Did you know that early rowing machines are known to have existed from the mid-1800s? A US patent was issued to W.B. Curtis in 1872 for a particular hydraulic-based, damper design. These days we have even more amazing models than those that existed back then, but the basic mechanics have never changed.
When you’re looking for low-impact exercise, rowing machines provide a full-body workout. Hollis Tuttle, a trainer at CityRow, endorses rowers as a formidable alternative to running. She says it reduces the risk to weight-bearing joints, such as hips, ankles, and knees. These are the kinds of joints that can be prone to soreness and injury in high-impact sports.
To learn how rowing machines can (and can't) help with exercise and training, we spoke with sports researchers, coaches, and industry insiders. I have been reading reviews and analyzing data about different rowing machines since 2017. Rowing machines are one of the top exercise machines that I would recommend to readers, including seniors.
Who is this for?If you’re someone who goes to the gym regularly, having a rowing machine at home might reduce commute time and money spent. If you’re recovering from an injury, a rower can also be a great tool as the motion is low impact, but an intense workout. However you probably don’t want to pick one these up unless you plan on using it. As Elizabeth Corkum has pointed out, there is no machine that’s going to fix everything.
How we chose these products
The best rowing machine for your home might be different than the top of the line commercial offers you see promoted on so many review sites. While hydraulic rowers are more space efficient, the rowing isn’t quite as smooth. While magnetic rowers tend to be the quietest and smoothest, they’re usually pricier. Air rowers tend to be noisier, but more affordable. Knowing this, we looked for models that we felt exemplified the best in each of these categories.
How we tested
We contacted professionals who had assembled and used each of these machines and asked them to provide feedback on their experience. To keep reviews meaningful we rating each machine on a criteria of quality, resistance levels, features, ease of use, affordability, and footprint. We also evaluated several reviews from around the internet on each of these models to see what similarities and differences we could find.
Durable yet Affordable: Concept2 Model D
Compact for Small Spaces: Stamina Body 1050 Rowing Machine
Rower that Fits Your Decor: Merax Water Rowing Machine
Low Cost, No Frills: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515
Reviews for 2021
1. Stamina 35-1405 ATS Air Rower 1405 Rowing Machine
While this model is far from commercial quality, it might be the right choice for you if you’re looking for an air resistance rower. As you might expect, the flywheel makes some noise. Depending on your living situation, the sound might disturb the other people you live with. But this might be worth it to you if you want a more affordable unit.
This model provides no way for you to adjust the resistance, but to some, it might not matter. As the harder you pull, the tougher it is to row. Another potential drawback to this unit is that the monitor reads so fast, it may be hard to tell exactly how hard you were going. When we tested this machine we noticed the seat shook a bit on its bearings, which might take some getting used to. This model might be a good alternative for those put off by the price tag on the Model D.
2. Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
The Concept2 Model D is the perfect machine for indoor rowing use. It provides a low impact workout that works out all the major muscle groups. It has an air resistance flywheel design for a quiet workout. You can easily change the airflow using the damper. Not only is the Model D indoor rowing machine easy to assemble, requiring only 8 screws, you can also separate it into two pieces for easy storage. The framelock mechanism just needs to be triggered.
One of the things that make this rower stand out is the PM5 (Performance 5 Monitor), which not only provides useful information about your workout, it also can be used to play games. You can measure your progress with reliable, comparable data on every stroke. It connects with a wide range of fitness apps, so you can even engage in online challenges. While this isn't the most inexpensive item on the market, you get very decent value for the price with the Model D indoor rowing machine.
3. Stamina ATS Air Rower
This wind resistance rowing machine comes a multi-function performance monitor. With large foot pedals, and an angled, upholstered seat for comfort, this machine slides smoothly. You can monitor your time and calories burned on the ATS air rower elegant display. And the device folds up and can be wheeled away for easy storage.
This space-saving exercise equipment will give you the full body workout you require for a very moderate price in comparison to similar models. The wind-resistant design keeps this machine affordable, which is excellent as an introductory model.
