The rowing machine is a popular and classic home exercise machine. Rowers provide an excellent upper body workout while improving your cardiovascular stamina. From your legs to your shoulders and core, rowing machines provide a low-impact way to build muscle and endurance.
With a home rowing machine, you don’t have to worry about the weather, pricey gym memberships, or social embarrassment. Like the exercise bike, a rower provides an excellent way to get a regular workout without various practical and psychological barriers getting in the way.
Rowing machines can work for a wide range of people, so there are plenty of options on the market. In this guide, we look at how rowing machines work and how to choose the right one for you. We’ll also give you our top picks for the best rowers available.
Our Top Picks: Summary
- Best Overall: Concept2 Model D
- Budget Pick: Fitness Reality 1000
- Best Water Rower: WaterRower A1
- Also Good: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515
The Best Rowing Machines: Our Top Picks
Our best overall rower combines quality, performance, and value for money, which led us to the Concept2 Model D.
The Model D rower features an air-resistance flywheel, and the airflow is controlled by a damper to change the level of resistance from 1 to 10. This air-based resistance keeps the rower relatively quiet when in use.
The rower’s backlit console makes it easy to track your data and includes Bluetooth, so it can be paired with fitness apps. Workouts can also be saved to USB drive and the console is pre-programmed with several games.
The Model D can be tilted upright and separated for easier storage, which is great for homes with limited space, and caster wheels make it easy to move from place to place.
The Model D also comes with a 5-year frame warranty, which helps to protect your investment.
Keep in Mind
While the rail length will suit most users, those with an inseam longer than 38 inches may need an extra-long rail.
In a Nutshell
- 10 resistance levels
- Backlit console
- Separates for storage
Why We Picked It
The Fitness Reality 1000 is a sleek and modern rower with a full array of features despite its low cost. It features a slide rail length of 39 inches and 14 levels of magnetic resistance, which can be adjusted easily using the knob on the center console.
This rower also provides excellent value for money due to its multi-directional functionality. This means it can be used for a variety of different exercises, including standing front raises, tricep extensions, and reverse grip curls. The handlebars are extra wide to accommodate the different grip styles that accompany these exercises.
Bluetooth connectivity allows users to pair the rower with the included My Cloud Fitness app and monitor their overall fitness.
This rower can also be folded for storage, which will suit many budget-conscious shoppers who may have limited space at home.
Keep in Mind
The foldability makes it great for users with limited space, but it does require a short disassembly sequence.
In a Nutshell
- 14 resistance levels
- Multi-functional for additional exercises
- Can be folded
A consummate water rower that keeps things simple.
Why We Picked It
Water rowers can create an organic sense of resistance and may blend better into the home thanks to their wooden frames. Our top choice of the available water rowers was the WaterRower A1.
The WaterRower A1 keeps things simple yet effective. Its water-resistant flywheel means users can adjust its resistance by raising or lowering its water level, though resistance level is primarily driven by how fast or slow the user pulls. When in use, the WaterRower has a notable swishing water sound, which will appeal to some users.
The A1 is a made with unstained Ash hardwood, giving it a distinct aesthetic compared to the other rowers on the list. Those who are aiming to capture the feel of rowing on water will enjoy the water-based resistance and smooth motion.
The WaterRower A1 comes with a 3-year parts warranty and a 5-year frame warranty.
Keep in Mind
Water rowers are often heavier than alternative rower types and thus more difficult to move.
In a Nutshell
- Water-based resistance
- Ash hardwood frame
- 5-year frame warranty
Another excellent rower with plenty of great features.
Why We Picked It
This rower features 8 levels of magnetic resistance and an extra-long, 48-inch slide rail length, which can accommodate rowers of most heights to a maximum inseam of 44 inches. Non-slip foot pedals with foot straps provide a solid footing for your workout, while foam grip handlebars reduce friction on the hands. A padded seat also helps keep the rower comfortable during their workout.
The Sunny Health & Fitness rower also comes with built-in transportation wheels, which makes it easier to move the rower from place to place.
This rower also comes with a simple yet clear LCD console that displays your total workout time and calories burned, with a scan mode for tracking your fitness goals.
