Assault Bike versus Rower – Which is Better?

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Which is a better for functional fitness conditioning and metcon workouts; the assault bike or the indoor rower?

Indoor rower - concept 2
An indoor rower like the Concept 2 Model D is a great metabolic conditioning workout.

The rower is a great piece of equipment – get a low-impact, full body workout – and it can be as intense (or not) as you desire.

But, the assault bike (or air bike, or fan bike) is a great metcon workout too.

Assault Fitness Airbike in the gym
The air bike (assault bike or fan bike) is a great metcon workout also. How do you choose?

We’re going to review the pros and cons of both of these pieces of equipment in this article.

This is assault bike vs rower.

Here’s some of the gear we’ll be highlighting during this discussion:

Rogue Echo Bike Rogue took the air bike concept and made the best air bike you can buy - this unit is smooth, solid, and quiet (for an air bike) thanks to the belt drive. Built like a tank - with outstanding Rogue build quality. It requires a minimum of maintenance. This is our top pick for an air bike.

Assault AirBike This is the most popular air bike in CrossFit - as seen in your local box, or at the CrossFit Games. With chain drive it is one of the noisier models - and it requires a good amount of maintenance - but there is no denying this bike provides an excellent workout.

Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower Easy set-up, simple storage, major results. The Concept 2 Model D Rower has helped set the new standard for what a 21st century indoor rowing machine can deliver. This is the gold standard of indoor rowers.

No matter which you choose, Rogue Fitness has the best price – and selection.

Air Bike Versus Rower – How They Are the Same

First of all, let’s start by saying both are low-impact exercise.

This isn’t like running or jogging – with all that impact.

If you have joint issues, skipping rope may not be an option for you either.

In both cases, it’s just too much jarring force as your bodyweight impacts the ground – over and over again.

Neither the assault bike or the rower involve impact – it’s smooth continuous motion.

The assault bike involves no impact - but it's still a tough workout
The assault bike, just like the rower, is a low-impact workout. But it’s not necessarily easy.

This means you can get your heart rate going – even if you can’t jog or run.

The rower or assault bike are therefore usually a better option for you if you are starting out overweight – for the reasons above.

Can’t run? (Or don’t want to run?)

The assault bike and indoor rower might be a better option for you.

Neither piece of equipment causes much residual DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

Why is this?

Indoor Rowing on Concept 2 Model D Rower
Using a rower doesn’t really involve much eccentric loading – so you won’t end up sore. The assault bike doesn’t either.

DOMS is typically caused by the eccentric portion of an exercise.

And there’s just not much eccentric in the assault bike or rower – it’s all concentric muscle contraction under load.

(In comparison, consider lowering a really heavy deadlift slowly – that’s what eccentric loading feels like.)

You can get a little sore from the rower and assault bike – but it won’t likely be much (at least in my experience.)

Both are full body exercises.

You use your arms, legs, and core to a considerable degree.

Can you row without using your arms or legs? No. But you can use an assault bike arms only or legs only.

But that’s usually a pretty uncomfortable experience – we’ll explain that further in a bit.

So, for all intents and purposes – I consider them both full body exercise.

Beyond that, what other similarities are there?

Well, they are both fairly expensive – running anywhere from about $600 to almost $1,000.

And they take up a good amount of floor space.

Therefore if you have to start with one or the other – which one should it be?

That’s what we’ll talk about now.

Assault Bike versus Rower – The Big Difference

Here’s the key difference between the two.

With the assault bike you are constantly working – there’s no rest.

You are pedaling, pushing, pulling – and as soon as you stop motion the fan starts to decelerate and the pedals and handles keep moving.

(There’s no free-wheeling on an assault bike.)

So, you can’t really even rest once you lay off the gas – it still forces you to move some amount.

The assault bike is all work - all the time.
The assault bike is all work, all the time. Unlike the rower, there’s no "recovery" period. It also provides an unlimited amount of resistance. It’s a tough workout if you are working hard.

