Rowing, as a sport, often invokes hours of tireless training for young men and women attending prestigious Ivy League schools on the American east coast. While it's true that the sport of rowing is trendy at these institutions and in this region, rowing as a habitual form of exercise is quite popular across the United States, primarily when facilitated by a rowing machine.
Though initially designed to provide a dynamic simulation for rowing professionals on land, rowing machines (also known as ergometers) today have broadened their appeal to allow a wide variety of active and exercise-mind folks with the ability to enjoy a full-body exercise method in the comfort and convenience of their own home.
Few other pieces of exercise equipment can provide the degree of resistance and endurance training exhibited by a rowing machine. If you are planning to take full advantage of these purpose-built machines, then you cannot miss out on our review of the top 9 best rowing machines.
In addition to our detailed reviews, don’t forget to check out the rest of our guide to learn critical information such as the different types of rowing machines as well as the best rowing machine workouts to meet your individualized fitness goals.
|Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5||2,969 Reviews|
|Concept2 Model E with PM5 Performance Monitor...||422 Reviews|
|Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing...||1,545 Reviews|
|Stamina 35-1402 ATS Air Rower||81 Reviews|
|Body-Solid GSRM40 Adjustable Seated Row Machine...||28 Reviews|
|First Degree Fitness Newport AR Rower Water Rower...||60 Reviews|
|Circuit Fitness Deluxe Foldable Magnetic Rowing...||45 Reviews|
|Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine||2,610 Reviews|
How do Indoor Rowers Work?
At their core, rowing machines are designed to simulate the feeling and motion of operating a rowing-style watercraft. A user engages with the machine by grabbing a pull bar and drawing it towards themselves while they are seated with their raised feet planted in front of them. Through a sliding seat mechanic, this motion drives the central resistance mechanism, which in turn facilitates engagement from your body’s muscles.
When conducted with proper form (described below in “How to Use a Rowing Machine Efficiently”), an indoor rower can engage a variety of muscle systems, including the legs, arms, and core. All of this can be accomplished while enduring a reasonably low degree of impact, especially when compared to other repetitive motion-type exercise machines such as treadmills or push ups with parallel bars.
Types of Rowers
Air Rowing Machines
Sometimes known as “flywheel rowing machines,” these models are differentiated by their use of a wind-operated braking mechanism to create resistance. As the user pulls on the bar, they drive an internal set of fan blades (the “flywheel”) into motion. This, in turn, creates air pressure and resistance based upon how hard and how frequently the user engages the core mechanic.
Air rowing machines are noteworthy for their near-perfect smoothness and near-silent operation. Moreover, their natural simulation of real rowing has made them prized among professional rowers who live inland.
Magnetic Rowing Machine
As their name implies, magnetic rowing machines use a system of custom-made magnets to feed productive resistance back to the user. When the pull bar is engaged on these models, an internal flywheel made of a magnetic metal is put into motion. Resistance then occurs based upon how close or how far away an auxiliary magnet array is set.
Often, magnetic rowing machines are valued for their ease of operation when it comes to modifying resistance levels on the fly. These models are also some of the most affordable, making them a prime pick for folks just beginning to practice with a rowing machine.
Water Rowing Machine
Water rowing machines are perhaps the most unique in their entire class while also providing the best overall performance. That is because these models perfectly simulate the experience of real on-the-water rowing. This is accomplished through an internal paddle system that spins through a specialized water chamber when the pull bar is engaged.
Water rowing machines provide the most precise degree of operational customization. Their operation can be made harder or easier by adding or subtracting water from the central chamber, respectively. Those looking for the most realistic rowing experience cannot settle for anything less than these models.
Hydraulic Rowing Machine
Hydraulic rowing machines represent the entry-level for their class given their base-level pricing and fairly balanced operation overall. To power these rowing machines, a user engages the pull bar as usual, which in turn causes resistance to be created through an internal air or liquid hydraulic piston system.
These machines do have one noteworthy disadvantage. Because of their core braking mechanic, these models typically do not allow the user to operate them from a natural rowing machine. Even so, their compact form factor makes them the best pick for people with a small living space.
