The 10 Best Rowing Machines
This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in May of 2015. These days, there’s no need to trek to a gym and pay costly membership fees if you want to get fit and stay healthy. Rowing machines provide a low-impact, full-body workout that targets almost every major muscle group. Once you choose the model that best fits your needs and find a convenient location somewhere in your home, there's nothing left to do but dip your oars in. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 14, 2020:
Our latest update is reflective of the number of new trends in the market with regards to connectivity, with more models leaning towards devices for operation and monitoring. This can be seen in the First Degree Fitness Apollo Pro II, which replaces its previous-generation unit, the First Degree Apollo. While it retains many of the same features, such as water resistance and sturdy ash construction, it has a more developed onboard computer with a USB port and heart rate monitoring functionality.
Similarly, the Women’s Health Men’s Health Bluetooth can be connected to a tablet or cellphone. These sit on its built-in device holder and are used in conjunction with the MyCloudFitness app for an affordable, yet technically-advanced solution that can be combined with other activities as part of a comprehensive fitness regimen.
While it's slightly more basic in features and functionality, the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic deserves a place on our ranking, as it has garnered high ratings on fitness websites and forums within its affordable category. Its magnetic operation also makes it a good choice for home use, due to its being much quieter than flywheel, piston-based, and water-resistance rowers.
Finally, we added the AirRow Fitness Cardio Trainer, as it has received a number of positive mentions since its recent release. These are largely due to its sturdy build quality, ease of use and dismantling, well-positioned and intuitive fitness monitor, and its comfortable seat and rowing position.
May 01, 2019:
Most experts agree, there are few full-body exercises as beneficial as rowing. It is low-impact, stimulates over 80-percent of your muscles, and can be performed from the comfort of your own home with one of these machines. If you want the most realistic experience possible, your best option will be one with a water flywheel, such as the WaterRower Natural, First Degree Apollo, and First Degree Newport. These are generally quieter than air-based models and provide the smoothest rowing action. That being said, there are certainly some very high-quality air-based options that are packed with features to help you get a great workout. For example, the Concept2 Model D is equipped with Bluetooth, so you can connect it to fitness-tracking apps on your phone, and the Stamina Avari comes with a heart rate strap, allowing you to keep tabs on your pulse to ensure you are reaching your cardio goals. These types of machines can be highly expensive, especially as your fitness regimen requires just a few hours of use per week, however, there are also a few budget models worth considering, such as the Stamina ATS, Stamina 1215, and Sunny Health SF-RW1205. As expected, these options will generally have fewer features, but still allow you to burn calories without putting too much stress on the body. Perhaps out of the price range of many consumers, the Hydrow Rower and NordicTrack RW900 are worth mentioning because of their motivating interactive coaching, which is often live-streamed from beautiful locations.
NordicTrack RW900 With follow-along global workouts, a 22-inch HD touchscreen, and interactive training, this model will make you look forward to your exercise sessions. It even allows you to stream high-energy studio sessions with coaches who can remotely take control of the unit's resistance levels. nordictrack.com
Hydrow Rower One of the biggest challenges when performing any indoor exercise is keeping yourself motivated. This machine overcomes that obstacle by integrating a large screen in the unit on which you can view live broadcasts from instructors currently rowing in beautiful locations around the world. It also offers on-demand pre-recorded river rows, training tips from world-class athletes, and more. hydrow.com
What Kind Of Rowing Machine Should I Buy For The Best Workout?
And because they're so high-performing, they do come at a high cost.
Rowing machines give you a great workout by providing resistance for your body to work against. Your choice of rowing machine will create resistance in one of four ways:
Air rowing machines generate resistance through a flywheel (sort of like a fan). With some air machines you can adjust the resistance level. Otherwise, resistance is generated by your rowing pace: the harder you row, the more resistance there is, so the workout intensifies with your own effort.
This type of machine provides a smooth action with little wear and tear to the mechanism, and the flywheel itself could help to keep you cool as you work out. It's worth noting that although water rowers aim for a realistic rowing feel, competitive rowers often use air rowers for land training. They tend to be less expensive than water-powered rowing machines, as well.
Unfortunately, air rowing machines can be quite noisy - not great if you like to listen to music or catch up on TV while you work out. This might seem trivial, but think about your own exercise habits: if you know you can't stick at a workout with some external stimulation, an air rower might not be for you.
