We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
The best rowing machines on the market offer quality construction and durability with various features that address cardiovascular fitness.
You can also use rowing machines for rehabilitation after surgery since rowing is a low-stress exercise, but only when done correctly. If you're just learning to row using a machine, we strongly suggest that you familarize yourself with proper form and technique.
In order to give our readers the best reviews, we tested rowing machines in the field and brought our resident expert as well.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do, then put them through tests that many consumers can't do themselves.
And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
Each product was put through its paces in a controlled environment. In this case we went to a gym to see the rowing machines in action.
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.
If you need to use a rowing machine for health or recovery reasons, all of these models are clearly up to the task.
Our pick of the top rowing machines available in the market today include the following contenders:
There are various types of rowing machines on the market, including water, air, hydraulic, and magnetic. Water rowing machines have a water-filled flywheel for increased resistance. Air rowing machines provide resistance through their flywheels. Hydraulic rowing machines are powered by cylinders with oil, making them lightweight and easy to store. Magnetic rowing machines have an adjustable resistance system.
There are two types of rowing machines for home use: folding and fixed. Folding machines generally take up less room and are easy to store, while fixed machines take up more space but are often more durable. Many people prefer folding machines for indoor use.
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.
When it comes to selecting a rowing machine, it pays to know which features you want. A performance monitor is helpful for gathering accurate workout data. Some machines come with an adjustable arm monitor; others feature multifunctional performance monitors that track speed, time, distance and calories burned.
The quality of a rowing machine's flywheel, seat, and footrests are other features to consider.
Rowing machines range in price from several hundred to over one thousand dollars. Components such as a stainless steel track or nickel-plated chain may increase a rowing machine's price, as well as its durability and performance.
Certain construction materials, such as solid ash, help absorb sound and vibration but may ultimately cost more. Higher end rowing machines tend to offer more durability and better performance, and they usually have more features than the cheaper options.
The Concept2 Model D machine is a air rower that comes with chain oil for lubrication. Many owners find the need for chain lubrication to be minimal. In addition to a flywheel, this rowing machine provides a spiral damper for easy adjustment of the wheel. Most owners agree that this method of adjustment helps them find the right stroke for their fitness level.
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.
Most rowing machines have settings that can be adjusted to simulate rowing different kinds of boats.
The WaterRower Club rowing machine relies on water to create resistance. This machine is outfitted with a water flywheel that features two paddles in an enclosed tank of water. The result is a smooth-yet-challenging flow that is similar to the real-life motion of paddling a boat through water. Customers praise this machine for providing a strenuous workout that doesn't tax the joints.
The ProForm 440R rowing machine is a hydraulic rower with a low pulley station that allows you to complete a rowing workout or use the station for strength training on the machine. Many owners we surveyed use the rower for both types of workouts, although some primarily stick with rowing.
The LifeSpan Fitness RW1000 rowing machine has a 16.5-pound flywheel for effective workouts among users of all abilities. This hydraulic rower relies on an eddy current drive system, which many customers praise for its quietness.
Be sure to always check the damper setting on your rowing machine before you start your exercise. Higher the damper setting, the heavier the rowing will feel.
The Concept2 Model D's quick-release, frame-lock mechanism allows you to easily separate the machine into two pieces for easier portability and storage. Caster wheels on the front foot allow you to efficiently roll the machine into position, even after it has been fully assembled. Some customers stated that the machine is relatively bulky when folded up; these customers told us they prefer using their Concept2 in a setting where it doesn't need to be moved often.
The Stamina Air Rower has a folding frame that makes it compact and easy to store. Built-in wheels make for better portability in many indoor settings. Floor protectors keep surfaces from getting scratched and scuffed as you move the machine. A few owners told us they believe the Stamina's greater portability translates to a flimsier product while working out.
The WaterRower Club rowing machine is designed for heavy indoor use and is of great benefit to training studios and serious athletes. Instead of folding into smaller pieces as some other machines do, the WaterRower's frame flips upright for more efficient storage. Dual black rails look stylish while preventing scuffing on floor surfaces. Some owners note that, although this machine can be bulky when folded, it's easy to move from one location to the next -- including outdoor spaces and carpeted rooms.
Although the ProForm 440R rowing machine folds up for easier storage, some customers still find it a bit bulky in this state. Because of ProForm's emphasis on portability and space conservation, this machine sports relatively small features, including the seat and handlebars. These smaller features make the machine easier to fold up and transport. Owners who live cramped quarters appreciate the versatility of this rowing machine.
The LifeSpan Fitness RW1000 rowing machine folds up for fast, efficient storage when not in use. Instead of separating into two parts for storage, the frame of this rowing machine stands upright. The LifeSpan's lightweight construction makes carrying and transporting the machine relatively simple. Customers appreciate how quick and easy it is to fold up this model's seat and long bar for storage.
Make sure that you learn how to do a proper stroke. It's easy to hurt your back using a rowing machine if you neglect to warm up or don't use proper form.
The Concept2 Model D rowing machine comes equipped with a PM5 performance monitor. This monitor provides accurate and comparable data for every workout. An adjustable monitor arm makes it easy to position the monitor where you can see it best. Although most customers found the PM4 to be sufficient, some chose to go with the PM5 which is slightly more snappy. The optional Concept2 Slide, sold separately, provides an on-water feel and a way to connect the rowing machine to others during a workout. Owners who use the machine for training purposes appreciate this feature.
