back problems until I started engaging my abs.
posted by manduca at 10:37 AM on February 3, 2014

Why does the Rowing Machine specifically take away 'rest time' needed after weight training?
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:07 AM on February 3, 2014

It's really easy to take on bad form with the rowing machine. I vote elliptical
posted by discopolo at 11:12 AM on February 3, 2014

I don't know that I agree with your "takes away rest time..." comment. I worked with a trainer to create a program that consisted of weights three days a week with rowing in between.
posted by Silvertree at 11:26 AM on February 3, 2014

Nthing the "takes away your rest time" confusion. I have trained in power lifting and Olympic lifting for four years with an Olympic-level coach and I have always rowed on off days (I hate pretty much all cardio, so rowing it is).
posted by mrfuga0 at 1:17 PM on February 3, 2014

Right, unless you're sprinting, rowing shouldn't really affect recovery for weight training.

For me, it's a no brainer to go with the rower (always feels like a much more effective workout), but you absolutely need to learn good form.
posted by ktkt at 2:30 PM on February 3, 2014

Another vote for a rowing machine. I have a Concept 2 and love it. You need good form, as mentioned above, but it's not difficult to get some lessons or get tutorials online.
posted by Specklet at 4:13 PM on February 3, 2014

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