Row, row, row your way to fitness with an indoor rowing machine. While you’ve likely seen them in a gym, most people have not tried a rowing machine for daily or weekly workouts.
As with treadmills and ellipticals, rowing machines offer the same great cardio benefits without the strain on your joints and muscles. When used properly, a rowing machine has the ability to tone muscles in the legs, arms, core, and back.
Rowing machines also referred to as ergometers work a distinct group of muscles without putting tension on your joints. The idea of an ergometer is to simulate the motions used when rowing a boat on the water.
They are used for everyday fitness as well as rowing motion training. The machines are equipped with stationary footrests and mobile seats and handlebars.
The complete motion will extend your legs and arms with the desired amount of tension to pull against while working your core.
Indoor rowing has even developed into its own sport with national and international competitions happening several times each year. If you’re looking for a new hobby or to spice up your normal cardio routine, indoor rowing could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Rowing Machine Buying Guide
Why Indoor Rowing Works
This lesser-known form of exercise is great for a low impact workout. Many people with arthritis or other physical limitations are able to achieve great results with indoor rowers. Knee injuries plague many runners and athletes.
A rowing machine allows a full-body workout without straining any part of the body, including the areas that are often affected by injury. Another great benefit of such a low impact workout is it can work wonders for beginners.
Many obese people that want to start an exercise routine have a hard time with more traditional means of exercise such as jogging. A rowing machine is a great way to burn excess fat and start to build lost muscle tone.
Treadmills target the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings, and ellipticals target the same areas with less impact on your joints. The action of rowing targets the following muscles directly:
- Gluteus Maximus
As you can see, indoor rowing affects much more than the other machines designed for cardio workouts.
What to Know Before You Buy
After you’ve decided indoor rowing is the workout you’ve been searching for, it is time to learn about the machines and figure out what’s best for you. There are several different brands, types, and styles of rowing machines on the market.
It can be quite overwhelming when beginning the search. With endless options and features, it can be easy to get lost in the hunt for the perfect machine for you. First things first, you need to know about the types of machines available on the market.
There are four basic types of rowing machines. These are grouped by the type of tension created by each type.
The first and most basic type of rowing machine is the hydraulic rowing machine. These machines work by creating tension from either air or liquid compressed in a cylinder or piston.
Hydraulic machines typically have adjustable tension levels for a variable of exercise routines, allowing you to have the choice of an easy cardio workout or an intense muscular program.
The biggest drawback of a hydraulic machine is the unnatural rowing motion. For exercise purposes, a hydraulic machine is a great purchase. This type of machine is typically not utilized by rowing athletes for training purposes but is fine for indoor fitness.
The mechanics are not quite the same as with rowing a real boat; however, the areas and muscles affected remain the same.
The second type of rowing machine is the flywheel or “air” rowing machine. This type of machine receives its tension from the air in the room.
They have fan blades on the front of the frame that rotates when pulled which is a great way to simulate pulling against water when rowing an actual boat.
Because the tension varies with the intensity in which it is used, these machines do not have adjustable resistance. To get a stronger resistance, you simply pull harder and faster.
The faster the blades have to spin, the more air resistance they are met with. When air rowers are used at full speed, noise can become a problem. The faster the blades spin, the more noise will be produced.
These machines are not recommended for anyone with noise concerns.
Flywheel machines are commonly used by professional rowers to keep muscle tone when water rowing is unavailable to them. This is also the type most frequently used for indoor rowing competitions.
Flywheel machines vary in price. Some can be purchased at the mid-level price while other air rowers are at the top of the price range of all rowing machines.
The simplicity of the mechanics needed for this type of machine can keep costs down, but the authentic feel and rowing motion are highly desirable in the market.
Because noise can be a problem with air rowing machines, some manufacturers will add magnetic resistance to lower the noise production. Magnetic resistance works much like hydraulic resistance.
These machines have adjustable tension settings that work using a brake system added to a basic flywheel mechanism. Instead of only using the natural resistance relied upon with an air rower, a magnetic rower simply creates the resistance with its brake system.
