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We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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Shopping Guide for Best Rowing Machines

Regular exercise is a key part of any fitness plan, but let’s face it — getting to the gym at the end of a long day isn’t always easy.

Home exercise equipment can be far more convenient!

You can squeeze in a workout whenever you have some free time, without worrying whether there’s gas in the car or what the weather is like.

While treadmills and ellipticals may be the most common home fitness equipment, rowing machines can often be a better choice. Not only are they great for cardio, they help strengthen your upper and lower body for a full body workout.

Shopping for a rowing machine can be a challenge, though.

There are so many models on the market that it can be difficult to sort through the options.

For starters, you have to choose whether you want a hydraulic, flywheel, magnetic resistance, or water rowing machine. You also have to choose which storage style and other features are best for your fitness goals and home gym setup.

Rowing machines were first introduced in 4th Century BC as military training devices.

At Best Reviews, we strive to make the shopping process a little easier.

We never accept products from manufacturers; we provide unbiased reviews that allow you to make the most educated shopping decisions.

We also conduct field and expert research and give you all of the information you need to wade through the rowing machine options.

That way, you can choose the model that best fits into your lifestyle and fitness routine, so you don’t wind up wasting a penny.

Andrew
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Andrew is a lifelong athlete who routinely pushes himself to the limit in training and sports, with a focus on elite rowing. He was a national champion and four-year member of the Harvard crew team, and he represented the US at World Championships. He has trained alongside some of the world’s top Olympiads, and his love for rowing has sent him to the most elite racing events around the world. Through his experience and network of colleagues, he has gained great insight into the best rowing equipment.


Andrew  |  National Champion Rower

What are the Benefits of a Rowing Machine?

A rowing machine is a pretty versatile piece of fitness equipment. It can help you tone and build muscle, lose weight, and increase your overall stamina.

It provides a great cardio workout that increases your heart rate and helps burn calories. On average, you can burn up to 600 calories an hour on a rowing machine, so it’s an ideal option if you’re trying to slim down.

But a rowing machine also provide a excellent upper body workout too. You can work your biceps, pecs, rhomboids, trapezii, and lat muscles, as well as your abs. In addition to strengthening your core, regular rowing machine workouts can also help improve your posture.

Don’t forget that working out on a rowing machine involves the lower body too. You’ll work your quads, calves, and glutes along with your upper body, so it’s truly a full body workout.
Best of all, a rowing machine workout is very low-impact, which means it won’t put too much pressure on your knees and ankles. That makes it an ideal option for anyone with joint issues or recovering from an injury.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Ease of Use

We tested the Concept 2 in its typical environment: a gym (both home and shared). All in all, it’s a well-designed product. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, it takes very little maintenance and it’s light enough to be moved around. If you’re going to get a rowing machine, this is the one. It folds for storage and can even be broken down into two separate pieces. Caster wheels make moving and storage even easier. The backlit monitor includes a USB port, allowing you to offload your workout data to a flash drive.

Types of Rowing Machines

There are four main types of rowing machines: hydraulic, air or flywheel, magnetic resistance, and water resistance.

Types

Water rowing machines

These are similar to air resistance rowing machines, but they employ a water-filled flywheel to increase the resistance. This type offers a workout that’s extremely similar to outdoor rowing.

Types

Magnetic resistance rowing machines

These have magnetic brakes that provide the resistance as you row. These machines offer an extremely smooth motion and an adjustable resistance system, though they aren’t effective in mimicking outdoor rowing.

EXPERT TIP

Using a rowing machine is a great full-body workout. Since it's a low-impact activity, you can keep rowing well into your older years once you learn the proper technique.


Andrew  | National Champion Rower
Types

Air or flywheel rowing machines

These generate its resistance when you pull a handle, which spins a flywheel with fan blades attached. The wind created provides the resistance, so you only need to pull harder on the handles to generate more resistance. As a result, flywheel machines mimics the experience of outdoor rowing well.

Types

Hydraulic rowing machines

These feature two hydraulic pistons attached to arms that the user pulls. Resistance is generated by the pistons pulling against the air or fluid inside their cylinders. It doesn’t replicate actual rowing very well, but has adjustable resistance and delivers a very effective upper body workout.

EXPERT TIP

If possible, try a demo model of any rowing machine you consider; ensure the seat and handles will be comfortable during your workout.


Staff  | BestReviews

How Long Does a Rowing Machine Last?

The lifespan of a rowing machine depends on the quality of its construction and how often it’s used.

A high-quality machine at the top end of the price range can last ten years or more. A budget-friendly option may only last five or so years.