Keep in Mind
The LCD console covers the basics but lacks advanced features like pre-programmed workouts.
In a Nutshell
- 8 resistance levels
- Extra-long slide rail length
- Foam grip handlebars and padded seat
How We Chose the Best Rowing Machines
To choose the best rowing machines, we looked at a variety of key areas to provide the most complete picture possible of the typical user experience.
Comfort and Adjustability
We believe ergonomics are fundamental to good exercise technique, particularly at home. An ergonomic set-up helps to avoid injuries and keeps any discomfort where it belongs when exercising.
We looked for rowers with adjustable and comfort-enhancing elements, like ergonomically-shaped seats, foot pads, and other adjustable components. We also looked at how easy it was to change the resistance level mid-workout. These things all ensure the focus remains on your exercise routine.
Monitor features allow users to take control of their own workout, providing them with real-time feedback through calorie trackers, timers, and even Bluetooth connectivity to apps.
However, it’s worth noting that none of these functions is essential, so we don’t advocate paying more for advanced features. We prioritized machines that covered the basics and noted where models offered more advanced features, but we didn’t select for high-end, feature-rich models.
Rowers have a significant footprint and not all users will want to keep them set up. We looked at how easy it was to re-assemble each machine and whether it included any storage capabilities. Even storage capabilities vary somewhat, with some models requiring some light disassembly as part of the folding process.
Given that most shoppers don’t shop on an infinite budget, we balanced features against price when reviewing each rower. This also allowed us to keep the focus on the exercise where it belonged, as it’s otherwise easy to become distracted by various bells and whistles both when shopping and when using the machine.
Customer reviews pull together impressions from a wide range of people, which allows us to build a consensus user experience. We also look at customer reviews to highlight any recurring issues, such as whether the machine is unexpectedly noisy or has rougher or choppier operation than expected.
What is a Rowing Machine?
Compared to other exercise machines, a rowing machine burns more calories on average than walking or running, and offers a more holistic workout. Alongside its cardio benefits, rowing activates muscle groups in the back, shoulders, arms, core, and legs.
Like other home exercise machines, rowing breaks down some common barriers to regular exercise. These include the cost of a gym membership, a lack of suitable outdoor spaces, adverse weather, and social pressure or embarrassment. With a rowing machine, you can exercise whenever you want and in the comfort of your home.
Who Should Buy a Rowing Machine
While most people can benefit from using a rowing machine, some may find it more suited to their lifestyle and fitness regime than others.
Rowing machines can be a great option for people who struggle to make time for exercise. A workout on a rower typically burns calories quicker than the equivalent on an exercise bike, which is ideal for people struggling to make time for exercise.
Rowing is perfect for people who also want to exercise a wide range of muscles alongside their cardio, where running or riding focuses more on one region. Once again, this can make the entire workout regime more efficient than its equivalent on a bike or elliptical.
Rowers are less suited to people who don’t have much space in their home. Although some rowers can be disassembled and stored, this can present a barrier to use, and it’s typically better to leave a machine fully assembled and set up.
People with back problems will need to be careful when using a rower, as poor technique could exacerbate existing problems.
On the whole, rowing is a relatively low-impact way to workout and is suitable for most people. The ability to adjust resistance levels by either setting them manually or increasing/decreasing the intensity of a workout means they work well both for accomplished athletes and people just starting to get into shape.
Types of Rowing Machines
Not all rowers work the same way. There are four main methods rowing machines use to generate resistance, each with their pros and cons. Here are the different types:
- Air: The flywheel in an air rower functions somewhat like a user-driven fan. As the user rows, the flywheel turns and meets resistance from the air. The harder the rower works, the higher the resistance level becomes. Air rowers are popular for this infinite resistance and for simulating the feel of rowing in water.
- Hydraulic-piston: The piston-based resistance of a hydraulic-piston rower makes them smaller than other varieties, and often cheaper. However, hydraulic-piston rowers have a few notable disadvantages, including potential asymmetry and poor durability.