The rower is fundamentally different – because during the “drive” (where you push with your legs, then retract your arms) you are working – but then you get a nice “recovery” where you glide back to the starting position.

You actually get a chance to recover a bit – for about 50% of the whole movement.

This leads to quite a few things.

Indoor rower in the gym
As the name suggests, during the "recovery" phase of the rowing stroke you can actually recover. This is a key reason that the rower is more pleasant to use – and therefore more likely you’ll stick with it.

The rower is less torturous – and it is much better for steady state workouts.

Whether you want to call it steady state, LISS (Low Intensity Stead State), or LSD (Long Slow Distance) – you’ll probably enjoy it more on a rower.

In contrast, I find steady state on the air bike to be too taxing.

I’m not saying you can’t do it – you can. But you (and your spouse, or your family) are much more likely to want to hop on the rower instead of the bike – in my experience.

That said, I prefer the assault bike for HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training.

Short, fast, and hard – this is where the assault bike shines.

Why? Well – it’s hard – but the real secret is that there is no limit to the resistance you get with the air bike.

You spin that fan faster and faster and it doesn’t get any easier.

There’s some clips of people on YouTube generating insane amounts of power on an Air Bike – in short bursts – because that’s pretty much all that can be done at that level of output.

There’s something invigorating about jumping on the assault bike and ripping out a full minute or two as fast as you can.

I don’t get that same sensation on the rower.

But, when I’m going less than all out – I like the rower better.

Assault Bike vs Rower – Space and Cost

Both pieces of exercise equipment take up a good amount of space.

And I’m guessing if you are reading this article – you don’t have space to spare in your home or garage gym.

Every equipment choice has to be a balance of value compared to the floor space (or wall space) it takes up.

Concept2 Rower breaks down into two pieces.
The Concept 2 Model D rower takes up a good amount of floor space – but only when in use. It breaks down into two light-weight pieces, and you can hang it on the wall.

In this regard, it’s a simple decision.

The Concept 2 breaks down in to two pieces that are very easy to move – and you can hang it on the wall – out of the way when not in use.

In contrast, the assault bike is heavy, harder to move – and there’s no way you are getting it on the wall.

Isn’t the rower more expensive?

Yes, but the Concept 2 holds it’s value extraordinarily well.

You won’t have a problem selling a used Concept 2 – for a good amount of money.

They are tough machines, and if a part breaks or wears out – replacement parts are easy to be procured.

Air bikes have more of a mixed track record – hard to say if those will hold their value as well.

I can say my Rogue Echo bike is very robust – and I’m sure if I ever choose to get rid of it I can get a good price – but I can’t say that about the other brands – that have chains and other parts that stretch and break over time.

Rogue Echo Bike - poolside
Rogue Echo Bike – the best air bike you can buy in 2020 for CrossFit and functional training. If you are going to get an “assault bike” – this is the one you should get.

Assault Bike vs Rower – Physical limitations?

Back issues?

Welcome to the club. Nearly everyone will experience some sort of disc issue during their training career – present company included.

I personally find the assault bike to be a better cardio option when my back is acting up.

Why?

Well – your back stays in a relatively static position throughout the entire air bike cycle.

Compare this to the rower – you are swinging your trunk forward and back (but not to a large degree). It’s sometimes described as moving between 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock – if you imagine what that looks like on a clock face – and your trunk is the clock hand – it is helpful.

Certainly you can row even with a bad disc – just maintain good form and don’t get sloppy. Keep a neutral arch – and learn how to row properly.

But, the air bike is just less stress on the back – because you just don’t have to move your torso much at all.

(Although the side to side motion of pulling with the arms may aggravate things – you can do assault bike “legs only” – but that’s not a ton of fun.)

Secondly – do you have any shoulder issues? (like rotator cuff pain?)

I’ve got this too (lucky me.)

In this case I find rowing to be a better option.

