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Rowing on water tends to be a more vigorous workout than rowing on an indoor "erg" trainer.
Some people choose an exercise for the sheer love of doing the activity; others do it because they know they'll burn a lot of calories. If you're the second type, you may be concerned about choosing the activities that will expend the highest number of calories. Among some of the biggies are running and rowing, though as you'll see, choosing between them shouldn't always be about caloric expenditure.
Start by looking at the number of calories you'll burn during each exercise -- which represents the energy expenditure for each exercise. If you weigh 185 pounds and you row at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, expect to burn about 311 calories. Speed up to a vigorous pace and you'll burn about 377 calories in that half hour. If you weigh 185 pounds and you run at a moderate pace of 5 miles per hour, you can expect to burn about 355 calories in 30 minutes. Speed up to a vigorous pace of 7.5 miles per hour, and you'll burn roughly 555 calories during that half-hour session.
Running usually results in a higher energy expenditure than rowing. This is likely because you're not sitting down while you're doing it, and thus, you're recruiting your muscles more actively. When you run, leg muscles -- including the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, gluteals and calves -- do most of the work, but the abdominal muscles of your core and your swinging arms also get a workout. When you row, you're actually using most of your body. Your glutes, quads and hamstrings help to push your body backward during the start of the "drive," and your arms, shoulders and back kick in to complete the motion and pull the oars -- or handles -- toward you. When you move back forward, called the "recovery," your triceps and abdominals are doing most of the work.
You Get Out What You Put In
While running at a vigorous pace will result in higher caloric expenditure, according to Harvard Medical School's estimations, the actual number of calories you burn doing one exercise or the other ultimately depends on the energy you put into it. If you're able to row for a longer period than you're able to run, for example, the caloric expenditure is going to even out. Likewise, adding more resistance to your rowing machine can help you burn more calories. And don't forget personal preference when you're choosing one activity over the other. If you dread the thought of running, you're likely to spend less time or put in less effort, resulting in fewer calories burned.
Keep Variety in Mind
Another thing to keep in mind is the notion of muscle adaptation. When you do the same form of exercise time and again, your body becomes adapted to that work load. This can result in burning fewer calories and making less progress in building muscle than when you first started the activity, not to mention that it can be boring to do the same exercises all the time. With that in mind, don't base all of your decisions about exercise on which ones burn the highest number of calories. Mix things up every week or two and try a new class or a high-intensity interval workout instead of the same steady-state exercise. If you enjoy both rowing and running, you could also toggle between the two every week -- one week for rowing, the next week for running.