Rowing Machines VS Running

  • August 3, 2018

Comparing a natural form of exercise to something that requires a machine may seem a bit redundant, but it’s a perfectly fair thing to do especially if you’re someone who’s either just always wondered, or are merely looking for ways to add variety to your workouts.

So, with that said, below we will compare the various characteristics and benefits of running when compared to using a rowing machine, covering things like what muscles are being worked, and how many calories you’re burning.

Rowing Machines VS Running

Muscle Groups Worked

Both of these exercises emphasize certain muscle groups and areas, but one of them offers a better mix all around.


99% of the time, running is an exercise that targets the lower body, mainly the entirety of your legs. Calves and hamstrings tend to get the most emphasis.

The only way to work your upper body at the same time would be to use hand weights in some fashion while running.

running workout

Rowing Machines

A good rowing machine works several different sets of muscles at once, starting with the back and arms. This includes the deltoids, pecs, biceps, triceps, and upper back.

Your core gets some attention as well, and your legs are pushing you back up the rail with each pull too.

Verdict - When it comes to getting a fuller body workout, running can’t come close to what a rowing machine can do. However, it does provide more of an emphasis on the lower body.

Type Of Exercise

Anyone who is making an effort to be in shape knows that a proper mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercises are needed to improve cardio health and endurance, while also toning and building strength and muscle.

This approach typically requires different workouts to achieve both goals.


Running is the most popular aerobic exercise, and always will be. Whether you’re someone who’s main goal is to bulk up, or training for a marathon, running is always the main source of cardio for the majority of people.

Part of that is largely due to convenience and simplicity.

rowing machine outdoor workout

Rowing Machines

Rowing machines can certainly offer a great anaerobic workout due to the fact that you’re working with varying degrees of resistance, and using your own bodyweight.

This can lead to a noticeable amount of increased strength, as well as some bulking and toning too.

The rowing motion is also a sort of aerobic workout as well, however, which means you’re getting two types of workouts at the same time.

Verdict - Running is always a great form of aerobic exercise, but rowing machines are a convenient way to be more efficient with your training and accomplish two types of workouts at once.


The impact of an exercise refers to the shock and impact that must be absorbed by your body during the workout. This is a big point of difference between the two.


Running is a highly impactful exercise, and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re running on the ground outside, or on a treadmill.

Each step is absorbed by your feet, knees, hips, and back, which can be a problem for some depending on their physical condition.

zero impact workout

Rowing Machines

A key advantage for some users is the zero-impact nature of a rowing machine. Throughout the duration of the workout, there is no impact at all, since all of the motions involve sliding or a type of flywheel.

Verdict - The impact of running can work to its advantage for those that can handle it, but there are certainly plenty of people that are not able to deal with the repeated impacts on a regular basis. Rowing machines offer an excellent option for an efficient non-impact workout.

Number Of Calories Burned

Calories burned per hour is always an important component of any type of workout.


Running is one of the better exercises when it comes to burning calories. There are a lot of variances involved in just how many that is, such as speed and incline, but for the most part, a person burns around 550-700 calories an hour.

calories burned while exercising

Rowing Machines

Rowing is also one of the best ways to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. On average, the standard rowing machine workout can burn anywhere from 600-900 calories an hour.

Verdict - This one is fairly close, but a rowing machine does burn more calories per hour, so it has an advantage here.

Miscellaneous Aspects

Running outside requires only good shoes and motivation. Indoor running requires a treadmill.


Running is one of the cheapest forms of exercise, as it really only requires a pair of shoes, a place to run, and some motivation. Of course, you can always do it on a treadmill if desired, but it’s not required.

running preparation

Some rowing machines can be fairly cheap (about $120,) but that’s not as cheap as a good pair of running shoes.


If you don’t have a treadmill, you’re at the mercy of your surroundings outside when running, including weather, traffic, the occasional stray dog, etc. Rowing machines have the convenience of being used indoors within a controlled environment.


Running doesn’t require any maintenance or expensive gear. Rowing machines do require some care, but not as much as some other machines.


Comparing running to a rowing machine is a bit unfair in some ways for both, but it’s still an interesting insight.

Running will always remain the most simple and popular form of exercise, especially for cardio. Anyone who is physically able should always look to mix in a decent amount of running into their workout routines, as it is great for endurance and lower body toning.

On the other hand, rowing machines are one of the most efficient and effective ways to get a full body workout, while also mixing in aerobic training. They’re also fairly cheap, and easy to take care of.

My recommendation? Find a way to do both if you can. Good luck!

About the Author Daniel Jackson

ExerciseRig.com serves as my way to keep people informed and motivated with their home fitness while providing plenty of guidance and advice when buying new products to help them reach their goals. My own story is a bit unconventional from what you may be used to. Although I was never severely out of shape, a severe knee injury actually resulted in me emerging more in form than ever, mostly thanks to equipment such as exercise bikes that I used during my long rehab journey. I’ve remained in shape ever since, and I now focus my efforts on sharing what I’ve learned from all my research and hands-on experience with a variety of home exercise equipment and workouts, passing it along to my readers. If you’re in need of unbiased, genuine, and real fitness equipment advice, this is where you need to be.

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