A rowing machine that sees regular use is more likely to break down, though. If you use it daily, you will likely begin to notice signs of wear and tear more quickly than if you only use it a few times a week.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Features

Owners particularly like the Concept2's noise-minimizing flywheel and nickel-plated chain that can go for long periods without needing to be oiled. Some customers were initially reluctant to spend so much money on a rowing machine, but in the end, they told us they did not regret the purchase. Users also seem quite happy with the ease of folding the machine up to its storage configuration – they report that one person can fold it easily, with no tools required. The initial setup offers a similar experience; there are only a few screws, and most buyers report that the overall setup took only ten minutes.

Feature Considerations for Rowing Machines

Considerations

Rowing Machine Size

The most important thing to consider when you’re shopping for a rowing machine is the space that you have available for the equipment. Most machines are fairly large, so it’s important to check that it will fit in your home. Keep in mind that most models take up as much space as a love seat sofa.

Measure the area where you plan to keep the machine, and consider the dimensions of any model that you’re considering to be sure you can accommodate it.

It’s a good idea to check the weight too. A rowing machine can weigh anywhere from 35 to 100 pounds or more, so if you plan to move it regularly, you’ll want a lighter option.

DID YOU KNOW?

Indoor rowing machines are also known as ergometers because they’re designed to measure the amount of energy that the user expends while using the machine.

Considerations

Track

The track that the rowing machine moves along is a key part of its construction because it receives much of the stress during operation. It should be made of a durable material, such as stainless steel or solid wood.

Testing Results
Testing the Concept2 Rowing Machine
  • Specs
    All in all, the Concept2 is a near perfect machine. It's simple to use and has just the right amount of settings to keep a user interested and excited to use it. There are three modes: Just Row; Select Workout, which includes custom workouts and presets; and Games, which has five built-in games. Compared to treadmills or ellipticals, the Concept2 is quiet – you could watch TV without needing headphones to hear. You can also track your progress by plugging in a UBS, and track multiple users.
  • User Guidelines
    Andrew, our expert, came with us to test the Concept2 and discussed some tips for getting the most out of a rowing machine For example, if you're training to row in water, train barefoot. When you warm up, always stretch first and then row just with your arms to start off. Use loose hands on the handles in order to fully use your back and legs. Finally, don't store the handle on the rack – let it coil completely in order to preserve the elastic.
Considerations

Fixed vs. Folding

When you’re considering the size of a rowing machine, you should also think about whether a fixed or folding model is the best fit for your home.

A fixed rowing machine doesn’t fold up for storage, so you’ll need enough room to accommodate it as is. Keep in mind that fixed machines are often more durable, though.

A folding rowing machine does just what the name implies: it folds up to require less storage space. For indoor use, many users find a folding machine more convenient.

Folding rowing machines are a great choice if you don’t have a large, dedicated exercise space in your home or apartment.

Staff
BestReviews
Considerations

Seat, Handlebars, and Footrests

As with any exercise equipment, be sure that the rowing machine you choose is comfortable to use or you probably won’t stick with your workout routine.

If possible, it’s always a good idea to test out a rowing machine before you purchase it. That way, you can be sure of its comfort.

With a rowing machine, the seat is probably the most important feature when it comes to comfort. A padded style is a must, but make sure that the seat is large and contoured so you can sit comfortably.

The handlebars should be comfortable to grip; you’ll likely want a model with padding there as well. The footrests should be wide enough to fit your feet – models with adjustable footrests are ideal because you can customize the size. Look for a rowing machine with straps that hold your feet in place so they don’t fall off during use.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Stamina Air Rower

Performance

The Stamina Air Rower relies on wind resistance for a smooth and effective stroke. This machine uses wind resistance intuitively, meaning that the harder and faster you stroke, the greater the resistance will be. On the other hand, a less intense workout means lower resistance. Even the more athletic customers in our survey agree that the Stamina Air Rower's resistance levels are on par with a true outdoor rowing workout. At 250 pounds, the Stamina is heavier than some rowers, but may not require much moving. Owners report that it fits well in smaller rooms, despite being long enough for full use by a 6’4” person.

Considerations

Resistance

When it comes to choosing the type of resistance you want in a rowing machine, it helps to consider your fitness goals.

  • Hydraulic and magnetic resistance rowing machines work best if you want a full body workout, but aren’t necessarily interested in emulating actual rowing. A magnetic resistance machine is a particularly good option if you’re new to rowing workouts because the workout is so smooth.

  • Air and water resistance rowing machines provide an effective full body workout too, but they come closest to replicating actual rowing so they’re the best option if you’re training for a rowing competition.

If multiple people will use the rowing machine, be sure to choose a model with adjustable resistance. That way, each user can customize their workout to match their fitness level.

DID YOU KNOW?

Air resistance rowing machines offer a dynamic intensity: the harder your rowing stroke, the greater the resistance.

Considerations

Console

Unlike treadmills and ellipticals, not all rowing machines are necessarily equipped with a console or monitor to track performance.

