Indoor rowing machines bring all the muscle and cardio power of the open water straight into your workout. You can practically feel the cool, fresh air whipping through your hair as you row using different types of resistance like air, hydraulics, and yes, even water. In this piece, we’ll show you some of the best rowing machines for the money today.
Why Buy a Rowing Machine?
- Stellar aerobics. Rowing works your cardiovascular system, strengthening your heart and lungs. This type of exercise torches some serious calories: about 600 per hour!
- Total muscle conditioning. The motion of rowing works for several different muscle groups throughout your upper and lower body. An incredibly efficient way to build muscle, from the hamstrings to the deltoids.
- Low impact on joints. No forceful movements or impacts with hard surfaces like the ground. This creates a joint-friendly workout and is practical if you’re dealing with injuries or sensitive joints.
- High-intensity magic. Switch between calm lows and intense highs to give your body a better workout. It’s easy to maximize your exercise if you’re looking to get into HIIT with a personal rowing machine.
- Smaller than traditional equipment. Rowing machines are smaller than most other workout gear. They also take up less space than rowboat rigs.
Types of Rowing Machines
These user-friendly machines are designed with home use in mind. The machines tend to have smaller footprints to fit into cramped spaces. They usually use air or hydraulic resistance.
These are professional models that can stand up to heavy and consistent use. Designed for use in professional gyms, they are usually larger, sturdier, and bulkier than home models.
Folding and Non-Folding
Some rowers feature a built-in mechanism to fold the frame for storage. Others will have a solid frame, keeping their footprint the same unless disassembled.
Any machine designed with saving space in mind, usually in the form of a smaller frame, footprint, or folding mechanism. Compact rowers are great if you’re planning to put your rower in a smaller or more high-trafficked area.
These machines go above and beyond the traditional rowing experience, combining rowing movements with other exercises. This can increase your machine’s versatility and give you more bang for the space your rower takes up.
Top Rowing Machine Brands
Sunny Health & Fitness
Even though you may know them for the bikes, Schwinn, founded in 1895 in Vancouver, WA, has made a name in the rowing machine game. It’s done this with models like the Crewmaster.
Rowing Machine Pricing
Prices for rowing machines largely depend on the resistance system (hydraulic being the cheapest, and water being the most expensive), the compactness, and factors like high-tech features.
- $500 and under: Mostly hydraulic options and some cheaper air rowers. Mainly compact budget options that lack top-of-the-line features.
- $500-$1000: Common air and magnetic rowers. Feature options vary here, but this price range usually includes a few premium features like workout trackers.
- $1000-$1500: High-end rowing machines and magnetic rowers. More luxury and durability with better construction and more high-tech features.
- $1500 and above: Mostly water rowers that include top features, such as in-depth fitness tracking and unparalleled comfort and construction.
The main thing that delivers a stellar workout. Hydraulic machines use pistons that resist compression. Air rowers, on the other hand, use a flywheel that displaces air. Similarly, magnetic rowers use a flywheel with a magnetic brake. Finally, water machines utilize spinning paddles in a water-filled tank. Some models, called hybrid rowers, use more than one resistance type (i.e. air for lower speeds and magnets for higher speeds).
The size and shape of the handles on a machine affect the overall feel of the workout, with teardrop-style bars offering the most comfort. They attach to a chain (durable, but requires maintenance), cable (round and narrow), or strap (most quiet), depending on the model. Hydraulic machines use handle levers attached to the pistons and tend to be less realistic in feel.
Many machines include an LCD monitor to track workout information. Generally, the larger the monitor, the better. Budget machines may have smaller or more basic monitors or exclude them entirely. Higher-end rowers will likely have more comprehensive monitors.
Some of the best air rowers include vents that direct the flywheel’s air movement backward. This provides natural cooling with each stroke.
- Size: Rowers are very space-friendly machines and offer a lot of impact on the space they take up. However, the size will vary. Water rowers tend to be larger due to the nature of their design (i.e. room for water tanks, etc). Foldable frames and other storage features are common as well. It is important to make sure your machine fits you and your space comfortably.
- Comfort: The design of the seat and the handles will affect the overall comfort of the machine the most. Look for models that offer ample padding. A grippy surface on the handles is also important to prevent slippage and failed reps.
- Adjustability: The more adjustable the machine is, the more it will cater to your specific body type. Look for an adjustable seat and track for a good, ergonomic fit. Proper adjustments can go a long way towards preventing strain and injury.
- Shipping and assembly: The complexity of the shipping and assembly process depends on the type and size of the rower. Expect multiple packages and an assembly time of around 30-45 minutes.
- Warranties: Look for models that offer a warranty of at least two years, with lifetime guarantees on frames if possible. Parts are generally covered for three to five years. In general, expect higher-end and commercial models to include longer and more extensive warranties.
Best Rowing Machines Reviews & Recommendations
Best Water Rowing Machine Overall: Water Rower Classic
- Handcrafted rowing machine with "water flywheel" that...
- Flywheel sits in enclosed water tank to provide smooth,...
- Series 4 performance monitor tracks workout intensity,...
- Solid black walnut construction absorbs sound and...
- Stores upright; measures 84 x 21 x 22 inches (W x H x...
It’s hard to argue with water rowers being the best in the game. The WaterRower Classic gives you all the benefits of water resistance in a compact, beautiful model. All this comes with some of the quietest rowing on the market, due to the enclosed tank and sound-absorbing wood.
The handcrafted black walnut frame not only has a timeless look, but the quiet operation gives you the freedom to work out where you choose. The onboard monitor keeps track of advanced stats like heart and stroke rate. The enclosed water tank provides smooth, natural resistance.
