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total gym vs rowing machine - woman on rower

Total Gym vs Rowing Machine: Is One Better? Answered! (2024)

Since the invention of infomercials home fitness buffs have compared the Total Gym and rowing machines trying to decide which one to get. Clearly, you’re in the same boat. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re comparing the Total Gym Vs. rowing machine to find out who the winner is and why. 

Here, we’ll use the Concept2 Rower as a base model to explore what makes each option great, who each one is best suited for, what their features are, and more. While we prefer the rowing machine, don’t just take our word for it. Read on to see which one is the best choice for your fitness goals. 

Total Gym Review 

If you know anything about Total Gym, it’s probably the fact that Chuck Norris endorsed it and did a bazillion infomercials demonstrating a variety of full-body exercises. These all-in-one systems have made it possible to achieve a total body workout in as little as twenty minutes, which is why it’s so popular. 

The Total Gym is a foldable, user-friendly machine that mixes cardio and strength training. One of the reasons it’s so popular is that it’s a no-impact workout. This makes it a solid option for bigger users and those with ligament and joint issues. 

It can accommodate users up to 300 lbs. and it’s great for weight loss and heart rate training. Furthermore, you can exercise every muscle group in your body all in one session or switch it up and do upper then lower body. 

This Total Gym allows for multi-planar movements, which means you can move in whichever direction you want — forward, backward, lateral, or rotational. 

It’s also excellent to use for circuit training: this is where you complete a series of workouts using different muscle groups to really pump up your cardio and fat burning. 

What makes the Total Gym so effective is that it uses your body weight to provide the resistance needed. And the angle of the bench can be adjusted up and down. Lower for an easier workout and higher for a harder workout. And if you’re really challenging yourself, you can use bungee cords for extra 15 lbs of resistance.

What’s great about the Total Gym is that it maintains resistance on both concentric and eccentric movements. Because of this, you’re building muscle/toning on the way up and the way down. It’s similar to using an elastic band where it keeps tension all the way through. 

As far as the experience from unboxing to exercising goes, it’s a great workout. It comes fully assembled so you can start immediately. When you’re done, it folds up vertically so it can be stored in the corner, the closet, or next to the couch. 

Overall, the workout is great. The back pad is comfortable and the resistance seems like it would be too easy for a more advanced individual. However, you can increase the angle to the point that you will feel the burn. This is not a low rep machine though. This is designed for higher rep workouts and fits best with people who are older or who have injuries and need a no-impact workout that’s challenging. 

As far as how it compares to a rowing machine, they’re very different. The Total Gym is designed to be a full-body workout with a focus on muscle. Rowing machines, on the other hand, have a higher emphasis on cardio. Yes, you will build strength and muscle on a rowing machine but that’s not the primary focus. 


  • Allows movement in every direction
  • Full-body workout – you can hit every muscle
  • Folds away to save on storage space
  • Operates quietly while providing full-body workouts


  • Lacks workout programs
  • Doesn’t track your stats

Concept 2 Rowing Machine

Concept2 began in 1981 when Pete and Dick Dreissigacker created the first Concept2 Indoor Rower, quickly becoming the best-selling rowing machine. This rower is time tested and has remained the gold standard rowing machine ever since. 

Simply put, the Concept2 is the top of the line rowing machine for competition rowers & athletes alike. All official scores for CrossFit are done only on the Concept2 which should give you an idea of how accurate the machine really is. In fact, its our top choice overall in our review of the best rowing machines

When it comes to appearances, the Concept2 is a no-nonsense rower. 

It’s built for heavy use. 

It’s made from lightweight but super-durable aluminum that can support up to 500 lbs. The resistance you get from the rower is self-regulating. So the harder you row, the harder it gets. It also features a damper on the side so if it’s too hard/easy, you can make adjustments.

Regarding storage and moving it around, there’s a button in the center that you press to separate the rower into two lightweight pieces. It weighs just 60 lbs and when stored upright, only takes up about 2 square feet of space. There are also wheels on the front so you can roll it to wherever you need it.  

The Concept2 is a fan rower, which means it’s a bit noisy, so you have to consider where you plan on putting it. If you’re using it in your garage gym, you’re all good. If you’re planning on using it in your bedroom at 5 am with a sleeping baby in the next room, you may want to look elsewhere. 

When it comes to tracking stats, it has a PM5 monitor (unique to this rower) that tracks a ton of information, It even links to your phone, a separate heartrate strap, and has built-in games. Overall, the screen on this rowing machine is the best in the business.  