This machine has been engineered for efficiency, allowing you to adjust the resistance levels to your needs. The oversized seat rail accommodates all body types with comfortable padding. The textured grips and large footplates make for a high-intensity, low-impact workout. Dimensions when fully assembled are 77 X 18 x 22.
Hydraulic and Water
4. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower
Now, this rower is a more bare-bones model that will help you get your exercise in, but won’t break the bank! Not only is this hydraulic resistance rower affordable, it’s also compact with a very small footprint. If you’re looking for a rower for small spaces like an apartment, this is definitely a model to consider.
What are some of the drawbacks? The hydraulic pistons can get hot very fast. There is no button to reset the monitor, so the only way to restart is to stop moving and wait for the monitor to turn off. Not only that, though the machine is smaller and cheaper than other offers, it still could have potentially taken up less space if there was an easy way to detach the resistance pump. We also noticed during our testing that it slides a bit on smooth surfaces. So, you might want to use it on a carpet.
5. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
The Body Trac Glider provides a workout just as good as those from bigger, more expensive machines. Weighing in at only 40 pounds, this compact model gives a full range of motion and multiple resistance levels. While it's a great product, it's not perfect for indoor rowing.
This indoor rower uses a gas shock under the padded seat. Similar to other hydraulic cylinder resistance models, this machine is quieter. But it doesn’t provide a very realistic resistance rowing motion by design. Some experienced users have complained that the Body Trac didn't provide enough resistance. Perhaps they weren't using the machine correctly, or the piston leaked. It's difficult to say.
6. Merax Water Rowing Machine
With solid steel construction for durability and performance, the Merax Rowing Machine is an intense aerobic workout. Coming with a unique inclined water tank that provides stronger resistance, this home rowing machine more closely simulates dynamic indoor rowing movements than many other models. The sound of water will relax you as it splashes through the tank, but not so loudly that you won’t be able to enjoy music or streaming video at the same time.
You can adjust resistance levels by adding as much or as little water to the tank as you require. Row with the long ergonomic handles while shifting back and forth on the contoured, molded seat. The included LCD monitor handily tracks your heart rate, rowing intensity, stroke rate, stroke count, calories, and distance time. One of the best things about this machine is that it has a relatively small footprint.
7. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
The Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower utilizes a Drum Magnetic Control System and an electronic tension control. It features an easy-to-read LCD display and comes programmed with more than a few training programs to get you started. The saddle is molded polyurethane, while the beam below it is anodized aluminum. This machine is known for stability and comfort.
Some of the bonus features on the Velocity include a heart rate monitor with simple controls. The manual magnetic resistance knob is one of the more expensive additions. If you're tall, this machine will work for you, the track is long enough to accommodate all leg lengths. The padded seat and handles will keep your hands insulated from wear.
8. Sunny Health Fitness SF-RW5515
This Sunny Health Fitness Magnetic rower comes with eight levels of full motion tension, an a easy-to-read LCD, and just like the other models mentioned in this post, it's almost silent. One problem with this rower is that the LCD display isn't backlit. So, depending on the time of day you use it (and your lighting) it might be difficult to track.
Assembly is quick and easy. The foot petals are anti-slip, allowing proper ergonomics. The handlebars are padded. But perhaps the best part of this home rowing machine is the price tag. This Sunny Health Fitness rower is nowhere near as exorbitant as the Concept2 model. With a sturdy frame that can withstand over 250 pounds of user weight, this machine will work for you no matter your size.
9. Marcy NS-40503RW Rowing Machine
Though the name may certainly be an inconvenient string of letters and numbers, buying it won't break the bank. It's not difficult to assemble, provides a comfortable seat, and a good full motion indoor rowing position. If you're tall, it might be difficult for you to extend your legs fully.
Best used for indoor rowing, this Marcy provides resistance via a magnetic resistance fly wheel. The machine is quiet most of the time, but it can squeak a bit. The monitor is very simple, as it should be for such an inexpensive model. The only disadvantage is that it doesn't track your progress as well as other machines in higher price ranges. So while this is a pretty decent budget rower, if you plan to share it with family, you might want to spend a little more money.
