Running vs rowing: Which burns more calories?

a photo of a man running and a woman on a rowing machine
(Image credit: Getty Images/PeopleImages/FreshSplash)

Although adults should do around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, how you choose to do that exercise is entirely up to you. There are plenty of ways to get your activity in, whether you like to go for the newest machine in the gym or prefer to lace up a pair of the best running shoes and head outside. But if you’ve ever wondered how running compares to rowing in terms of calorie burn, we’re here to help. 

Both running and rowing can contribute to your weekly cardio and exercise goals, but they vary in terms of impact, the muscle groups they engage, and the potential risk of injury. To find out more about the benefits of both forms of exercise, and help you decide which is best for you and your goals, we put the two forms of cardio head-to-head.

What are the benefits? 


There are a number of benefits to adding running to your routine. Regular running can help to build strong bones and strengthen and sculpt your muscles. Studies have also found running for 50 minutes a week can help to improve cardiovascular fitness, reduce your risk of cancer, and reduce the risk of arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. It also helps to soothe cognitive stress and boost your mood, due to the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids

What’s more, most people will be able to run — research has found running strengthens your joints and that runners are half as likely to suffer from knee osteoarthritis compared to those who only walk. It will also improve your stamina and aid your weight loss efforts.

a photo of a woman running wearing headphones

(Image credit: Getty/Westend61)

Running is also relatively low cost, as you don’t need a treadmill or gym membership to clock your miles. That said, if you do need to upgrade your kit, we’ve found the best running shoes on the market here.


Rowing targets the majority of the body's major muscle groups and is a great workout to burn a large amount of calories without impact. Studies have shown that people who took up rowing found improvement in the shoulder, elbow, lumbar, and knee areas after eight weeks. Rowing works on both muscular and cardiovascular endurance, so is a great workout for those looking to increase power and stamina.

a girl on a rowing machine

(Image credit: Getty/Cavan Images)

Rowing is also great for your mental health, as it’s said that the rhythm of the strokes and the smooth, gliding motion that comes with them allow the brain to drift into autopilot. Plus, rowing also releases endorphins.

Which workout will burn more calories?

Running and rowing are both fantastic forms of cardio, and both can have a positive effect on your cardiovascular health. But if you’re looking to burn calories, which comes out on top? 

As a guide, a tool by ACE Fitness suggests that somebody weighing 169 pounds could burn around 178 calories from 20 minutes of moderate rowing. The same person would burn 255 calories running for 20 minutes at a pace of 6 miles per hour (this translates to a 10-minute mile). Of course, if you row harder, or run faster, this calorie burn will increase, but it’s clear that if torching calories is your goal, lacing up your running shoes is the way to go. 

If you are looking to keep an eye on your calorie burn during workouts, investing in one of the best fitness trackers, or best running watches on the market is a good idea. 

That said, it’s important to stress that burning calories isn’t the only reason to exercise. Both running and rowing are fantastic ways to relieve stress. While running might burn calories faster, rowing is a full-body workout, as your upper and lower body, as well as your abs, are all engaged as you row.

Running vs. rowing: Which should you choose?

From a calorie-burning perspective, running is the best way to increase your calorie burn when comparing the two methods of cardio, however, which you should choose depends on which you enjoy the most. If you don’t want to spend money on an expensive gym membership, running is more accessible than rowing. That said, if you’re looking for a low-impact workout, rowing might be better for you.

It’s also possible to add both to your cardio routine. Rowing can be a great activity for runners because it helps to build strength in the upper body, and also offers good cardiovascular support. Similarly, it’s always good to alternate between lower and higher-impact cardio, to ensure you’re not putting too much stress on the body.

More from Tom's Guide

Mollie Davies
Mollie is a UK based, Welsh, lifestyle journalist. She writes frequently on all things involving women, health and fitness, and beauty - amongst other topics. Her work can be found in Cosmopolitan, Insider, the Independent, Women’s Health and more. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the pottery wheel or walking her basset hound.