When you're trying to choose between one sport and another for fun or fitness, a big part of the equation is your personal enjoyment. If you don't like what you're doing, you're not likely to keep doing it. If you're trying to determine whether running or rowing is for you, there's no reason that you can't do a little of both whenever the mood strikes. However, if you're comparing the body shape and other features of runners versus rowers, you'll find that they're quite different sports that elicit very different results.
When it comes to the body areas and muscles actively recruited, rowing uses your shoulders, back, core, biceps and triceps as well as your leg muscles, including your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. In essence, rowing is a cardio exercise as well as a strength-training exercise. Running, on the other hand, is more focused specifically on your legs, working your gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and core, offering more cardio but less muscle strengthening.
When comes to body shape, rowers tend to have a more toned, muscular shape overall, whereas distance runners -- not counting sprinters -- tend to be thinner, with the toned look only on the lower half. When you're talking about elite athletes in Olympic-level competitions, sports scientists have no problem picking the runners from the rowers; each, it seems, is born with a certain body type that makes them more likely to succeed in the sport. High-level rowers are usually about 6 feet, 5 inches tall and about 215 pounds, while distance runners are 1 foot shorter than that and much lighter, said exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler in an article in "Inside Science." In the case of elite athletes, someone who is very good at one sport isn't likely to be at an elite level at another -- though that shouldn't keep the average person from trying any sport that keeps them active.
According to MayoClinic.com's "Calories Burned" chart, running does burn more calories per hour, in a general sense. For a 160-pound person, you'll burn an average of 606 calories running at a 5-mile-per-hour pace. Stationary rowing, meanwhile, will burn an average of 438 calories per hour for that same-size person. It's probably obvious why running burns more calories. When you run, you're responsible for moving your entire body through space, whereas when you're rowing, you're sitting down, and in the case of stationary rowing, you have a nice, sliding track to help propel your body backward and forward. What that means when you're comparing rowers versus runners is that runners may have to spend less time on their chosen activity in order to get the same caloric burn.
Time and Intensity
When you're looking at a chart that shows the number of calories burned during any exercise, it's always important to remember that every person is going to be different and behave in different ways during exercise. The number of calories you burn during any type of physical activity is dependent on the amount of time you put in, your overall form and the intensity at which you do the exercise. The bottom line is that you may be the person who burns more calories rowing than you do running, simply because you put more intensity into the run. If you're trying to decide whether you want to be a runner or a rower, also keep in mind that rowing is a low-impact exercise, while running is definitely high-impact. If you're the person with joint pain or arthritis, rowing may be the better choice for you -- just be sure to give it your all.
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