Rowing Crazy


“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing
We Actually Row!”

“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

Kayaking Vs Rowing: Which Offers the Best Workout and Is the Fastest?

kayaking vs rowing - which offers the best Workout

Hi friends! Today, I want to talk to all of you who have been considering rowing or kayaking but can’t quite make up your mind about which you want to try.

I really feel your indecision! There are so many fun things to do in this world I think everyone should try just about everything at least once!

Is Kayaking the Same as Rowing?

While kayaking and rowing seem to be the same, they really aren’t.

To compare apples to apples, I’m going to talk about the kind of kayaking that you do sitting down, not the standup paddleboards, but I do recommend that you give those standup paddleboards a try! They are so much fun!

What are the differences between kayaking and rowing? What about paddling and rowing? Kayaking vs rowing—what are their similarities?

I’m going to answer those questions, including which is faster and which one is the better workout (for those of you who want to lose weight or improve your fitness level).

There’s a lot of ground to cover so grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and let’s get down to business.

What Is the Difference Between Kayaking and Rowing?

rowing vs kayaking

Similarities exist between these two sports—both are done on the water, both involve sitting in a small boat, and both use oars to propel the boat.

That’s about where the similarities end.

The differences between kayaking and rowing include:

  • A kayaker uses one paddle and moves it from one side to the other to keep the boat going forward.
  • Rowing, depending on whether we are talking about sweep rowing or sculling, uses either one oar held with both hands or two oars, one held in each hand.
  • A kayaker moves the boat forward. Rowers (sculling or sweep rowing) move their boat backward.
  • The boats are also different. Rowing has rigging that holds the oars in place. A kayak’s paddle is free from any mechanism to hold it in place. Some kayakers attach a small piece of rope to ensure that the paddle doesn’t drift off if they should drop it, but that would be the only thing attaching the paddle to the boat.
  • Boats for rowing have sliding seats since rowers use their legs to push themselves forward and back. Kayaks have no such sliding seats. Some have a place to tie down the kayaker’s feet, but there are no sliding seats.
  • Inflatable kayaks are not uncommon. While these might sound flimsy, the materials used to manufacture kayaks can withstand a light hit to rocks or jetties. In fact, many people can’t tell the inflatable kayaks from regular kayaks. The best thing about it is that you can dismantle and store an inflatable kayak in the trunk of your car. Try doing that with a row boat!
  • Last, boats for rowing are generally narrower than a kayak. The center of gravity of a row boat designed for several people makes the boat nearly impossible to capsize. That isn’t true of kayaks, which can easily flip over in the hands of a novice.

This chart demonstrates some of the differences between kayaking and rowing.

Rowing Kayaking
Average Number of Calories Burned per Minute 7 calories for every two strokes 4-5 calories for every two strokes
Rowing Motion & Direction of the Boat Backward Forward
Number of Oars/Paddles Minimum of 2 oars (More if you have more people in the boat) One paddle (most kayaking is done solo)
Sliding Seat? Yes No
Provides a cardiovascular workout? Yes Yes
Which is a faster, harder workout? Rowing is harder Kayaks are lighter boats, requiring less effort
Rowing uses nearly the entire body, including the legs, glutes, arms, shoulders, chest, and arms Using one oar, alternating sides means that the torso, waist, shoulders, chest, and arms do most of the work

Which Is Faster? Rowing or Kayaking?

Rowing wins this race hands down.

If you compare the different times between Olympic rowing, kayaking, and canoeing, it’s easy to see that you can go much faster when rowing.

Action shot of Coxed Men's 8 sweep team in a rowing competition

Row boats can reach speeds of between 10 and 14 MPH, depending on the number of people in the boat, wind speed, and other factors.

Canoes can hit speeds of 3-4 MPH.  FYI:  You might also like to read my other article Canoeing vs Rowing

A kayak can reach speeds of 3-5 MPH, but it’s interesting to note that there is an entry in the Guinness World Book of Records where one kayaker clocked in at 39MPH! It makes me wonder if he went over Niagara Falls to get that kind of speed!

Anyway, as you can see, rowing is the much faster way to get around, if speed is what you have in mind.

Is Kayaking Considered Rowing?

A man kayaking on a lake

No, these are very different sports, but you will often hear people interchange the two.

For example, people might talk about “rowing” their kayak down some river, or they will call the paddle an oar.

I’ve never heard a rower say that they were kayaking downstream, but I have heard some newbies talk about their paddle, when they meant the oar.

These are simple mistakes since the two sports appear to be the same. Once you’ve really practiced one or the other, you’ll immediately understand the differences.

Which Offers a Better Workout: Kayaking or Rowing?

This is another one where rowing takes first place.

While this is not to say that kayaking and the side-to-side paddling strokes are not a difficult workout, the truth is that you will get a better workout rowing.

a woman rowing a single scull

Rowing uses 86 percent of the muscles in your body. Everything from the ankles, calves, thighs, glutes, abdomen, back, shoulders, arms, and chest are working with every single stroke.

When you are sitting in a rowing boat, your feet are strapped down and the seat slides with the motion of your legs. By pushing with your legs, you get a more powerful rowing stroke.

This is why it is not uncommon for a person to burn 600-900 calories an hour when rowing!

Compare rowing to kayaking as a way to work out your body.

In a kayak, your legs are pretty much just sitting there in the boat. You are working everything from the hips to the shoulders, the back and arms, but really nothing is happening below the hips.

