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Swimming vs Rowing: Which Rocks Your Bod Better?

swimming vs rowing

In today’s article, we are going to talk about swimming vs rowing, and which is the better workout.

I know that if you’ve ever talked to your doctor or physical therapist about losing weight or what the perfect fitness routine is, chances are that they suggested swimming.

I’m not one to argue here since I really love swimming, but in all honesty, as great as swimming can be, it isn’t the best when it comes to total body conditioning, enhancing aerobic capacity, or burning calories.

If you’ve got a nice heated swimming pool and no access to a rowing machine, then, by all means, you should continue to swim like a dolphin!

However, if you’re wondering how you can get into the best shape of your life, get some 6-pack abs, and burn a major number of calories, then you should keep reading.

The Pros and Cons of Indoor Rowing

Both swimming and rowing are excellent forms of exercise, but you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of both to make a more informed decision about your exercise routine.

rowing machine vs swimming


    • Rowing is a true full-body workout, recruiting all nine major muscle groups of the body
    • Rowing machines are far less expensive than building or maintaining a pool
    • A rowing workout is better for building muscle
  • Rowing burns more calories than swimming
  • A rowing machine is a low-impact workout
  • Most people with injuries can still use their rowing machine
  • A rowing machine can fit almost anywhere
  • Rowing is quick and easy to learn, with many people picking up the proper rowing form in about 30 minutes


  • If done incorrectly, you can injure your back
  • Some rowing machines (mainly air resistance rowers) are extremely noisy
  • While rowing machines can fit in any home more easily than a pool, they still take up space and must be stored somewhere when not in use
  • Lower priced rowing machines (machines that are not smart rowers) can be boring unless you really love rowing

The Pros and Cons of Swimming

What can I say, I am crazy for rowing so I might be a bit prejudiced here, but I do enjoy swimming as well. So let’s turn our attention to swimming now so you can decide for yourself.


  • Swimming is nearly a total body workout
  • It is virtually zero-impact
  • Your risk of injury is also next to nothing
  • Even if you are nursing an injury, chances are that you can continue to swim
  • Swimming is fun
  • You don’t feel hot and sweaty while swimming
  • You can burn a substantial number of calories while swimming


  • You need access to a pool
  • It takes more time than other exercises (driving or walking to the pool, changing clothes, showering afterward, getting dressed again, the works)
  • Swimming can take months or even years to learn
  • You don’t usually feel out of breath or sweaty, so you may not work as hard
  • Swimming is not a weight-bearing exercise, which you can get simply by walking

If you have easy access to a pool and you already know how to swim, some of the above points are moot, but these are the basic pros and cons of using swimming as your main form of exercise.

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So Which Is the Better Workout for You?

It’s easy to see why some people choose rowing and others choose swimming. There are pros and cons to both swimming and rowing, so you should pick the one that works best for your life situation.

Personally, I’ll stick to my rowing machine as an everyday calorie-burning workout and swim when the weather is blistering hot.

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Is Swimming Harder Than Rowing?

Like rowing, swimming is a terrific low-impact exercise. The water supports most of your body weight, so there is little risk that you will damage your joints.

Swimming must be learned. In comparison, the rowing strokes do need to be done properly to avoid hurting your lower back, but you can learn to row a lot faster than you can learn to swim.

Swimming probably feels harder than rowing because you are actually only using your leg and arm muscles, not the entire body. Your core might be engaged a bit on certain strokes, but for the most part, swimming only works the upper and lower body.

I think some people prefer swimming because you don’t sit there feeling sweat drip down your back!

At the end of the day, swimming may feel like you are doing more work, but calorie burn says otherwise.

Which Burns More Calories- Swimming or Rowing?

Rowing is the winner here, no doubt about it.

Calories Burned – Swimming vs Rowing vs Other Activities

Exercise Type Calories Burned in 30 Minutes
Swimming (Crawl) 257 
Rowing 450 
Running 350 
Stationary Bike 300 

Of course, these numbers can vary depending on your age, sex, current weight, the type of swimming stroke you do, and your rowing intensity. Still, the fact remains that, other than jumping rope, rowing will help you lose weight (learn more) and burn fat better than any other exercise.

Rowing works between 84 and 86 percent of the muscles in your body, while swimming (depending on the stroke you choose) works about 68 percent of the body’s muscles.

There is no doubt that swimming is a great exercise, but when it comes to burning calories, you can’t beat rowing.

Is a Rowing Machine a Good Substitute for Swimming?

For me, numbers don’t lie, and wherever I look, it’s crystal clear that rowing comes first. In other words, I can’t agree about it playing second fiddle or just a ‘substitute’ to swimming.

However, if you’re a swimmer with your own swimming pool at home and looking for an alternative or additional form of exercise, then yes, using a rowing machine will be a great option for you.

rowing machine for swimmers

Swimming and rowing offer similar cardiovascular benefits. Both types of exercise work the upper body and lower body, but rowing is the true full-body workout that works all nine muscle groups in the body.

When you can’t gain access to your swimming pool, using an indoor rowing machine should be your next course of action.

Does Rowing Work the Same Muscles as Swimming?

Both indoor rowing and swimming work many of the same muscles. While rowing will burn more calories, the injury risk with swimming is far less than rowing.

Rowing and swimming are both low-impact, and the risk of injury on a rowing machine is very small, but swimming has virtually zero risk unless you fall as you walk around the pool!

Swimming basically works the arms, shoulders, legs, and glutes.

Rowing works almost the entire body. I believe rowing will not work your face and feet muscles, but that’s about all.

Rowing will give you an effective muscle toning workout since it will work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lats, core, shoulders, triceps, back, and biceps all at the same time.

While swimming is often called a full-body workout, it falls short when compared to rowing.

If you want to build new muscle, get a terrific full-body workout, get those lean, toned dancer muscles, work your entire cardiovascular system, and enjoy the health benefits of a low-impact workout, you should consider adding a rowing class to your fitness routine.   Side Note:  If you want continued motivation when working out be sure to read my article on the Aviron Impact Series Rower.

Swimming vs Rowing – Other Benefits

If you or your children suffer from allergies or asthma, studies have found that swimming is the best form of exercise for you.

For those with lung problems, swimming will develop good breathing techniques, increase your lung capacity, and improve general, all over fitness levels.

Rowing will help you to dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness level. You can easily reach your target heart rate while using a rowing machine and keep it there, which not only helps your heart but also burns fat.

Recent technological developments have allowed for the creation of smart rowers, sometimes called connected rowers, which keep you interested in your workout program longer by offering games, races, beautiful scenery, and upbeat instructors.

Swimming is not visually stimulating, but it can be meditative due to the repetitive nature of the sport and the calming effect of water.  

The Bottom Line

The fact is that if you have easy access to a pool and you love to swim, you might want to continue to swim as your main source of exercise.

If you don’t have access to a pool or if you have a rowing machine handy, you will most likely choose rowing to be your main source of exercise.

The best of both worlds would be that if you have access to both, a swimming pool and a rowing machine, you could switch off between the two, doing rowing one day and swimming the next or do swimming one week and rowing the next.

Rowing is easier, burns more calories, and works more muscles.

Swimming won’t have you wiping sweat out of your eyes or feeling overheated.

Swimming vs Rowing- which should you choose?

The one that you will commit yourself to do 5 or 6 days each week, for 20-30- minutes at a time.

Stay safe and happy rowing!

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