Rowing vs Cardio For Weight Loss

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Rowing vs Cardio For Weight Loss

When it comes to weight loss, finding the proper exercise regimen is crucial. Two popular choices stand out among the numerous options: rowing and traditional cardiovascular exercises. While both can help you achieve your weight loss goals, the approach and benefits they offer differ.

In this comprehensive comparison, we explore the effectiveness of rowing vs cardio for weight loss. Discovering their unique benefits and potential advantages of each approach, equipping you with the essential information needed to kickstart your successful weight loss journey.

Rowing For Weight Loss

Rowing is an exceptional cardiovascular exercise that not only helps you maintain your overall health but also offers numerous benefits such as boosting your metabolism, which can greatly support weight loss efforts.

One of the most commonly used machines to replicate the motion of rowing a boat is the flywheel rower. This machine mimics the resistance and movement involved in rowing, providing a highly effective and efficient workout. It is a popular choice among individuals who wish to engage in rowing as a form of exercise.

Apart from its cardiovascular benefits, rowing is particularly advantageous for individuals aiming to burn calories and reduce body fat. This full-body workout engages major muscle groups, including the legs, core, back, and arms, resulting in a high calorie burn and improved muscle tone. Regular rowing sessions can contribute to a more efficient fat-burning process, helping individuals achieve their weight loss goals.

Benefits Of Rowing

To lose weight, a calorie deficit is crucial, which involves increasing physical activity and reducing caloric intake. Starting with a daily deficit of 500 calories is typically recommended1.

Rowing offers numerous benefits that can help achieve this deficit. Consistent rowing helps bridge the calorie shortfall while providing additional advantages, and these include:

Promoting Fat Loss

Rowing is an excellent exercise for mobilizing fat stores for use as fuel2,3,4. Rowing offers a combination of cardiovascular and strength training benefits, making it an efficient exercise for burning calories and shedding excess body fat.

When rowing is combined with healthy eating, fat loss is the most likely outcome. Eating fewer calories than you expend each day can also aid fat loss. Consuming more protein and vegetables might help you feel full while consuming fewer calories, as can replacing sugary beverages with water and avoiding processed foods5.

Low-impact Exercise

Rowing’s low-impact aspect is a significant perk. You don’t need to sprint or jump. As a result, you can work out without worrying about causing any damage to your joints. People with conditions like arthritis can benefit greatly from this form of exercise.

Rowing is the finest workout for nearly every health and fitness goal, including weight loss, power increase, muscle and bone growth, and cardiovascular fitness maintenance. In a study, joint torques or rotations at the elbow, lumbar spine, shoulder, and knee were 30% better after eight weeks of rowing while running and other high-impact workouts had the opposite effect6.

Suitable For All Fitness Levels

Rowing is a versatile exercise that is suitable for individuals of all fitness levels. In fact, it is appropriate for individuals with low vision or blindness.

A 2015 study found that rowing five days a week for six weeks led to significant reductions in fat mass and total body fat percentage among 24 adults with limited vision7.

Builds Power And Endurance

Rowing combines cardiovascular and strength training, resulting in increased strength and resilience. It enhances power through movements like jumps, sprints, and powerful strikes.

During an upright row, power is generated from the legs to move the body back and the arms to perform the rowing motion. The ability to keep rowing for a long time is an example of physical endurance. The cardiovascular and muscular endurance goals can both be met through rowing8.


Rowing is a highly efficient exercise that allows you to reach your weight loss goals quickly. It provides a comprehensive cardio and strength training workout, engaging your entire body. Additionally, incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into rowing sessions offers added benefits.

Studies have shown that HIIT improves heart function and increases oxygen demand even after the workout, resulting in continued calorie expenditure. Interestingly, low-volume HIIT sessions (less than 15 minutes) have been found to be as effective, if not more, than longer high-volume HIIT (more than 30 minutes) or moderate-intensity continuous training (more than 60 minutes) in terms of fitness improvement, glycemic control, blood pressure, and cardiac function9.

