10 Best Rowing Machines Compared & Reviewed
You have likely heard of the benefits of rowing but may have been uninterested due to the seemingly complex movement involved. While it does take some time and care to develop proper technique, no runner should be deterred from this amazing exercise. Rowing is a truly unique and beneficial tool for any runner. It can serve as both the perfect complement to and an efficient replacement for running. This full body workout has virtually no impact on the joints and is a very low risk for runners.
Rowing engages the entire body to raise your heart rate up and warm your muscles quickly. This makes it a great option for a warm-up and/or cool down for any run. The rowing motion works most of the muscles in the body and, if you are new to the exercise, you will quickly notice the areas you have been neglecting. By working these seldom-used muscles you can increase speed, prevent injury and even improve your running form. Furthermore, if you are already injured, rowing can keep you in great cardiovascular shape without exacerbating the issue.
Most gyms have a few rowing machines or rowing ergometers, also known as “ergs”. But once you get hooked on this wonderful workout machine, you may find yourself wanting one of your very own. We have reviewed and compared all the options for home rowing machines to determine the best models.
- Concept2 Model D
- Monitor for data tracking
- Easy upright storage
- Stamina ATS
- Inclined seat rail
10 Best Rowing Machines
1. Concept2 Model D
This rower utilizes air resistance that you can set up prior to your workout by adjusting the spiral damper to control airflow.
The air resistance and flywheel design allows for smooth movement that becomes more challenging as you push yourself. Users love the consistent challenge and full range of motion provided by this machine.
A backlit display and adjustable arm makes this monitor easy to read throughout your workout. This rower features the sophisticated Performance Monitor 5 (PM5) that accurately tracks comparable data for each row. It is compatible with USB flash drives to help you easily track data over time and to set and meet long-term fitness goals. For an additional cost, you can also download RowPro Software to keep you motivated during these challenging workouts.
The seat is firm but is not uncomfortable. Adjustable foot rests and ergonomic handles make this rower comfortable and easy to use.
This rower does take up a bit of space at 96in x 24in x 14in but it is solidly built and can support users up to 500lbs. A quick-release framelock mechanism allows the machine to easily separate into two pieces with wheels on the front for easy storage.
The air resistance on this rower is comparable to the noise of a loud fan. Users note it is quiet enough to still watch television and not disturb neighbors or kids.
It is on the more expensive side but owners of this rower have no buyer’s remorse. They say the price is easy to justify for this solid piece of machinery that they expect to last their lifetime.
- Built to last
- Sophisticated PM5 monitor for data tracking
- Compatible with RowPro Software
- Easily separates for storage
- Consistent and challenging full body workout
- More expensive
- Takes up some space
The signature “water flywheel” consists of 2 paddles that rotate in an enclosed tank of water. As you row the paddles are met with resistance from the water. Just as in a regular boat, the faster you stroke the more difficult it will be to pull your paddle through the water. This allows you to control the level of resistance with your own speed.
Unlike most rowers, this Natural Rower has 2 tracks and 4 corner wheels for the seat for added stability. The water resistance creates a smooth and fluid resistance that mimics the natural rowing movement. With complete extension and contraction, the company estimates you engage 84% of your muscle mass.
The Series 4 Performance Monitor includes 6 windows with 6 QuickSelection and 3 navigation buttons to display motivational programming and workout data including intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, zone bar, duration and distance.
The sturdy design and 4 corner wheels make you feel secure and comfortable as you move through your workout.
The WaterRower measures 84in x 21in x 22in and weighs 117 lbs. The frame is designed to flip up easily for upright storage that will require just 2 square feet of floor space. The very sturdy design can support users up to 1000 lbs.
Most users find the quiet, watery sound of the paddles spinning in the tank satisfying and pleasant. The solid ash frame was designed to absorb sound and vibration for a very quiet operation.
The WaterRower is certainly an investment but the sturdy build and oak-stained ash make the added cost well worth the money.
- Attractive ash wood frame
- Pleasant water sound
- Natural water resistance
- Flips up for easy upright storage
- Sturdy seat
- 6 Window monitor
3. Stamina ATS
Air resistance fan provides a constant challenge as you row.
The seat rail is angled slightly to provide an easier return as you contract. Many users like the added leg workout as you push up the incline on extension but some seasoned rowers feel that the movement is less natural and prefer the standard flat rail.