Benefits of Indoor Rowing Machines
- 1A Full-body Workout with Low Impact
A rowing machine workout holds the potential to engage muscle groups across your body, including your biceps, triceps, pecs, abs, hamstrings, and calves. At the same time, though, these fitness machines cut down on overall impact by minimizing non-unified movements.
- 2Quiet Operation for Indoor Use
Quiet operation is essential for folks living in tight living conditions, such as those living in urban apartments. Luckily, these fitness machines minimize overall operational sound production by greatly simplifying their core braking systems.
- 3Ideal for Building Endurance
HIIT practitioners can certainly turn to a rowing machine with confidence. That is because these fitness machines can amp up their challenge rapidly based entirely on how quickly the user performs their reps. This, in turn, allows the user to build their endurance based on their own terms.
- 4Productive, Even Without Plans to Hit the Water
Despite their original purpose, rowing machines provide plenty of benefits for folks without any intentions of taking their rowing skills out on the water. A rowing machine’s capability to increase your cardio and muscular resilience alone speak to their productive implementation in your regular exercise regimen.
Features to Look for in a Quality Rowing Machine
Type of Resistance
Modern rowing machines use a variety of resistance types, based upon their built-in braking system. Water rowing machines, for example, use the force of the user operating a paddlewheel against the water an internal chamber to facilitate resistance. Air rowing machines, on the other hand, create resistance by spinning a built-in fan system. Each type of resistance provides differing degrees of efficiency and smoothness, which in turn equal out to an approximation of live rowing.
Anyone with a small apartment or minimized workout space needs to take size (in terms of physical dimensions) into account when shopping for a new rowing machine. Length plays a distinct role in this factor, given that rowing machines are typically much longer than they are wide. Weight may come into play too, especially if you are trying to avoid floor damage.
Comfort and Adjustability
Comfort is always a must on any piece of exercise equipment, so it stands to reason that you should find a rowing machine with a seat adequately sized and equipped to fit your body type. Also, you should be sure to check a prospective rowing machine to ensure that it can not only hold you within its weight limit but also provide you enough space to make full leg extensions for proper operational form (based upon your height).
A piece of exercise equipment such as a rowing machine represents an investment in your personal fitness, so it is only right that you make that investment a lasting choice by identifying models with peak durability. Whenever possible, you should seek out US-made models that use certifiably sturdy metals throughout their construction.
As an extension of size considerations, you should also identify rowing machine models that include practical storage features. Some modern models can fold up or move from place to place using built-in wheels. Both of these features are ideal for at-home fitness practitioners who want to optimize their minimal spare living space.
Anyone who has spent much time in a gym knows that fitness equipment can be a little noisy. No one wants to bring that amount of noise into their home gym, especially if they live in an apartment or with other individuals. You should be sure to analyze each of your prospective rowing machines based upon how much noise they output while in operation. Generally speaking, air and water rowing machines are respectably two of the quietest types available today.
While core operational quality is essential for any rowing machine, it is also necessary that you appraise each of your prospective models based upon their auxiliary functions. This includes assessing every component that adds to (or subtracts from) the overall user experience, including the implementation of digital monitors and app-based fitness tracking integration.
Ease of Assembly
When buying a piece of equipment such as a rowing machine online, be sure to evaluate that model’s ease of assembly before hitting the “purchase” button. Often, this requires you to determine how long the machine itself takes to assemble, in addition to any requirements for specific type of tools. User reviews are a great place to find holistic appraisals of assembly difficulty.
No one anticipates their new rowing machine breaking down. But when it does, you'll be happy to have purchased a model with a comprehensive and operable warranty. Such a guarantee can ensure that you receive repair support or replacement parts in short order, sometimes at no additional cost. Be sure to read the fine print on each prospective model's warranty to ensure that it is easy to certify after purchase (by phone or with a mailed proof-of-purchase).
