Is Rowing Better Than Running For Your Body?

Welcome to our in-depth analysis of a question that has intrigued fitness enthusiasts for years: Is rowing better than running for your body? Both activities are popular cardio workouts with their unique benefits.

However, when it comes to muscle engagement, joint impact, and overall effectiveness, which one comes out on top? We’ve scoured various studies and expert opinions to bring you a comprehensive comparison between these two forms of exercise.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete, a beginner, or someone recovering from an injury, this guide will help you understand which workout might be the best fit for your fitness goals and needs. Let’s dive in!

Running V Rowing

When we consider using cardio as exercise, most of us will think about running. A type of movement that our ancestors have done for millennia. Whether out hunting for food or in the fields gathering crops, walking and running is the most natural thing our bodies have evolved to do.

Over the years running has become less about survival and more about losing excess fat, or running the fastest 10km. So, when we think about the fundamental movement of running, how does it impact our body? If you put different forms of cardio on a scale from low impact on your body to high impact, running unfortunately would come on the high impact part.

High impact to low impact:

  1. Running
  2. Assault Bike
  3. Ski – erg
  4. Cross trainer
  5. Rowing
  6. Swimming

The movement of running relies on a firm strike of our foot to the floor repeatedly for a period of time. No matter your body composition this will take a toll. Now when we think that a lot of runners are people who are looking to lose weight or are getting back into exercise, is this high impact going to hurt them. If your body is not used to exercise it can take a while for your joints and ligaments to build up a tolerance for this kind of movement.

photo of person running on dirt road
Photo by Orest Sv on

This can be especially prevalent if you are a heavier individual. Think about how every step is going to impact your joints. If you are a 250lb runner, that is a lot of weight for your knees and ankles to carry for any period. That is why it is so essential to build up into an exercise slowly.

For someone who is new to running, I would recommend that they start with a run/walk combo. This means they may start with running for 5 minutes then walking for 5 minutes. It very much depends on how your aerobic base is. You could go all the way back to running for one minute and walking for one minute if that is what your body will let you do.

Once you have started to run you will quickly see improvements. I would recommend starting with running 3 times per week. This could be Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. You would usually aim for the Saturday to be a slightly longer and harder run. As you are able to push your body harder on these runs you should look to be adding 5 minutes of time onto your total length of running time for that week.


So if you were running for 15 minutes on each run, on Monday and Wednesday and then 20 minutes on Saturday, this would add up to 50 minutes total. The following week I would look to have a total of 55 minutes. This may have to be flexible as your body changes to get used to the load.

When looking to improve your stamina and endurance it is important to have as much time running as possible. So when your body is used to the forces being put through it you may want to add in an extra running day. This could be a Friday. However I would recommend that you have an easy/slow-paced run on this day not to impact your longer run on saturday.


Rowers on the Thames
Rowers on the Thames by Philip Halling is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

So how does rowing compare? Well lets go through the same process and think about how rowing impacts on your body. When we created our list of movements and how they heavily or less heavily put forces through the body, rowing was down at number 5. This means that rowing has a lower impact on your joints and bones that other exercises.

Looking at the rowing movement, whether completed on a rowing machine or in a rowing shell on the water, you can see why it has such a low impact. Every stroke is initiated with a push movement from your legs. Now your feet are always in contact with the rowing machine or rowing boat. This means that there Is no shock impact every stroke. When compared with jogging you can see how the foot strike of jogging would have a significantly harsher impact on your body than the rowing push off for each stroke.

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As we move up the body to the ankles and knees you will find a similar outcome. The lack of foot strike means that there is no impact to be transferred up into our ankles and knees. The ankles and knees are allowed to flex and push without having to be used as a shock absorber as well.

So if we are using this form of exercise to burn extra calories to help us lose weight, which exercise is going to help us most. When we analyse the movement of jogging and rowing, it is clear to see that when jogging we are really only using our legs. Whereas in rowing there are lots more muscles being worked. Yes we work our legs, but we also use our core muscles, our back muscles to help us pull, our arms and even our posterior chain muscles.

With all of these extra muscles being used for each and every stroke there is clearly only one winner when it comes to burning calories. All of those muscles require fuel to be able to move so just by completing a 20 minute row you can expect to burn 25% more calories than a similar length run.


After researching various sources, it seems that the answer to the question “Is rowing better than running for your body?” largely depends on your individual fitness goals and physical condition.

Rowing is a low-impact exercise that engages nearly 85-86% of the body’s muscles, making it an excellent choice for full-body workouts source: Nike, Hydrow. It is particularly beneficial for those recovering from injuries or experiencing joint pain, as it offers a safer cardio option source: Shape.

Running, on the other hand, is considered a lower-body exercise and burns more calories due to the demanding nature of working against gravity source: Well and Good. It also oxidizes fat more efficiently, especially if performed on a treadmill source: BarBend. However, it might be more wearisome for your joints compared to rowing source: Livestrong.

In conclusion, both rowing and running have their unique benefits and can be effective parts of a balanced fitness routine. If you’re looking for a low-impact, full-body workout, rowing might be the better fit for you. Conversely, if your aim is to burn more calories and you don’t mind high-impact exercise, running could be the way to go. As always, it’s important to listen to your body and choose the workout that best aligns with your needs and capabilities.