To keep track of your progress, it’s a good idea to purchase a rowing machine with a monitor that tracks speed, time, distance, and calories burned.

If you’re an avid athlete, you may also want a monitor that tracks your heart rate, workout intensity, stroke rate, and other advanced categories so you can get the most out of your workout.

CAUTION

The most common injury area with a rowing machine is the lower back. Proper technique and form can help prevent injury.

Considerations

Noise Level

Like most fitness equipment, a rowing machine is bound to make some noise during operation.

However, some models are noisier than others.

  • Magnetic resistance and water resistance rowing machines are typically the quietest, so they’re ideal if you want to watch to TV or listen to music as you work out.

  • Although hydraulic and air resistance rowing machines are typically louder, some are constructed with noise-minimizing materials, so they can be fairly quiet too. Check the manufacturer’s product description to see if the model is designed to make less noise.

A rowing machine workout utilizes 84% of the body’s muscles. In 30 minutes, a 185 pound person can burn up to 311 calories on a rowing machine, if he or she works at a moderate pace. Watch our expert perform the perfect rowing form. Following this example will help prevent injury and ensure you're getting the most from your machine.

How Much Should I Pay for a Rowing Machine?

Rowing machines are available at a variety of price points. Typically, they range from $100 to $1200.

Air and water resistance rowing machines typically cost the most, so you can expect to pay $900 to $1200.

Hydraulic and magnetic resistance rowing machines are usually less expensive and good options for those just starting out with rowing workouts. For a quality machine, you can expect to pay $200 to $300.

Keep in mind that rowing machines equipped with the most features, such as a monitor and adjustable resistance, and those made of the sturdiest materials, are typically going to cost more. If you want your machine to last as long as possible and offer the most complete workout, it’s best to spend a little more.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

WaterRower Club Rowing Machine with S4 Monitor

Advantages

The WaterRower's Series 4 performance monitor keeps track of workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, zone bar, duration, and distance. This monitor includes six information and programming windows, six QuickSelect buttons, and three navigation buttons. To provide more exercise guidance, it can even pair with an optional chest strap heart rate monitor. Many users told us that, although this machine's S4 computer is not as advanced as some higher-end rowing machines, it is effective for most users.

Tips and Tricks

  • When you’re using your rowing machine, wear snug, form-fitting clothes so you don’t get anything caught in the machine.

  • Many people think that a rowing machine mainly works your arms, but it’s actually your legs that should do the bulk of the work. In fact, it should actually be 60% legs, 20% core, and 20% arms. That means you should focus on your legs when you’re pushing off.

  • Avoid moving around on the seat when you’re using the rowing machine. That can cause you to twist in the wrong direction. Stay settled in one spot as you move.

  • With a rowing machine workout, it’s not about working as fast as you can. It’s about the power you use. To keep yourself from working too quickly, try to keep your strokes per minute to 30 or less.

There are many indoor rowing competitions held around the world, including the CRASH-B Sprints, which is the world championship for indoor rowing.

FAQ

Q. Will a rowing machine damage your floor?

A. Most rowing machines sport rubber feet to keep the machine from scratching your floor. However, if you’re placing the machine on a wooden floor, it’s a good idea to purchase a mat to place under it.

Q. What type of maintenance does a rowing machine require?

A. A rowing machine usually doesn’t require very much maintenance, but it’s always a good idea to consult your owner’s manual. Dust the machine regularly to keep dirt and debris from getting inside. If your machine has a chain, clean and oil it periodically, too.

Q. What is the best rowing machine for an apartment?

A. If you live in an apartment, you’ll want a machine that’s as quiet as possible. A magnetic resistance rower is usually the best option. With the limited space, it’s also a good idea to choose a model that folds for easier storage.

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Complete Rowing Machine Workout

There are three main parts to any workout: warm-up, training, and cool down. For a rowing machine workout, follow our steps and videos for a successful session.

Warm up: first, stretch alongside the machine, specifically your back and leg areas. When you get on the machine, start rowing on low resistance and only use your arms. Slowly add in the legs and turn up the resistance.

Training: Now you can ramp up the resistance and the speed. Some users will do one minute of high resistance, then get on the floor and do crunches or push ups in order to work all the muscles.

Cool down: Turn down the resistance again and be sure to stretch once you have completed your workout.

Focus on the back when stretching so that you don't pull anything. This should take two to five minutes.
Take your time strapping in and warming up. The looser your body is for the workout, the better your results. This portion should take five minutes.
Ramp up the resistance to power your workout. Most machines have levels between 1 and 10. Don't be afraid to jump off and add in some crunches and push ups. Stay in training mode for 20 to 25 minutes.
After you've cooled down and stretched for another five minutes, simply roll your rowing machine away.
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