8 Effective Rowing Machine Alternatives

Photo of author
Last Updated On

There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission on anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Rowing machines can offer many benefits but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to rowing machines with similar benefits?

For most people, a rowing machine is a piece of cardio fitness equipment that simulates the movement of rowing a boat. This article also talks about alternatives to the strength training rowing machine.

Some of the benefits of a rowing machine are that you can use it to improve your cardiovascular health at home or in the gym, you are not dependent on the weather for your workouts, you can strengthen muscles over your entire body, it offers a low-impact workout, etc.

Whether you don’t enjoy using the rowing machine, you want a more back-friendly alternative, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these rowing machine alternatives can help you train similar areas of your health.

Keep in mind that implementing these alternatives can offer benefits but like while using any exercise equipment, there is always some risk of injury.

Make sure you use these equipment options in a safe way and if needed, get guidance from an expert.

1. Elliptical machine

The elliptical trainer is a relatively popular cardio gym machine. Using this machine may look a bit complicated at first but this exercise is actually very beginner-friendly.

You simply select your desired resistance and put your feet on the pads and hands on the handles. After that, you move forward with your feet and back and forth with your hands at your desired intensity.

Because the elliptical trainer improves your cardiovascular health, burns a lot of calories, is soft on your knees, and trains similar muscles it can be a great alternative to the rowing machine. Especially if you turn up the resistance.

At the same time, the elliptical trainer is slightly softer on your knees and lower back than the rowing machine. Depending on your current situation this could be an important advantage.

One potential downside is that you need an elliptical machine to do this exercise. That means either investing in your own elliptical machine or joining a gym.

Check elliptical trainer prices

2. Resistance bands

Resistance bands are versatile pieces of fitness equipment that are basically elastic cords.

They can be used for a variety of exercises, including options that can serve as an alternative to both the cardio and resistance training rowing machine.

If you want to do an at-home version of the cardio rowing exercise without a machine you will need resistance bands, a resistance band anchor somewhere low, and something with wheels to sit on.

After that you anchor the resistance bands, hold them like you would do with the handle of a rowing machine, sit on the object with wheels, and put your feet against the wall or anchor, and you can do a slightly less effective version of the rowing exercise at home without a gym machine.

To replace the resistance training rowing machine you can do bent-over resistance band rows or some of the other row variations.

Some of the benefits of resistance bands are that they are relatively inexpensive, easy to store, extremely versatile, and very portable.

One downside is that resistance bands are not the type of gym equipment you can use for the rest of your life. At least every few years you will need to replace the last set with new resistance bands to build muscle.

Certain exercises will also benefit from anchoring your resistance bands somewhere. Sometimes you can attach them to objects that are already around the house.

Even so, it is likely safer to get an inexpensive resistance band anchor to avoid any problems.

Check resistance bands prices

3. Vertical climber

Gym machines often try to simulate some real-life activity and the vertical climber is no different. Using this machine is similar to climbing an endless ladder.

That means that it will be similar to using a rowing machine in the sense that it strengthens similar muscles, improves cardiovascular health, helps you burn calories, etc.

The vertical climber is also different than using a rowing machine in some ways.

This machine will focus slightly more on strengthening your leg muscles and less on improving cardiovascular health. The vertical climber is also often cheaper than a rowing machine.

One potential downside of the vertical climber compared to the rowing machine is that you do not have the option to watch your favorite tv-show during your workout.

Check vertical climber prices

4. Free weights

Free weights are basically the types of weights you can find at the gym. Some examples of free weights are dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, exercise sandbags, etc. These pieces of fitness equipment are extremely versatile.

To replace the cardio rowing machine you can simply do a bent-over row with light weights at a fast speed.

If you like the lower-back strengthening aspect of the rowing machine you can do something like a kettlebell swing or Romanian deadlifts, etc.

Free weights are an even better alternative to the resistance training rowing machine. You can do a standing bent-over row, a row with your chest supported by an incline bench, a row with one knee on a weight bench, etc.

Another benefit of free weights is that they generally last an extremely long time. One dumbbell can potentially improve your workouts for many years and potentially even decades.

On top of that, many free weights do not really lose their value.

This means that if you decide to stop using dumbbells or other free weights you can likely sell them for a very similar price as what you put into them.

Even the initial investment is generally lower compared to the same rowing machine stats.

The disadvantage of these free weight exercises is that while they can help with cardiovascular health, they are just as great as a rowing machine for improving that fitness component.

Check dumbbell prices

5. Stationary bike

Cycling, either outside on an actual bike or at home in or in the gym on a stationary bike, is another common cardio exercise example. One that is more popular than rowing machines.

Of these two options, the stationary bike is the alternative that comes closest to using a rowing machine.

Some of the benefits where the stationary bike resembles the rowing machine include: improving cardiovascular health indoors, training similar leg muscles, burning a lot of calories, and offering a low-impact workout.

That being said, the stationary bike is an alternative with more focus on legs alone. There are stationary bikes with handles but generally, a stationary bike will not engage your upper body muscles as much as a rowing machine.

Although often slightly cheaper, similar to a rowing machine, the stationary bike does require a decent investment.

Check stationary bike prices

6. Pull-up bar

Pull-ups are a typical resistance training exercise. To do this exercise you need a pull-up bar which is basically a sturdy horizontal bar.

Even if you currently don’t have a pull-up bar or gym subscription, doorway pull-up bars are relatively inexpensive.

The latissimus dorsi is one of the main muscles that gets trained when using a resistance training rowing machine. Pull-ups are a great alternative exercise for targetting this exact same muscle.

When using the cardio rowing machine you will also engage this same muscle but unless you row at the heaviest resistances, a lot less.

One of the benefits of pull-up bars over a rowing machine is that they are a lot cheaper. At the same time strengthening a big back muscle like the latissimus dorsi can help a lot with burning calories.

The downsides are relatively straightforward. Pull-ups are a strength training exercise that mainly focuses on upper body muscles.

That means that the pull-up bar will not really offer you very big advantages when it comes to trying to improve cardiovascular health, strengthening leg muscles, etc.

Check pull-up bar prices

7. Treadmill

A treadmill is one of the most popular gym machines there is. This machine simulates an endless flat surface to walk or run on.

This machine is a great option if you are interested in improving your cardiovascular health as much as possible indoors.

Other treadmill benefits, especially if you use it for running, include strengthening your leg muscles, burning a lot of calories, improving lung health, and the other benefits of cardiovascular workouts.

Another benefit is that treadmills are generally more budget-friendly than rowing machines.

One potential downside of something like running on the treadmill is that it is a lot harder on your knees. In turn, this can lead to more bone strengthening as long as you don’t have to stop exercising due to injuries.

Besides that, if you are interested in strengthening upper body muscles, the treadmill is likely not what you are looking for.

Check treadmill prices

8. Swimming

Another very popular way to get in a good cardio workout is swimming. Especially for people who like the upper body training combined with cardiovascular training from rowing, swimming may be a great alternative.

There are a few reasons why swimming is a great alternative to using a rowing machine. Swimming burns a lot of calories, works out muscles over your entire body, and improves cardiovascular health.

Compared to using a rowing machine, swimming is even easier on your knees and lower back.

A downside is that you do have to find and go to a swimming pool or other body of water to be able to do this exercise. This can require more time and money. You will also get less bone-strengthening from swimming.

Check swimming equipment prices

Photo of author


Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.