Rowing vs. Running: What Is the Better Workout?

Aisyah Rafaee

So, you have decided to embark on a new fitness journey but aren’t sure where to begin. Rowing and running are two common workouts that are available in the fitness industry, but it can be tough to figure out which workout type is right for you — especially if you’re just starting out! 

Weighing rowing vs. running? Below, we dive deeper into why both are great choices for your exercise routine — and the unique benefits of each depending on your fitness level and goals. Let’s get started! 

Why rowing and running are both great workouts

The bottom line here is that for anyone launching a brand-new workout routine or introducing new types of exercises into their regimen, rowing and running are both fantastic ways to get in some cardio and improve your heart health and are easy to incorporate into other workout routines.

Both benefit your cardiovascular system

What we know for sure is that both rowing and running are cardiovascular exercises, which means they increase your heart rate in order to pump sufficient blood and oxygen around your body to meet the body’s demand. 

Exercises that encourage this action benefit your body because it: 

  • Strengthens your heart 

  • Helps with burning fat

  • Boosts your brain function

  • Improves your joint health

  • Enhances your mental health

  • Strengthens your muscles 

Both can be incorporated into workout routines

Whether you’re a runner who rows or a rower who runs, both cardio workouts provide great options for cross-training. By mixing it up every once in a while with different workout types, you can train different muscle groups that are not used as much in your main sport.

For example, when I was training for the Olympics in the sport of rowing, running was my cross-training option that provided me with mental recovery from my main sport. On the flip side, when I was training to run marathons, rowing helped me build a strong core without the impact of running on the roads. 

The benefits of a rowing machine vs. running

Rowing machine workouts offer significant benefits when compared to running in several key areas:

  • Rowing uses the whole body

  • Rowing builds the muscles in your body

  • Rowing is low-impact 

  • Rowing works your core

  • Rowing is good for your posture

Let's dig in deeper on why rowing is a great option when compared to running:

Rowing uses the whole body

Utilizing up to 86% of the muscles in your body, rowing definitely executes higher muscle engagement compared to running, which is predominantly a lower-body sport. In just 20 to 30 minutes, you can complete a workout that targets both your lower-body and upper-body muscles, getting more bang for your buck and a more efficient workout.

Rowing builds the muscles in your body

Rowing encourages muscle building while working on muscle endurance — which means your muscles get stronger as you get fitter! Personally, I enjoy getting the toned arms and back from rowing that you cannot get from running alone. 

Rowing is low-impact

Rowing is a non-weight-bearing workout, as it involves sitting and having most of your body weight on a seat. Additionally, each rowing stroke you take involves engaging both legs — with your body weight spread across two legs — as compared to running, where each step means putting your entire body weight on a single leg. 

As a low-weight-bearing exercise, rowing is easier on your joints than running and is suitable for people with joint pain or hip, knee, and ankle injuries. This is also why it’s a common exercise used for rehabilitation.

Being a low-impact exercise means that rowing is suitable for the aging athlete and that your body is able to recover faster when compared to high-impact activities like running. 

Rowing works your core

Your core is constantly engaged throughout the rowing stroke, which works hand in hand with your hips as it pivots back and forth. The end of the rowing stroke occurs when your legs are extended and you are moving the handles toward your body and away from your body. This movement is accompanied by the pivoting of your hips to help lean the core forward and backward at a small angle. 

Moving your body this way replicates a sit-up but with a smaller range of motion. Imagine doing 10 minutes of rowing at a rate of 20 strokes per minute — that would give you 200 mini sit-ups! 

Rowing is good for your posture

A good technique in rowing requires you to sit up tall and proud, which helps with your posture (especially if you’re constantly hunched over the keyboard at your office desk). Along with proper engagement of the core, this protects your back and keeps your spine healthy.

The benefits of running vs. rowing

While rowing does offer a great low-impact workout that engages your entire body and builds your muscles, rowing does offer several benefits as well, including: 

  • Running is more convenient

  • Running is “easier” 

  • Running burns more calories

Let’s dive in deeper on the benefits of running vs. rowing below: 

Running is more convenient

In terms of convenience, running does tend to be easier — just pop on your shoes and socks and you’re off and running (literally). You can also do it almost anywhere without relying on access to indoor exercise equipment, so if you’re on vacation or sneaking in a midday workout from the office, the world is your oyster. 

Running is “easier”

When comparing the execution of basic technique of the two types of workouts, running does tend to come more naturally than rowing, as it replicates the movement of walking. Running entails putting one foot in front of the other, whereas rowing requires more steps to perform a proper rowing stroke because it involves more parts of the body. 

Running burns more calories

Running has been found to burn more calories than rowing if done at similar intensity levels over the same period of time. However, your specific calorie burn also depends on your proficiency in both sports.

Rowing vs. running: The bottom line

Deciding on which workout type is right for you ultimately depends on your fitness goals, your body’s current condition, and the time you have to spend working out. 

If you’re interested in learning more about achieving your fitness goals with a rowing machine, be sure to check out Hydrow, a state-of-the-art indoor rowing machine with a library of over 4,000 low-impact, full-body workouts.

Aisyah Rafaee

Aisyah is a trailblazer — as Singapore’s first Olympian in rowing, she’s got serious drive. As an athletic counselor, she approaches fitness with compassion so you can reach your own goals too. The result? Dynamic workouts that make you feel great, inside and out.