Even if you’re not a water sports enthusiast, you can still appreciate a great total-body workout with a rowing machine.
Rowing machines simulate a realistic on-the-water rowing experience. This is achieved through resistance, which depending on the machine, may be magnetic, water, flywheel, or hydraulic. Users adjust resistance levels to preference to enjoy a calm, steady row— or an intense one that mimics rowing on choppy waters.
Find the right rowing machine with help from this buying guide. We’re also sharing our top choices at the end, including Hydrow Connected Rower, a high-end interactive rower that streams live and on-demand workouts.
Rowing machines monopolize a good amount of floor space. On average, their footprint measures 36 x 90 inches. Depending on their design, they may weigh up to 250 pounds.
Most rowing machines are fixed designs, meaning they aren’t portable. If you are looking for portability in a rowing machine, you’ll find a few folding or compact models on the market.
Rowing machines are generally grouped into categories based on their resistance type. Here’s what you need to know about each type:
Water rowing machines: These rowing machines draw resistance from a water-filled flywheel. According to many users, they offer a realistic rowing experience on-par with outdoor rowing.
Magnetic resistance rowing machines: Rowing machines in this group utilize a magnetic brake system. They offer a smooth rowing motion, and it’s easy to adjust their resistance. However, people feel they fall short in simulating outdoor rowing.
Air or flywheel rowing machines: These rowing machines have a flywheel with fan blades. The harder you pull on the handle, the more resistance you’ll get. Many users feel they mimic the outdoor rowing experience better than other rowing machines.
Hydraulic rowing machines: Rowing machines in this group are equipped with hydraulic pistons. They generate resistance by pulling fluid or air inside their cylinders. While some people feel they don’t offer an authentic rowing experience, they’re ideal for an upper body workout.
If you’re not sure which type of resistance you should choose in a rowing machine, consider your workout goals to narrow your choices.
Rowing enthusiasts and competitive rowers often gravitate toward air and water resistance machines. Because they offer a realistic rowing experience, these machines are considered ideal for performance training.
If you’re only looking for an upper body workout, hydraulic and magnetic resistance rowing machines are fair choices. They are known for their smooth motion, and many of these models are beginner-friendly.
Ideally, a rowing machine should have an ergonomic design. After all, if it’s not comfortable — or feels cumbersome to use — it’s unlikely you’ll continue using the machine.
Basic rowing machines have simple displays or digital monitors. They show basic information such as distance, time, or calories burned.
High-end rowing machines, on the other hand, have well-developed consoles. They’re often equipped with HD touch screens that stream live and on-demand workouts as well as other types of media. The consoles also have speaker systems, though sound quality varies quite a bit among machines.
Many entry-level rowing machines with hydraulic or magnetic resistance cost $500 and below. Air and water resistance rowing machines typically run between $900 to $1,500, while high-end models with touchscreens run as high as $2,500.
A. Like other exercise machines, rowing machines make considerable noise during operation. Magnetic and water resistance machines, however, tend to be a bit quieter than hydraulic and air resistance machines.
A. Yes. Some rowing machines are sold with limited-time access to their companion apps, but after that expires, you’ll need to pay monthly or annually for them. On average, these apps cost around $40 per month.
What you need to know: This premium machine offers a realistic rowing experience with smooth yet challenging resistance.
What you’ll love: Comes with a 22-inch HD touch screen that streams live and on-demand classes. Speaker quality is better than expected. Built-to-last design and backed by a one-year home warranty.
What you should consider: High price point and occasional syncing issues with certain devices.
Where to buy: Sold by Hydrow
What you need to know: Made by a trusted brand, this rowing machine is a mid-range option with plenty of premium features.
What you’ll love: Equipped with 26 resistance levels and offers manual as well as air resistance. Has a 22-inch HD touch screen to stream iFit classes. Users are big fans of the interactive iFit platform and its dynamic workouts.
What you should consider: Small learning curve when it comes to collapsing the machine.
Where to buy: Sold by NordicTrack
What you need to know: This affordable rowing machine is popular among budget-conscious consumers.
What you’ll love: Has a digital monitor and is equipped with eight resistance levels. Machine has a wide, cushioned seat that users find comfortable. Overall simple design is beginner-friendly.
What you should consider: The digital monitor is small and can be hard to see.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.