  • It’s a no-impact cardio workout
  • Made in the USA
  • The sleek design will fit into any room
  • Brilliant monitor which tracks everything you need


  • A little noisy
  • Pricey 

Features Face to Face

rowing machine screen

As you can see, the rowing machine is designed for cardio but builds muscle at the same time. Compared to the Total Gym which is a muscle first, cardio second machine. Below we compare the features head to head. 

Muscles Worked

While rowing is a cardio first exercise, it still builds muscle. Some of the muscles you can expect to feel with a rowing machine include: 

  • Hips
  • Glutes
  • Legs
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Arms

The result is that you will get an exceptional cardiovascular workout that also tones muscles at multiple points of your body. 

On the other hand, Total Gym provides the perfect workout for the full body — these exercises focus on each major muscle group; from the pectorals, deltoids, and lats in the upper body, to the hamstrings, calves, and glutes in your lower body. 

The Total Gym promises that not a single muscle group will be missed. That being said, it’s not as good of a cardio workout as rowing. 

Intensity of Workout

woman working out hard on rowing machine

According to experts, a 185-pound person can expect to burn 311 calories in 30 minutes with moderate activity on a rowing machine — one of the best calorie burn rates for any machine. It’s also important to consider how much safer rowing is compared to other exercises. 

As opposed to running, rowing won’t put stress on your knees, ankles, and joints. It’s also much more comfortable, so if you have a history of joint or leg problems, then your doctor may suggest rowing as a low-impact activity. 

Ultimately, you can expect to burn a lot more on a rowing machine and chances are that you’ll use it more often. 

The Total Gym machine uses your own body weight as resistance and provides a smooth cable motion. This means that the exercises won’t hurt your joints and will be easier to perform. 

Because of the lack of free weights, this system also helps you to move from one exercise to another easily and quickly. The intensity of both machines can be very high assuming you push yourself. 

However, the rower wins in this category. There’s a reason all the CrossFit athletes use a rower after all. 

How Long it Takes a Good Workout

Because these two machines target different things (i.e. cardio vs muscle) it’s hard to compare them head to head. The Total Gym can give you a full-body workout in about 20-30 minutes if you go from one exercise to the next. 

A rower can also give you a killer workout in about 20-30 minutes if you push yourself. So, they both offer very quick results but one’s cardio, the other is muscle toning. 


Both machines have a small footprint when they’re not in use. The Total gym folds vertically and flat so it can be stored under furniture or in a corner. The rowing machine also stores vertically but not as flat. With the Concept2, it takes up about 2 feet of space when upright. That being said, it can lay flat against the wall so it’s out of the way. 

Best Models

Total Gym: Total Gym APEX G3 & Total Gym APEX G1

Concept2: Model D 

Stand Out Features

up close of a mans feet and hands on concept 2 rower

Total Gym 


With the Total Gym, you get variety. It’s a no-impact way to get a full-body workout in under 30 minutes. On the Total Gym, you can do more than 70 different exercises and move seamlessly between them. This gives you an almost unlimited number of ways to mix up your workout. 


Performance Monitor

The Total Gym doesn’t track your progress. However, the Concept2 does. It syncs with your phone, your data can be uploaded to the online community and compared to other people’s best times, and it tracks everything you want to know – very accurately. 


Both the Total Gym Row Trainer and Concept2 Rowing Machines are excellent purchases that will both help you get in shape. Despite having completely different structures, they both provide a serious workout. 

Use the Concept2 if: 

  • You want a serious cardio workout 
  • Tracking your performance is important 
  • You want the ability to connect wirelessly to your gadgets
  • Noise isn’t going to be a problem 

Not only is the Concept2 designed for competitive rowers, but it also has the best features to offer for both novices and professionals alike.

Use the Total Gym if: 

  • You want a muscle first and cardio second workout
  • You prefer body-weight resistance
  • You want a low-impact machine that won’t hurt your joints
  • You want a machine that is appropriate for use with kids, adults and the elderly

Whatever your fitness goals are, the Total Gym can help you achieve them. Overall, both machines are great. However, rowing machines target young, hardcore CrossFit athletes, and the Total Gym targets older 50+ individuals. So when it comes to comparing the Total Gym vs Rowing Machines, the difference is not apples to apples. With that said, hopefully, this guide has helped you decide which is the best choice for you and your goals. 

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