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Home arrow Fitness arrow Running arrow Rowing Vs. Running: Which Is Better For Cardio?

Rowing Vs. Running: Which Is Better For Cardio?

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: February 1, 2023
7 min read 1341 Views 0 Comments
clock 7 eye 1341 comments 0

We took a look at the key differences between rowing vs. running to help readers figure out what is the best fit for their training program.

rowing vs running

Cardio exercise is an important part of any training routine. 

With cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death all over the world, it’s more important than ever to focus on exercises that get your heart pumping and contribute to an improvement of cardiovascular health.

Chances are, if you’ve been researching the best cardio exercises, you’ve seen different people boasting the benefits of both rowing and running, and you might be left wondering which is really better.

In this article, we will be reviewing the benefits of each exercise so you can make the decision once and for all and start working your way to better cardiovascular health. 

Rowing vs. Running

When comparing rowing vs. running, it’s obvious that rowing is the better exercise for building muscle as it works nearly 85% of the body’s muscles. Running, on the other hand, is more lower-body focused, meaning it has less of an effect on the overall strength of the body.

Running is also considered a high-impact activity meaning that it puts more stress on the body, which can create joint pain and have a deteriorating effect on your bones.

On the other hand, rowing is considered a low-impact exercise that can be used to strengthen joint-supporting muscles. Adding in a rowing workout gives your body a chance to recover from any injuries or knee pain you might be suffering from due to more high-impact activities.

Both rowing and running are popular aerobic exercises that many people use either as a warm-up before a more intense strength training workout or as a full cardio-based training workout.

While both rowing and running are similar in the fact that they are amazing cardio workouts, they also have a lot of differences.

Budget Comparison

Running will always be one of the best exercise options for those on a budget because it’s accessible to anyone with a pair of running shoes. 

That being said, both exercise machines can be found in the majority of gyms, making both rowing and running possible for anyone who purchases a membership.

If you want to purchase an at-home exercise machine, rowing machines will generally be on the cheaper side since they are a simpler design.

It is possible to find both a rowing machine and a treadmill for as low as $150, although the lower cost will definitely be noticed in the level of quality of your machine.

Burned Calories

Regarding low to moderate-intensity exercise done for 30 minutes, there is no sizeable difference in the number of calories burned between rowing vs. running. 

Rowing at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes will burn around 252 calories, whereas the same running workout will land you closer to 288, which means running burns more calories, but not by much during shorter workouts.

For longer workouts, though, the better choice for burning calories is running. 

Over a longer period of time—say an hour or more—you will start to see a difference between the two exercises in the number of calories burned. Since rowing uses many more muscle groups, longer rowing workouts burn far more calories than running. 

But, the thing to keep in mind is that running for longer periods of time can be more accessible since it is not only less monotonous than rowing but also requires less muscular strength than rowing. 

An intense hour-long rowing session is challenging for anyone, but especially for beginners, since it requires you to keep 85% of your muscles functioning during your workout.

Weight Loss

Since running has the potential to burn a higher amount of calories than rowing, it’s easy to think that it is the better exercise if you want to lose weight. And while running is better for calorie burn and can even help you burn belly fat, there are other things to keep in mind.

Since these two exercises burn comparable amounts of calories during a 30-minute workout, both are a good option for a short session. For longer workouts, it could be a better idea to hop on a treadmill for a better calorie burn. 

Overall though, which exercise ends up helping you lose weight will depend on which you enjoy doing more.

Weight loss isn’t something that happens overnight, and choosing an exercise that you don’t dread doing every day will help you get into a better daily routine. Eventually leading to better results. 

Muscle Gain

When it comes to muscle gain, rowing is considered a better workout for your whole body. You can expect to build more muscles faster.

Although running is a great exercise for increasing the size and strength of the muscles in your lower body, it has little to no impact on your arms and core. 

The movement done on a rowing machine targets not only your lower body muscles but also your upper body and even your core. Making it a better workout for a full body tone. 

What Are the Benefits of Running?

There is a reason that running is one of the most popular forms of exercise for beginner and more advanced athletes alike. 

