Is Rowing More Effective Than Running?

It might not have a glamorous reputation, and it may not look like the easiest exercise to get to grips with. Still, the next time you’re queueing for the treadmill, there could be good reason to consider a stint on the rower instead.

That’s according to Dr. Cameron Nichol, a doctor, former Olympic rower, and two-time world silver medalist who says that rowing is the “most time efficient total body workout” out there.

Despite this, it’s taken a while for the sport to become part of the latest fitness boom. For many, the rowing machine is a piece of gym equipment that’s been collecting dust in their parent’s garage since the 80s.

“As a rowing industry we’ve known for decades that we’re responsible for not communicating how to row well,” Nichol told Business Insider. “It’s a really valuable movement, but the problem is we don’t grow up with it, whereas we do running and cycling.”.

The rowing machine might not be as popular as the treadmill, but not only does rowing burn calories and strengthen your heart, it also offers other benefits that running doesn’t. 

Both machines provide a great cardio workout, but the rowing machine works out your lower and upper body simultaneously. A treadmill primarily works out just your lower body, which is great but it just can compete against a full body workout from a rower.

Rowing activates nine muscle groups and 85% of the body’s musculature, according to Nichol. It will work your upper and lower body, tone your arms, and strengthen your back.

Most of the muscles you use in running are in your lower body: your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and calves. Your abs and biceps serve as supporting muscles and are strengthened to a lesser degree. When you row, however, both upper-body and lower-body muscles serve as your primary movers, and you strengthen many more muscles than when running. In addition to your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, you strengthen your abs and erector spinae in your core, and your deltoids, biceps and brachioradialis in your arms.

Unlike running, rowing is both low-impact and non-weight bearing, so it causes less wear and tear on your joints. This is especially important if you have weak joints or suffer from arthritis. Of course, as with any exercise, it can be harmful to your joints if you do not maintain proper form. When rowing, push off with your entire foot, including your heels, and not just with your toes. This will prevent strain on your knee joints.

Cardiovascular Benefits

While running and rowing are similar in cardiovascular benefits, they differ in the muscular workout they deliver. Erin Cafaro, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist and member of the U.S. rowing squad, said that rowing punishes the body in different ways. “In one continuous motion rowing works legs, core, back and arms,” she said. “It’s a full-body workout.”.

After a long run (> 5 miles), I feel exhausted. My knees hurt, my ankles hurt, and my body hurts. I feel the wear put on my body for the rest of the day and sometimes the following day(s) depending on how far I ran.

After a vigorous rowing workout, I feel exhausted and my legs feel like jello for a while, but I definitely don’t feel beat up or have any lingering effects on my body for more than just an hour or two. I will feel muscle soreness the next day but not the aching joint pains I get when running. .

CrossFit Endurance coach and 100-mile trail run fanatic, Brian MacKenzie says that rowing is a potent weapon in an endurance athlete’s cross-training arsenal, or as a replacement for running when injuries surface. “It’s no joke,” he said. “It’s some serious, lung-searing stuff. When an athlete is dealing with a foot or Achilles tendon problem, I’ve never found issues in replacing running with work on the ergometer.”.

There are two kinds of people in the gym. First, there are the ones who love to run and don’t mind running for long time. They usually hate doing weights. Second, there are the heavy weight lifters who hates to run, but are always up for sprint or high intensity short term cardio. Neither group can really understand the other.

If you’re of the second category, you would generally prefer rowing with high resistance over the lengthy runs in the treadmills, whereas the first kind may not prefer rowing but can do it for a long time with less resistance offered.


Running generally burns more calories than stationary rowing and rowing on water, but effort is the most important criterion in how many calories you burn while exercising. Running at various fast speeds (a 6-, 7- and 8-minute mile) tied for first place and also ranked third and fourth in calories burned in a “Harvard Heart Letter” study of 158 exercises.

In fact, when researchers at the University of Southern Maine used a more advanced method to estimate energy expenditure during exercise, they found that weight training burns up to 71 percent more calories than originally thought. Which suggests that a fast-paced circuit workout burns as many calories as running at a 6-minute per mile pace.

Conclusion – A full body workout in less time

The trouble with putting calories first in your workout decisions is that you are not seeing the whole picture. A good strength circuit including cardio will give you a more balanced body that just cardio or strength along. The rowing machine gives you both a strength workout as well as cardio.

By varying the resistance, which is easy on a magnetic rowing machine, you can create a HIIT workout which concentrates on muscle building and cardio.


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