9 Best Rowing Machines Reviewed
1. Concept2 Model D
Best Air Resistance Rowing Machine
96 x 24 x 44.5 inches
Weight of Machine
Yes, 5 years
When it comes to finding a compact rowing machine, you’re not going to find many consumer-grade models better than the Concept2 Model D. Following in a 40 year tradition as the best selling and best rated rowing machine across the country, the Concept2 Model D provides a great deal of functional quality, as seen in its easy-to-read LCD screen and 500 pound weight capacity.
This air resistance rowing machine takes full advantage of modern technologies to advance your workout, including the ability to save your favorite workouts onto a removable USB drive. Even folks searching for the best rowing machine for apartments can't pass up the Concept2 Model D due to its relatively simple assembly and simple transportation on built-in caster wheels.
2. Concept2 Model E
Best Rowing Machine for Tall Person
96 x 24 x 20 inches
Weight of Machine
Yes, 5 years on frame & 2 years on monitor
If the Concept2 Model D is the industry’s gold standard, then the Concept2 Model E is a remarkable improvement on an already high-quality air rowing machine. In particular, Concept2 has restructured this particular model with a 20" inch high frame to make it the best rowing machine for tall people and folks with mobility issues.
This model also fully integrates Concept2's proprietary Performance Monitor 5 system to make monitoring your key vitals and statistics streamlined and straightforward.
The Concept2 Model E also comes with an excellent degree of durability across its entire construction. For example, the Model E’s powder-coated glossy finish prevents scratches and repetitive wear from extensive use. Along the same lines, this model’s nickel-plated chain requires far less oiling, making it easy to maintain as a new mainstay in your home gym.
3. WaterRower Natural
Best Water Resistance Rowing Machine
84 x 21 x 22 inches
Weight of Machine
Yes, 1-year standard (upgraded to 5-year on frame and 3-year on components with registration)
The name “WaterRower” has become synonymous with top performance in its class, making it the best water resistance rowing machine by far. Much of this high praise derives from its primary operation, which includes the use of twin paddles inside of enclosed water tank to smoothly and quietly simulate the feeling of live rowing.
Also, this model has gained recognition for its implementation of a stable and reliable framework. An example is this model's solid AAshwood with honey oak and Danish oil stain frame. While this model's structure is a sight to behold due to its stain style, you'll also find it exceptionally able to resist vibrations and remain structurally sound throughout many years of use.
For more water rowing machines, check out our full guide here.
4. Sunny Health & Fitness
Best Magnetic Rowing Machine
82 x 19 x 23 inches
Weight of Machine
Some folks have called this Sunny Health & Fitness model the best magnetic rowing machine, a title that it can undoubtedly carry with some pride. This model's magnetic tension system certainly deserves this degree of praise because it provides 8 adjustable resistance levels for rowers of different skill levels. This model's large anti-slip foot pedals are also among the best at giving users of all foot sizes with a balanced and secure rowing experience.
While proper form will get you a long way towards preventing injury while on your rowing machine, it can’t necessarily prevent those related to operational friction. But, luckily, this model works to cut down on these risks by implementing foam grip handlebars that prevent callouses. That can certainly make up for this model’s relatively low 250 lbs. weight limit.
5. Stamina 35-1402 ATS Air Rower
Best Home Rowing Machine
73.5 x 18.2 x 22 inches
Weight of Machine
The Stamina 35-1402 ATS Air Rower is undoubtedly among the best home rowing machine options available today, primarily due to its ability to provide degrees of functionality comparable to three times more expensive models. This can certainly be seen on its multi-function monitor, which displays key metrics, including strokes per minute, distance, speed, time, and calories burned.
This model also brings a substantial degree of durability to the table, as seen in its sturdy steel frame and use of nylon foot straps. Folks shopping for operational quality should also take note of this model's aluminum rail and angled seat, which work together to provide a smooth and comfortable sliding motion.
6. Body-Solid Seated Row Machine (GSRM40)
Best T-Bar Row Machine
44 x 39 x 54 inches
Weight of Machine
Unrated (due to architecture)
Yes, lifetime manufacturer's warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.
