Rowing vs Running – Which One is a Full Body Workout?

Both these techniques may be the burners for leg day with their high-intensity training modes. While running is high impact, rowing is low impact. They are both favored exercise techniques and especially for cardiovascular and aerobic reasons.

I have been running for most of my life to help me keep my fitness goals on track. I always found it very liberating to be in the outdoors or to be indoors but need no more equipment than a treadmill to run.

It wasn’t until recently when my friends organized a trip to Tuolumne River in California and it tried my hand at rowing that I discovered my new favorite sport. I loved it so much that I bought myself an indoors rowing machine.

Its only been a few months but I thought I should create this review to record my opinion on how rowing and running compare.

Rowing vs Running Comparison Summary

Training Concern
Which Technique Rules?
Stronger Leg Muscles
VO2 Intake
Building Abs
Cardio Workout
Strength Training
Calories Burned
Least risk and danger
Best for terminal Illness


Rowing vs running – Calories Burned

Running beats rowing in burning calories however very slightly.

While rowing, it is possible to lose anywhere between 210 and 311 calories after thirty minutes of a moderate rowing speed and with medium resistance. If you run on the treadmill, however, you will lose about 240 to 330 calories every 30 minutes.

With both techniques, you get almost the same number of calories burned per workout. You could lose more in each by increasing the difficulty or resistance and the period of workout. When rowing, the most important thing to get right is the technique because if you do it wrong, nothing much can be achieved.

To raise your level of calories burned, you need to increase the pace and intensity of rowing. This is only possible if you do your repetitions well. Keeping a straight back, tightening your core, and using your legs more will get you burning calories upward the 400 marks.

When running the treadmill, if you want to increase that burn and sweat, inclining your ramp and increasing the speed to a good 5mph will get your whole body hot and you know something is working. The treadmill still burns potentially a higher number than the rowing machine at about 800 calories burnt running on a highly repetitive and intense run.

As with any other modified activity, it is best and even more fun to take these experiences outside so plan a white-water rafting weekend with your workout friends and see how strong you have gotten as individuals and as a team.

Taking part in running campaigns and organized marathons also provide a new challenging terrain for your body and feet to maneuver which engages your core muscles to a greater degree as they try to balance in unfamiliar terrain.

Rowing vs Running for Muscle Toning

Rowing vs Running for Muscle Toning

Muscle is better developed through resistant training like rowing as compared to running which tends to waste muscle.

The rowing motions you make on your ergometer and the pull resistance it provides a call for a total workout of all your ligaments and joints. Your legs and thighs do a lot of the heavy work having to push your entire being backward against a heavy pull resistance.

In its most efficient state, the rowing machine will get you working on all your body joints and muscles. Some of the muscles worked while exercising on the rowing machine are those on the front side of your thighs, the back of your thighs, your upper back, your torso side and mid to lower back, your arms’ biceps and your core strength.

This repetitive motion will build up the muscles and the sweat dripping will be worth it in a few months.

Running, on the other hand, is a high impact training routine that requires you to slam your entire weight against the ground which is impactful to your knees as well as our overall body fat. Running quickly raises your heartbeat and increases your oxygen consumption as you work out.

This oxygen intake is necessary for muscle building as it helps to expel energy from the system. Though running effectively does this, in terms of muscle toning, it is not the best candidate. The high impact of running causes fat to burn quite fast and a lot of muscle tends to be lost after a run.

Rowing is a better option for bodybuilding individuals because there is more breathing control on it than on a treadmill. With good consistency, intensity, and form to my workout, rowing will have you toning and firming up those muscles in no time.

Rowing vs Running for Arms

Running barely engages your arms in a workout as opposed to rowing which is built with arm handles.

Your arms could gain some excess weight from all the junk food you eat and from years of no manual labor. Arms are great for holding excess fat and it is generally unnoticeable until you have to wave goodbye to your favorite cousin who just got married and your entire arm shakes vigorously with just a swift wave.

This underarm fat is really tough to get rid of and just like tummy trimming, it is not possible to spot train it away. Between rowing and running, a combination of both would be the best advice for quicker results.

The rowing techniques employ arms, core, and legs and that’s mostly where the burn will be felt. Your arms reach out to catch the rowing handle and while your back is straight, pushing your body off the starting position and when the handle comes up to your knees, this is when you pull on the handle bringing towards your chest.

This is extremely effective for arm workouts as it stretches out your forearms, your biceps, and your shoulder joints. It is an engaging exercise activity that will have your arms burning through the next three days.

While running, these benefits are not at all expected because of the muscle loss associated with the high impact of running. However, starting off with a 15-minute run then heading over to the rowing machine for a 20-minute workout on a 3-5 days per week routine will see you achieve your arm toning goals.

Rowing Correct Technique

To avoid any excess or improper stretching which could lead to pain and discomfort, it is important to get the rowing technique right.

Because the ergometer is a very misunderstood device, it is important to understand the amazing way in which to engage this machine for it to eventually give us the looks we desire.

To ensure you are rowing your machine correctly, first sit comfortably and latch on your shoe protected foot in a pedal safety belt that helps to keep your foot on the pedals. Keep your back straight, your core tight and with your arms outstretched, reach out and grab the handle.

Then push back using your feet only and once your handle is past your knee level, engage your arms, and pull up the lever towards your chest. Keep your back straight the entire time to ensure you are working the right muscles and to avoid putting a strain on your neck or back.

Returning to the starting position, slowly control the resistance from pulling you in before the knee, once your handle goes beyond the knee, you can then bend your knees to be drawn back to starting position.

It may take a while to get used to but once you get the hang of it, the results will be undeniable, the simple formula to keep in mind is legs, core, arms, arms, core, legs. Meaning you start with your legs pushing away, keeping your core tight and pulling up to your chest and repeating in the reverse.