Simplistic monitor displays speed, distance (in miles), time and calories burned.
Wide, padded seat and large footplates make this rower comfortable for users of any size.
The rower is 77 in x 18in x 22in and is fairly lightweight at just 54 lbs. It folds easily and has wheels on the front for easy storage.
The noise level is comparable to that of a large fan. Some users also note a clicking noise with the chain but this seems to be resolved with a little oil.
This functional rower provides an excellent full body workout at a fraction of the cost of the higher end models. Most users note a solid build and surprisingly good quality for the price but a handful of rowers do have some premature breakage of the return spring.
- Foldable and portable
- Basic data monitoring
- Inclined seat rail for easy return
- Not as durable
- Less natural movement
- Loud fan noise
4. Lifecore R100
This rower combines air resistance with 16 levels of magnetic resistance to offer unique preset programs with varied resistance.
This solid rower has a sturdy build and smooth operation that is easy to use for both beginners and experienced rowers.
The large blue backlit LCD display is easy to use during your row. It includes 15 preset pacer and watt dependent motivational programs and will store data for up to 4 users. It also comes with a heart rate monitor that is compatible with 4 polar heart rate control programs.
Adjustable footrests accommodate a wide variety of shoe sizes to provide you with a solid platform to press off. The ergonomic handle features a 10 degree bend for a natural arm and hand positioning. Additionally, this machine aims some of the fan air at you to keep you cool through your workout.
This machine is a bit larger at 92 x 19 x 36 inches and 96 lbs but it folds to the size of 52 x 19 x 67 inches and can support users up to 600 lbs.
The air resistance will make some fan noise but the drive belt that replaces the standard chain in this machine operates silently.
This sophisticated machine is more expensive but offers customizable resistance and a wide variety of preset programs.
- Sophisticated monitor with 15 preset programs
- Included heart rate monitor for heart rate-dependent programming
- Data storage for up to 4 users
- 16 levels of magnetic resistance
5. First Degree Fitness Newport AR
Water resistance becomes more difficult with speed and can be adjusted through the volume of water added to the tank.
The tri-blade propeller spins through the water tank for a smooth and natural-feeling resistance. The seat glides smoothly on the track but some users note the machine sliding backward or lifting up slightly in the front when completing sprint workouts on this machine.
Computer displays time, distance, 500m split time, strokes per minute, calories per hour, watts and has programming for interval training and heart rate reception.
The seat and handle are comfortable and easy to use. Some users complain about the heels on footplates being a bit narrow for the wide, tapered heels common to most athletic shoes.
This rower is 78in x 21in x 20in and weight 68 lbs. It is designed with front wheels for easy upright storage and can support users up to 300 lbs.
This rower is fairly quiet with a pleasant water sound from the propeller in the tank.
This machine is much less expensive than the high-end WaterRower but is still not considered a budget option. Users are pleased with the sturdy build and feel the natural water resistance is worth the investment.
- Natural water resistance
- Upright storage
- Interval training programs
- Data monitoring
- Rower moves a bit with intense workouts
6. Stamina Avari
Magnetic resistance can be adjusted during your workout with simple buttons on the InTouch Fitness Monitor.
The magnetic resistance feels a bit more mechanical but is easier to fine tune than rowers that utilize air or water resistance.
The LCD backlit fitness monitor tracks time, count, distance, calories, strokes per minute, pulse and watts. It also offers 12 workout programs including 4 custom user programs and 1 heart rate program.
The machine feels sturdy during workouts but some users feel the seat is very uncomfortable and stiff after 15-20 minutes of rowing.
This rower is 81in x 20in x 24.5in and can support a maximum user weight of 275 lbs. It folds easily and is easy to store when not in use.
The magnetic resistance and nylon chain make for silent operation of this rower.
At around half the cost of the higher end rowers, this machine is a great option for those looking to save a bit of money. It offers similar data monitoring and personalized programming of the more expensive machines but utilizes a less expensive and more mechanical magnetic resistance.
- Quiet operation
- Less expensive
- Sophisticated data monitoring
- 12 workout programs
- Uncomfortable seat
- Feels a bit more mechanical
7. Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5515
This rower utilizes a magnetic tension system with 8 levels of adjustable resistance.
The movement of this magnetic resistance rower is very smooth but some users note the machine catching when they move too quickly through their stroke. Those planning for intense sprint workouts may consider a water or air rower instead.
