Is Rowing Better Than Running? (Comparison)

folding indoor exercise rowing machine

Here we answer one simple question. Which is the better exercise: rowing or running? Both very viable forms of exercise.

In this article we wanted to discuss the pros and cons of both, going through sort of a checklist of things to keep in mind when we’re choosing exercises to determine which one is the best.

Let’s get right into it and talk about accessibility and cost.

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Cost & Accessibility

When it comes to rowing, whether you’re choosing to row on a rowing machine or row out in a boat on the water with an actual rowing boat, both of those endeavors are very big monetary investments.

Rowing machines range in cost from between three hundred dollars upwards of two thousand dollars, depending on the type of rowing machine that you get. The gold standard in the rowing world being the Concept2 Model D rowing machine that’s gonna run you at least nine hundred dollars brand-new.

Of course there are used machines and for the most part you want to stay away from the cheaper end, like $300 rowing machines, especially if you’re looking to use rowing seriously as an exercise, as something that you want to progress and improve with, you want to invest in a good quality machine. That’s gonna run you some money.

If you’re choosing a row out on the water, we’re not even to get into the prices of rowing shells and rowing boats. Plus you would need access to a body of water, which a lot of people don’t have access to. You might not even have a rowing club near you that you could even try boats with, or rowing with other people, etc.

The point is with rowing, there’s a big monetary price to get into it. Unless of course you have access to a gym membership that has rowing machines, in which case you’re just paying your gym membership fee.

As far as the accessibility and cost of running, you can run on a treadmill and treadmills can be very expensive as well.

If you have a gym membership, your gym most likely has some treadmills that you can use. But we know that we can also run outdoors, which, not to point out the obvious, doesn’t really cost you that much money to go running outside.

With running you do want to have proper footwear and that is something that you would have to invest into, getting yourself a pair of running shoes that work for you.

Comparing the accessibility and cost of rowing versus running, it’s pretty obvious that running has a much lower barrier to entry as far as from monetary standpoint goes compared to rowing.


Now let’s talk about the skill needed or the difficulty of running versus rowing.

A lot of people might just off the bat say rowing is definitely more challenging from a technical standpoint than running. We would argue that they are both even.

Just like rowing, running has a very specific form that takes lots and lots of practice lots and lots of time to really hone your technique to keep yourself injury free and keep yourself running for a long period of time.

If you just go out running intuitively with cloud puffy shoes on, you’re just bumping around, eventually you’re gonna hurt yourself. Same goes with rowing. If you hop on the rowing machine, you just flop around, you’re gonna hurt yourself as well.

Both of them are very technical exercises that do require lots of time and practice and proper instruction.

So we are gonna call a difficulty or challenge or skill level of each exercise to be even. We believe that it is an even amount of technique and focus for both.

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Now let’s talk about the fitness gains that you can get from rowing versus running.

With rowing, it’s an exercise that works about 84 percent or so of the total muscles in your body. It is a total body banger.

Because rowing is a resistance based exercise, depending on the style of rowing workouts that you do, you’re not only building cardiovascular endurance, but you will build some muscle tone, some musculature from going hard on rowing strokes and certain rowing workouts.

Compared to running, you’re primarily just working your lower body. Yes your upper body is involved. We are not saying that it’s not involved. But comparative to rowing, rowing is working more of the muscles in your body than running is.

We can’t say that running won’t help you develop musculature as well, especially if you’re doing sprints that’s going to help you add some musculature and some power ability to your body’s ability.

But if we’re considering long duration running versus long duration rowing, rowing is definitely gonna take the cake as far as burning more calories and getting more musculature involved.

So as far as fitness gains go, you’re most likely gonna make more overall fitness gains from an endurance and a power standpoint from rowing than you would from running.


What about the impact on your body in the longevity of the exercise.

With rowing, it’s a well-known fact that rowing is a sort of a lifelong sport, a lifelong exercise. One of the obvious benefits of it is that it is a no impact exercise.

Comparing that to running, which is an extremely impactful exercise on the body. The bigger and taller individuals, the more weight that you carry on your body, the more impactful running becomes.

As you improve your cardiovascular fitness, as your ability to run faster improves, that’s even putting more wear and tear on your body as you run faster.

While some people can run for decades and decades, it’s pretty clear and obvious that running is a much more impactful exercise on the body than rowing is.

Not to say that you can’t get injured when rowing, because lower back injuries happen all the time, especially if you don’t have proper form, but rowing being such a dynamic motion that’s using so many muscle groups in your body and it’s a very repetitive motion, but so is running. Injuries tend to happen with rowing as well.

Generally speaking it’s less impactful and therefore you can row for longer durations and you can even look at the top level athletes in each sport. Top level rowers can put in 30,000 meters on the daily. Just due to the less impactful nature of it, it allows you to just rack up the miles a lot more than running allows you to do.

We just want to reiterate that this is relatively speaking for the average person. There are exceptions out there, there are runners that put in tens of miles every single day.

But the point is for the most part, for the average person, you’re gonna be able to put in a lot more work on the rower than you will on the run.

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Final Analysis

Let’s go through a quick final analysis on rowing and running and then we can come to our final verdict.

When we take a look at the rower, we know that the accessibility and the cost of rowing, there’s a bit of a barrier to entry there. You’re going to want to invest a significant amount of money in either a good rowing machine or into a rowing club, if rowing is an exercise that you’re planning to do often.

As far as the difficulty and challenge of rowing goes. it is a technical exercise. there is a lot of technique involved and it takes a lot of practice. It’s just what you get when you’re doing anything fitness related. But with rowing you’re gonna make some serious fitness gains.

Working 84 percent of the muscles in your body, it’s the highest calorie burning exercise out there. You’re gonna get a lot out of every rowing workout.

As far as the impact on the body goes, rowing is an exercise that allows you to put in more meters per day, per week, per month, per year, and is an exercise that you can pretty much do your entire life. Of course, as long as you’re doing it properly.

As far as running goes, there’s a smaller barrier to entry. You’re just gonna need a nice pair of shoes. Of course if you’re investing into a treadmill, that’s gonna run you quite a bit of money. But if you’ve got a gym membership, they most likely have treadmills. And of course you can run outdoors as well.

The difficulty and challenge of running correctly is severely understated. Running is a very technical exercise that takes as much practice as rowing does. Running is an amazing exercise to help you work your cardiovascular system and work the muscles of your lower body.

Yes, your arms are involved a little bit, but they’re not nearly as involved as the muscle groups that you’ll be working on the rowing machine.

We know that running can be a very impactful exercise on the body. If you put in too many miles, too soon, per week, per month, per year, you can lead to some pretty serious chronic running injuries. It’s absolutely more negatively impactful on your body on your joints than rowing is.

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One thing we didn’t talk about is the enjoyment level of running versus rowing.

With running when you’re outdoors, you can go anywhere you want. All sorts of different terrains and beautiful places to see. With rowing, especially on the rowing machine, you’re sort of stuck to the tedious motion of just going back and forth.

There are some cool apps out there that get you “on the water”, like those cool treadmills that show you places as well. But for the most part, we think that a lot more people would consider running to be a much more enjoyable form of exercise. So it’s definitely something to consider.

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As far as the final verdict goes though, we are going to rule that rowing is overall the better exercise, despite the barrier to entry, to get a good rowing machine, to get you started.

Once you do that, and once you commit mentally to learning proper rowing technique, you’ll soon come to realize that rowing is an amazing exercise to do.

Rowing Machine vs Treadmill vs Exercise Bike

Is Rowing Better Than Running? (Comparison)
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