The Body-Solid Seated Row Machine is a unique type of rowing machine that focuses primarily on arm strength rather than leg strength. As the best T-bar row machine on the market today, you can expect a great deal of reliability each time you sit down at this machine. You may literally feel this reliability due to this model’s use of thick DuraFirm upholstery to provide maximum comfort to all users.
This reliability extends even further into this model’s steel frame, which manages to remain stable even as you pile on more weight discs (sold separately). This model’s oil-lite bronze bushings are another bright point in this model's construction that provides the user with friction-free movement as they enhance their lower back and lat muscles.
7. First Degree Fitness Newport AR
Best Rowing Machine Under $1000
20.9 x 77.8 x 20.1
Weight of Machine
Yes, 5 years on the metal frame, 3 years on tank and seals, 2 years on non-mechanical components, 1 year on all other components
If you’re in search of the best rowing machine under $1000, then search no further than the First Degree Fitness Newport AR. This water rowing machine provides all of the quality of its class while offering a price tag that any amateur rower can appreciate. For this affordable price tag, you'll receive a well-built and high-performing model that makes optimal use of a polycarbonate shell and triple-bladed stainless steel paddle.
This core resistance system is further supported by this model’s belt system, which itself runs smoothly without any additional noise. You won’t find another rowing machine of any type with a better warranty portfolio model, also. With warranties of 5 years on the metal frame, 3 years on the tank and seals, and 2 years on the non-mechanical components, you can bet that this rowing machine is a wise investment.
8. CIRCUIT FITNESS Deluxe
Best Rowing Machine Under $500
91 x 31.5 x 20.5 inches
Weight of Machine
Yes, 2-year limited
Based on current market standards, the CIRCUIT FITNESS Deluxe stands as one the best inexpensive rowing machines around. Clocking in at under $500, this model certainly doesn't take the cheap route when it comes to performance. In fact, this model's 11-pound flywheel provides a smooth and efficient operation that is further supplemented by its 2-way bearing belt transmission.
For a model that can hold users up to 300 lbs., this model folds up surprisingly well. Using its user-friendly storage system, you can compact this rowing machine down to 49 x 20.5 x 51 dimensions and roll it away on its built-in wheel system. All things said, this model’s uncomfortable seat stands as one of its only weaknesses.
9. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050
Best Hydraulic Rowing Machine
50 x 12 x 10 inches
Weight of Machine
Yes, 1 year on frame and 90 days on components
The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 actually deserves two titles as both the best hydraulic rowing machine and as the best budget rowing machine under $300. This model can claim both of those prizes because it has managed to implement a water-like hydraulic cylinder resistance system that won’t break the bank of new rowers.
This model also keeps user comfort at the forefront, as seen in its implementation of textured footplates and a molded seat. Stowing away this rowing machine is also an absolute breeze given its 39-pound overall weight and easy-to-fold arms. Though its warranty periods are rather brief, you can still certainly grow to appreciate this hydraulic rowing machine.
Rowing Machine Assembly
Though it can look intimidating on the surface, assembling your new rowing machine can be an efficient process as long as you follow all of the manufacturer-recommended steps to the "T."
With that in mind, be sure to fully read through your owner's manual before you begin the assembly process to ensure that you have a broad understanding of how each part will come together as well as what tools you'll need to accomplish this goal.
Every rowing machine uses a slightly different assembly process. However, you can get a general idea of how each modern rowing machine is constructed at home in this informative video:
How to Use a Rowing Machine Efficiently
Using a rowing machine efficiently comes down to form, making it essential that you learn about proper form before you begin to build habits on your new exercise equipment. Though your rowing machine's manufacturer will make recommendations for operational form in your owner's manual, you can also use these keys to maximize your operational efficiency without incurring unnecessary injuries:
- 1Properly stretch and hydrate before starting on the rowing machine
- 2Always set the resistance level within a reasonable boundary. Never overexert yourself.
- 3Strap your feet into the appropriate location according to your model’s safety instructions.