Calorie Burner

Rowing is an exceptional calorie burner, making it a powerful tool for weight loss and overall fitness. Using MET x bodyweight in kg x 3.5, the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities estimates that a 180-pound person can burn around 200 calories in 30 minutes of moderately intense rowing. If the same person engages in a highly intense 30-minute workout, they will burn 500 calories10.

Bone Health

While rowing is low-impact, it helps build bone density, which is crucial for warding off osteoporosis.

Sixty rowers, cross-country runners, swimmers, and sedentary adults were studied to determine markers of bone reabsorption and cartilage stress for an article in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. It showed that the rowing machine provided the advantages of running and weight-bearing exercises for bone health11.

Side Effects Of Rowing

Rowing has a lot of benefits and for some, they are a great way to simultaneously work out more than one body part. But like any other activity, there are potential side effects and certain precautions:

Muscle Soreness

Rowing uses many major muscle groups, specifically the legs, back, arms, and core. When starting a new rowing workout or intensifying your current routine, it’s normal to experience muscle soreness.

This muscle soreness, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), occurs as a result of the muscles adapting to the increased demands placed upon them. It is a natural response and typically subsides within a few days.


If you row the wrong way or push yourself too hard, you could hurt your lower back, shoulders, arms, or knees. It’s important to use the right form and move slowly to avoid getting hurt.


Overtraining happens when you row too much without getting enough rest and healing. This makes you tired, affects your performance, and makes you more likely to get hurt.

Joint Strain

Rowing is generally considered a low-impact workout; however, it’s important to note that improper technique or excessive training can still put strain on your knees and shoulders.

To prevent joint injuries, it’s essential to ensure proper rowing form and avoid overdoing it. Pay attention to your technique, making sure to execute each stroke correctly and not placing excessive stress on your knees and shoulders.

Sores And Rough Spots

Individuals who are new to rowing may experience the development of blisters and calluses on their hands due to the repetitive rubbing motion involved in rowing.

Cardio For Weight Loss

Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise, is also known as aerobic exercise. It involves activities that increase your heart and lung activity, benefiting both your cardiovascular system and major muscle groups, such as your legs and torso.

Engaging in cardio workouts elevates your heart rate, promoting better cardiovascular health and improving the efficiency of your heart and lungs. It helps strengthen your heart muscle and enhances its ability to pump oxygenated blood throughout your body.

Furthermore, cardio exercises target large muscle groups like your legs and torso, leading to increased muscle strength and endurance. Regular cardio workouts contribute to improved overall fitness, increased stamina, and enhanced muscle tone.

Benefits Of Cardio

Physical activity is good for your health from head to toe. Here are some perks of cardio you might not know about:

Increased Mood And Energy

Regular cardio exercise releases feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, improving mental well-being, relaxation, energy levels, self-confidence, and stress relief. A study found that college students who engaged in cardio exercise were better at handling stress and problem-solving, thanks to the mood-enhancing effects11. Incorporating cardio into your routine can provide a mental boost and help you cope with challenging situations more effectively.

Weight Loss

Incorporating cardio exercise into your routine is a straightforward and effective way to support weight loss goals. Research has shown that regular cardio workouts lead to significant changes in body fat percentages12.

When your heart rate increases during cardio, you burn more calories, creating a caloric deficit that facilitates weight loss. By combining healthy eating with cardio exercise and strength training, you can achieve successful weight loss.

Enhancing Intimacy

Regular physical exercise, including cardio workouts, has the potential to improve various aspects of your sex life. Engaging in cardio exercise can contribute to enhanced stamina, increased energy levels, improved circulation, and increased overall fitness.

These factors can positively impact sexual performance, endurance, and satisfaction. A study in the Journal of Sexual Health found that women with female sexual dysfunction were more excited after doing cardio13.

Increases Heart Health

The main benefit of cardio is heart health, which is in the name itself. A study in The Internal Journal of Physical Medicine that experts reviewed showed that regular cardiovascular exercise at mild levels of intensity may lower your risk of heart disease, lowering your risk of heart attacks. Researchers also indicated that doing cardio daily may make you live longer14.