Does Rowing Give You a Full Body Workout?

Yes, rowing is an ideal full-body workout training because it offers cross-training cardio and strength workouts at a low impact.

Not only does it get your heart pumping blood faster, but it also strengthens the muscles around your organs and it targets tons of muscles on your arms, legs, core, and back. That is the definition of a full-body workout.

While your legs front and back muscles are flexing, your core or abdominal muscles are tightly contracted to give a surge of energy to the leg movements.

While the arms pull in the resistant handle to their chest, their biceps and shoulders get a good workout as well. High-Intensity Interval Training is possible with the rowing machine allowing you to alternate between high and low-intensity training.

Incorporating this technique to an already demanding training like rowing increases the chances of working your body harder and this reflects in changes that your body undergoes in a few weeks.

Depending on your reasons for working out, you could either work out hard or just keep it moderate. If you have some excess weight you need to shake off, doing 30 repetitions per minute for about 40 minutes should help you cut down at least a pound every two weeks.

You could alternate these quick and slow workouts with breaks to allow for muscle rejuvenation and development. Even for belly fat, rowing provides good results because the full-body workout also sheds fat off the midsection.

Best Body Type for Rowing 

To be good at rowing, you must have strong and bulked up back, arms, and legs.

Most rowers have a strong physique with heavyweight pure muscle at 95 kg for men and 75 kg for women. This weight is necessary as it helps keep good balance.

If you are a short individual, you need to have a heavy mass and be flexible enough to operate the rowing devices effectively. If you are tall, you are automatically better at rowing because of the elevation angle advantage.

However, the general rule is to have a longer arm span compared to your height. Due to the resistance provided, rowing is more dependent on weight than height.

Regardless of these observations, there are a few things you could do to become better at rowing.

  • Do not grip hard on the handle because it could tear up your palms, wear out your arms, and cause you to get aches and pains on your forearm.
  • Rowing works out your quadriceps and your buttocks muscles. Remember to use your legs to do much of the pushing as the arms assist in pulling back the lever.
  • Keep a straight back and make sure your motion is pushing backward not forward. This will keep you from being thrown off your seat.
  • Keep your elbows relaxed and at your sides and pull in your shoulder blades when bringing the handle into the bottom of your ribs.
  • Focus on your breathing and on consistent and steady movement on the rowing machine. Keeping the motion right and controlling your oxygen intake and expulsion will give you more stamina for more repetitions.

Benefits of Rowing Machine to Runners  

The ergometer strengthens, tones, and develops all possible muscles in your hips, thighs, and legs which make a better runner.

While running and rowing offer similar benefits to the cardiovascular operations of a human, they both target, work, and strengthen different muscular regions. Runners, for example, have very bad posture due to their forward-leaning running methods.

Incorporating the straight back resistance that is in an ergometer helps them develop new muscles in their core and back. Running exercises also barely target the mid-section fat that is so stubborn to burn away.

Most runners when they succumb to injuries are forbidden from running or jumping on their strained foot. Rowing exercises are the perfect alternative that can be monitored and measured in terms of intensity and weight allowing an individual to slowly train their foot back to health.

This both helps them stay sane in times of injury and also helps their injuries heal a bit faster. Even as rowing provides them a healthy non-impactful form of endurance training, they still need to run more than row to keep getting better at their time.


Is it Fine to Use A Rowing Machine Every Day?

No, rowing the machine on a daily basis is a bit too much on your body and its muscles.

The very muscles you are working on need time to rejuvenate and grow in between work out sessions.

Rowing is an engaging workout that has painful aftereffects based on how intense you work. You may want to rapidly reduce weight but rowing in itself cannot satisfy this goal. Use machine 3 to 5 times a week for about 30 to 60 minutes every day.

Keep a good diet high in vegetables, protein, and fruits will also be necessary to add to the effectiveness of your rowing technique which should be done perfectly every time.

Can I Use A Rowing Machine with A Bad Back?

No, it is not advisable to put any more strain on a bad back.

If you find that you have developed some discomfort in your back from all your previous day’s exercises, it is best to skip the use of the rowing machine until the back inflammation dies down. Working it on the ergometer before handling it can lead to worse conditions.

It is human nature to arch or tighten our back muscles in the experience of pain or in the anticipation of it. Doing this and adding on the resistance of the rowing machine will lead to a torn ligament in your back which is unbearable.

Is Rowing Bad for Knees?

Not at all.Training on the rowing machine is good for your knees and makes them stronger over time.

Apparently, the rowing motion that requires you to push against a resistant weight does not put much strain on the knees or the joint specifically. What is increasingly important as with other rowing experiences, is the form or technique in which you do your rowing.

If you put your weight on the wrong part of your foot, it will produce stress to your knees or thighs or shin. Adjust your footing to get the safest most effective angle for a tender-foot workout.

How Much Rowing Is Equivalent to Running?

When runners go in for their daily track workout sessions, they aim to complete 400m distance repetitions in four or five sets. As an alternative, they could try rowing 4 x 500m in sets of about 32 spm (strokes per minute) which would be equivalent to running 400m.

Rowing is so recognized as an important training technique for runners that the Olympics publicly have on record that 2000m is the rowing limit equivalent to the distance run on the Olympic track. Athletes are encouraged to measure themselves against this rowing standard.

How Long Does It Take to See Results from Using A Rowing Machine?

Changes in your body should be visible within the first two to three weeksif you keep up a consistent workout schedule and you diet nutritiously.

This means that you have used it for 30 minutes for about four to five days every week for the past two or three weeks. It is possible to lose up to a pound and a half of weight at that time.


A full-body workout seems to be more the reserve of the rowing machine as it exercises your entire body in terms of legs, arms, back, and core muscles with every row.