Rowing vs. Running: Is Rowing Better Than Running?

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So, which is better: rowing vs. running? We’ve done a number of pieces on why rowing makes a great cross training workout option for runners. But is rowing better than running? We take these two popular sports head-to-head so you can decide for yourself.

Top benefits of rowing vs. running

Running and rowing offer a variety of benefits and both are great options for cardio. Rowing works different muscles

86% of muscles in your body in fact. Rowing is a full-body workout — activating legs, arms, back, chest, abs, glutes, and more. Running, like cycling, tends to target mostly the lower half which can lead to overuse and pain in the knees, feet, ankles, and lower back. For a diverse daily workout, rowing builds muscle strength and beats running every time.

- Rowing can build stability:

Rowing is more of a balanced workout, putting equal emphasis on both sides evenly, while running may lead to favoring one leg more than the other which can lead to injury and imbalance. Equal muscle strength and building up both the legs and core help with increased stability. Stability helps maintain a solid connection to your center of gravity and keep you upright — which helps across all types of athletics and everyday life.

- Rowing is low impact:

Running is notoriously high-impact and hard on the joints with the constant pounding on hard surfaces. It can lead to wear down of the knee and possible injury. Rowing, on the other hand, which involves a seated position (so you’re not working against gravity like running), is a fluid, low impact high efficiency workout that effectively targets a majority of the muscles in your body without taking such a toll on your joints.  To make even more sure that you aren’t putting extra stress on joints, be sure to pay attention to your Hydrow Athlete as they describe proper rowing form: push off from the catch with your full foot (toes and heels) instead of with just your toes. That puts less force on your knees and makes it even more beneficial when you compare rowing to running.

- Rowing changes moving patterns:

Proper rowing form helps activate different muscle fibers than running. It assists with building a stronger core and the rhythmic, fluid action combined with the required coordination challenges both your brain and body. So it doesn’t only benefit your muscles, it helps with cognitive function too. 

Peter Donohoe, Hydrow’s Strength and Movement Specialist and two-time Olympian and former track and field star, helped explain why adding rowing to his cross training program was so helpful: “Changing my movements provided a different training stimulus which not only helped with running recovery, it also built strength in areas that were not as well trained. More of the same movement is not the best strategy for improving performance. Diversity in your training environment is the best path for improving performance.”

Calories burned rowing vs. running

Both are great ways to burn calories — in fact they’re among the best sports for doing so. They’re so close it’s hard to compare which is better. In the short run (pun not intended), running burns slightly more active calories. In the long run, rowing does. That’s because your metabolism remains more highly elevated after a rowing session than after running, for several hours in fact. Because it also works out and builds more muscles throughout the body, rowers burn more calories just going about their average day than runners. This is all very dependent upon each person, their athletic ability, and the intensity and duration of each workout. But essentially, both are major calorie burners.

Running vs. rowing for cardio

Both are amazing cardio workouts. The same benefits you can apply to running also apply to rowing except you can target more muscles in less time with rowing — so you can do more with the limited free time we all have in our daily routines. So, both are great but rowing gets more credit for its efficiency and effectiveness.

Both are good for the heart

Cardiologists recommend getting at least 30 minutes of cardio-based exercise per day. The heart is a muscle after all, so the more you help increase your heart rate, the more you can help strengthen this vital organ. With a Hydrow rowing machine, you can change and add to your resistance, which helps you work toward your target heart rate and train to increase your VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity).

Similar to calorie burning, rowing and running are both nearly neck-and-neck for getting that heart rate pumping. This too can depend on the person and change dramatically if their body is already used to one type of workout and it experiences doing a new one. It can be affected by how hard they’re pushing themselves, what resistance they’ve set on their rower or incline on their running track, and other factors.

Heart rate rowing vs running

Similar to calorie burning, both nearly equal for getting that heart rate pumping. This too can depend on the person and change dramatically if their body is already used to one type of workout and it experiences doing a new one. It can be affected by how hard they’re pushing themselves, what resistance they’ve set on their rower or incline on their running track, and other factors.

Treadmill vs. rowing machine

When it comes to choosing the connected fitness machine that is better for your home, lifestyle and wellness goals, a Hydrow rowing machine can work out more muscles in less time compared to running on a treadmill, on the road or at the track. Hydrow also offers yoga, Pilates, strength, and mobility training in addition to rowing, and the Live Outdoor Reality™ workouts on beautiful waterways around the world help keep you interested, engaged and inspired.

Check out our current offers, and start your journey with us today.

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