Rowing is one of the best forms of exercise out there. It combines a cardiovascular workout with muscle development for your back and arms. Unlike other cardio machines (treadmills, bikes, etc.) it’s a workout for the whole body! Because it works twice as many muscle groups as a treadmill, you’ll burn more calories faster. Proper form promotes good posture, healthy backs, and is a great way to stay in shape. It’s also a low-impact activity. Running places a lot of stress on joints, while rowing is a more fluid, natural motion. It minimizes orthopedic trauma and ensures that your whole body gets in better shape.
With all that in mind, there are lots of equipment options out there which can be hard to navigate. We’ll steer you straight in this in-depth guide!
First, take a quick look at our current most popular recommendations:
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
5 Year Warranty
3 Year Warranty
Thinking about which kind of rowing machine to buy:
Whether you’re looking to continue a lifelong practice or are thinking about starting a fitness regimen for the first time, these indoor machines are a great piece of equipment to own. They’re low-maintenance, simple to assemble, and don’t require lots of accessories. There are quite a few options on the market, priced anywhere from $200-$2000. They are grouped by the type of resistance system used, so that’s the first thing you’ll want to consider.
Hydraulic resistance is the least expensive option, and these models are generally very quiet. Piston systems allow adjustable resistance in a compact package. But motions with these models are slightly different from tradition formats because most hydraulic models don’t have a sliding seat. The stationary seat means that you’ll be using your upper body more than you would with other types. On the plus side, you’ll save a lot more space.
Magnetic resistance systems are middling in price. They’re more durable than piston systems, and they allow for a more realistic experience with minimal noise. Working on a sliding track like air rowers, magnetic models are compact and usually easy to take down for storage. The only downside is that they can be somewhat stickier than a fan system, so advanced rowers might not enjoy the motion.
Lastly, there are some models that use fans and belts to add resistance. These are generally the most expensive. That’s because they feel the smoothest to use. And since the fan turns proportionally to the speed you row, it automatically raises and lowers the resistance as you go! The simplicity of the fan design makes them strong and long-lasting. They do take up more space than hydraulic or magnetic models, but most recent models make accommodations for people who will be taking them down frequently. If you’re a passionate enthusiast who will use the equipment daily, these are the best choice for you!
Things to Think About When Shopping for a Rowing Machine
Thinking about your fitness plan will help you figure out how much time you’ll be spending with your new machine.
If you’re looking to get in shape, maybe for the first time, you’ll probably want something with low-to-medium resistance. An inexpensive model will allow you to try rowing without spending a lot of money. Piston resistance systems offer a lot to the entry-level exerciser. However, they tend to be less durable and have inadequate resistance for stronger people and lifelong rowers.
Magnetic models are great for people who exercise a fair amount. They are still limited in their resistance potential, but are sufficient for most home users. If you’re looking for a good midrange option, one of these will probably be up your alley.
Air models are used by most professionals and serious athletes. They’re also used in fitness clubs and gyms because they can handle quite a lot of wear. If you’ll be spending lots of time with your machine, you’ll want to think about an air version. They have the smoothest feel, and best durability.
If you have long-term fitness goals, or are a lifelong athlete, consider making a larger investment for something you know will last you a long time. The better shape you’re in, the more you’ll be putting your exercise equipment to the test. Also, you’ll want a machine which can help you monitor your progress with a solid computer system. This will help you stay on track with your fitness plan.
If you’re a heavier person, you’ll want to make sure you check to see how high the user rating is on a particular model. Some aren’t built for bigger bodies. Also, bear in mind that collapsible models won’t be able to handle as much weight as a solid piece. More expensive ones tend to be the sturdiest options out there. Be sure to check the stroke length and weight rating on any model you’re thinking about!
Most machines are long, low and thin, with a central track and a resistance system at one end. They’ll fit well in a garage or home gym environment. If you’ve already got space dedicated to a home gym, you probably don’t need to worry about size. If you’re going to be using them in your living room, you might want to think about finding a machine with non-traditional or collapsible build. Some are collapsible, while others are simply modified and have smaller footprints. Piston and magnetic rowers tend to be smaller, more easily-collapsible choices. Air models are bulkier, but some newer models do have collapsible features built in.
Overall, the more expensive machines tend to be better made, but some top models also come with added electronic frills that don’t really make an impact on the exercise experience. So, be sure to spend your money where it counts, on the actual stroke! You’ll also want to consider the durability of the machine in question. If you’re planning on making rowing a part of your life in the long term, it’s a good idea to make a larger investment now and have it last. The most expensive models have the best warranty coverage and reliability ratings.
There’s a lot to think about, and a lot of models to choose from. We’ve done some of the work for you. Here are our top picks for value, quality, and user popularity:
Top Rowing Machine Reviews
Stamina Air Rower
A budget-price air rower with a sturdy, compact frame. It comes with a foldable frame and built-in wheels for storage. The Stamina is inexpensive, but has all the basic features you need for your workouts, including an electronic fitness monitor. Perfect for working out at home without needing the space of a full home gym.
The footprint is quite small. At 77”, it’s much shorter than the Concept II. The Stamina also folds up simply and can be wheeled into storage.
The wind-resistance design provides a realistic experience at a very low cost. Most reviewers wrote about how satisfied they were with their workouts on such an inexpensive machine. While some mentioned that the resistance isn’t adjustable, other users clarified that because it’s a wind model, it simply responds to the speed at which you row.