Drawbacks of this rower include its lack of foldability and some extra assembly required from the wooden frame. This is something to consider if you’re looking to transport and store your machine often.
Best Value for the Money / Best Hydraulic Rowing Machine: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1410
- Allows a full range movement, with 12 levels of...
- Fully thick-padded seat, non-slip grip handlebars and...
- Full-Motion Arms targets all major muscle groups such...
- Built-in LCD displays your time, count, calories, and...
- Sleek, solid steel frame provides optimal support and...
The SF-RW1410 has almost all of the features you could want in a hydraulic rower and comes with the lowest price on this list. It also doesn’t skimp on comfort, with extra padding on the seat, ergonomic handles, and anti-slip pedals.
This model is incredibly compact due to the slick, appealing profile of the solid-steel frame. It offers 12 levels of adjustable resistance. The large onboard monitor tracks all of your basic stats like time and rep count, designed to be read easily mid-workout.
Tradeoffs of this model are a lack of foldability and reports of a loss of difficulty from the higher resistance settings. This lowers its potential for muscle conditioning workouts.
Best Air Rowing Machine: Marcy Turbine
- 8 RESISTANCE SETTINGS – The Marcy Turbine Rowing...
- INCLUDES COMPUTER DISPLAY PANEL – This Turbine Rowing...
- DURABLE INJECTION MOLDED SEAT – The Marcy Turbine...
- ADJUSTABLE FOOT STRAPS – This exercise machine comes...
- HIGH-QUALITY CONSTRUCTION – This training machine is...
On top of being one of the best-looking picks on this list, the Turbine packs in features that go above and beyond the call of duty of an air rower. Adjustable resistance in a pure air rower is a unique quality that helps it stand above the rest.
It also has impressive ergonomics like a super-durable mold-injected seat that allows for maximum comfort and adjustable foot platforms and straps to keep you stable. The easy-to-read monitor tracks speed, distance, time, calories burned, and RPM.
Some drawbacks include a lack of portability features (although it folds, it has no wheels). This makes it good for storage but difficult to transfer between workout locations. The handle is small, so expect some hassle if you need to move it.
Best Magnetic Rowing Machine: XTERRA Fitness ERG200
- Compact frame design folds up for easy storage or...
- Dual extruded aluminum seat slide rails mounted to a...
- Large 3.7 inch LCD monitor features an easy-to-read...
- 8 levels of magnetic resistance is accessed through a...
- Magnetic resistance System is friction-free for smooth,...
Great portability, a solid design, and one of the most user-friendly monitors on the market make the ERG200 one of our best portable rowing machines and our best magnetic rower overall. On top of this, you can expect some of the smoothest strokes out there, even among other frictionless magnetic rowers.
Aluminum slide rails create a fluid motion, working through eight levels of adjustable resistance. The large and easy-to-read monitor comes with a 3.7-inch LCD screen and big, simple-to-use buttons.
Disadvantages of this machine are its lack of wheels and reports of weak resistance at certain levels. Again, if you’re looking for a heavier, muscle-driven workout, you may want to look elsewhere.
Best Hybrid Rowing Machine: XTERRA Fitness ERG400
- Extruded aluminum seat slide rail with steel supports...
- Monitor features easy-to-read adjustable angle LCD...
- Innovative frame design folds up for easy storage when...
- 16 levels of electronic resistance for a variety of...
- Magnetic and air resistance system is friction-free for...
This machine provides the best of two worlds of resistance, combining air and magnets for a smoother and quieter experience that still has a natural feel.
Along with its unique feel, you also get an adjustable performance monitor for stats like watts and strokes/min, 16 levels of electronic resistance, and a folding frame for easy storage.
The monitor appears small and hard to read, which can be a hassle mid-workout. You may also find the air/magnetic resistance to feel awkward at first as you get used to the experience of this hybrid approach.
Rowing Machine Tips
While rowing is a natural motion that most people pick up quickly, there are several things you can do to make sure your workout is as safe and efficient as possible:
- Make sure you always pull the handle back into your chest to about pec height.
- Study the four stages of a proper stroke (catch, drive, finish, and recovery) to help you stay on top of your form from beginning to end.
- Maintain as close to a 90-degree angle with the frame as possible and keep your back straight throughout the whole rep to prevent strain.
Rowing Machine FAQs
Q: How do I master the proper rowing technique?
A: Indoor rowing technique has its nuances. Be sure to study the form of indoor rowing in particular. This piece from britishrowing.org is a great one to check out that breaks down the cycles of the motion.
Q: Can a rowing machine be used as a main form of exercise?
A: Incorporating rowing into your regular routine is a great way to get many benefits from one workout. Rowing offers a combination of cardio benefits and muscle conditioning, making it a great recurring exercise. These benefits are both great ways to become stronger and healthier.
Q: How long does it take to start burning fat?
A: As with all exercises, results aren’t always guaranteed. A great way to gauge your fat loss/burn is to stay on top of your BMI figures (which can be calculated through various online resources like this) and track your progress from week to week.
Q: How often should I exercise on my rower?
A: This boils down to how much you enjoy rowing! In general, you should shoot for about 150 to 300 minutes of cardio per week. If you find that rowing is something you enjoy, you can dial it up in your cardio routine. Make sure this isn’t your only form of exercise, however, as variation is key to better health.
Rowing machines are a great way to get an incredibly efficient workout at home. Different types of machines will offer a different feel and benefits.
Do you row at home? Think we put together a good rowing machine buyer’s guide? Let us know in the comments down below!