A man happily kayaking alone

The average calorie burn in a kayak is about 400-500 calories per hour, but your leg muscles don’t get a workout. It means that you’ll need to do another form of workout that puts your legs to work.

Rowing is perhaps the best workout in the world since you get a terrific cardiovascular workout, a strength training workout, and one that uses nearly every muscle in your body with every single stroke.

Which Is Better for Me? Rowing or Kayaking?

The answer to this question is going to depend on your personal preferences and goals.

If your legs are disabled, then you will want to check out kayaking.

If you want the best possible workout, you should consider rowing.

If you like to be alone on the water, you can do either, but it is more common to see kayakers by themselves.

If you want to see the scenery and aren’t really interested in going fast or racing, kayaking might be your perfect sport.

If you get bored easily, and you want to fly across the water like a seagull, then a rowing boat is your answer.

If you can’t afford a rowing boat, kayaks are much less expensive, especially the inflatable ones.

If you live near a body of water, chances are that there is a boat club or rowing club where you can borrow or rent boats easily.

Everyone is different, so there is no right or wrong answer here. Take into consideration your likes, dislikes, and personal tastes before you make a decision.

Can Kayaks and Row Boats Go in the Same Places?

Pretty much, yes, they can.

If we are talking about physically getting the kayak or rowing boat into the water, there isn’t that much difference, other than a longer rowing boat may need several people to lift it to the water, while a kayak can usually be managed by one or two persons.

silhouette of a rower sculling alone

Both are non-motorized watercrafts, so most lakes and streams have no restrictions. However, be aware that some cities or counties will require that you purchase a day pass or a seasonal boat pass. Check with the municipality in case this is true in your area.

As for using a kayak or rowing boat alongside other boats, there is rarely a problem. The boat with the least amount of maneuverability is generally given the right of way and motorboats are often restricted to certain areas. Be polite and keep an eye out for rough water and other boats, and you should be fine.

An experienced kayaker can sometimes take their kayak out in rougher water, such as on the ocean, but you’ll find that you need some impressive kayaking skills to keep your kayak upright!

If you can carry your kayak to a particular waterway, then several rowers can carry their row boat to similar waterways.

Are There Indoor Kayak Machines?

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that I love my indoor rowing machines! I own a Hydrow and an Ergatta, both of which are outstanding.

While I have never heard of an indoor kayak machine, I decided to check out and see if anyone had developed one. You won’t believe this, but guess what, there is an indoor kayak paddle machine designed to give you a terrific workout that simulates kayaking.

Birkas Balazs working out on a kayak ergometer

Image from

It’s called KayakFirst and pretty impressive. You can use it standing up (as if you were on a paddle board), sitting down, or kneeling (similar to canoeing).

It’s good to know that even if you take up kayaking, you can purchase an indoor kayak machine and keep yourself in shape when the season is over.

What About Canoeing? Is it Good Exercise?

Canoeing is very similar to kayaking, and while they both work out the upper body, you’ll find they don’t give you quite the same workout as rowing does.

If you’ve got a canoe, this can be a great way to break up the boredom that often comes from doing the same sport over and over.

For example, if you love to run but find that you get super-bored on a treadmill, you can always do some canoeing in the summer months.

Couple canoeing on a lake

While most kayaks are designed for a single person, you’ll find that you can take out your canoe and go solo or have a friend take a seat in your boat!

You can get a terrific cardiovascular workout and burn quite a few calories as well. An average 175 pound man canoeing steadily at 4MPH can burn 600-750 calories an hour.

Like kayaking, your legs don’t get too much of a workout, unless you decide to kneel as you paddle. The isometrics of contracting your leg muscles to keep you balanced helps to keep those gams looking good.

Canoeing is often done on lakes or streams, which gives the term “taking in the scenery” a whole new angle.

Take along a friend and get in some exercise, as you socialize at the same time.

Which Is More Expensive? Canoe, Kayak, or Row Boat?

Part of this answer will depend on how big of a row boat you want, but to give you an idea, let’s compare a two-person row boat to a two-person canoe and kayak.

Kayaks, especially inflatable kayaks, are less expensive than a row boat. You can find an inflatable kayak for $200 and a two-seater for about $1500 dollars.

rowing shells on display

A two-seater sculling boat can go for $5,000, but you’ll find that price is hard to come by. It’s not uncommon to see a new scull for $10,000 or more.

A canoe can go from $650 to $1500. You can often find used canoes for less than $400 during the winter months.

If cost is an issue, consider a canoe or kayak, since they are cheaper than a row boat.

The Bottom Line

If you think you’ll just be on the water for a few weekends a year, you should absolutely consider a canoe or kayak.

Kayaks are the less expensive option, and inflatable kayaks can be easily stored when not in use.

Canoes are also a less expensive option, and if you are looking for fun water sports that you can do with your spouse or a friend, they are another great option.

Rowing costs most, but you also get the most physical workout with rowing boats. Get an erg to use during the coldest months, and you will have an exercise routine that is second to none!

Rowing requires a commitment, and the average person will see not only weight loss but tight, toned muscles across the whole body.

If you love rowing, join a club to help offset the costs of a boat and get an erg to keep yourself in the best condition possible.

Live healthy, friends, and happy paddling or rowing!

1 thought on “Kayaking Vs Rowing: Which Offers the Best Workout and Is the Fastest?”

  1. Pingback: Paddle Vs Oar: What Is the Predominant Distinction - My blog

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