What Are the Benefits of Rowing Vs. Running?

Young woman on rowing machine, low angle view
A woman working out on a rowing machine in her apartment. (Image: FlairImages/iStock/Getty Images)

The rowing machine might not be as popular as the treadmill at your gym, but rowing is a great alternative to running for your workout. Not only does rowing burn calories and strengthen your heart, it also offers other benefits that running doesn’t. It may be a better option for you -- especially if you’re looking for a low-impact exercise or one that will also strengthen your upper body.

Move More Muscles

Most of the muscles you use in running are in your lower body: your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and calves. Your abs and biceps serve as supporting muscles and are strengthened to a lesser degree. When you row, however, both upper-body and lower-body muscles serve as your primary movers, and you strengthen many more muscles than when running. In addition to your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, you strengthen your abs and erector spinae in your core, and your deltoids, biceps and brachioradialis in your arms.

Kinder to Your Joints

Unlike running, rowing is both low-impact and non-weight bearing, so it causes less wear and tear on your joints. This is especially important if you have weak joints or suffer from arthritis. Of course, as with any exercise, it can be harmful to your joints if you do not maintain proper form. When rowing, push off with your entire foot, including your heels, and not just with your toes. This will prevent strain on your knee joints.

Burn Calories, but at a Slower Rate

You will burn calories using a rowing machine, but not as many as when running. According to the American Council on Exercise, a 150-pound person burns approximately 158 calories in 30 minutes rowing at a moderate pace, but burns 181 calories in the same amount of time running at a pace of 5 miles per hour. A study in the May 1996 issue of the "Journal of the American Medical Association" also concluded that running on a treadmill is superior to using the rowing machine for burning calories.

Make the Most of Your Workout

Always begin your workout with a five-minute warm-up to prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system for the work ahead. Always end your workout with a five-minute cool-down to return your body to its pre-workout state. Begin slowly with a lower resistance and gradually increase the intensity once you feel comfortable with the movement. Maintain proper form, with back straight and shoulders back to prevent excess stress on your back. Stop exercising if you become too tired to maintain proper form.

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