It’s not the best choice for larger people. There’s nothing at the back of the rail to stop the seat sliding off, and that’s a possibility if you’ve got quite long legs. Also, the model is only rated for people up to 250 pounds. Buyers cautioned that larger users and users who are planning to do some really intense pulling might not be safe with this model.
Because it’s a budget model, it lacks certain design elegance which you’d find in the Concept II, for example. The fan is loud, and some previous buyers found it irritating. It also uses more plastic in its design, which is less durable than a metal casing.
The electronics are fairly limited, and some reviewers seemed to think that the readings were inaccurate. Don’t expect integration with other devices, but you will get a basic readout.
The Stamina is a true air rower at a very low price. However, be prepared for the no-frills experience. It’s not for professionals, but it’s simple and easy to use. Stamina also backs up the frame with a 3-year warranty, and previous buyers found that if a part broke beyond the 90-day parts warranty, customer service was prompt and helpful. It’ll give a more authentic motion than other budget models.
Concept II Rowing Machine
A high-end machine which is durable, simple, and easy to use. It’s very popular among gyms and fitness clubs, and is the top choice for most professional indoor training and competitions. The machine uses a fan resistance system with a flywheel, and comes with a computer system and included software.
Most machines with fan systems are incredibly loud. Noise comes from the fan as well as the chain used to pull it. The Concept II minimizes this by way of a flywheel belted on to the fan itself. This maximizes resistance while greatly diminishing the overall noise level.
The workout is challenging, but flexible. The resistance system is adjustable, and the machine operates on the principle that the person doing the rowing decides the amount of resistance simply by the intensity of their pull. Basically, the faster you pull, the harder the resistance. While experienced users will not be disappointed by the reflexive nature of the pull, even reviewers who were starting fresh found that their workouts left them feeling more fit and more flexible.
The Concept II is built to last. It’s rated for users up to 500 lbs, and comes with a long warranty period. The frame is insured for 5 years, and the moving parts for 2 years. Reviewers were very impressed with the build quality on these machines, especially compared to the cheaper options.
It comes apart easily, and can be stored in two pieces. The manufacturer warns against standing it up while fully put together, as it could be knocked over. However, many reviewers found that they could easily lean it up against the wall for a simpler storage solution.
The PM-5 computer system is Bluetooth enabled and is designed to be able to share fitness data with your phone, watch, or computer. It also comes with software which includes preset workouts, games, and data tracking.
A couple reviewers found that the included foot-straps loosened too easily. They replaced them with velcro, but this seems to be an isolated issue.
The monitor/computer system seems to be a bit glitchy when connecting to external devices. One customer was disappointed that the software was difficult to integrate with other fitness apps.
If you’re prepared to shell out for a professional-grade machine, you can’t do better than the made-in-the-USA Concept II. With its solid construction and simple design, it’s no wonder so many gyms and clubs use this model.
Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
It’s designed to be taken down easily, and includes built-in wheels for getting it out of the way conveniently.
The magnetic resistance system is very quiet, and was described as a whir or slight buzz, like a white noise machine.
The electronics seem to be a notable plus, and most buyers found it intuitive and easy to use. They enjoyed having lots of different workout programs to choose from. That’s especially important for people who aren’t used to lots of exercise, who need variety to stay engaged.
Many reviewers found it a durable piece of equipment. One writer said that the machine was still going strong after 4 years. The construction is heavy metal, supported by a central aluminum beam.
The resistance only goes so high. Reviewers said that the top level of intensity on this machine only comes to about half the maximum settings on most air rowers.
Several reviewers had trouble with the assembly process. They found that the packaging and included instructions were confusing and hard to follow.
It’s not for taller rowers. While the compact design makes it a convenient choice, reviewers who were over 6 feet in height said that if you’re over 6′ 2″ or so, you might not have enough room to row with proper form. They also advised that the compact design doesn’t allow you to lean forward as far as you might on a larger model.
Buyers praised the overall quality of the construction, and expected the machine to last them a long time. Most found that the resistance satisfied their needs and that the electronic system had plenty of pre-programmed workouts to keep them challenged. It’s a good choice for the average rower, who wants something durable and comfortable. If you need higher resistance, the Concept II might be a better choice.
We’ve looked at three of the best rowing machines available online. The Stamina Air Rower gives you the realistic experience and quality resistance of air rowers at the price of a hydraulic model. It’s perfect for the beginner rower or for casual fitness enthusiasts. The Concept II is the ultimate indoor rowing machine–durable, variable, and well-equipped. If you’re a serious fitness buff, and are going to make an investment, you can’t do better than this machine. The Velocity Magnetic Rower, is a great midrange option for everyone in between. It’s solid, compact, and provides a wide range of exercise for most users.
Any rowing machine will work better for you if you develop proper rowing form. Most machines come with instructional materials. There are also plenty of video tutorials on the internet. Make sure you take the time to learn about form and technique, especially if you’re a first-time rower. Proper form will improve your fitness results, minimize wear and tear on your machine, and keep your body safe during exercise. Check out this helpful video from the WaterRower company:
Other Exercise Options
If you’re looking for a rowing machine which truly mimics the experience of outdoor rowing and are prepared to invest more, you’ll want to check out our reviews of WaterRowers rowing machines . They’re built in much the same way as air rowers, but use onboard water to give you a more realistic sensation and resistance. Water rowers are also more elegant designs, featuring wood construction and detailing. Although they’re more expensive, they’re beautiful machines which provide a quiet, smooth, and fluid row.
If you’re interested in other types of exercise equipment, check out our guides to the best treadmills, ellipticals, and exercise bikes at homefitnessintel.com!