- 4Sliding forward, keep your back firm and straight.
- 5Push from the legs and only engage your arms after the pull bar has passed your knees
- 6Repeat this process while maintaining form for best results.
Care & Maintenance of Ergometers
Maintaining your new ergometer can be essential to keeping it safe and operational for many exercise sessions to come. Both short-term and long-term maintenance are necessary to keep your new machine in top form, so don’t skimp out on either. Consider checking out the following video to learn the best maintenance methods from a rowing machine professional:
Rowing Machine Workouts
Take some external sources that provide these and quote them. If you’re looking to maximize your time on your new rowing machine, consider trying out one of the following workouts in accordance with your experience level and performance goals:
From Concept2: After a 5-minute warmup, alternate 40 seconds of hard rowing with 20 seconds of soft rowing for 10 minutes. Finish with a 5 minute warm down.
For Weight Loss
From Coach Magazine UK: After a 5-minute warmup, row as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then rest for another 30 seconds. Repeat this for 6 cycles before resting for 3 minutes. Repeat this set sequence three times using the same degree of intensity each time.
From Men’s Journal: Row for a total of 3,000 meters consecutively (with 4-minute breaks between each set). Each set should consist of 1,000 meters at a steady state of intensity.
For Full Body Cross-Training
From Coach Magazine UK: With your interface properly adjusted, row as quickly as possible with good posture until you burn 27 calories. Rise from the rower and then perform 27 thrusters with 20kg dumbbells. Then, return to the rower and repeat this cycle with 15 calories burned and 15 thrusters. Follow this with another cycle at 9 calories and 9 thrusters.
For High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
From Concept2: After a 10-minute warmup, row 1 set of Tabata high-intensity intervals. These are made up of 8 cycles of a “20 seconds hard, 10 seconds soft” rowing sequence. Cool down for 5 minutes and repeat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are rowers good for cardio and/or building core muscle strength?
Absolutely. Because of their optimal implementation of resistance combined with a multi-system operation, you'll be able to build core muscular resilience while also refining your cardio endurance.
Which specific muscles does a rowing machine work?
A rowing machine can engage a wide array of muscles at once, all through a single unified motion. Some of the most noteworthy muscles engaged during operation with ideal form include deltoids, pecs, biceps, abs, obliques, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lats, and triceps.
Will a rowing machine tone my stomach?
If used with proper form, you may be able to tone your stomach using a rowing machine. Though these machines do engage key core muscle groups include the abs and obliques, you should also add in other differentiate core workouts to maximize toning results.
How many calories does a rowing machine burn?
Calorie burning on a rowing machine, like all other exercise machines, varies broadly based upon on how many repetitions you complete, as well as how long those repetitions take to complete as well as your average degree of resistance. When calculating your anticipated calorie burn, you should also take into account your existing rowing experience as well as your weight.
How do rowers compare with treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bikes, and steppers?
In many ways, rowing machines hold a district advantage over these other common forms of at-home fitness like treadmills. For example, rowing machines greatly minimize the volume of impact placed on the user’s feet while managing to provide positive resistance to muscle groups across the body – all in a single repetition. Rowing machines also take up less space than most ellipticals and exercise bikes.
How long should one workout on a rowing machine?
Workout lengths should always be determined based upon your experience with a piece of exercise equipment, as well as your chosen volume of resistance. Rather than shoot for a specific number of minutes on a rowing machine, you may consider planning your workout based on sets of repetitions to encourage consistency.
Which rowing machines operate the quietest?
Out of the several rowing machine types available today, many consider water rowing machines to be among the quietest due to their minimal number of moving parts (which includes the chambered water and paddle system). However, air rowing machines are considered to be a close runner up in this category due to their wind-operated braking system.
At the end of the day, there really are some great rowing machines available for addition to your home gym today. Though each of these models excels in their own way, only the Concept2 Model D can stand out as the absolute best based upon its core performance and reliability as a long-term fitness investment.
Simply put, both amateur and professional rowers alike can appreciate this top-of-the-line model.
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