Once the tension is set, it will not vary with your intensity. Utilizing the brake system means you don’t have to row as fast to get the same amount of friction, meaning the rower will produce less noise than air rowers.
Water rowers are used by professional outdoor rowers most often. They work by combining the concept of the flywheel with water. The fan blades are in a tank of water and are met with resistance inside the tank.
Some water rowing machines offer adjustable tension, but most simply use the tension caused by natural water resistance.
These machines have the most smooth pull of all of the traditional designs. Because they do not use artificially engineered mechanics, these machines produce only the noise of the water being pulled around the tank.
Many people enjoy the sound of the swooshing water while working out, as it give the user a feel of actually being on the water.
Once you’ve decided which type of rowing machine is perfect for you, it is time to start researching the best-rated brands available. Each brand offers its own line of perks and benefits.
One thing to keep in mind when selecting a brand is customer service experience. You want to make sure you’re going to be satisfied with your purchase, and it’s important to know how you will be treated after making your purchase.
Top Rated Brands
- Stamina produces an array of cardio workout machines. Their products are consistently given very high ratings and the customer service offered is beyond helpful.
- WaterRower strictly produces water resistance rowing machines and is one of the top-rated manufacturers in the world of rowing equipment. The high quality of their products is matched with amazing customer service.
- Concept2 offers one of the highest-rated customer perks: an online community. Concept2 customers have access to forums, chat rooms, videos, and much more on their website dedicated to the indoor rowing community.
Top Brands for a Bigger Budget
- Concept2 makes professional indoor rowers as well as professional oars for outdoor racing. The quality of their products is consistently praised as being one of the best and most popular brands on the market today.
- WaterRower constructs some of the most expensive rowers on the market and is a favorite brand of outdoor rowers. Their high-end machines use a wood frame instead of a metal frame. Not only does a wood frame look stunning, but it also lowers the vibrations and noise to almost nothing.
- First Degree Fitness ranks in the top for a reputation for excellent customer service and high-quality products.
Top Brands for a Small Budget
- Soozier is a much smaller brand than the other but offers a little known, high-quality product. They offer magnetic and hydraulic models with the lowest prices. Most of their products feature an LCD screen that displays your time and speed and their high-end model magnetic rowing machine fits into any budget. While this brand is not widely recognized, their reviews are generally fantastic and their prices can not be beaten.
- Sunny Health and Fitness offers models of hydraulic, magnetic and air rowing machines. Their prices are among the best in the business. The quality of the machines far exceeds expectations, including many features you would not expect to see at such a low price point.
- Stamina offers a wide variety of rowing machines. They have water, air, hydraulic and magnetic machines at very reasonable prices. Customer service is above average from this company and their selection has something for all budgets, big and small.
Key Features to Look For
Most machines have an LCD screen that will display your speed and/or strokes per minute. More extensive offerings include calories burned, distance traveled, heart rate, and many more. Decide which aspects are most important for you to keep track of.
Many machines can be hooked up to a chest strap that will monitor your heart rate while you work out. For most machines, this is an additional item to purchase, but many customers decide it is worth it to watch their cardiac activity.
Higher-end models offer a USB port so you can download and track your workouts.
Let’s face it, you’re not going to use something that is less than comfortable. A padded seat is important, as well as non-slip handles and strong foot straps. Padded seat covers can be purchased separately if comfort begins to be a problem.
In some instances, people have made some personal modifications to their machines in order to improve comfort.
Some rowers are noisier than others. Water rowers produce a small amount of noise, while flywheels produce the most. Consider when and where you will be using your rower and how important it is for the machine to be quiet.
For instance, using a loud flywheel model in an apartment at 6 am on a Saturday may cause some problems with the neighbors.
How much space do you have available in your home for exercise equipment? Do you have an exercise room or will the rower need to be stored when not in use? Make sure the rower you’re looking for can be stored comfortably in the space you have available.
In addition, be sure it can be easily transferred to and from the storage location. Check the overall weight of the machine as well as if it has wheels or not. You don’t want to have to workout when you’ve finished your workout.
