Rowing VS Running: Which One Is The Better Workout?

Rowing VS Running: Which One Is The Better Workout?

As an avid runner, you have perhaps found yourself looking for a quality cross training workout. Many runners find themselves gravitating toward workouts that are similar to running. For example, high-intensity interval training that has the athlete doing high knees, butt kicks, etc. is often a favorite of runners. While this type of training is good, have you ever considered getting yourself off of your feet on cross training day? Running involves pounding the pavement which can get hard on your body. A non-impact exercise such as rowing can be an excellent way to get some cardiovascular and upper body work in. Today we discuss rowing vs running.

What Muscles Does A Rowing Workout Engage?

A strength workout, rowing engages many muscles. You can easily blend a rowing workout with other types of weights for a full-body benefit.


 Rowing is a total body workout. Engaging 86% of your muscles, rowing is great for you! Most people think that rowing is all upper body. Actually, the row stroke is 65-75% lower body and the rest upper body.

 Major muscles targeted include upper back, arms, pecs, abdominal muscles and obliques. Rowing also engages lower body muscles including quads, glutes and calves.

 An excellent workout for all fitness levels, rowing workouts can be made challenging for elite athletes yet can remain accessible for novices.

 Without adding impact, this low impact workout compliments running nicely. Even without the impact, you can burn serious calories and fat.

 Because rowing is a nice repetitive motion, some people find it almost meditative. You can get yourself into such a groove that you almost fall into a trance. Before you know it, the workout is over!

 Works your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.

 An excellent alternative to workouts most runners tend to gravitate to such as an elliptical or stationary bike, a rowing machine will leave you feeling the burn in a different way.

Thoughts from an Average Jane:

Carolan Garceau of Waukesha, WI enjoys rowing when she is not running or doing HIIT training. In response to why she loves rowing, she stated, “It’s a full-body workout, you can adjust the resistance and the sound of the water is so relaxing that it’s almost soothing. I can’t say that about many other workouts.”

Can You Substitute Rowing For Running?

When injured, your body can be challenged from a cardiovascular perspective without having to impact the ground. Rowing is an excellent substitute in so far as you will use many muscle groups, your heart rate will elevate and it will keep you sane as you recover.

As you battle your way back from injury rowing can not only be a great substitute, you may find yourself a new addiction.

How To Use A Rowing Machine

When you enter a gym, you may find a rowing machine seem scary. Most of us were not introduced to a rower in our youth when we first entered a weight room in high school or college. For many reasons, people often are afraid to hop on and give it a try.


There are some basic things to remember when climbing on for the first time. For a visual, check out this video on Proper Rowing Technique.

  1. You should get on the seat and sit far forward.
  2. Place your feet in the footplates (note: They should be adjustable).
  3. Prior to starting you should be engaging your core muscles. Make a conscious effort to keep your core tight.
  4. Keep a tall, straight posture.
  5. At the front of your stroke, your hips should be slightly behind your shoulders.
  6. Push back with your legs, pull back with your core, then pull your arms in.

Frequent Mistakes New Rowers Make

Many people new to rowing hunch over their backs. This is not proper form. Remember: you should have a tall, straight posture. Another common error is making a scooping motion with your arms. The forward and back motion should be fluid, straight and not circular.

Another error is to allow your knees to drop to the side when you bend them in. Keep your knees up. Next, avoid raising your arms too high. The oar should hit at your chest. Speaking of the oar. Sometimes people make the mistake of hanging on to the oar much too tightly. You can make the rowing motion with just a few fingers on the handle. A grip of death is not necessary!

Is Rowing Better Than Running?

Rowing vs running is hardly a fair question. When asking which is better, I suppose it matters to whom you are addressing your question. One benefit to running is you can do it anywhere with almost no equipment. An exceptional cardiovascular exercise, running mostly engages lower body muscles.


Rowing, on the other hand, engages many more muscles both upper and lower body. Also a great cardio workout, rowing does so without impact to the ground which can increase chances of injury. Rowing machines are actually quite affordable and take up roughly the same amount of space in the workout room as an elliptical.

If you’re looking to lose weight, both exercises will burn calories. Studies show that rowing seems to create more afterburn effect than running, however.

How Much Rowing Is Equal To Running?

If your goal is to engage your cardiovascular system, you can row for an equal number of minutes that you would have run. If you are hoping to get exercise equal to a track workout, consider adding a bit of distance.

For example, a 5:4 conversion is commonly accepted. For every 100 meters you might run, row 125 meters. In place of 400 meter repeats, you would do 500 meter rowing repeats.

Rowing Workouts

You can create a rowing workout just like you would a running workout. Bear in mind that for most of us, it takes a bit to get into the rowing groove. If you’re new to rowing you might want to start with a time instead of distance.

Rowing Workout:

  • 5-minute warm-up
  • Stretch
  • 3:00 hard rowing x 8 repeats, rest 1:00 between
  • After set, rest 3:00
  • 5:00 at 75% perceived effort x 5 repeats, rest :90 between
  • Cool Down 5 minutes

This workout uses time and perceived effort instead of distance and time, which is often easier for novices to handle.

Try It!

If you have not tried rowing, it is certainly worth experiencing. Especially if you are looking for a relatively inexpensive addition to your home gym that will give you something to do on bad weather days. You can work up a sweat to the gentle whoosh whoosh of the rowing machine!

6 Benefits of a Rowing Machine