Why? Because you should be pulling the handle to base of your sternum, and this means you aren’t raising your arm up (and rotating your shoulder) such that your rotator cuff can be impinged.

When rowing, pull the handle to the base of the sternum (as shown on Concept 2 Rower)
When rowing, you pull the handle to the base of the sternum. This is shoulder-friendly, mostly.

But also, you only pull on the rower (with your arms). There’s no push (again, with the arms – you do push with your legs.)

In contrast, the handles on my Rogue Echo Bike require to both push and pull (with alternating arms) such that it can aggravate my shoulder – when it’s acting up.

The air bike does keep your hands pretty low too – and remember that you can adjust the seat on the assault bike.

That might help a bit – but if the “push” is what bothers your shoulder – there’s no easy way around that on the bike.

You can use the assault bike in an arms only or legs only fashion – but it’s not much fun.

Using the assault bike - legs only
You don’t strictly have to use the handles on an air bike. But now it’s that much more work because you are using less muscle mass to spin that fan.

(Remember back to that explanation of the air bike being “all work, all the time” – and now you have less muscle mass to do it with.)

My final comment on these two devices and physical limitations – if you have hip pain – you likely won’t be able to do either. Both require a lot of hip flexion and extension.

Concept2 Indoor Rower vs Assault Bike
If I had to pick one – I’d get the Concept 2 Indoor Rower. You’ll get more mileage out of it – at least in my experience. You can always get both too!

Assault Bike Versus Rower – In Summary

Here’s my thoughts, having now owned both for almost 2 years:

Both are great metabolic conditioning and cardio tools.

But, unless you are looking to specialize in some hardcore HIIT training – the Concept 2 indoor rower will get more use, takes up less space, is simpler to store when not in use, and will more likely be an effective part of your training regimen.

Your spouse and kids may even use it.

Assault bikes are fun – but they are a big investment (in $ and space) and they are a tough workout.

So tough that it might be a de-motivator. At the very least, you’ll get less use out of it – in my opinion.

I’d suggest you get both, as I did, but I’d certainly say get the rower FIRST.

You can add the assault bike later.

Still not convinced? We did a deep dive on the Rogue Echo Bike and on the Concept 2 Rower – find out more in those links.

Rogue Echo Bike by the pool
Having the Rogue Echo Bike poolside doesn’t make it any easier.

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This website is not affiliated or associated with CrossFit, Inc. CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.

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We’re a Rogue Fitness affiliate – so if you order equipment after clicking the links in this article we receive a small fee – at no additional cost to you.

Rogue Fitness makes extremely high-quality gear – to last a lifetime. We’re proud to help spread the word – and to help make your workout be the best it can be.

A Concept 2 Rower being used in a CrossFit competition.
Concept 2 rowers are the only rowing equipment used in CrossFit competitions – in person or for the annual CrossFit Open.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article! I am wondering: when you talked about difficulty, are you compairing rowing in LISS vs assault bike in a metcon? Because I find the rower very hard when combined with different exercises in a metcon fashion. Would you say that in a scenario of rounds for time the assault bike is harder or if I go hard on the rower the intensity is similar?

    • The rowing movement gives you a chance to rest – specifically speaking of the “Recovery” phase were you glide back to the bottom of the rail. The bike is “all work, all the time” – you can’t stop pedaling and pushing or it will slow down and stop. For that reason I find the Assault Bike more intensity than rowing in general.

  2. I like your articles very much. Very informative and concise.
    Just like the article recommended I got both: Rogue Echo bike and Concept2 D rower.
    I like both and they complement each other. In short I use the rower to burn calories (100-300 calories) and the echo bike for HIIT (50-100 calories) during a workout.
    Also, having both helps with working around my old injuries. When my lower back starts acting up I move from the rower to the bike.

    • Thanks for the feedback! I’m in the same spot – I can row / bike depending on what feels best that day!

Comments are closed.