Running and rowing both let you create workouts that burn calories and challenge your heart and lungs, but each has pros and cons. The impact, stress and muscle use are quite different, and if you have to choose one, it's good to know the benefits and potential problems each type of workout presents.
Running works your body primarily from the waist down, emphasizing your calves, hamstrings and buttocks on uphill and even grades, recruiting your quadriceps and hips more to help you slow your movements on steep downhill grades. While you swing your arms during running, it's not against resistance, providing little or no muscle-building benefit. Rowing is a full-body exercise that recruits your shoulder, back, chest, arm, core, hip and leg muscles to work against resistance. A rowing workout provides more muscle-building benefit than running.
When you run, both feet leave the ground at once, making the exercise high-impact. This can cause repetitive stress on your back, knees, hips and ankles. Rowing is non-impact, but the repetitive motion and effort it takes to move the machine at higher resistance levels can stress your back, hips and knees. To create cardio workouts, you'll need to continue your movements for the duration of your workout, which can be difficult to do without pain for 30 minutes or longer, depending on any physical problems you have. With running, you can take breaks that include walking, which creates no stress on your body. During a rowing workout, unless you stop completely, you'll have to continue using your body from head to toe during slowdown periods.
During a 30-minute run, a 125-pound person will burn approximately 250 calories running 12-minute miles, 300 calories running 10-minute miles and 330 calories running nine-minute miles. Rowing at a moderate intensity, this person will burn 210 calories every 30 minutes, and 255 calories rowing at a vigorous pace.
Sprint, or interval, training, is an effective way to improve cardio stamina, muscular endurance, your ability to recover during sports and the number of calories you burn during a workout. Running intervals requires no change in resistance against your muscles, possibly making it easier to add sprints to your workouts compared to rowing. Creating intervals on a rowing machine requires an increase in your resistance setting to temporarily raise your heart rate, or a decrease in resistance to raise your heart rate with faster rowing, or more muscular effort at your normal resistance setting to increase your heart rate. Rowing sprints with the same or increased resistance makes it more difficult to recover unless you reduce your resistance setting.