The Stamina's multifunctional monitor displays information about speed, time, distance covered, and calories burned. Some users note that although this rower is not a "high tech" machine, it adequately serves the beginning rower's purpose. The machine's large footplates are meant to accommodate shoes of all sizes; some users noted, however, that these plates are too big. Many owners we surveyed said they really like this machine's padded seat. A minority of users told us they find the seat uncomfortable.
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. Some 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. Others told us they wish that the computer tracked calories.
The display screen can have you racing against the clock or timing your splits. A great feature for those training for athletic feats.
Multiple resistance levels allow ProForm 440R users to start out easy and gradually increase to a more demanding resistance level. This machine features a low pulley system for strength training after a rowing workout and footholds to stand on at the base of the machine. Most users found the handlebar and cable for rowing and cardio workouts to be durable and sturdy enough, although some customers complained that the ProForm's overall resistance level is lacking. A small portion of the users we surveyed told us the swivel foot pedals make them feel that their feet are moving around too much during a workout. Some of these consumers resolved the problem by adding extra cushioning to the pedals so their feet would fit.
The LifeSpan Fitness RW1000's three-LCD console provides feedback related to distance, calories, time, strokes per minute, and more. Customers praise the display screen for its clarity and simplicity and note that the battery lasts for a decent amount of time. We appreciate the fact that this model's swivel foot pedals accommodate a variety of shoe sizes. Some of the users we surveyed indicated that the computer does not display more than one bit of information at a time, even after setting selections have been made and a workout has started. This select group of owners advised us that pulling out the display screen and replacing the batteries may fix the problem for a short period of time, although screen problems ultimately reappear. Other owners experienced no problems or difficulties with their display screen.
Do not hunch your back when using the rowing machine. This will cause unnecessary stress on your back, and may even damage your muscles.
The Concept2 Model D sits near the top of the price list at $945. However, most of the users we surveyed said the higher cost is justified due to the machine's quality components and construction. 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. Customers praised this machine for its longevity and ability to stand up to frequent, high-intensity workouts over time.
Despite its lower price tag of $299, many customers note that the Stamina's quality construction and durability make it a reasonable choice for anyone seeking a decent, budget-priced machine. Instead of quality issues, the most common complaint among customers who purchased this rower was the fact that it does not offer a wide range of resistance choices.
At $1160, the WaterRower Club rowing machine is the most expensive model on our list. Many owners feel that the higher price is worth it, however, because of the quality workout you get with a minimal amount of noise. Virtually all of the users we surveyed gave the WaterRower high ratings for its smooth feel, especially when compared to the feel of similarly priced models. Another thing that we love about this machine is how quiet it is. Some exercisers told us that they work out while watching TV; others told us they are able to use their WaterRower in rooms where people are sleeping. One minor flaw a few owners noted was how easily the machine's stickers peel off. However, this is really the only negative thing we have to say about this machine - which gives you an idea of how close it is to achieving absolute perfection.
The ProForm 440R is at the lower end of the pricing spectrum ($286). Many owners agree that the ProForm's lower price matches its quality, as evidenced by screws, clips, and other parts that fall off or break easily. Some customers had problems with the cable refusing to retract back into place after only a few workouts. Others noted that the lightweight nature of the machine's materials actually causes it to lift off the ground slightly during a workout. Still others told us that the price is right for this entry-level machine, and that the ProForm 440R has held up up well for them over time.
The LifeSpan Fitness rowing machine is a solid, middle-of-the-road choice, and comes with a price tag of $499. Some customers have found that their machine's foot straps break relatively easily, costing money to replace over and over again. However, upon testing, we weren't able to reproduce this issue, so it's likely that this was a problem with a particular batch that has now been corrected. The LifeSpan's ability to achieve a moderate resistance level is a plus for many consumers, as is the machine's tendency to stay relatively quiet during a workout.
We wholeheartedly give the Concept2 rowing machine our "Best of the Best" award. While the $945 price tag may drive off customers looking for a bargain, those who have purchased it tell us this deluxe machine is worth the price. This product gets top ratings from users for its solid construction, quality resistance, and durability over time. We especially love how quiet it is; because of it's noise-minimizing flywheel, customers are able to use it while watching TV and never have to worry about disturbing others with a noisy workout. This model has the ability to track calories, stroke rate, heart rate, distance traveled, and several other important workout statistics. It's geared toward serious athletes who want to train for/compete in rowing competitions, but it's also a great piece of equipment for exercise enthusiasts who simply want to keep in shape. Although the Concept2 is a bit bulky when it comes to storage, most customers find it relatively easy to move around on various floor surfaces. Overall, this is a fantastic purchase for those who want a quality piece of equipment and aren't overly concerned about price.
Gain comfort keeping your back and arms straight prior to pushing yourself to the limit on these machines. Risks of back and shoulder injury increase drastically with improper technique.
The Stamina Air Rower gets our "Best Bang for Your Buck" award. For a price of $299, this rowing machine offers very good quality construction and a commendable resistance level for people of all ages and athletic abilities.
Many of the customers we surveyed commented on how quiet the machine is, enabling them to watch TV, listen to music, or work out around others without causing a noise disturbance. They also appreciate how lightweight and easy to store this model is; when not in use, the Stamina Air Rower can be folded up and stored out of sight.
A few mechanical problems were reported to us by some users, but these concerns are minor and do not inhibit the overall effectiveness of the LifeSpan workout. If you're looking for an affordable rowing machine with commendable resistance that gets the job done, the Stamina Air Rower is your best bet.
Don't forget to maintain your rowing machine – you don't want the cable to fray or break!
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.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.