Rowing vs. Kayaking: Which Activity is Right for You?

If you are looking for an active outdoor sport, kayaking or rowing may be just what you need.

Both kayaks and rowboats have advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease of use, comfort level, and the types of activities they can accommodate.

We will explore kayaking vs. rowing in this post to find out which activity is right for you.

With his dog by his side, a man is rowing a kayak

Differences between paddling and rowing

At first sight, it may seem to be the same as kayaking and rowing, but there are some differences. Some similarities exist: kayaks can be used solo or with others in either kayaking or rowing; both require hands pulling and pushing a blade through the water to propel you forward.

Also, kayak/rowing boats have narrow seats that allow one person (or more) to sit.

But kayaks have a double-ended blade and oars for propulsion, whereas rowing boats use one single-ended blade on each side of the boat.

The kayak is propelled by pulling the paddle through the water in an alternating motion from left to right while pulling with your arms. The blades are wider than those used for kayaks, making them easier to use.

Rowing is a sport in which each rower sits on one side of the boat and faces the other person with whom they are rowing. Kayaking offers more maneuverability.


The first thing to consider is what your kayaking or rowing experience will be like.

Paddling kayaks usually means that you’ll have to propel the boat with a paddle in each hand, which means the kayaker will move forward. Paddles are not attached to anything and move freely through the air, only supported by the kayaker’s hands.

Rowing kayaks means that the kayaker will use a paddle in each hand, but the oars are attached to the boat. The rower goes backward, and the oarlocks act as a fulcrum which supports the paddles from being pulled out of the water by resisting their motion.

A stroke for every boat

It is essential to understand the difference between kayaking and rowing before deciding which activity is suitable for you.

Kayaks, canoes, rafts, and standup paddleboards are paddled.

Sweep-oar boats, sculls, and rowboats are rowed.

A coxswain may be present in some rowing events. The only person in the boat facing the direction of travel sits at the back of the craft.

Paddles and rowers have totally different propulsion methods.

The kayaker’s torso drives paddling strokes, while the legs and arms dominate rowing strokes.

During rowing, seats inside sweep-oar boats and sculls actually slide forward and back so that the legs can push and apply power. Kayaks, canoes, rafts, and standup paddleboards are paddled, but the seats are stationary.

It is crucial to understand kayaking vs. rowing before deciding which activity is right for you.

Kayakers use their torso to power kayaking strokes.

Standup paddlers use their torso and legs to power kayak strokes.

In a kayak, the seat is stationary, while in a rowboat, the seats slide forward and back so that the rower’s legs can push for propulsion.

Differences in other areas

Rowing vs. kayaking: which activity is right for you?

The best way to know whether kayaking or rowing is for you is to try them out.

Rowing kayaks are heavier than kayaks because they have a design that makes them more stable when used with an instructor and offers extra buoyancy in the water.

Kayaking is lightweight, easy to store, and much less stable on the water; kayakers must use more skill or be in kayaks with more stability.

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Are kayaking and rowing the same?

Kayaking and rowing are not the same experience. In kayaking, there is more emphasis on the legs and torso.

With kayaks, you use your legs to place yourself in a seated position close to the footboard. This is done with straps that keep your feet in place, so they can push against them while rowing.

In kayaking, when one side of your body is rotating/driving, the other side is either turning or pulling back.

In kayaking, you use your legs to push and pull against the footboard from a seated position, while rowing uses arms, making it more of an upper-body workout.

The apparent differences between kayaking and rowing techniques are how they’re done and the muscles they target.

Kayaking targets more of a kayaker’s torso and legs, while rowing is more upper-body driven since it uses your arms in order to move each stroke through.

The kayaker can use their legs to push against the footboard, while rowing uses their upper body and arms.

Both are excellent workouts, but kayaking is for folks who don’t want an arm workout. This is because it primarily targets one’s torso and leg muscles, whereas rowing works out both your upper and lower body.

On the other hand, rowing is an upper-body workout, and kayaking is a leg and torso-based activity.

In rowing, kayaking, and kayak paddling, the kayaker has a really long oar, and the sculler has a couple of long oars. However, the kayak paddle is not that large.

Rowing boats surge forward then glide as they settle, while kayaks have much faster stroke rates with some settling motion.

The kayak paddle has less leverage than the kayaker’s oars.

Rowing is an excellent workout for strength and cardio, while kayaking also provides effective exercises for your legs, arms, upper body, as well as stamina.