10. Stamina Avari Magnetic Rower
Another budget-friendly indoor rower that allows you to get a decent upper and lower body workout without doing too much damage to your wallet. This magnetic rowing machine provides a range of motion that feels strikingly close to real rowing.
This less-expensive magnetic rowing machine has a decent computer with a chest strap for measuring your heart rate while you work out. The In-Touch Fitness Monitor includes 12 pre-programmed workouts. Most people that own the machine compliment it, saying it provides a great workout. Still, there are some that say the seat could be a little more comfortable.
11. NordicTrack RW900 Rower
This rower offers the benefits of both air and magnetic resistance with 26 digital resistance levels. While the flywheel spins, the magnets inside the machine oppose the motion of the flywheel. With this kind of mechanism, the noise that would have ordinarily been generated by the flywheel has been reduced. You still get to enjoy the variable air resistance.
This model also includes a 22” inch rotating touchscreen, know that if you want to access most of the features you’re going to need an iFit subscription. In order to activate your first year of free service, you’ll need to call into service, which has limited hours. The touchscreen was slower than what we were typically used to with smart devices.
The machine itself has a solid build quality and it isn’t difficult to build. The rowing itself comes with a pleasant motion. We were considering not including this machine because of the potential frustrations some might have with the service and software. There are also some confounding features, such as having to unplug the machine to turn it off.
Product Dimensions +
Stamina 35-1405 ATS Air Rower 1405 Rowing Machine
78.5 x 19.75 x 31.5 inches, Air
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor
8 ft x 2 ft, Air Resistance
Stamina ATS Air Rower
77 x 18 x 22 inches, Air
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower
54 x 20 x 23 inches, Hydraulic
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
58.25 x 42.5 x 18.13 inches, Water
Merax Water Rowing Machine
46.06 x 25.98 x 22.99 inches, Water
Sunny Health Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine: SF-RW5515
78 x 19.1 x 23.2 inches, Magnetic
Marcy Foldable 8-Level Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machine
74.4 x 19.7 x 31.9 inches, Magnetic
Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower
44 x 30 x 11 inches, Magnetic
NordicTrack RW900 Rower
86.5 x 22 x 50.4 inches, Water + Magnetic
Common Rowing Machine Questions
Is it possible to work the abs using a rowing machine?
Yes, for two reasons. First off, rowers facilitate effective fat-burning exercises. Using a rowing machine will help you achieve an intense workout, allowing you to burn as much as four-hundred calories in a 30-minute session. You have to shed the pounds before you’ll have any hope of revealing your beautiful washboard abs.
Another reason that rowers promote strong abs is that they work the core muscles of your midsection. Rowing on a daily basis, with correct form, will promote definition in your abdominals.
What are the benefits of using a rowing machine?
There are many different benefits. It helps build muscle strength and increases cardiovascular health. It promotes weight loss. It reduces stress, stabilizes the upper body, and it offers a full body workout while improving muscle and joint mobility. A rower is perfect rowing equipment for all experience levels.
Types of Rowing Machines
Water Rowing Machines
These machines are expensive products that use an actual tank to create water resistance. Some say that they provide a superior full body workout to all of the other models. If you're someone that's looking to train for a competition, real water rower might be a point of preference.
Hydraulic Rowing Machines
These rowers use smooth hydraulic rower resistance, but in the cylinders connected to the handles. These are called pistons. Because of the simple design, these machines take up less space. One disadvantage to these rowers are the fixed hand positions. When you use these handles, your arms will move in repetitive arcs. There also isn't as much pressure on your legs. So if you're looking for a better workout, hydraulic rowers are possibly the weakest choice.
Magnetic Rowing Machine
If you have family members that would be disturbed by loud noise while you work out, an exercise magnetic rower is probably your best option. Not only does an exercise magnetic rower provide substantial resistance, but it's also relatively silent.
Air Rowing Machine
Air resistance is some of the best value you can get at a moderate price point. If you can't afford a water rower resistance model, an air machine might be the next best thing with their natural rowing motion.
Benefits of Rowing Machines
Some of the benefits of rowing machines include that are among the best for cardiovascular fitness, toning your muscles, and weight loss. Some argue that they're even better than an exercise bike. They're aren't torturous on your knees and joints. They're perfect for improving your stamina and motivation to continue exercising.
