Rowing Vs Running: Compared For Weight Loss & Cardio

Both running and rowing are considered excellent forms of cardio, and both exercises are regarded as great options for achieving weight loss goals. Even better, running and rowing are also ideal for developing strength and building endurance. So which one is better? 

Because both workouts come with many benefits, deciding between a rowing machine vs treadmill for your home gym isn’t easy. That’s why we’ve created this complete guide on rowing vs running to do a full comparison of these cardio-packed, calorie-burning workouts.  

First, let’s talk about rowing. The best rowing machines are designed to mimic the movements that are involved in rowing a boat. You'll be moving your arms as if you were moving oars through water and propelling your lower body to create more force. The constant movement of both the upper and lower body makes this an intense full-body cardio workout that just about anyone can do.  

There are several different types of resistance that rowing machines use: air, magnetic, hydraulic, and fluid (water). Each resistance type comes with its own set of pros and cons, but the most common for home gyms is the magnetic rower; it’s quiet, requires very little maintenance, and is easy to use.  

There are many advantages to using a rowing machine, but one of the biggest is the fact that it's a low-impact workout, especially when you compare rowing machine cardio vs running. Since you’re in a seated position the entire time, there is very little impact on the joints, so it’s a great choice if you’ve experienced an injury or want to prevent one from happening.  

Here are a few more pros and cons related to rowing:  

Advantages 

  • Provides a total-body workout 
  • Ideal for all fitness levels, even seniors 
  • Strengthens the heart as well as the lungs 
  • Although it’s low in impact, it can be high in intensity 
  • It can be very meditative and good for mental health 

Disadvantages

  • Rowing requires more technique than other forms of cardio 
  • Some rowing machines are quite loud, so they may not be ideal for apartments/condos 
Man in Black Exercising with a Rowing Machine

Pros & Cons Of Running Workouts 

Next, let’s focus on running. Running is a workout that doesn’t need much explanation; most of us have run at some point in our lives (even if it was the ice cream truck you were running after). Whether you’re used to running on high-end treadmills or the sidewalk, there are some obvious benefits that come along with this form of activity.  

One of the biggest benefits of running on treadmills or outside, is that it’s great for improving your cardiovascular health. As we run, our heart has to work harder in order to pump blood at a faster rate. This means that you’re essentially working the heart muscle to make it stronger, fitter, and healthier.  

Running also helps to improve circulation and keep blood pressure low, which are both crucial for heart disease prevention. But no workout is perfect, and running has a few cons alongside the pros - here’s what they are:  

Advantages 

  • Running burns calories at a high rate (about 180 calories every 30 minutes) 
  • It activates muscles of the lower body, including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves 
  • Running can be done anywhere; there's no equipment necessary 
  • It helps you to maintain a healthy weight 
  • Running is weight-bearing, so it helps to promote strong bones 

Disadvantages

  • Because running is weight-bearing, it can put pressure and strain on the joints 
  • There’s not much upper body movement involved in running (unlike rowing) 
Man Running on Treadmill in a Gym

Rowing Vs Running: Which Is Better For Weight Loss, Cardio & More? 

It's time for the ultimate showdown between rowing vs running for fat loss, cardiovascular health, impact on the body, muscles targeted, calories burned, and more.  

Cardiovascular Benefits

Both running and rowing come with some serious cardio benefits. Both exercises train the heart to pump blood more efficiently, and both get your heart pumping and blood flowing.  

However, using a rowing machine has an advantage over running. Rowing machines give users the option to increase resistance, so you’re better able to focus on cardiovascular health by working towards your target heart rate. Many rowers even have a program that is specifically designed for heart rate training. 

Weight Loss 

If you're looking to shed some pounds, then you're likely to see faster results by running. Running burns slightly more calories (more on that next) than rowing, so running is the winner in the debate on running vs. rowing for weight loss.  

But that doesn’t automatically mean that running is for you, even if your main fitness goal is to lose weight. Rowing - paired with a healthy diet - is also fantastic for weight loss, especially for shedding belly fat since it targets the core more than running does.  

weighing scale with tape measure

Calories Burned

If you were to judge these workouts based on rowing vs. running calories burned, running would be the winner. While rowing burns an average of 150 calories in 30 minutes, the average calories burned for 30 minutes of running is 180.  

That being said, the number of calories burned varies from person to person. It is affected by weight, gender, and of course, how hard you choose to push yourself.  

Impact On Joints

In terms of impact on the joints, rowing is the clear winner. Running is a highly impactful form of exercise, and even though running on a treadmill can reduce the impact thanks to the shock-absorptive surface of the belt, rowing still has less impact. 

You do still need to be careful with your technique when rowing to avoid injury in the lower back, hips and shoulders but in general, rowing is easier on the knee and hip joints.

Full Body Strength & Muscle Gains

While running burns more calories, rowing involves more muscles and is, therefore, a better choice if you're looking for a total-body workout. When you run, the main focus is on the lower body, and you’re most likely to gain muscle in the hamstrings, quads, and calves.  

But when you row, the entire body is engaged. You still get a lower body workout, but the rowing motion also strengthens the arms, shoulders, back, and core. Speaking of the core, rowing is great for toning the abs, and it’s definitely more ab-focused than running.  

man flexing his back muscles

Time Needed Per Session/Week 

The amount of time you spend running or rowing ultimately comes down to your personal fitness goals. However, the recommended amount of cardio, according to Mayo Clinic, is to

"Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity."

Associated Costs

While it is technically possible to run for free, many people prefer to run on a treadmill for a few reasons. Both manual and electric treadmills lower the impact on the joints because they’re designed with a shock-absorbing running surface, they’re safer than running outdoors, and they’re more convenient (you never have to worry about rain or snow ruining your running session).  

When comparing a rowing machine to a treadmill, the cost is pretty much the same. For either machine, there are plenty of budget models, but there are also some commercial-grade options that cost a pretty penny. Whether you’re buying a treadmill or a rower, it’s best to set your budget before shopping around.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can you get in shape by just rowing? 

Yes! Rowing is a well-rounded workout that not only improves cardio health but also promotes weight loss and builds muscle. As long as you’re pairing your workouts with a healthy diet, then you can get in shape and stay in shape, simply by rowing.  

According to Livestrong on toning with rowing, you just have to keep in mind that

“Rowing will require a fair amount of time to tone the body when the muscles are not in good shape. This means you must slowly build up your strength and endurance before increasing the intensity of rowing machine workouts. The exact time to achieve the desired tone will vary greatly from one individual to another.”

How far should I run in 30 minutes? 

This varies from person to person. If you’re just starting out and don’t consider yourself to be in the best shape, then you’ll be lucky to cover 2 miles in 30 minutes. But if you’re a pro running, then you could easily run 3 or more miles in that timeframe. 

For a 5 km distance, is running or rowing better? What about 10 km? 

Whether you’re comparing rowing 5k vs running 5k or more interested in a rowing vs running distance of 10k, the "better" option comes down to the individual. Although running burns more calories on average, not everyone is capable of handling the impact, in which case, rowing is the better choice.  


Conclusion

It's difficult to say which one wins when you compare the benefits of rowing vs running; both have a very good track record for promoting weight loss, burning calories, boosting endurance, and even stimulating the mind.  

That being said, some people can benefit more from rowing, while others will get more out of running workouts. It mainly comes down to whether or not you want a low-impact workout or if you're fine with some impact on the joints.

If not, then rowing is the better choice since it promotes weight loss, stamina, endurance, strength - all without the impact.

Thinking of starting on a rower? Check out our guide on rowing machines for beginners.

Paul J