Swimming vs. Rowing – Which Burns More Fat?


Both swimming and rowing share a lot in common and are often recommended as excellent ways to burn fat. In contrast to most other cardio exercises such as walking, running or cycling – swimming and rowing work a large number of muscle groups throughout your body, which is why they are often referred to as ‘total body’ exercises.

Of course it is only natural to be curious as to which is better at burning fat, but unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Instead, it would be more beneficial to look at both exercises from several different aspects:

  • Calories

Often regarded as the ‘standard’ by which the fat-burning potential of workouts are judged, the fact of the matter is that the calories burned by both swimming and rowing are similar – though rowing does have a slight edge. Of course, the pace, form, and intensity of the workouts have a part to play, but on average rowing burns about 100 calories more per hour (about 700 calories per hour vs. 600 calories per hour for swimming).

  • Muscle groups

Rowing has developed a strong reputation as ‘the’ total body workout as with proper form it can work over 85% of the muscles in your body. However, swimming isn’t that far behind – especially if you vary the strokes that you use in order to work for more muscle groups.

  • Impact

Unlike other forms of cardio exercises such as running, rowing and swimming both are an extremely low impact. Because of that, there is little risk of injury, even when working out at high intensity – and that is part of why both these workouts are great for burning fat.

Use High-Intensity Interval Training

As you can see there really is very little that separates both rowing and swimming – though rowing does have a slight edge in some regards. That being said what you’ll find is that how you work out is just as important as the workout you choose.

That is where High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) comes in. It is a relatively newer form of working out that has been gaining popularity due to how effective it is at burning fat.

Essentially HIIT involves varying the intensity of your workout so that you incorporate spans of very high intensity in your workout (normally about 30 seconds to 1 minute in duration). Typically an HIIT workout would involve 2 minutes at a moderate or high-intensity pace, followed by 30 seconds of very high intensity before dropping back down to 2 minutes of moderate or high intensity – and then repeating the cycle.

Needless to say, this type of training can be applied equally well to both swimming and rowing to amplify the effectiveness of both. Assuming you are serious about wanting to burn fat, you should definitely start using it.


Considering how similar both exercises are – it would be best to simply choose what you’re more comfortable with. Form counts for a lot for both swimming and rowing, so by picking the exercise that you are able to perform better you’ll have an easier time starting HIIT. The other factor you should consider is whether you have access to rowing machines or a swimming pool – which will be necessary depending on your choice.

Assuming you feel comfortable with both then there’s no harm in varying your workouts and swimming on some days while rowing on others. In any case regardless of which, you choose you should soon notice the results of the effort that you put in, while not having to worry too much about injuries due to the low impact nature of the exercises.

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