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a woman running alone n a road

Rowing Machine Vs Running: How To Know Which Is Best For You

If you’re looking for a great way to lose weight while you’re stuck at home or in your spare time, there’s no shortage of options for you to choose from. But two of the most popular and effective ways to lose weight are running and rowing. 

However, these two exercises are very different in terms of the quality of the exercise and which is better for you. Below we’re going to compare the rowing machine vs running in terms of the workout you get, which is better for who, and more. 

Let’s get right to it…


Whether you run outdoors or indoors, running is an incredibly popular form of cardio. This is mostly because it’s easy to start doing and has a host of benefits. For starters, running is an effective way to maintain or lose weight, a powerful stress reliever and helps you plow through your day with vim & vigor. 

Running also releases endorphins, which improve your mood and energy levels. And it’s an excellent lower-body workout to cap things off. 

Benefits of Running

Running has benefits beyond simply improving cardio and helping you lose weight. You probably know many of them intuitively but perhaps haven’t seen them in list form. Here are some of our favorite benefits and advantages to running: 

  • You can mix up your scenery to keep things interesting – you can do “free running”, run trails, or even just run around the block.
  • Running can strengthen your bones and help build muscle.
  • It burns calories. 
  • Can be done anytime, anywhere.
  • Running is cheap  — you don’t need anything other than a great pair of shoes.
  • Distance running helps to build cardiovascular health and is a great mental exercise. 
  • Running improves your energy levels.
  • Sprinting is a great form of high-intensity interval training that helps to increase speed and endurance. 
  • Requires minimal training. 


  • Running is a high-impact sport that puts stress on your joints. 
  • It can also cause back, knee, and other joint pain. 
  • If you’re flat-footed or are lacking in good arches, you can injure yourself. 
  • Traffic and weather can impact your schedule. 
  • If you’re out of shape or overweight, running can be very hard to start and even harder to stick with. 

Rowing Machines

a couple using rowing machines in a gym

Rowing machines are good for people of all fitness levels, and it’s a low-impact exercise, so it burns serious calories without putting unnecessary stress on your joints.

You can control the pace and movement and it’s even recommended as an exercise option for those with early stages of osteoarthritis. 

How a rowing machine works is easy enough to understand.

It comes with a body and a flywheel that connects to a handle — it simulates the feeling of being on a rowing boat.

This exercise recruits many muscles including your back, legs, abs, and biceps while getting your blood flowing and providing all of the cardio benefits you would get from running.

Rowers also have settings to change the resistance up or down which makes it friendly to beginners and those who are overweight or haven’t worked out in a long time. 

Benefits of Rowing 

Rowing hasn’t been around for as long as running so you may not know the benefits or how they stack up against running.

Firstly, rowing stimulates most of the muscles of your body which gives you an even better workout and, as you know, the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn throughout the day. 

Second, rowing is an activity that any fitness level can do.

From CrossFit athletes to beginners and everyone in between. Unlike running, rowing doesn’t put the same pressure on your joints which means you’re more likely to start and continue rowing.

With running, if you’re out of shape or flat footed, you can easily hurt yourself or get so sore that you have to stop for a while. Thus, running becomes far less effective – because you’re unable to do it. 

Here’s are a few more benefits and advantages to rowing: 

  • Low impact – almost any fitness level or weight can do rowing and keep rowing because you aren’t putting the pressure on your joints. 
  • You can perform both extended sessions and high intensity sessions for cardio. 
  • Helps you build more muscle and tone your body. 
  • It recruits many of the muscles in your body. 
  • Most models can be folded for easy storage
  • Most rowing machines are quieter than treadmills
  • Most models don’t require a power supply
  • You can track stats on the rower including time, calories, distance, and more

Disadvantages of Rowing Machines

  • Budget models can be unreliable
  • Quality rowers can be expensive
  • Some people might find rowing dull and lose motivation

Head-To-Head Comparison Of Rowing & Running

Muscle Involvement

a running man on a white background

When running, you primarily use muscles in your lower body, such as quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves. Your abs also act as supporting muscles so they will also be strengthened from running. 

With rowing, you’ll exercise more muscles in both your upper and lower body. And because the abs are your primary mover in this case, it also builds core strength. 

Between the two, rowing offers a more balanced workout in regards to muscles involved. Running really only works your lower body. However, running is harder on your legs than rowing is. 

Workout Impact

Unfortunately, for those with weaker joints, running isn’t a good choice, as it is a high-impact sport and may lead to injuries. As a result, many runners suffer from all sorts of pain – back pain, knee pain, foot pain, and more.

On the contrary, rowing is a low-impact sport and isn’t weight-bearing, so you’re not stressing your joints like you do with running. For those who suffer from arthritis or joint pain, rowing could be a great running alternative for you. 


There’s a few things to think about if you want to get started with rowing — you have to find the best rower for your needs, make sure you have space, and learn how to row with good form. 

Running, on the other hand, is a more convenient choice for cardio since you can do it anytime, anywhere without any equipment. Of course, the exception to this rule is if you plan on running indoors in which case you need a treadmill. 

But apart from this, running is a time and cost-effective way to exercise. You already know how to run but if you plan on actually starting a running routine, we highly recommend you learn how to run properly. This can help you avoid injury. 

Calories Burned

man running outside with calorie tracker

Both running and rowing are great calorie burners and not many exercises can do a better job.

The American Council on Exercise found that a 150-pound individual can burn 181 calories by running for 30 minutes at a pace of 5 miles per hour while doing the same amount of rowing will burn 158 calories.

Needless to say they’re pretty similar in calories burned. The truth is that the one that burns the most calories is the one you’re going to do the most consistently. 

Cardio Benefits

Both running and rowing are amazing cardio workouts, and every benefit you get from running can also be achieved through rowing. However, unlike running, you have the option to add resistance as you row, which means you can train to increase your VO2 max and work towards your target heart rate. 

While you find this option in fancy treadmills, this isn’t something you can find on your average treadmill or jog in the park. 

Duration Effectivity

Because rowing activates more muscle groups compared to running, rowing is potentially a better workout than running for the same duration.

However, top rowers argue that in order to get the full benefit of rowing, you’ll need to exert yourself more than running. And unlike treadmills, you’ll often find rowing machines free, as people find them to be intimidating.  

Associated Expense 

Of course, running gets the award for this category since running outside doesn’t cost you any money. But as mentioned, if you prefer running on a treadmill, it’s at least as expensive as rowing if not more money. Your top of the line rower like the Concept2 is significantly less than the top of the line treadmill. 

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