Both the treadmill and rowing machine have many benefits, and it’s hard to say that one of them provides a better workout without getting a look at the bigger picture.
A few years ago, the decision would have been easy; just go for the treadmill. It provides a total body workout and boasts the highest calorie burning rate among all other gym machines. However, rowing workouts have proven to excel in muscle growth and building endurance. So which machine should you go for?
If you find yourself wondering whether you should add a treadmill or a rowing machine to your home gym or just simply weighing the benefits of a run outdoors against a sweaty rowing session, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’re comparing the pros and cons of both workouts with regard to weight loss, efficiency, intensity, and building muscle mass. So let’s get to it!
Which Is Better for Losing Weight: Rowing or Running?
The primary concern of most gym-goers, exercise-seekers, and people who want to live a healthy lifestyle is weight management. To be able to pinpoint which workout is more effective in this aspect, you have to know how many calories you need to lose in order to shed one pound of weight and the caloric expenditure of each workout.
To shed one pound of weight, you need to burn 3,500 calories. So how many calories can running and rowing help you burn?
According to Harvard Health, a one-hour moderate-intensity exercise on the rowing machine can burn around 600 calories, while an hour on the treadmill or on the road burns slightly more calories, reaching 680.
Although the number of calories burned rowing is smaller than that of running, the difference isn’t that big. And there are many variables that come into play that can narrow the difference even more, such as your age, gender, starting body weight, and overall fat percentage.
Now you must be thinking that just because running burns more calories, it can help you lose weight faster. Well, things might be less direct than that.
Using simple calculations, you’ll find that you need 5.14 hours of running to lose one pound and 5.8 hours of stationary rowing to achieve the same result. So taking these numbers into consideration, running is a more effective workout for weight loss, right? Not really.
The thing is, although rowing machines burn fewer calories, they’re less intense. So they allow you to push yourself harder and spend more time training and therefore burn more calories on each session.
On the other hand, you could be the type who performs better when doing standing exercises rather than sitting ones. Rowing may just not be your thing, and consequently, you won’t be encouraged to exercise for a duration that’s enough to make you see a difference on the scale. In that case, running will help you lose weight easier.
What we’re trying to say is there is no telling which exercise can help you slim down faster. It all falls back on your preferences and how much time you’re willing to spend on each workout.
Losing weight isn’t about burning calories only. To slim down healthily and maintain it in the long-term, your weight loss needs to come from your fat storage, not your muscles.
Here’s the trick: rowing strengthens the muscles and increases their mass, so as an exercise, it won’t eat up your muscle storage. Conversely, though, it’ll speed up the rate by which you lose weight because muscles are more metabolically active than fat. The more muscles you have, the faster your calorie burn will be.
To be able to have the same effect with running, you’ll need to incorporate strength training exercises into your routine to make sure your muscle mass isn’t negatively affected.
Rowing vs. Running: Other Benefits
Running and rowing have the same effect on your cardiovascular health. Both of them are aerobic exercises, which help increase your lung capacity and improve how efficiently your heart keeps the blood flowing to your organs. They also lower your resting heart rate and your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Yet, the best thing about them is that they allow you to focus on your heart health while exercising. When running on the treadmill, you can alter the speed and incline, which gives you the chance to adjust your workout intensity to your target heart rate. Likewise, you can alter the resistance of a rowing machine until you’re sweating to the heart rate you’re aiming to achieve.
When it comes to versatility, both running and rowing are equal. You can get anything from a laid-back to a vigorous session from both types of workouts. Yet, it all depends on how long you’ll be able to endure the workout.
When running, you can go at a light pace or a strenuous one. You can also do interval training to fire up your metabolism or go on a steady-state run to build stamina. Similarly, you can tweak the resistance and speed by which you pull and push on the rowing machine to alter the workout’s intensity.
The only difference between both exercises is that a high-intensity rowing session is less demanding than a full-speed run, which makes going for longer on a rowing machine easier than on a treadmill.
A single rowing stroke works most of your body muscles, so the intensity of this workout comes from the fact that the rowing technique requires you to push and pull hard with all your body. On the contrary, vigorous running is more demanding on your lungs than your muscles, so working out for longer durations on a rowing machine is more manageable than on a treadmill.
However, even with that information, many people find running more comfortable because it’s easier to keep a proper form while running than rowing. The proper form of rowing requires you to keep your back straight for the length of the exercise, even during the swing motion. This could be a hard posture to maintain, especially for beginners.
Both running and rowing work the upper and lower body simultaneously, but not to the same degree. Since most of the work is done by your legs when running, it’s considered more of a lower body workout. Sure, your core and shoulders get involved when running but not to the extent that strengthens them.
On the other hand, the rowing motion works your upper body as much as your lower body. A single stroke moves your core, arms, back, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, and glutes, all at the same time. On top of that, it increases both your muscle and bone density, thanks to the full muscle activation that takes place during a rowing workout.
Rowing is a low-impact exercise, meaning that it keeps your joints safe during the exercise. Conversely, running is a high-impact weight-bearing workout. Every time your feet hit the ground when running, your hips, knees, and ankles are forced to absorb the impact of your stride and carry your weight.
That’s why rowing can be a great alternative to running for those who suffer from joint pain or any other mobility issue like arthritis.
You still need to be careful with rowing, though, because despite being joint-friendly, it can hurt your back if not done right.
Lower back pain is one of the most common health problems associated with rowing. And it can be easily avoided by maintaining the right form throughout the exercise and scheduling your rowing sessions apart from each other with rest periods in between
Pros and Cons of Rowing and Running
To conclude the comparison, here’s a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of both exercises.
- Activates all body muscles and helps in muscle gain
- A less intense exercise so it allows for more extended periods of training
- Low impact on the joints
- Aids in fat loss
- Takes a toll on the lower back without following the proper technique
- Maintaining the correct posture throughout the exercise can be hard
- Requires a machine to be performed
- Burns a higher number of calories than rowing
- Can be done indoors (on a treadmill) or outdoors
- Builds muscular strength in the lower body
- Improves cardiovascular health and stamina
- As a high-impact exercise, it isn’t suitable for people with joint problems
- Doesn’t work the upper body as much as rowing
- More demanding than rowing
Emma James, 29 years old professional fitness trainer with Bachelor’s degree in Physical Fitness Technician from Boston University.