- Magnetic: Magnetic rowers use magnets to essentially apply the brakes to the flywheel at a certain level of resistance, usually set with a simple dial on the rower console. These are easy to change on the fly and their resistance operates at a fixed level, instead of responding to user input like an air or water rower. Though this makes them predictable, and it can be a drawback for users who want a more dynamic experience.
- Water: Water-based rowing machines use a submerged flywheel to generate resistance in response to user input. Though the water level can be increased or decreased to change the basic resistance on offer, it’s better to leave the tank full and allow your strokes to establish the resistance level. Water rowers are usually noisier than some alternatives, but some enjoy the sound they produce.
What to Consider When Choosing a Rowing Machines?
When choosing the right rowing machine for you, you’ll want to consider both its overall quality and your specific needs. Here are a few areas to think about when making your choice.
Most shoppers work around the limitations of their living space when shopping for a piece of home exercise equipment, so the footprint and storage options for each machine are relevant factors.
Consider what kind of space you have and whether you plan to leave the rower in situ or store it when not in use. Some machines come with wheels or can be disassembled and reassembled more easily than others. However, it’s important to remember that moving or reassembling a rower could present a psychological barrier to working out.
Each type of rower offers a different feel to its resistance, from the organic, infinite resistance of an air or water model to the set levels of a magnetic one. Some users will want to capture the feel of rowing on water, while others are only in it for the exercise. Refer back to our section on the different resistance types to help you make your decision.
While most people think of rowing machines as being somewhat noisy, they come in a range of noise levels, from old-school and noisy to near-silent. For anyone who lives in a busy household or is simply sensitive to noise, silent models will be preferable.
However, rowing machines are unique among exercise machines in that some people actually prefer the noisier version. This can feel less eerie than using a silent model, as it provides the user with some obvious sensory feedback. Some people buy water rowers specifically for the sound they make.
You’ll want to factor ergonomics into your decision-making, as a poor ergonomic configuration can lead to strain, discomfort, and injury. Choose a rower that suits your height. Most rowers give a maximum inseam length, so use this as your guide.
Opting for a machine with foam grips, a padded seat, and foot straps can make your exercise more ergonomic, keeping your focus where it belongs.
In theory, an exercise machine doesn’t need any monitoring features at all, but we prefer that they include at least the basics: time, calories burned, and so on.
Some rowers offer more high-tech options for monitoring your workout, including Bluetooth connectivity. Many rowers now come ready to connect to the manufacturer’s fitness app.
Rowing machines feature several moving parts, including elements on rollers and under tension, which can cause harm if used incorrectly. These considerations mean that a machine’s safety features could be relevant to you, especially if you have children or pets in your home.
Some rowing machines come with additional safety features, such as locks that users can engage when the machine isn’t in use. If you’re concerned about safety, consider buying a rower with these features.
As most people aren’t working with an infinite budget, shoppers will need to balance their budget against a rower’s cost and range of features.
Rowers can be effective even at relatively low price points, as most advanced features are nice-to-haves. However, it’s important to establish a minimum quality threshold to ensure build quality, longevity, and smooth performance.
High-end rowers include a range of advanced features, but these are better-suited to long-term rowers who may be looking to upgrade their experience.
Tips for Using your Rowing Machine
To gain the maximum benefit from your rower, you’ll need to know how to use it safely and efficiently. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your rowing machine:
- Technique: You should make learning the basic technique for rowing your number one priority when buying one. This will protect you from injury and ensure you get the most efficient workout possible. The basic rowing stroke has four main stages: the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery, so familiarize yourself with these to create an even, beneficial rowing experience.
- Posture: As part of developing your technique, spare some attention for your posture. You need to protect your back as you workout to ensure you only “feel the burn” where it’s supposed to be. Good posture will mean your muscles in the back and shoulders are properly engaged. As with most exercises, your core forms an essential part of the workout, no matter which extremities you’re training.
- Storage: Although you may be able to store your rower model, think about how you approach it. Storing a rower in an out-of-the-way place puts up barriers between you and your work—the kind of barriers a home exercise machine is supposed to break down.
If you’ve found this guide helpful, be sure to check out some of our other exercise equipment guides.