Best Rowing Machine Reviews
This is a magnetic resistance rowing machine with a heavy-duty steel frame. The construction is high quality and assembly is simple. The rowing is smooth and natural. The slide rail is quite long at 48 inches and can accommodate rowers of every size.
The padded seat and handlebars are designed with your comfort in mind and there are eight levels of adjustable tension allowing you to fully customize your workout.
It includes built-in wheels for easier transportation and the folded dimensions are – 37L X 19W X 53. 5H. The non-slip foot pedals are an expected feature crucial to efficient and safe workouts.
This machine features an LCD screen displaying time, stroke count, strokes per minute, distance, calories and pulse. This rower is more than reasonably priced with quite a few features you won’t find on other low priced rowers.
- Smooth rowing
- High-quality construction
- Easy assembly
- Easy storage
- Some hard-core users complain of mechanical issues after heavy use (not necessarily breakage, but louder noises, etc.)
- Diminished quality on details like foot strap ergonomics and durability can lead to breakage
9. Body Trac Glider 1050 by Stamina
The Stamina Body Trac Glider is a compact hydraulic rowing machine with a steel frame. The weight limit for users of this device is 250 lbs, so it is not recommended for those with a large body frame.
This machine features twelve levels of adjustable tension for a customized experience. The LCD display tracks time, stroke count and calories burned and the machine folds nicely for storage. This rower is the lowest priced machine in the top ten.
Mechanically, the Body Trac Glider is a wonderful choice, but the low price point is apparent in the seat and foot pedal construction. Minor upgrades to these areas would greatly enhance the user’s experience.
- Sturdy construction
- Genuine rowing motion
- 250 lb weight limit
- Seat and foot straps uncomfortable
8. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
This Velocity magnetic rower is a serious step up in quality over our #9 model and as such, the price jumps significantly. Magnetics and electronics are used as the primary resistance mechanism, and the light aluminum frame helps make this machine convenient and usable by more people.
This model includes a heart rate monitor (chest strap) for those interested in adding more precision into their training sessions. The weight capacity is 275 lbs and the dimensions (assembled) are 80” length x 21” width x 25” height. The machine weighs 75-lbs.
Overall, users are happy with the quality of the machine and many negative comments are based on customer service (even for small issues) rather than the quality of the machine itself.
- Easy assembly
- High torque with 16 levels of resistance
- Heart rate monitor
- Potential Customer service problems
- Not a Super-great rating on Amazon
7. ATS Air Rower by Stamina
The Stamina Air Rower uses wind resistance for a variable workout. The tension changes with your intensity so there are no tension settings available. Like all air rowers, the fan blades generate a fair amount of noise when in use.
This “no-frills” machine is reasonably priced well-rated on Amazon. It features a steel frame and a very smooth rowing experience. It is designed as a workout machine and does not perfectly mimic a natural rowing motion used in the water.
However, we really like the fact that during the design process, considerations were made to have this machine function as more of a full-body fitness station which accommodates exercises such as tricep dips, split squats, bicep curls and push-ups!
The LCD monitor tracks your progress and large footplates make it easy to stabilize yourself and NOT think about footplates and stability during your workout. The “ATS” stands for “Air Transfer System” which is just a fancy way of saying the more you pull, the harder the resistance.
Users up to 250 pounds can use this machine and it folds easily for storage. This machine is a “middle-of-the-road” quality machine that fits the requirements of most people who just want to stay healthier than they would be watching TV on the couch!
- Small Footprint good for any size room
- Smooth rowing action
- Easy Assembly
- Reliability for some has been an issue (ie. chain falling off)
6. Newport AR Rower by First Degree Fitness
As we move higher on our list of best rowing machines, we hit our first water resistance rower. The Newport AR Rower replicates real water rowing with its multiple chamber ribbed internal tank.
This moderately priced machine features a water tank that can be adjusted for extra tension if needed. As with most water rowers, the machine is virtually silent with the exception of the sound of the water being moved inside the water chamber.
It features powder-coated steel on the frame and really easy and convenient vertical storage. Also, it’s good to note that while air-resistance rowers make some noise (like a fan blowing air), water rowers are virtually noise-free!
