3 Best Indoor Rowing Machine Alternatives For a Tough Workout


Does your workout program call for a rowing session but your health club or home gym doesn’t have an indoor rower? What are the best alternatives you’re most likely to find in a gym and provide a similar workout? Here are the best options.

The best alternatives to an indoor rowing machine are a; (1) Fan bike, (2) SkiErg, (3) Elliptical trainer. These alternatives can provide a workout that is similar to the workout an indoor rower can give you while having minimal drawbacks compared to other cardio machine.

The alternatives mentioned have some of the same great things a rowing machine can provide but there are also some differences. What are those differences and should you care about them or not? Keep reading to find out.


What does a rowing machine do?

To know what a good alternative to an indoor rowing machine is, we have to take a look at what a rowing machine actually does for you and your body. Of course if you’re looking for the alternative to a rowing machine, the actual movement pattern is going to be different. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be an alternative but still a rowing machine.

A good indoor rowing machine does a few things;

  • Full body workout
  • Low impact on your joints
  • Very good (tough) cardio workout
  • Compact storage
  • Good for very high intensity workouts
  • The most popular rowers use air resistance

Those are the characteristics we’re looking for when deciding which alternative is most suited to replace an indoor rower.

Let’s look which cardio machines are the best and you can feel safe to substitute when your workout program calls for a rower.

Can’t find a good alternative and just want an indoor rower? Click here to find which one I recommend.

Air/fan bike

The closest alternative to an indoor rower is an air bike. There are some really cool similarities between fan bikes and indoor rowing machines.

Fan bikes have a fan blade that spins when you pedal as the name suggests. Most good rowing machines have air or water resistance which means that the type of resistance on an air bike is very similar.

Similarities;

  • Full body workout
  • Can be very tough
  • Great for HIIT
  • Compact
  • Low impact

Differences;

  • Different movement
  • You can choose to only work out upper or lower body if you want to.

Most exercise bikes are just a lower body movement but most air bikes have lever arms as well. These are levers you push/pull with your upper body. That means you use both the upper and lower body to ride on an air bike. Full body movements combined with air (can be very tough) resistance means that an air bike can be a brutal workout, just like a rower.

Suggested: What’s an air bike and should I get one?

While most rowing machines fold up very compact for storage, they do take up quite a bit of space to actually use them. Air bikes are a little bit bigger than a rower if you want to store them, (although a lot smaller than a treadmill for example), but they actually take up less space when in use.

Just like an indoor rowing machine, a fan bike provides a smooth motion. This means it has a low impact on your joints.

Suggested: Are air bikes good for beginners?

All-in-all, an air bike does very much the same thing a rower does with a different movement pattern. It’s the best alternative to an indoor rowing machine you can get.

If you’re looking for an alternative to a rower for a home gym, an air bike is perfect. It’s more compact while providing a very similar workout. However, if you’re looking for an alternative you can find in a commercial gym, you probably won’t find an air bike if they don’t have a rowing machine. Most gyms tend to have rowing machines but air bikes are much rarer.

SkiErg

The same company that produces the most popular indoor rowers in the world (Concept2), produces another very interesting machine; the SkiErg.

The SkiErg is a machine that tries to imitate cross country skiing. This means it’s a full body exercise although it’s a bit different that a rower.

Similarities;

  • Full body workout (more focused on upper body)
  • Can be very tough
  • Great for HIIT
  • Compact
  • Low impact

Differences;

  • Different movement
  • No seat (although for people with injuries/disabilities it’s actually possible to use this machine while sitting on a bench so you only use the upper body.)

The resistance is created in the same way as the concept2 rowers. This means you spin a fan blade. The fan blade creates pretty much infinite resistance. The harder you work push, the more resistance you’ll get. That means the resistance is always matched to the effort you put in which is one of the reasons why these machines are such a good cardio workout.

The SkiErg is more focused towards the upper body because you stand on the floor and hold the cables in your hands. Sure, on a rowing machine you also hold the oar in your hands but you absolutely need to push with your legs as well. The SkiErg movement still uses the legs because the movement does require you to bend at the hips and knees with every stroke. That means you’re partly bodyweight squatting every repetition. However, the legs don’t push against anything except the floor but there is no added resistance there.

Bodyweight squatting is still a pretty tough thing to do for an extended period of time though. You’ll definitely get a full body workout.

While these machines aren’t exactly small, the footprint is actually pretty compact. That’s because the bulk of this machine goes up and not sideways. When not in use, the footprint of one of these machines is very small. To use it, you need a bit more floor space but still not as much as a treadmill for example.

Elliptical trainer

If your gym isn’t too well equipped, they likely still have an elliptical trainer because pretty much every gym in the world has at least one.

While there are some differences between rowing machines and elliptical trainers, there are enough similarities to make it a reasonable alternative in a pinch.

Suggested: Can I safely put an elliptical trainer upstairs?

Similarities;

  • Full body workout
  • Can be very tough
  • Great for HIIT (although a touch more complicated than other alternatives)
  • Low impact

Differences;

  • More difficult to change resistance. (although pushing a button isn’t all that complicated)
  • No seat
  • Much bigger machine that doesn’t fold for storage
  • More expensive than a rowing machine of comparable quality.

While an elliptical trainer doesn’t have the ‘infinite resistance’ the other machines mentioned above have, most good ellipticals still have a maximum resistance that’s high enough for the vast majority of people. The biggest difference here is that you have to adjust the resistance with a button on the console (or start a program). The other alternatives always seamlessly adjust the resistance to the effort you put in so are simpler in that regard.

On the other hand, elliptical trainers have a low impact on your joints and it’s a good tool for HIIT training if you use the built in programs.

Just like an air bike you have pedals and lever arms so it certainly provides a full body workout although on an elliptical trainer, there is no seat so it is more like walking.

For a home gym, I’d recommend going for one of the alternatives named above because they are cheaper and smaller than elliptical trainers and on top of that they are closer alternatives. If you’re in a commercial gym that doesn’t have a rower or any of the other ones mentioned above available, an elliptical trainer is your best bet.

If you want an elliptical trainer for your home gym, check out here which one I recommend.

Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories

Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:

  • Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high quality choice.
  • Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
  • Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.

To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.

Matt

Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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