Both kayaks and rowboats are fantastic options for getting out on the water to enjoy nature, but should be done in moderation to avoid the risk of injury.

Several kayaks are waiting for someone to paddle or row them

Is a kayak or rowing boat more expensive?

Kayaks are definitely a cheaper option than rowing boats, but you do get what you pay for.

While kayaks usually cost less than $500, this can be deceiving as more expensive kayaks often last longer and have better features like a dry storage compartment or the ability to add an outrigger (a spar fixed outside of the boat).

Rowing boats can start at $1000 and go up to well over that.

If you’re not interested in racing, the kayak is a better option, but the boat might be better for those who want speed or more of an aerobic workout.

Can you row in the same places where you can kayak?

You can row in the same place where you usually kayak or want to kayak.

Rowing boats are perfect for lakes, rivers, and other similar waterways.

Kayaks can also kayak in these same areas because they have a more versatile design that allows them to be used in different water conditions, like calm or rough.

In general, kayaks excel at maneuvering around obstacles such as rocks, whereas rowboats just don’t have the same versatility.

That’s why kayaks are suitable for rougher waters like those found in ocean kayaking or when sweep rowing a boat over waterfalls.

Is rowing or kayaking better?

If you wonder what is better in terms of workout efficiency, kayaking or rowing is the way to go.

Rowing is a more efficient workout, and kayaking requires less effort per stroke because of its wide range of motion with each paddle stroke.

Kayaking burns at least five calories an hour for every one or two strokes you take, while rowing burns six to seven calories.

In kayaking, you need to paddle with both hands simultaneously and use your core muscles for stabilization. Rowing requires no balancing or stabilizing; all you do is pull a handle back and forth over an extended period while sitting on a seat that’s stabilized by footrests.

Rowers use a fixed cam system to propel kayaks, while kayakers can pick from various paddle strokes that include sculling and sweep. Rowers are also limited in their stroke count, as one rower will typically do 100-150 strokes per minute with each arm.

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There is more stretching involved in kayaking than in rowing because kayakers have to move their whole upper body, from shoulders to hips.

It is a bit more difficult to kayak because of the water resistance, and kayakers need to be aware of currents while rowing because it will go in any direction they want it to go on land without any force pushing them back.

Rowing kayaks are also constructed differently, with kayaks being lighter and narrower than low-slung rowing kayaks.

In terms of choosing between kayaking or rowing experience, kayakers need to be more athletic than rowers. However, if you want a high-intensity cardio workout that will help burn fat, then rowing is your best bet.

Which is faster, rowing or kayaking?

Kayaking is definitely slower than rowing. Compared to rowing, kayaking loses out to rowing due to the greater leverage provided by the longer oars and the more powerful thrust provided by using both legs simultaneously. This is compared to alternating legs.

Kayakers also use their legs for propulsion, but only one leg at a time. This is to coordinate the rotation of their torso instead of the entire torso being triggered at once.

For rowers who wonder what this means, imagine that your kayak seat is cut in half, and you can roll back with one cheek while the kayak is recovering. As you come up towards it, one side of your body will rotate, then the other.

In comparison, kayakers rotate their entire torso at once, which is more tiring and demanding.

A bulkhead prevents water from entering kayaks. Kayaks are much more challenging to move than rowing because you have to turn in different directions instead of just turning around in one spot. When the water is choppy, kayakers are much slower.

Kayakers can also use paddle blades that are long enough to place one hand on the shaft and a thumb on the blade, whereas rowers need both hands on the oar handle.

Both hands hold the paddle in kayaking, but rowers only let go of one hand while pivoting.

Because all four limbs are used simultaneously, rowers can move more weight and use a more decisive stroke. Additionally, kayaks tend to be smaller than rowing kayaks.

Does kayaking count as rowing?

Kayaking and rowing are two different water sports.

Rowing is done in a kayak-shaped craft, and kayaking involves sitting or lying on the top of kayaks while paddling.

Rowers use two oars for propulsion, but kayakers usually have only one paddle, which they may use with either their right or left hand.

There is a woman rowing a plastic red kayak across a lake

Kayaking vs. rowing machine


In terms of cardio, rowing burns more than 600 calories an hour, and kayaking only burns around 350.

Let’s focus on kayaking skills for now!

There are a lot of obvious benefits to kayaking that make it the better choice for most people.

