Rowing vs Running

HumanWindow Staff
By HumanWindow Staff
Updated on October 31, 2020
Expert Content

What are some of the pros and cons of rowing vs running?

You probably already know that both of these popular forms of exercise have their own advantages and disadvantages when practiced regularly.

If you’re looking to find out a bit more about rowing compared to running, then you’re on the right page.

We asked a selected group of experts to deliver their insights into how rowing and running compare to each other in terms of forms of exercise.

Here’s what they said.

They Are Both Great Forms Of Cardio

Robert Herbst, Personal Trainer and Wellness Expert

While running and rowing are both great for cardio, the obvious difference is that rowing works the upper body, especially the lower and upper back, lats, and arms.

It also works the legs in a different way than rowing, with less impact on pushing off.

The impact from running and the pulling under tension in rowing make them both good for stressing the bones to improve bone density, but with rowing, there may be less damage on the knees and hips from impact.

Rowing can lead to more repetitive stress injuries because the motion is always the same, whereas in running, things such as stride length change according to the terrain.

If one is rowing on open water it is equal to running outdoors in producing stimulation to the brain, which can lead to new neural connections and giving the beneficial feeling of being out in nature.

One does not get that stimulation rowing on a machine or in a tank, nor does one get that running on a treadmill.

Woman Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Both Rowing And Running Are Great Exercise Options For Most People

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Olympic Spine and Sports Rehabilitation

Rowing and running differ in terms of the where loads are placed on the body, and thus where injuries commonly occur.

Rowing is a seated activity, which places the lumbar spine (low back) into a position of flexion. Flexion of the spine, especially when this posture is adopted for prolonged periods of time, is a known risk factor for lower back pain, primarily lumbar disc injuries.

Rowing places a lot of stress on the knees, as they move from flexion (bent) to extension (straight) throughout the phases of the rowing stroke, and knee pain is a common complaint in rowers.

The upper body also takes on significant loading, especially the rib cage, shoulder, and wrist, and these areas can be implicated in overuse injuries.

Rowing places a lot of stress on the knees, as they move from flexion (bent) to extension (straight) throughout the phases of the rowing stroke, and knee pain is a common complaint in rowers.

Running is an upright weight-bearing activity, which places a great deal of stress on the bones and joints of the lower extremities.

As a result, roughly half of all runners get injured each year, with the majority of these injuries occurring in the lower body, for example overuse conditions such as stress fractures and tendon injuries.

The overall health benefits of both rowing and running are numerous. They can help strengthen the cardiovascular system, help to maintain a healthy weight, and improve mood.

Running is an upright weight-bearing activity, which places a great deal of stress on the bones and joints of the lower extremities.

I would recommend rowing vs running based on an individual’s susceptibility to injury.

For example, if someone has a lumbar spine that does not like flexion, I wouldn’t recommend rowing since it is a seated activity.

Running may be a better option because they would be upright. Even though there is a risk of injury in both rowing and running, this can be minimized by being mindful of the frequency, intensity, and volume of training.

Allowing for proper recovery and avoiding abrupt changes in training can help decrease the chance of injury.

By paying attention to form, as well as making sure that the individual has the physical characteristics (adequate mobility, stability, and strength) to handle the loads placed on their body, both rowing and running can be great exercise options for most people.

Running Race

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Why Not Do Both?

Rick Richey, kuudose Expert Trainer

Running and rowing differ in their mechanics, but they can help to attain increases in fitness, cardiovascular health, and local muscular endurance.

One of the main pros of running is that it’s free and easily accessible! One of the drawbacks of running is that the ground impacts of running can increase musculoskeletal pain (ankles, knees and lower back) in some individuals.

Rowing may better for those with ankle or knee pain as the impacts of running may exacerbate symptoms.

One of the advantages of rowing is that it’s low impact, so it’s very easy on the joints.

One of the negatives is that you need a rower. Also, I’m not a big fan of sitting down to exercise, so cross training will be important. Rowing may also aggravate lower back discomfort in some individuals.

Rowing may better for those with ankle or knee pain as the impacts of running may exacerbate symptoms.

I suggest running more often than rowing for the desk jockeys. If you sit at a desk all day, then rowing while in the seated position is likely not the best option for you.

You can still row, but it is important to incorporate exercises that get you up and moving.

Why pick one or the other if you can do both? Both modalities are great for fitness and cardiovascular outcomes and doing both provides variety that may help you stick with incorporating and maintaining regular exercise routines.

Rowing Is More Of A Full-Body Exercise

Shawn M. Talbott, Former Elite-level Rower and Rowing Coach

Both are obviously cardio-intensive, and can give you a great endurance workout, but rowing is more of a full-body exercise engaging more of the upper body and core muscles than running.

One of the downsides of rowing for novices is that there is a learning curve to develop the correct rowing technique (legs/back/arms) to take full advantage of the whole-body workout and avoid over-straining their lower back muscles.

Bad rowing technique can still give you a good workout, but also increases your risk for injury.

So, for new rowers, I recommend that they start at a low strokes-per-minute (<20spm) and get the technique right before they start ripping out hard workouts. Once you get the rowing technique dialled-in, efficiently linking the catch (legs) to the drive (back/core) to the finish (arms), you can generate significantly more power and get a much better whole-body workout.

Bad rowing technique can still give you a good workout, but also increases your risk for injury.

One of the workouts that I like to recommend to people when they’re stuck inside during the winter months is a combination run/row workout on a treadmill and a rowing ergometer (this is best if your treadmill and ERG are close to each other so you can jump from one to the other quickly):

• Warm-up:

• 5 minutes easy running followed by 5 minutes easy rowing

• Main set:

• 5 minutes hard rowing
• 5 minutes easy running
• 4 minutes hard running
• 4 minutes easy rowing
• 3 minutes hard rowing
• 3 minutes easy running
• 2 minutes hard running
• 2 minutes easy rowing
• 1 minute hard rowing
• 1 minute easy running
• 1 minute hard running

• Cool-down:

• 5 minutes easy running or walking

Man Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Rowing Uses Up To 80 Per Cent Of Your Muscles

Hasan Adkins, Nationally Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach

Rowing is a great exercise for people over the age of 30 who have experienced back or knee pain. Rowing is considered to be a low impact cardio option that uses up to 80 per cent of your muscles.

Rowing technique is key. If you do not have the proper form, you will not get the results.

Rowing burns up to 500 calories every 30 minutes, with little risk of injury. You can do this exercise every day.

Rowing technique is key. If you do not have the proper form, you will not get the results.

On the other hand, running is a great mental release from the daily stressors of work – it’s easy and quick.

You will produce those feel-good endorphins and have a great feeling of accomplishment. It’s a great place to start.

However, running carries a higher risk of injury. Many people develop shin splints and foot problems after running. I would not suggest running daily because it’s heavy on the joints.

Man Running In Nature

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Wrapping Things Up – Final Thoughts

Both rowing and running are great cardio exercise options that are amongst the most popular choices out there for fitness-based activities.

Rowing is generally considered to be a more ‘full body’ workout, while running generally uses the lower body more than the upper body.

Both rowing and running are great options when it comes to building and maintaining cardiovascular fitness, and they can bring a number of benefits to the table on your fitness journey.

Whether you choose to incorporate rowing, running or both into your exercise regimen, it’s important to ensure that you maintain good form and technique throughout.

This is particularly key when it comes to rowing, as not adopting the correct technique may increase your chances of sustaining an injury.

If you’re in doubt about your form while rowing or running, you should consider speaking to a certified personal trainer. They will be able to help you to ensure that you are performing the exercises properly, which can help to minimize the risk of injury both in the short and long-term.

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