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November 24, 2022

Vertical Climber vs Rower – Which is best?

Written by Julien Raby

Wanting to increase your cardio fitness? You’re likely considering using a cardio machine like the vertical climber vs rower.

Climbers and rowers are both great choices because they offer a high-intensity full-body workout. But if you have to choose one over the other, you’ll need to know which will work best for your fitness goals.

So in this article, we’re comparing climbers vs rowers. That way you can make an informed choice about which activity to include in your workout.

Climber vs Rower Specifications

There are important technical differences between climbers and rowers. It all comes down to their function. 

Climbing workouts can be on a stair stepper or a vertical climber. Stair climbers involve the legs, while vertical climbers involve your entire body. 

Our Top Pick
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge
Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

The purpose of a vertical climber is to mimic the climbing motion. It’s a tall, thin machine with rungs on either side. To use, place your feet on the pedals and hold the top handlebars. You can naturally shift your weight as your arms pull while your legs push, one side at a time.

Indoor rowing machines simulate the feeling of rowing indoors. Using the rower begins from a seated position. Then, pull the bar towards you while moving the legs in unison to gain momentum.

Many types of climbers and rowing machines are available, catering to different budgets and preferences.

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Higher-end machines will have greater adjustability and features than budget machines, including fitness apps, and a range of options to track distance, calories burned, and heart rate.


Depending on the model, some devices will have an adjustable resistance while others are fixed.


People with a heavier body weight will need to look for a machine that caters to their size and weight, ensuring they remain safe and stable on the floor.


Bulky rowing machines are harder to store, but those with wheels are easier to move around. While some vertical climbers can be stored away, making them a functional option for those short on space.

Benefits of Vertical Climbers

Climber machines are an intriguing option and offer a great cardio workout.

The list of advantages includes:

  • According to Sports Journal, stair climbing lowers body weight and improves aerobic fitness
  • Provides all-over body benefits including strength training just by changing the resistance
  • Considered a low-impact workout safe for people with joint or back issues
  • Offers similar benefits to rock climbing, including increased body conditioning and upper body strength. Great for people training for outdoor climbing 


  • Getting into the climbing rhythm requires coordination and balance. Getting used to this can take time
  • If there are no options to increase the resistance they can go too fast.
  • Lack of resistance also affects your workout goals if you want to gain muscle
  • Currently, there is no scientific research on the specific health benefits and long-term results of vertical climbers 

Benefits of Rowers 

Indoor rowers are popular cardio machines for a reason. 

Key advantages include: 

  • Improves postural strength by increasing strength in the upper back, according to research from the Hallym University College of Medicine
  • Combines aerobic exercise and strength building to provide a full-body exercise
  • Considered a low-impact machine, great for those unable to do exercises like running
  • Suitable for those training for outdoor rowing
  • Studies have proven health benefits, including cardiovascular and lung health, and reducing the risk of illness and disease 


  • Rowing machines can be noisy
  • Hip issues can arise if the knees bow out to the side. Keep them straight and neutral
  • Keeping a correct posture can be harder to maintain with increased tension
  • Poor form can trigger back pain

Climbers vs Rowers for Building Muscle?

It is possible to gain some muscle mass with cardio machines. Note that climbers and rowers both work a range of muscle groups, including most of the major groups.

Primary muscle groups include:

  • Lower body and legs (Glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscle groups)
  • Upper body (Erector spinae, abdominal muscles, upper and lower back, traps, pecs)
  • Arms muscles (including biceps, triceps, brachialis, and forearms)


The hip flexors, core muscles, and other secondary muscle groups also work during the movement.

If you want to target your lower body, keep your arms stationary and only use the lower rungs. Similarly, you can also vary the grip on the top handlebars to target different upper-body muscles.

Increasing the resistance will turn an aerobic workout into an anaerobic workout that fatigues the muscles. If this is your goal, work at high-intensity intervals, rest, and repeat.


In a study from the English Institute of Sport, researchers found that rowing engages 86% of muscles in the body.

Rowing is resistance training that helps increase muscle toning. Research shows around 30-45 minutes of increased resistance at high intensity works best.

Much of the work happens at the start of the pull motion. Meaning muscle recruitment in the chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps is minimal. So if you want to hit your whole body, jump off the rower into a set of push-ups before getting back on again.

Alt text (digital image of man in push-up position highlighting the chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps muscles)

Cardio exercise machines won’t specifically help you increase muscle strength. But you’ll still see powerful benefits, and fitness beginners will see the most increase in additional muscle mass compared to seasoned athletes.

Vertical Climber Machine vs Rowing Machine For Weight Loss?

Possibly the biggest reason people choose vertical climbing is that it offers a high-calorie burn. According to scientific study, whole-body simulated climbing elicits a higher VO2max than rowing, which is the maximum amount of oxygen used during exercise, and a way of measuring aerobic fitness levels. That means climbing offers a greater physiological challenge. And a higher heart rate will lead to greater fitness.

That’s why climbers are a great piece of equipment for those wanting to lose weight. And it has a slight advantage over the rower. Just a 30-minute session can burn between 300-800 calories.

Our Top Pick
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge
Based on our testing, this is the best rower for beginners. For less than 500$, this silent water rower will last you for years. It also comes with a 12-year warranty.

In comparison, the rower burns fewer calories, around 200-300 per 30-minute workout.

Note that despite these figures, measuring the number of calories burned during a workout is difficult to calculate because there are so many contributing factors, such as weight, age, heart rate, intensity, and time.

The vertical climber may burn more calories. But using the rower will also help you slim down everywhere too, including your belly.

To burn calories on either machine, go for HIIT-style workouts. Go hard for a set amount of time, followed by a rest. Repeat this in sets without leaving anything in the tank.

Climber vs Rower: The Final Verdict 

While many studies have proven the benefits of stair climbing, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of peer-reviewed studies on vertical climbers. Modern rowing machines have been around for decades. And thousands of studies have proven its efficiency in providing quality cardio with muscle-building workouts. Due to this, if you only choose one machine, we recommend the rower. It comes close to the perfect exercise machine because it offers more proven all-around fitness results.

But either way, rowers and climbers each offer an excellent full-body workout since all major muscle groups are utilized, so don’t cross the climber off your workout list just yet.

About Julien Raby

My name is Julien Raby and I’m one of the owner of BoxLife. Here’s my background on LinkedIn if you want more info. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 7 years ago. I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment. You have a question? Get in touch!