Large and simple LCD display monitors time, count, total count, calories and scan.
Padded seat and non-slip handlebars are reasonably comfortable for long workouts. The foot pedals do pivot which is a positive for some but tends to be uncomfortable for more experienced rowers.
This rower is 82in x 19in x 23 in and supports users up to 250 lbs. With a little effort it can be folded into a more compact size. Additionally, front wheels make for easy portability and storage.
The magnetic resistance operates in near silence.
At a fraction of the price of the more complicated rowers, this machine is certainly a budget option. It is ideal for beginners and casual rowers that cannot justify the additional cost of all the bells and whistles associated with the higher end rowers. Users note it is well made for the price but may require some maintenance over time.
- Budget option
- Smooth and silent operation
- Foldable and portable
- 8 levels of resistance
- No distance monitoring
- Not ideal for sprint workouts
8. Stamina 1215
Hydraulic resistance can be adjusted with a knob at the front of the machine. The ball-bearing system does take some time to warm up and will feel more difficult at the start of your workout.
This machine features free moving orbital arms rather than the standard handle attached to a cable. This provides more range of motion for the shoulders but some users have difficulty getting a challenging ab and leg workout on this machine. Some users also note some issues with the knob that controls the resistance loosening as they row.
Single button monitor allows you to view speed, distance, time, row count, calories burned and miles rowed.
Like many home rowers, the seat is quite hard and may be a bit uncomfortable after long workouts.
This ultra compact rower has a footprint of just 32.5 x 48 inches and is portable at just 47 lbs. Users as tall as 6’3’’ report using this machine effectively. The manufacturer recommends a maximum weight of 250 lbs.
This rower operates very quietly and is ideal for using while watching television or listening to music.
This machine is on the less expensive end of the price range for rowers.
- Compact and portable
- Free motion arms provide a great upper body workout
- Quiet operation
- Single button display
- Resistance may be inconsistent
- Difficult for shorter people
9. Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW1205
Hydraulic resistance that comes with 12 resistance settings.
This machine works really well for those learning to row and those who are completing shorter workouts. More experienced rowers feel that the range of motion is a bit constricted, especially if you are outside of the average height range. Additionally, a few users note the resistance chamber has a tendency to heat up after some time so this may not be the best machine for longer workouts.
LCD monitor displays time, count, total count, calories and scan.
The seat is cushioned but many users note it wears down quickly and does not provide that much added comfort.
This machine is small and very lightweight at just 53L x 20W x 22H and 20 lbs. It folds and stores very easily but at this small size it does not support taller individuals or users over 220 lbs.
Without a fan or chain, this rower operates fairly quietly.
This is certainly a budget option and is one of the least expensive rowers on the market. Most users are pleasantly surprised by the sturdy build and smooth operation but if you are looking for a machine that can take some punishment you would be advised to look elsewhere. This rower is really ideal for the casual or beginner rower but those with more experience would recommend investing quite a bit more in a more sophisticated machine.
- Very inexpensive
- Light and compact
- 12 resistance settings
- Comfortable foam handles
- Best suited for beginners
- Resistance tube becomes hot
10. Velocity Exercise CHR 2001
This rower offers smooth magnetic resistance with a seat that glides smoothly. It seems to work well for beginning rowers but some experienced rowers complain that the front of the stroke does not allow them to move far enough forward and even the highest resistance setting leaves something to be desired.
This rower comes with a built-in heart rate sensor and has an LCD monitor that displays time, count, strokes per minute, distance, calories, watt and pulse as well as 12 programs to help you motivate yourself through your rowing workout.
Users note the seat is a bit uncomfortable after 20-30 minutes of use.
This rower is foldable and has a relatively small frame at 80"L x 20"W x 29"H. It is suited for users up to 6’2’’ and has a maximum user weight of 275 lbs.
Magnetic resistance offers almost silent operation.
This rower is not the least expensive option but it is less than half the price of the luxury models.
- Less expensive
- Built in heart rate monitor
- Quiet operation
- Motivational programs
- Not the most durable machine
- Uncomfortable seat
- Not a favorite among experienced rowers
The Metrics We Used to Determine the Best Rowing Machines
In an actual boat, resistance is created when dragging the paddle through the water. Home rowing machines need to replicate this resistance in a small (and dry) space. They use a variety of mechanisms to do this.