You have to wonder why it took the industry so long to come up with the idea of rowing machines powered by water. These machines involve large, water-filled tanks that create resistance as you row. With each stroke, the paddles in the water tank revolve, and the moving water drags against the paddles to create resistance.
Water machines are generally quieter than air rowers - you can still hear the water moving in the tank, but users tend to find this a pleasant ambient noise. Water rowers also tend to require little maintenance. Because there's a tank full of water involved, however, these can be very heavy, and larger than most other rowers: if you have a smaller home, a less-than-permanent workout space, or you move frequently, these might not be best for you. And because they're so high-performing, they do come at a high cost.
For a third option, you can look to hydraulic machines, which use pistons to generate resistance. Hydraulic rowers are quiet, and they also tend to be smaller and cheaper than other kinds of rowing machines, but you won’t get the same smooth rowing feel, or the consistency of resistance, that you would get with an air or water rower. What's more, reviewer after reviewer has found them unreliable and high-maintenance.
With magnetic rowing machines, adjusting the resistance means varying the distance between a flywheel and one or more strong magnets. This is done either manually, using mechanical sliders, or digitally by the console controls. Like hydraulic rowers, magnetic rowing machines operate quietly and have a compact design for easy storage. Unlike hydraulic rowers, they can provide a smooth and consistent workout. It's a very different kind of feel to what you'd expect from an air or water rower, though. You still get a good workout, but it doesn't simulate the sensation of rowing in quite the same way.
Ask Yourself These 5 Questions Before You Buy
So you've read the reviews, decided on your rowing machine budget and given some consideration to the space you have available for workout equipment. Before you part with your cold, hard cash, ask yourself these questions first.
Before you part with your cold, hard cash, ask yourself these questions first.
How good is the display? What data does it show you? Tracking your progress is an important part of losing weight, improving your fitness, or striving towards almost any goal. That means that when choosing a rowing machine, you shouldn't forget to think about its display. You want a machine that will tell you - clearly and accurately - how many calories you've burned, how long you've worked out, your strokes per minute, and so on. Many rowing machines come with a heart rate monitor, too. Even if you have your own wearable fitness tracker, don't underestimate the value of being able to export data from your rowing machine.
Do you need a machine that folds up? If you've decided to avoid a water rower for space reasons, you may prefer a model that folds up for storage. Even better, some rowing machines have wheels fitted to them, so that once it's folded up, you can steer it to a storage space out of the way. You can find a foldable design in many magnetic and some air rowers.
Are you big and tall or small and dainty? Pay attention to maximum weight capacity when choosing a rowing machine. Also, those blessed with medium height know nothing of the struggle, but both particularly short and particularly tall people can find themselves with specific needs when it comes to working out, including finding some rowing machines uncomfortable or ineffective. If that's you, be sure to check the specifications and reviews before you buy.
Do you want pre-set workouts? Are you one of those people who can't go for a run without an app, a training plan, and a corresponding diet worksheet? Even if you don't take it that far, pre-programmed workout routines can really enhance your rowing machine experience by varying your workouts and guaranteeing you a challenging session. If you're trying to decide between two machines, you could do worse than to choose one with a good range of built-in workouts.
Does it come with a warranty? Especially at the higher end of the price range, a rowing machine is a considerable investment: as with any large item for your home, for your peace of mind it's sensible to prefer a model with a longer warranty period.
A Brief History Of Rowing Machines
Chabrias, an admiral in the Athenian navy in the 4th century B.C, built wooden rowing frames to teach new oarsmen how to row before they set sail. These were likely the first rowing machines.
In 1872, a US patent was issued to W.B. Curtis for an early, hydraulic based rowing machine.
These machines became popular on college campuses, where student rowing teams used them for off-season training.
Around 1900, a Rhode Island manufacturer began producing the Narragansett hydraulic rower, a machine using linear pneumatic resistance, which was still being manufactured until around 1960. These machines became popular on college campuses, where student rowing teams used them for off-season training.
In the 1950s- and 1960s, more sports coaches began to use rowing machines for training and assessment of athletes' performance. One such rower developed at this time was the Harrison-Cotton machine, the brainchild of John Harrison of Leichhardt Rowing Club in Sydney and Professor Frank Cotton, produced by Ted Curtain Engineering. This was the very first piece of equipment able to measure athletic power with great accuracy, and it also imitated the actual experience of rowing more closely than any previous rowing machine.
The 1970s saw development of the famously taxing Gjessing-Nilson ergometer from Norway, which was for many years the internationally accepted standard.