Lowers Risk Of Dementia

Regular cardio exercise has been associated with a reduced risk of dementia. A study from the National Library of Medicine found that people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease who did cardio had better memory than those who didn’t15.

Exercising regularly strengthens your brain, and your hippocampi don’t shrink as much. Hippocampal atrophy is a fancy word for your brain getting smaller. Your memories are stored in the hippocampus, so when it shrinks, it causes confusion or Alzheimer’s15.

Side Effects Of Cardio

Cardio exercise is generally safe and beneficial for most individuals. However, it’s important to be aware of potential side effects that can occur, especially if the exercise is performed improperly or excessively. Some possible side effects of cardio exercise include:


Cardio workouts can make you sweat a lot, and if you don’t drink enough water before, during, and after the workout, you could become dehydrated.

Heat-Related Issues

If you don’t take the right measures, doing cardio in hot and humid weather can make you more likely to get heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Overtraining Syndrome

Overtraining syndrome can happen if you do too much cardio without getting enough rest and healing. This syndrome is marked by fatigue, decreased performance, mood changes, and other health problems.

Joint Problems

Over time, doing high-impact cardio workouts every day can cause wear and tear on the bones, ligaments, and tendons, which could lead to long-term orthopedic problems.

Rowing Vs Cardio For Weight Loss: Main Comparisons

Rowing and traditional cardiovascular exercises are both effective methods for weight loss, but they have some essential differences that can influence your decision on which one to choose. Let’s compare rowing and traditional cardio exercises for weight loss:

Caloric Expenditure

Rowing: Rowing is a full-body workout that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This makes rowing a highly efficient calorie-burning exercise. On average, rowing can burn around 500-800 calories per hour, depending on factors like intensity, weight, and workout duration.

Traditional Cardio: Traditional cardio exercises like running, cycling, or using the elliptical machine can also burn many calories. The caloric expenditure can be similar to rowing, but it depends on the exercise intensity and duration.

Muscle Engagement

Rowing: Rowing involves upper and lower body muscles, including legs, back, core, and arms. This results in improved muscle tone and increased metabolism after the workout.

Traditional Cardio: While traditional cardio exercises also engage muscles, they typically focus more on the lower body muscles. They may provide less upper body workout than rowing.

Impact on Joints

Rowing: Rowing is a low-impact exercise that puts less stress on your joints than high-impact activities like running or jumping. This makes it suitable for individuals with joint issues or those looking to minimize the impact on their joints.

Traditional Cardio: Some traditional cardio exercises, especially running or jumping exercises, can be high-impact and potentially put more stress on the joints, leading to a higher risk of injuries.

Upper Body Engagement

Rowing: As mentioned earlier, rowing extensively engages the upper body muscles, providing more balanced and comprehensive muscle development.

Traditional Cardio: Traditional cardio exercises tend to focus more on the lower body muscles, and though they still engage some upper body muscles, they may provide a different level of upper body workout than rowing.

Enjoyment and Sustainability

Rowing: Whether rowing is enjoyable and sustainable depends on personal preferences. Some people find rowing enjoyable and engaging, while others may not feel the same way.

Traditional Cardio: Traditional cardio exercises offer various options, such as running, cycling, dancing, or swimming, which can cater to different interests and preferences.


In summary, rowing and traditional cardiovascular exercises are effective for weight loss but have different approaches and benefits.

Rowing is a fantastic full-body workout that can burn many calories and promote fat loss with a healthy diet. It is a low-impact exercise, making it suitable for people with joint issues. Rowing also provides excellent benefits for bone health and overall endurance.

On the other hand, traditional cardiovascular exercises like running or cycling can also burn calories and contribute to weight loss. These exercises primarily focus on lower-body workouts and may not engage the upper-body muscles as extensively as rowing.

Ultimately, the choice between rowing and traditional cardio depends on individual preferences, fitness levels, and existing health conditions. Whichever option you choose, maintaining a consistent exercise routine and a balanced diet will be vital to achieving your weight loss goals.


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