Some of the disadvantages include the possibility that you can easily injure yourself if you're not careful. So be careful! So which muscle groups are most positively affected by this kind of exercise? After you read the following passages, you will understand why they provide such an excellent workout.
Your biceps, the big muscles in your upper arms, flex whenever you complete a stroke. Your triceps extend on the back of your arms when you reach forward. As you row, the motion continues to employ both sides of your limbs for superior exertion.
Using a rower is much like doing squats. It works your quadriceps, your hamstrings, and your gluts. Working your legs in this manner for an extended duration increases stamina while burning calories.
The rowing motion also exerts the muscles in your upper back and shoulders.
When you catch on a rower, you also exercise your:
When you dive on a rowing machine, you use your:
So, now you can see why these machines have become such popular items. But finding the right product for you and your budget might not be so easy. Let's talk about some of your options when it comes time to buy.
Factors to Consider
There are lots of things that are nice to have on an exercise machine, but whether these kinds of bells and whistles are worth the money is up to you. I would recommend that you at least find a machine with a monitor for tracking your progress and some necessary programs to keep you engaged. If you can't see how much work you're doing and don't know what your goals are, that might lead to an unsatisfying workout experience.
If you don't have a lot of room in your home, a rowing machine might make life even less convenient. Depending on your situation, it might be helpful to select a model that you can take apart and store. Not all rowing machine designs are easy storage. Some models can be easily folded and moved into a closet. If your housing situation is cramped, look for a foldable rower.
Instead of trying to avoid the most expensive models, I recommend looking for a model that provides the best value for your money spent. If you go for the models released the year before, you can sometimes get a substantial discount.
Depending on your weight, you'll want to check the user weight capacity of the machine you're planning to purchase. These specs can usually be found on the vendor's website (if not here on this site). These stats help you make a determination on durability. You wouldn't want the machine to break under your weight. Don't ignore the specs.
Some machines make noise when used. If you're someone that lives alone, that might not be much of an issue. But if you want to avoid irritating the people you live with, it would probably be in your best interest to look for a quiet machine.
Having silent rower will enable you to get the workouts you need without the ability to make excuses. If you buy a loud one, you might tell yourself that you shouldn't work out as not to disturb anyone. Don't let yourself make these excuses.
Ease of Assembly
My husband may enjoy it, but I don't. I'm not a fan of squinting at complicated diagrams and playing with little baggies full of screws. So when I want to buy a fitness machine, I usually check to see how difficult it is to put together, even if I'm not the one building it.
I take warranties very seriously. I find it suspicious when sellers only offer one or two years of service. With some kinds of machines, I understand that it would be impractical offering a lifetime guarantee. But it does put my mind at ease when I'm confident I can replace my expensive machine if it has any defects.
If you're going to be using a machine for an extended duration, of course, you'll want it to be comfortable. Working out should never be more painful than the exertion you're putting your upper body through. Unfortunately, these kinds of things can be difficult to gauge in advance before purchasing the machine. I recommend taking a look at some reviews from buyers before committing.
Type of Resistance
Think about what kind of dynamic you want for your row machine. Whether it’s Water, Air, Magnetic, or Hydraulic resistance, each has their pros and cons.
Tips for Rowing Properly
Check the damper
Depending on what kind of rowing machine you’re using, you’ll want to make sure that the resistance isn’t too high. If it is, you’re going to have a difficult time getting a good workout. The damper is similar to the gears on a bicycle. Adjust it to a medium resistance level to increase your strokes per minute.
Use your legs
Sometimes inexperienced rowers pull the handle with their arms. Putting too much pressure on your arms and shoulders is a bad idea. Always use the power of your legs to push out against the foot panels.
First push back with your legs. Then, pivot back with your shoulders passing over your pelvis. Finally, while leaning back, use your arms to draw the handles to your chest, below your ribs. Then reverse your order and go back to starting position.
Engage your core
I hope this guide helps you make the very best decision possible when it comes to buying the best rowing machine. For a full body, cardio workout, these cardio machines are some of the best options on the market for your home gym.