#1 It can be done for free

One of the best things about running is that all you need is a pair of running shoes. This makes it one of the most accessible exercises since it doesn’t require an expensive gym membership or any kind of machinery. 

#2 Burns calories 

Running is regarded as one of the best forms of exercise for burning lots of calories. How many calories you burn while you run will depend on things like your age and weight, but generally, you can expect to burn 100 calories for every mile you run.

A novice runner can expect to run a mile every 10–15 minutes, while a more experienced runner can finish a mile in under 10 minutes. The amount of running you can do can be easily improved by implementing running endurance tips and working out consistently, meaning you can burn even more calories over time.

What Are the Benefits of Rowing?

Rowing is an underrated exercise that has a host of benefits and is especially great for anyone working through overuse injuries. 

#1 Full body workout

Rowing is one of the few exercises that give you a full-body workout. While rowing, you can expect to work your arms and legs and even strengthen your core. 

An important thing to remember is that a poor rowing stroke or too much repetitive motion can negatively impact the hip flexors, which tend to be tight on people who work out on the rowing machine often. 

#2 Low impact

Impact refers to the amount of stress that a certain activity puts on your body. While doing high-impact activities can be helpful in increasing bone density and strengthening the muscles around your joints, it can also increase your chances of things like stress fractures.

Doing lower-impact activities, especially when you are beginning your fitness journey or are currently overweight, can help to strengthen your body without putting undue stress on it. 

If you are going to do higher-impact activities like running when overweight, make sure to take extra precautions to prevent injury. 

Similarities of Rowing and Running

Although these two exercises might not seem like they have a lot in common, they share many of the same benefits. 

#1 Improves cardiovascular health

Both running and rowing are considered aerobic activities and have a ton of cardio benefits. Aerobic exercise conditions the cardiovascular system, including the heart and blood vessels, to be able to better supply your body with oxygen and nutrients.

Improved cardiovascular health can also strengthen the heart, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol, preventing any heart-related complications later on in life.

#2 Strengthens the immune system

This might be surprising, but both running and working out on a rowing machine can be helpful in the early detection of infection in your body and can even aid in your immune response. 

Physical activity has been known to flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways as your breathing levels increase. Moderate-intensity exercise can also boost the number of white blood cells in your body, which are responsible for fighting off infection.


What burns more calories running or rowing?

In shorter intervals of less than 30 minutes of exercise, you will burn around 252 calories rowing, while running can burn closer to 288. However, higher-intensity, longer running workouts will help you burn significantly more calories than rowing.

Rowing at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes will burn around 252 calories, whereas the same running workout will land you closer to 288.

Is a rowing machine better than a treadmill?

Depending on what your goals are, there are benefits to each. Rowing machines are better than treadmills if you want a more full-body workout that includes the upper body. However, running is a better workout for burning calories.

Is rowing good for cardio?

A cardio workout is any exercise that gets your heart rate up and keeps it consistently elevated for a prolonged period of time. Rowing is an aerobic exercise that is good for the heart and lungs and is a perfect addition to any cardio routine.

A Word From Our Coach

When you compare rowing and running, it’s hard to see a clear winner. Both exercises have their advantages, and the better workout for you will be dependent on your specific fitness goals.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the best kind of workout is one that you enjoy and feel excited to do.

Although the number of calories burned while rowing might be less than while running—making it technically worse for weight loss—if you hate running and never do it, you won’t be burning any calories anyway.

On the other hand, if working out on rowing machines is something that you can have fun doing, then making a habit of doing it for 20 minutes a day will help you lose more weight in the long term and not hate your life in the process.

The goal of any workout routine should be to find something that you enjoy doing, and that makes you feel good. That way, you can enjoy the benefits for years to come.

Bottom Line 

In this article, we’ve gone over some of the key differences between rowing and running. 

Some of these key differences are that running is a lower-body workout, whereas rowing hits your upper body and core. 

There is also a difference in the number of calories that will be burned during each, with running burning significantly more when done for a more extended period of time, and they both differ in their level of impact.

When it comes to which exercise is a better cardio workout, there is no clear winner. Both running and rowing are great for your cardiovascular health and will help you stay strong and healthy for years to come.

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: February 1, 2023
7 min read 1341 Views 0 Comments

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