10 Best Rowing Machines | April 2017

10 Best Rowing Machines | April 2017
Best Mid-Range
Best High-End
Best Inexpensive
We spent 30 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. No need to trek to a gym and pay costly membership fees if you want to get fit and stay healthy. Rowing machines can provide a low impact, full-body workout in the comfort of your own home. Find the right one for your needs from our comprehensive selection. Skip to the best rowing machine on Amazon.
Constructed with a solid steel frame and magnetic braking resistance, the LifeSpan RW1000 will give you a consistent and low-impact workout that really gets the heart pumping. It's simple to use, making it perfect for beginners.
  • triple lcd console
  • folds up quickly
  • only has five resistance levels
Brand LifeSpan Fitness
Model RW1000
Weight 80 pounds
Rating 3.5 / 5.0
For an unbeatable price of under $100 and with 12 available levels of resistance, the Sunny Health machine is ideal for smaller budgets. It is a great balance of affordability and performance, but isn't as sturdy as more expensive models.
  • adjustable foot straps
  • great for people of all sizes
  • resistance cylinder gets hot
Brand Sunny Health & Fitness
Model SF-RW1205
Weight 24.1 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0
One of the most compact models to make our list, the Stamina 1215 still offers a full range of motion, so you get a great workout. It has a single button monitor that shows row count, speed, distance, time, and calories burned.
  • hydraulic cylinder resistance
  • natural wide grip
  • increaseable beam line
Brand Stamina
Model 35-1215
Weight 54.9 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0
At just 90lbs., the Velocity Exercise is relatively easy for one person to move about their house as needed, which is important because it is designed to be folded up and stored out of the way when not in use. Despite this, it can still support users up to 275lbs.
  • high traction foot pedals
  • surprisingly quiet when rowing
  • oversized seat for comfort
Brand Velocity Exercise
Model CHR-2001
Weight 89.2 pounds
Rating 3.5 / 5.0
The First Degree Fitness Newport AR utilizes water resistance for the most natural feeling rowing experience. It has a ribbed internal tank that replicates the catch feeling you get when you first start a stroke on a lake or river.
  • produces a real water sound
  • great for high intensity workouts
  • offers consistent resistance
Brand First Degree Fitness
Model pending
Weight 57 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0
The Stamina Avari has an integrated fitness monitor that tracks everything from time to calories to keep you motivated as you progress towards your goals. The control panel has large up and down buttons that make it easy to make adjustments on the fly.
  • bright backlit monitor
  • includes a heart rate chest strap
  • plenty of travel for tall users
Brand Avari
Model A350-700
Weight 86.1 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0
The Lifecore R100 features magnetic resistance that provides a smooth rowing motion, helping users to achieve a fluid stroke that transfers well to real world rowing. It is adjustable through 16 difficulty levels and comes with 15 workout programs.
  • comfortable padded seat
  • stores 4 user profiles
  • multi-directional cooling vent
Brand LifeCORE Fitness
Model LC-R100
Weight 151 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0
The Concept2 Model D has a flywheel designed to minimize noise and provide a smooth workout. It also features a nickel-plated chain that resists corrosion, and conveniently separates into two pieces for compact storage. It also has caster wheels for easy mobility.
  • 500-pound user capacity
  • frame has a 5-year warranty
  • monitor arm is adjustable
Brand Concept2
Model 2712-US
Weight 67.7 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0
With a programmable computer and dual hydraulic cylinders for a consistent resistance level, the Kettler Favorit is perfect for home use, but powerful enough for a commercial gym. It offers 50 resistance levels to choose from.
  • provides a circular rowing motion
  • provides resistance both ways
  • footplates pivot naturally
Model 7978-900
Weight 56.4 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0
The WaterRower Natural has been carefully crafted from high quality wood and is designed with a water flywheel to simulate the most true-to-life rowing feeling. It also tracks workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, and more.
  • smooth non-jerky resistance
  • stores neatly in an upright position
  • produces minimal vibrations
Brand Water Rower
Model Ash S4
Weight 24 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

Buyer's Guide

What Kind Of Rowing Machine Should I Buy For The Best Workout?

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, somewhat Captain Planet-reminiscent ways:

Air: 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.

Example: the Concept2.

Pros: A smooth action with little wear and tear to the mechanism, plus the flywheel 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 tend to use air rowers for land training. They tend to be less expensive than water-powered rowing machines, too.

Cons: 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.

Water: You have to wonder why it took the industry so long to come up with the idea of rowing machines powered by water. ("We want a rowing machine that will imitate the experience of real rowing." "Great idea! But how will you generate resistance?" "What about with...water?" "SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.") 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.

Examples: the WaterRower; the ProRower.

Pros: 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. And we mentioned that Frank Underwood has one, right? Opinion is divided over whether air or water rowers offer the best workout: there are a lot of videos and reviews out there of how the WaterRower measures up against the Concept2 - these two are probably the best of each variety of rowing machine - so have a look and make up your own mind.

Cons: Because there's a tank full of water involved, 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.

Hydraulic: These machines use pistons to generate resistance.

Example: ...actually, none of the rowing machines in our top 5 are hydraulic. See 'Cons' to find out why.

Pros: Hydraulic rowers are quiet, and they also tend to be smaller and cheaper than other kinds of rowing machines.

Cons: A lot of people are still tempted into buying hydraulic rowing machines for the reasons above. 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. We think that in most cases, buying a hydraulic rowing machine to save money is a false economy you're likely to regret.

Magnetic: With magnetic rowing machines, adjusting the resistance means varying the distance between a flywheel and strong magnets. This is done either manually, using mechanical sliders, or digitally by the console controls.

Examples: LifeSpan RW1000; Velocity CHR-2001.

Pros: 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.

Cons: It's a very different kind of feel to what you'd expect from an air or water rower. You still get a good workout, but it doesn't simulate the sensation of rowing in the same way.

You Know What You Want? 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. Think you're ready to part with your cold hard cash? Hold it right there and 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 for, 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 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? You might notice we've included maximum weight capacity on most of our reviews above: pay attention to that factor 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 to choose from.

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

4th century BC: invention of probably the first rowing machines by Chabrias, an admiral in the Athenian navy, who built wooden rowing frames to teach new oarsmen how to row before they set sail.

1872: a US patent is issued to W.B. Curtis for an early, hydraulic based rowing machine.

Around 1900: a Rhode Island manufacturer begins 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.

1950s-1960s: more sports coaches begin 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 a 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 also imitated the actual experience of rowing more closely than any previous rowing machine.

1970s: development of the famously taxing Gjessing-Nilson ergometer, from Norway, which was for many years the internationally accepted standard.

1980s: introduction of rowing machines closer to those available today, e.g. air resistance rowers and early models of the Concept2.

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Last updated on April 28 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.