For one, kayakers are constantly using their lungs and heart as well as their muscles. This can be effective cardio exercise, too, if you’re kayaking in rougher water.

Plus, kayakers often work on balance and core strength, which is beneficial for overall physical health.

Are you not convinced? There are a few other things to consider before you make your choice, like whether or not kayaks have the storage space you need.

If kayaks don’t offer enough room for you and your kayaking necessities, then it’s probably safer to stick with the rowing machine.

Strengthening the lower body

If you’re looking to develop a strong, lean lower body with our kayaking and rowing workouts, then you’re in luck.

Indoor rowers can burn calories more efficiently than kayakers because they use the big muscles of their legs to power the drive phase before power transfers to their arms.

The kayaker will need much stronger quadriceps as well as the muscles of the inner thigh to propel them through the water.

  • Kayaking will strengthen your quadriceps, glutes, and adductors (inner thighs).
  • Rowing takes advantage of the big muscle groups in the legs as well as strengthening the arms, which kayaking doesn’t do.
  • Kayaking requires a lot more energy than indoor rowing.
  • Kayaking is a cost-effective, low-impact activity that will help you develop lean, toned legs.
  • Kayakers need to use their arms and core muscles for balance, whereas rowers use them less often. They also don’t have as much of an upper-body workout given that they are sitting down and using just one arm at a time.
  • Kayaking can be a bit more difficult to learn, and it’s also critical that you can swim.
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Another major difference between kayaking and indoor rowing is the impact on the joints. There is less stress placed on your body during kayaking because you are sitting down with one arm at a time in front of you.

That means your joints won’t take as much of a beating, and kayaking is also low-impact.


To kayak well, you need strong trunk muscles to maintain your balance and generate power in the water.

An erect posture will also help with this as it increases lumbar stability.

  • Kayakers use their core muscles for stabilization.
  • Kayaking is an intense core workout.
  • Kayaks require a stable upper body over an unstable lower body.
  • Kayaking is a great core workout.
  • Kayaks require strong trunk muscles.
  • Kayakers use their core for balance and power in the water.
  • Kayaking demands an erect posture to increase lumbar stability, which helps with stabilization.

Kayak vs. rowing speed

Kayaking: the average kayaking speed is about 3.5 mph.

Rowing: the average speed of rowing is about 3.5-4.6 mph.

As you can see, the average speed of kayaking is decent, but rowing offers a greater average speed.

Rowing vs. kayaking workout

Many people enjoy kayaking because it’s easier than rowing. The whole body moves to stretch out muscles more evenly throughout the body, and kayaking is a terrific aerobic workout.

Rowing will give you more strength benefits, but it puts a lot of pressure on your lower back as it’s all upper body.

It also builds muscles in the arms and shoulders, which kayaking doesn’t do unless you use an oar for propulsion with one hand while using the other to steer.

Is rowing a boat more efficient than paddling?

When it comes to professional athletes who train hard and compete in long-distance kayaking, rowing is a more efficient way to paddle.

The kayaker may have an advantage early on when the boat’s movement creates waves of energy.

However, because kayaks don’t require as much physical effort from paddlers, they lose steam quickly. When it comes to kayaking, it’s believed that the kayaker is less efficient than the rowing boat.

When comparing kayaks and rowboats in a long-distance race, kayakers will more quickly tire out from using their arms to propel themselves through waves of energy created by the boat’s movement.

It means they’re not as efficient at propelling themselves through the water as rowers.

During a stunning sunset, two guys are rowing a kayak together

Is a rowing machine good for kayaking?

Training on a rowing machine is an excellent addition to kayaking.

How does rowing help kayaking?

An average person can work the muscles in the core, such as the abdominals and glutes, on the rowing machine. Rowing a boat is also an excellent example of upper body exercises for shoulders, hamstrings, and quadriceps, since you must push back with your legs to row.

Kayaking is generally beneficial for developing muscle strength and skills specific to kayaking, such as balance.

Is kayaking harder than rowing?

Rowing would be more strenuous, and kayaking would be easier.


The kayaking vs. rowing debate has been around for a long time.

Rowing does tend to be more strenuous than kayaking, although the practical aspects of kayaking can make it a more attractive sport to get into.

There are many reasons why one person might prefer kayaking over rowing, and vice versa.

Ultimately, you’ll need to explore kayaking and rowing for yourself.

Last updated on June 19, 2022 by Duncan Barrett

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