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Rowing Machine vs Running – Which Is Best?

Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Jeff

Rowing Machine vs Running

The battle between exercise equipment and freestyle cardio forces us to decide whether running is more effective than indoor equipment like a rowing machine. 

Hitting the pavement outdoors brings numerous cardiovascular and weight loss benefits, but the convenience of a home rowing machine with its calorie burning and muscle strengthening benefits makes it a worthy contender. 

We compare the two forms of exercise within various criteria, and ascertain the pros and cons of each, to help you determine which one would suit you best. 

Rowing Machine versus Running (Compared)

  Running Rowing machine
Muscle-building Lower body Full-body
Price Free $500-$1000
Impact High-impact Low-impact
Weight loss 150-250 cals in 30 minutes 100-160 cals in 30 minutes 

Weight Loss

When it comes to burning those pesky calories, both exercises ultimately do the job. However, when comparing calories burnt within a set time, running will be more effective. 

While running you can burn anywhere between 150 to 250 calories in 30 minutes, depending on your body weight, the speed at which you’re running, uphills, etc. It is a highly effective form of cardio that is one of the most popular ways to lose weight and increase fitness levels. 

But, rowing should not be scoffed at. You can burn between 100-160 calories while rowing for 30 minutes, depending on the speed and intensity of the workout – not a massive difference to the calorie burn during a run. 

It is also worth noting that with rowing, you can up the resistance on the machine. This allows for a more intense workout and therefore could have more weight loss benefits than running in the long term. 

The effect on the muscles with an increased resistance also causes an increase in metabolism for a while after the workout is over, which essentially burns more calories after you are done exercising. 


Again, both running and rowing are good ways to pack on the muscle. But in this category, rowing outweighs the run. 

Running primarily works the lower body, as the movement is generally limited to the legs. This builds on the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps, but does little for the back, shoulder, and arm muscles.

Rowing is a full-body workout. It requires movement from the lower and upper body and engages the core. This works and builds the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, biceps, triceps, back, shoulders, and core, making it a more effective muscle-builder than running. 


Running wins this round. Throwing on a pair of trainers and heading out the door costs you nothing at all, while a rowing machine will come at a price. 

If comparing a rowing machine versus a treadmill, or a rowing machine versus an exercise bike, the rowing machine will generally be cheaper.  A top-rated rowing machine will set you back anywhere between $500-$1000.

While running is easier on the pocket, it is worth considering that having a machine in your home is more convenient for safety during colder seasons, or if you prefer to exercise during dark periods such as early in the morning or at night. 


Running is extremely beneficial in many ways, but can be a high-impact exercise for your muscles and joints, which means rowing comes out top in this category. 

Rowing is notoriously a low-impact exercise, which is ideal for those with joint issues. It is often used for recovery exercises. However, it is important to maintain proper form to keep it this way, as using it incorrectly leads to harm to the joints. 

Running is incredibly high-impact, and can either worsen existing joint issues or create new joint issues in the long run. It can cause chronic muscle pain in the thighs, feet, knees, and/or the back, especially when done regularly. Again, form is important. 

Rowing Machine versus Running

can rowing machine replace runningWhile we see that both exercises beat each other in different categories, the exercise that is best for you depends on what your fitness goals are, and your preferences. 

We summarise each of the two exercises, listing their benefits and downsides. 

Rowing Machine

The rowing machine is a full-body workout with multiple benefits. It entails you to complete the same motion done when rowing a boat. 

Firstly, it is a low-impact exercise option that is ideal for those with or looking to avoid joint problems. It is also helpful to those recovering from injury. 

To ensure you are making the most of this benefit, check your form. Ensure that you are sitting up straight to avoid back pain, and push off with your full sole to take the pressure off your knees. 

Rowing is also effective in building muscle throughout the body. The movement when rowing works the upper body muscles and the lower body muscles, and it also engages the core. In addition to this, the ability to increase resistance is an effective way to push yourself harder, work up your fitness ability, and build more muscle. 

Even when comparing it to some of the other exercise equipment, such as a rowing machine vs a vertical climber, it comes out on top with muscle building. Is a rowing machine better than weights, for muscle-building? No, but it does comparatively well given its low-impact nature.

The movement of the rowing machine, coupled with the need to sit top straight, also has a positive impact on your posture in general. This, in turn, lessens the risk of other back issues. 

While it might not burn as many calories as running at the same time, it is not far off and is an effective way to burn fat and lose weight when paired with a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

A rowing machine will cost between $500-$1000, depending on the brand and its features. 

If you suffer from joint issues, or you are aiming to build muscle and/or lose weight, the rowing machine is the ultimate exercise form. 


  • Low-impact
  • Full-body muscle building
  • Improves posture
  • Effective in weight loss
  • Improves heart health
  • Can be used by visually impaired individuals 


  • More expensive 
  • It burns fewer calories than running


is rowing machine better than runningRunning outdoors is an effective form of cardio, as well as a chance to connect with nature and escape the confines of your home or office, which can have a positive impact on mental health. 

Running outdoors first and foremost requires no equipment, can be done almost anywhere and is free. This means that you can do it in your neighborhood, but also when you are away on vacation, or during a work break. 

It is an effective cardio exercise to lose weight, as you can burn a high number of calories within 30-60 minutes of running. Paired with a healthy diet and lifestyle, you can count on running to push the numbers on the scale down. 

Running builds your lower body muscles, as the movement is focused on the legs. While this does not match up to the muscle-building abilities of the rowing machine, as running is much more deeply set in the cardio category, you can add on supplementary exercises before to after running to work the rest of your muscle groups. 

With the pressure of running focused on the legs, it can be harmful to the joints. Runners often complain of chronic knee and back issues. If taking up running, it is important to monitor your body’s reaction to the exercise, as well as your form, to reduce the risk of injury. 

Running is a great way to lose weight, but if you have joint issues, or you are hoping to build muscle mass throughout the body, this might not be the exercise for you. 


  • Effective weight loss
  • Free
  • Improves mental health
  • Can be done anywhere
  • Works lower body muscles 


  • Can cause harm to joints
  • Does not work the core and upper body muscles

Rowing Machine versus Running (FAQ)

Is rowing as good as running?

Running is an effective way to exercise. But, it generally works the lower body and has little to no effect on the core and upper body. Rowing is a full-body workout – it works the lower and upper body, and engages the core and back. They are both good exercises, it all depends on what you are trying to achieve. 

Can a rowing machine replace running?

The rowing machine is an effective way to lose weight and build muscle. It does not burn as many calories as running, but you can up the intensity of the workout to achieve optimal calorie burn according to your goals. 

Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine?

Yes, you can. The rowing machine burns calories that can shift belly fat, and it also engages the abdominal muscles, which tones your tummy. 

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