- Air resistance is most common for professional rowing machines. Similar to an exercise bike, these machines utilize a flywheel that is driven by pulling the chain during the rowing motion. As air flows through the fan it creates a progressive resistance on the flywheel, so the faster you row the more resistance you are met with. This progressive resistance is smooth and replicates the sensation of rowing through water fairly well. Many professional rowers prefer air rowers as there is a “flat spot” where the resistance drops during the recovery. This simulates the change in resistance as you lift your paddle from the water before your next stroke.
- Water resistance rowers have been growing in popularity. They use a propeller-like flywheel that spins in a small tank of water at the front of the rower. As the propeller speeds up it is met with more resistance from the water in the tank and also becomes progressively more difficult to pull. Water rowers do not have the same “flat spot” as an air rower and instead present a consistent resistance with both contraction and extension.
- Magnetic resistance is very popular for home rowers as it operates silently, requires very little maintenance and does not take up much space. This type of resistance employs strong magnets to create resistance on a metal flywheel. Magnetic resistance is easier to adjust throughout the workout and you will often see rowers with multiple levels of resistance. These rowers offer a great full body workout but do not simulate the resistance of rowing on water as accurately.
- Hydraulic resistance rowers have been decreasing in popularity over the years. They do not require a flywheel and therefore can be much smaller and quieter than the other options. These machines have pistons in the handles that create resistance. This still provides a challenging workout but the movement is a bit more awkward and much less fluid.
The fluidity of the movement is largely dependent on resistance type. However, it is also important to find a seat that glides easily over the tracks and a solidly built machine that will not wobble or slide on the floor.
The computers on these machines often make the difference between a $1000 price tag and a $500 one. The most basic rowers display simple data such as time, distance and calories while you are rowing. More sophisticated computers allow for more specific and accurate data tracking that can even be stored and monitored over time. The best computers will allow users to create profiles to track their long-term progress and they often feature or are compatible with, preset programming to keep you working hard through your entire workout.
The most effective rowing machine will be the one you want to use. Stiff seats and abrasive handles will not make the prospect of a tough workout any more appealing. We looked for machines that are comfortable to use and will not add unnecessary difficulty to an already grueling workout.
Size and portability are important for any home exercise machine. If your home is small or just full, every square foot counts so we looked for options that are streamlined and have features that make them easy to fold and store.
The sound of a rower is often dependent on the resistance type and quality of the machine. Many users love the pleasant whirring of the water resistance while others are not bothered by the louder fan noise of the air resistance models. Still, other people with thin walls may prefer the silent operation of hydraulic resistance.
When it comes to home rowers, you often get what you pay for. There are plenty of inexpensive options out there but they will have very basic monitors, simple design and may require maintenance or even replacement down the road. This may not matter for those dabbling in rowing but people committed to making this part of their long-term fitness routine may consider investing more up front for a high-quality machine that will last forever.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Home Rowing Machine
Each rowing machine has a recommended maximum weight and height. Less expensive and more affordable machines often do not have the capacity to support larger individuals so you may not want to waste money on the budget options. Similarly machines compact machines with free motion arms may be more challenging for shorter individuals.
What are your plans for this rowing machine in your home? Rowing machines vary widely in weight and portability. Do not invest in a heavy-duty machine if you will need to move it regularly. Also, consider your storage spaces. Do you have space to flip the rower upright to place it against the wall or will you need a foldable model that can fit in the closet?
Q: What else do I need to row at home?
A: Not much is required for home rowing. Many people choose to buy a mat to place under the rower to reduce noise and protect the floor. It is recommended to row with shoes on but any rubber-soled, closed-toed shoe should work just fine. Additionally, some rowers do like to wear gloves to protect from blisters and calluses during long workouts.
Q: What is proper rowing form?
A: Proper rowing form consists of 4 stages:
- Begin in the “catch” position with the seat pushed forward. The back should be straight and the knees should be bent with arms extended to hold the bar or handles of the rower.
- The “drive” is the motion of pushing off the feet pads. Begin by powering through the heels to straighten the legs then pull the cable to the chest.
- The “finish” position ends with legs extended, shoulders back and arms pulled to your chest with the wrists straight.
- The “recovery” movement reverses the “drive” by first extending the arms and then bending the knees to return to the “catch” position.
Proper form is very important so make sure to take the time to watch videos or work with a trainer when you are first starting out.