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Rowing vs Running - Which Is a More Effective Workout?

Rowing vs running, which is better? The age-old question indeed.

Let’s be honest here. What you really want to know is which of the two exercises will help you achieve your fitness goals faster. After all, who wants to toil for two or more years to get their dream body, if there’s a way to do it in half the time – that doesn’t involve weight loss surgery, of course?

Well, you’ve come to the right place to get the answers you seek. This guide examines various aspects of the two workouts to determine which one is right for you.

Rowing vs Running – Cardio

Right off the bat, both rowing and running are amazing cardio workouts. So, make no mistake about it – every single cardio benefit you reap from running, you also reap from rowing.

Now, here’s where the difference comes in. Rowing machines allow you to add resistance to your workout to keep things, well… “interesting.”

They help to increase your VO2 max to advance towards your target heart rate faster. For all the fitness newbies in the house, you’re probably wondering – what on earth is a “VO2 max”?

This is essentially the optimum or “maximum” rate at which your lungs, muscles, and heart, can effectively use oxygen during a workout session. This number tells you what your aerobic capacity is, making it the perfect measure of your endurance.

Because of the added resistance you get from rowing, over time, your VO2 max rate increases, meaning that you build endurance at a much faster rate than would have otherwise been possible through running.

That is not to say that running won’t build your endurance. It’ll just take longer to do it.


Most people who run do it because they’re crazy about it. They chase that runner’s high that they’ve grown accustomed to. Many of them, however, have something else that’s oddly peculiar in common: Pain.

The more experienced a runner is, the more likely they are to suffer from some sort of pain in their knees, ankles, back, foot, hip… Most of them can attest to suffering a myriad of joint injuries in the course of their running life. This pain has everything to do with impact.

When you run, you’re working against gravity. And, as you know, everything that goes up must inevitably come down.

So, when you run on hard concrete pavements, regardless of the superior shock-absorbing shoes you have on, the impact that occurs every time your feet hit the ground puts an immeasurable amount of strain on your joints.

This strain travels up your leg to your knees, hips, all the way to your lower back. Eventually, something’s got to give. That’s why running is considered a high-impact sport.

So, while running may be great for your heart, that's not necessarily the case for your joints. If you suffer from a chronic joint ailment like arthritis, then running is simply out of the question for you.

Rowing, on the other hand, is much kinder to your joints. You row while you’re seated, so you’re not competing with gravity. If you have an old knee injury or suffer from arthritis, rowing is a much safer and pain-free alternative.

Nonetheless, you still need to keep proper form and technique while rowing to minimize the risk of injury. However, this risk is considerably less when compared to that from running.

Calories Burned

If you’re on a weight loss or maintenance journey, the question you’re probably asking is – Rowing vs running - Which of the two burns more calories?

In this regard, running takes the cake. There isn't any other exercise in the world that burns more calories than running.

A study done by the American Council on Exercise found that an individual weighing 150 lbs. burns 181 calories when running at a moderate 5 mph rate for 30 minutes. When the same individual spent the same amount of time rowing, they burned 158 calories.

But, it’s not that black and white. If you’re strictly looking at the number of calories burned, then hey, running’s the winner. But it also depends on the intensity of the workout.

If you’re running at a moderate pace versus rowing vigorously for the same duration or even shorter, rowing is bound to burn more calories.

But, that aside, there’s another element to the whole equation you need to think about – muscle activation. This is the true measure of how effective a particular workout is.

Rowing engages and activates a higher number of muscle groups when compared to running. It engages nine muscle groups in total, which make up approximately 85% of the entire body's musculature.

So, you work out both your upper and lower body, strengthen your back, and tone your arms with every rowing session. Running doesn’t quite deliver the same benefits. So, if you’re looking to get more bang for your “workout” buck, it’s a no-brainer.


If you’re an outdoor runner, you know all too well that several factors could potentially influence whether or not you run on a particular day.

If it’s raining, snowing, or there’s an outbreak of a highly-contagious disease that forces everyone to stay indoors indefinitely… all these and several other factors play a role in whether or not you’ll be able to run outside.

Rowing, on the other hand, is an indoor activity. So, nothing like the weather, traffic, or any other prevailing external conditions can affect your ability to get your daily workout in.

Every fitness enthusiast can attest to the fact that the longer they stay without working out, the harder it becomes to get back into the swing of things when they eventually do.

So, rowing is more likely to keep you focused on achieving your fitness goals since it makes it both easy and convenient to work out, at any time of day or night, regardless of whatever’s going on in the world outside.

Cost Consideration

Running outside is free. It won’t cost you any money to put on your running shoes and hit the track. So, in this regard, running takes the cake.

If, however, you prefer to run on the treadmill, then whether you’re buying the equipment to use at home, or paying to use it at your local gym, the cost consideration in both instances (treadmill running and rowing) is the same – although a basic rower will cost slightly less.


Rowing machines give you one hell of an upper-body workout. They strengthen the major muscle groups like the lats in your lower back, the traps in your upper back, and the rhomboids in your shoulders.

These are all responsible for good posture, which in the long run, works wonders to reduce chronic back pain. Rowing also builds strength in your core muscles, which all work towards improving your posture.

Since running doesn’t do much to strengthen the core, runners who don’t actively incorporate any other forms of exercise, often develop a slouch when running. This would be difficult to correct without integrating specific additional exercises and weight-lifting routines, to strengthen the core, and achieve good running form.

Rowing is essentially an all-in-one package deal. You get the cardio benefits, as well as the core-strengthening perks with each workout session.

Stress Relief

The best part about working out is the uncanny ability it has to shift your mood. Seriously – if you’re having a bad day, try running a mile or rowing for 30 minutes and see how you feel after.

Anytime you engage in physical activity, your body releases “feel-good” hormones called endorphins. These chemicals flood your brain, triggering positive feelings that diminish the perception of pain.

It’s what gives you that euphoric feeling when you get into the “rowing zone" or the "runner's high" you experience once you hit the sweet spot.

Research has shown exercise to be an effective treatment against depression, stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. It has also been shown to improve sleep in individuals who have chronic insomnia and other sleep-related ailments.

Making exercise a part of your routine can also improve your analytical and critical thinking skills and give you a positive outlook on life.

Running and rowing trigger the release of endorphins. So, in this regard, both of these exercises are pretty effective in the management of stress, anxiety, and depression. So, the next time you need a pick-me-up after a long horrid day, reach for the rower instead of the wine.

Row Your Way to Better Health

Rowing vs running – what’s it going to be? What is clear is that both of these activities each have their pros and cons. Both are great cardiovascular exercises, calorie-busters, and endurance enhancers.

However, rowing does have a slight edge over running when it comes to joint health and muscle activation – which is a key ingredient for toning and endurance.

So, if you had to pick one, rowing is hands-down the better option of the two. You get a full-body workout that’s guaranteed to help you advance towards your fitness goals at a much faster rate.

Ready to jump on the rowing bandwagon? Check out our blog for the best rowing machine for sale 2021.



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