It has a well-equipped computer and it offers more resistance than nearly any other single-resistance machine on the market. Oh, and we think the look of this bad boy is sick!
Okay, so in other more dignified words, we think it is attractive and handsome in its appearance and would be a joy to display in your home! If you’re looking for a conversation starter, this would be a great contender!
- Natural rowing motion
- Sturdy construction
- Smooth workout
- Small foot pedals
- Requires a lot of space
5. Avari Programmable Magnetic Rower by Stamina
The reasonably priced Stamina Avari features twelve programmed workouts including six cardio programs and four custom programs. The LCD display tracks time, row count, distance traveled, calories burned, average strokes per minute and your pulse.
Some customers have stated the distance measurements may be slightly off. The chest strap is also included, unlike most machines. Because this machine uses magnetics, the tension can be instantly changed using the control pad.
- Chest strap included
- Uncomfortable seat
- LCD measurements may be off
Okay, now we’re getting to the cream of the crop! Still, at under $800, this machine is an exceptional deal. This machine is meant for home use though it looks like a commercial “beast”. It weighs only 58.5 pounds but can hold someone up to 320 pounds.
Water rowers are quiet and efficient and we have to say, they just LOOK AWESOME. As good as they look, the Mr. Captain brand takes looks to another level (at least for the price) by offering various finishing styles like Red Walnut, Zebra Wood and the pictured example, Vintage Oak (currently UNDER $700!!!!).
A 3-mode customizable Bluetooth monitor is just one more feather in the cap of this higher-end (yet affordable) brand and style of machine.
Water resistance rowers are among the most popular for outdoor rowing enthusiasts. The noise produced by these types of rowers is minimal and consists only of the water being moved inside the tank. We can’t say enough about the aesthetics!
I feel like I want this if only for its “modern artpiece” value! It would be a decent price if that’s all it was, but, oh yeah, it can also help you extend your life, give you a better quality of life, make you look better, make you feel better, and offer you one He&&#! of a cool conversation-starting opportunity!
- Easy storage
- Great customer service
- Well-rated on Amazon with a 4.5/5.0 rating
- Price (while excellent for the value) can be higher than some looking to spend only a couple hundred dollars
- Construction is not solid wood. The wood look is a veneer with cheaper particle board sub-structure
3. MaxKare Water Rowing Machine
Okay, so hear me out on this one. Just because they get higher on our list of recommended rowers, it does not mean they are necessarily more expensive. We did quite a bit of research on this one, and here’s the deal!
We like water rowers because of their unique looks and quiet operation. However, most water rowers are made with wood and are meant to look as much as a work of art as any piece of fitness equipment can look! That look typically adds several hundred dollars to the price.
This MaxKare rower takes the gorgeous aesthetics down a notch (about a $400 notch) and brings the quality of water rowing into the land of the “regular person” who can afford it! Wow, what an idea!
It features a comfortable, ergonomic seat mounted on a heavy-duty steel frame to give you a solid and sturdy feel. Varying water volume in the tank will change the resistance level but in addition to that, you’re given another option to change resistance levels during use.
The LCD monitor tracks factors like time, strokes per minute, total strokes, calories, distance and power/watts. There’s even a “competitive” mode that makes training more varied and interesting.
Foot pedals on this machine are very good and designed to be n0n-slip. It features a bottle holder, floor stabilizers, wheels for easy transportation and comfortable, padded handles. What more do you need?!
- Easy, detailed assembly instructions
- Won’t have the aesthetic appeal of a wood water rower (but who the heck cares!??)
2. Fitness Reality 4000MR Magnetic Rower
Here’s one machine that stands out from ALL the others on our list. The feature that makes it stand apart is obviously the handles. Every other rower has a bar that simulates a horizontal oar. This machine focuses more on your fitness than your actual rowing form and in so doing, you get a beneficial “twist” on a rowing machine.
This Fitness Reality 4000MR rower features dual independent rowing handles which offer a full range of motion. This unique arm motion offers a better overall ergonomic design for fitness efficiency and kinesiologic safety.
With 5 customizable programs and 10 preset workouts, you’ll have plenty of options for exercising.
