October 07, 2020 5 min read

Most people are well-versed on the benefits of running. It's a great cardiovascular activity that helps promote good heart and body health. This is why so many people all over the world are putting on their sneakers and heading out the door for a good run around the neighborhood.

What a lot of people don't know is rowing is just as beneficial and effective as running. Actually, many experts believe that rowing is a better form of exercise when compared to running for a variety of reasons.

Yes, rowing refers to sitting in a boat (shell or skull) and propelling the boat forward with paddles or oars. Until about 20 years ago, people generally thought of rowing as a competitive sport. In recent years, a growing number of people have come to realize that rowing is a fun and exciting way to get in shape.

Since both rowing and running offer similar health benefits, it would seem that a comparison of rowing vs running is in order. The point of the following discussion is not to determine which of these two exercises are better. Instead, the point of this discussion is to compare these two forms of exercise in a way that will help readers determine which exercise is better for them.

rowing vs running

The Health Benefits of Running

Running is a form of exercise that offers both aerobic and anaerobic benefits. It involves the primary use of the lower half of the body (hips and legs) with the upper half (arms, back, and chest) offering substantial support. The primary health benefits that one derives from running include:

  • Burns calories at approximately 10 calories per minute
  • Increases heart rate, which translates to strengthening the heart muscle
  • Provides a full body workout
  • Improves muscle and bone strength
  • Improves overall endurance
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Promotes better sleep habits
  • Improves cognitive capabilities

Keeping in mind this is a shortlist of benefits, it's easy to see that running does a great deal to improve a person's overall well being.

The Health Benefits of Rowing

While rowing provides many of the same health benefits as running, this form of exercise offers a few other benefits not typically associated with running. The list of these additional health benefits includes:

  • Strengthens the abdomen, neck, chest, and back muscles
  • Improves overall flexibility
  • Provides listed benefits with less risk of injury
  • Improves ability to concentrate
  • Improves coordination between upper and lower body

In all likelihood, it's these additional benefits that prompt experts to claim rowing is a better form of exercise than running. With that said, let's do an actual comparison.

Comparison of Rowing vs Running

There are a lot of similarities between running and rowing. Both of these exercises provide great health benefits while also being fun and enjoyable activities.

Both of these exercises can be done outdoors while exercise machines are available for indoor exercising.

Both of these exercises require a minimum of clothing and equipment, which means a person's lack of financial resources is not a deterrent.

Finally, people of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes can safely participate in both of these exercise activities.

While the similarities seem clear, there are differences between rowing vs running.

Injury Risk

The biggest difference has everything to do with the risks of doing the exercise.

Experts consider running to be a high impact exercise. This conclusion comes on the basis of the feet and legs impacting hard ground as the individual runs. The faster an individual runs, the more harsh the impact. The impact puts a lot of stress on the leg and ankle joints, which can cause injury. By comparison, rowing is a low impact, stationary exercise. With low impact exercises, the risk of injury drops significantly.

Body Participation

Another difference between these two forms of exercise involves how the body functions during the exercise process. While running gives a full-body workout, it does put more stress and emphasis on the lower part of the body. By comparison, rowing distributes the stress and emphasis over the entire body. Rowing involves equal use of the arms, legs, back, and abdomen to row and propel a boat forward.

Note: The rowing motion requires support from 85% of the body's muscles. The running motion only requires the use of 50% of the body's muscles.

Workout Resistance

It's also noteworthy that the boat, paddles, and foot braces act to provide muscle resistance, something that doesn't happen when running as the body moves freely. This extra bit of muscle resistance helps tone and strengthen muscles more than the running motion would.

As evidence this is true, a runner's body will typically be leaner. Meanwhile, rowers usually have more muscle definition.


The extra strain of rowing translates to the intake of more oxygen and the pumping of more blood for muscle function. That results in a higher calorie burn for rowers as compared to runners.

Which Exercise is Better?

Again, the point of this discussion was not centered on determining which exercise is better.

For anyone who wants or needs a decision, they should consider this. Choosing which form of exercise is better is subjective. It depends on the goals of the individual who is selecting an exercise option.

If someone is looking to lose weight, improve endurance, and tone their muscles, running is the better option. If someone wants to improve their overall strength with less risk of injury, rowing would be the right choice.

7 Tips for the Best Possible Workout

Putting any comparisons aside, both running and rowing are great ways to get a good workout. Regardless of which option you choose, you can maximize the benefits by following these seven workout tips.

1. Create an Exercise Routine - By creating an exercise routine, you effectively set a workout goal. As long as you have a workout goal, you are more likely to adopt the routine as part of your lifestyle.

2. Consistency - Regardless of what workout routine you set up for yourself, you have to be consistent about adhering to it. Consistency is all about setting up expectations and meeting them.

3. Find a Workout Buddy - After the initial excitement of working out wears off, exercising can get a bit mundane. The best way to keep yourself motivated is to find a workout buddy. The companionship helps add spice to the exercising process. Also, workout buddies can provide each other with extra motivation when one buddy's motivation starts running low.

4. Adapt an Exercise Routine That Fits Your Lifestyle - The focus of building an exercise routine should fall on picking exercises and exercise times that fit well with the rest of your goals and responsibilities.

5. Have Fun - Pick an exercise and routine that you legitimately enjoy, not something you might come to resent.

6. Timing is Everything - You will get the most out of your exercise routine if you schedule it for times when you have the most energy and the fewest time conflicts.

7. Consult a Pro - There is nothing wrong with using the advice of trainers when developing an exercise routine. You can also seek advice on how to reap the most benefits from the exercises you choose.

Doug Darroch
Doug Darroch

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