Featuring a 16-level dual transmission magnetic tension system, you’ll have nearly infinitely challenging levels of workout resistance. This, combined with the rowing handle movement, offers you a true full body low impact workout for nearly every muscle group in your body.
The 5″ LCD display shows all vital information pertaining to your programs, and it’s large and easy to read. The long rail accommodates nearly everyone on the planet (not at the same time) and the chain drive is pretty sturdy.
The manual can be challenging to understand (translated from Chinese by someone who knows a lot more Chinese than they do English). The unit folds up for easy storage so that’s a bit of a bonus.
- Great overall quality
- Gives you a more “full-body” workout with independent rowing handles (wider range of motion than a small stick attached to a rope or strap … like most rowers have)
- Large footprint
- Over 130 pounds – which is heavy for a rower
- English translation of Chinese original manual is hard to understand
1. Concept2 Model D
The top of the list is held strong by the moderately priced Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine. This machine is the best selling air rower in the world and is even used by Olympians. It’s also our only machine over $1,000 but the name and quality of this brand is literally second to non!
The seat is padded and 14 inches off the ground for maximum comfort.
Assembly is a breeze and the machine separates into 2 pieces for easy storage. The LCD screen tracks distance, speed, calories, and much more. The monitor is also Bluetooth compatible and it’s self-calibrating!
The Model D connects to a wide variety of fitness apps, but the free ErgData app records and stores workouts on your smartphone.
There are preset workouts pre-programmed for specific training and a USB port that can be used to download your workout information. In addition, the online community offers a host of helpful information and support by fellow rowing enthusiasts.
Oh, and the details are always a nice touch, like the included smartphone holder. For a better overview of the features, check out the video above!
- Solid construction
- Simple assembly
- Online community
- 4.9 out of 5.0 rating on Amazon with nearly 5,000 reviews
- Resistance is non-adjustable
Which Rowing Machine is Right for You?
If your reason for looking into rowing is to lose weight, there are a few things you should consider. First, some rowing machines have weight limits as low as 215 lbs. If you’re overweight, be sure to select a machine with an appropriate weight limit.
If you’re starting a workout routine, a flywheel machine will work great and grow with you as you advance. The Stamina Air Rower is the perfect machine for weight loss and comes with a very reasonable price tag.
Whether you’re a professional indoor rower or a professional outdoor rower, a water rower is definitely the way to go. If you’re invested in the sport it is definitely worth it to spend the extra money on a quality machine that will last several years.
Be sure to check warranty information available to ensure you are guaranteed to get several years of use out of your new machine. Because of its genuine feel and rowing motion, the WaterRower Oxbridge Rowing Machine is the best machine for a professional.
If your budget is limited and you’re not quite ready to bite the bullet on a high priced machine, the Magnetic Rowing Machine from Sunny Health and Fitness is a good fit. This machine is smooth, sturdy and virtually silent.
This is a great machine to test your rowing abilities and enthusiasm before spending a ton of money on a hobby you’ve only just begun.
The Stamina Body Trac Glider is number nine on this list and has an unbeatable price tag. The machine lacks many of the extras found on other machines, but does have the standard features you’d expect in any rowing machine.
You can track your time, calories burned and stroke count on a sturdy machine with a genuine rowing motion for a lot less than you may think.
Step by Step Recap
- Decide your reason for purchasing a rowing machine. Whether it’s for a new hobby, to perfect your skill or add to your workout routine, knowing the purpose of the purchase will aid in your search.
- Select a style. Decide between air, water, hydraulic and magnetic resistance. Narrow your decision to one of the four types of machines before looking into any other details.
- Decide on a budget. Once you know how much you’re willing to spend you can find the best machine available in that price range.
- Compare Products. Look at which products fit your needs, style preference and budget. Research customer service and warranty information to solidify your choice.
- Assemble. Row. Enjoy your new rowing machine and all of its many perks.
Whether you’re a seasoned rowing athlete or a beginner interested in a new cardio workout, there is a machine out there that will suit your needs and exceed your expectations.
Finding the perfect rowing machine is easier than ever and you’re well on your way to meeting your fitness goals already.