The 10 Best Rowing Machines

Updated February 14, 2018 by Sam Kraft

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We spent 42 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. 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. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best rowing machine on Amazon.

10. Sunny Health SF-RW1205

A highly affordable unit that’s equipped with 12 levels of resistance, the Sunny Health SF-RW1205 is a nice option if you’re short on space and looking for a good value. It’s not as sturdy or smooth as some models, but you’ll see results nonetheless.
  • adjustable foot straps
  • weighs 20 pounds
  • some seats have deteriorated quickly
Brand Sunny Health & Fitness
Model SF-RW1205
Weight 24.9 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

9. Stamina 1215

One of the most compact models available, the Stamina 1215 still offers a full range of motion, so your workout won’t be limited in any way. It has an easy-to-see monitor that displays information like row count, speed, distance, time, and calories burned.
  • smooth and consistent resistance
  • rowing arms fold for storage
  • no locking mechanism on the seat
Brand Stamina
Model 35-1215
Weight 54.9 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

8. Lifecore R100

The Lifecore R100 features magnetic resistance that provides a smooth motion, helping users to achieve a fluid stroke that transfers well to real-world rowing. You can adjust this model to 16 different difficulty levels and utilize 15 individual workout programs.
  • adjustable cooling vent
  • stores 4 user profiles
  • handle is thin and uncomfortable
Brand LifeCORE Fitness
Model LC-R100
Weight 151 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

7. Stamina ATS

A space-saver that only takes about half an hour to set up, the Stamina ATS is a solid option for beginners, but will satisfy most experienced rowers as well. The Velcro foot straps reliably hold your feet in place, so you can focus purely on your rowing motion.
  • 4 colors to choose from
  • rubber feet protect floor
  • pretty loud while in operation
Brand Stamina
Model pending
Weight 53 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

6. Stamina Avari

The built-in fitness monitor on the Stamina Avari tracks everything from time elapsed to calories burned, which helps keep you motivated as you progress towards your goals. The control panel has large, accessible up and down buttons.
  • monitor is brightly backlit
  • heart rate chest strap
  • foot straps are flimsy
Brand Avari
Model A350-700
Weight 86.1 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

5. Sunny Health Dual

While it’s certainly a quality rowing machine, you can also use the Sunny Health Dual to perform upright rows or even bicep curls, thanks to its versatile and secure foot plates. The handlebars are comfortable and provide a nice grip, even if you’re a bit sweaty.
  • easy to adjust resistance
  • wheels for moving and storage
  • backed by a 3-year warranty
Brand Sunny Health & Fitness
Model SF-RW5612
Weight 72.8 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

4. First Degree Apollo

Sure, it provides a first-class workout, but how many rowing machines can claim to also enhance the ambiance of a room like the First Degree Apollo does? Its natural wood design is elegant and practical, and its nylon belt is smooth and silent while you’re exercising.
  • frame is sturdy and durable
  • monitor has a usb port
  • quick and simple assembly
Brand First Degree Fitness
Model pending
Weight 79 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

3. Concept2 Model D

The flywheel on the Concept2 Model D is designed to minimize noise and provide a smooth, low-impact workout. The chain, which is nickel-plated and resistant to corrosion, conveniently separates into two pieces for compact storage.
  • 500-pound user capacity
  • comes with tools for assembly
  • monitor arm is adjustable
Brand Concept2
Model 2712-US
Weight 67.9 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

2. First Degree Newport

The First Degree Newport utilizes water resistance, which creates a very natural experience that's similar to the real thing. It has a ribbed internal tank that replicates the catch you get when you first dig into the water to begin your stroke.
  • does not make whirring noises
  • comfy handle minimizes wrist fatigue
  • suitable for all fitness levels
Brand First Degree Fitness
Model pending
Weight 57 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. WaterRower Natural

Carefully crafted from durable ash wood, the WaterRower Natural is designed with a water flywheel to simulate the feelings of on-water rowing. It also tracks workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, and other key health metrics.
  • appearance is rustic and stylish
  • stores neatly in an upright position
  • 84 inches in length
Brand Water Rower
Model 100
Weight 24 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

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 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.

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.

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.

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Last updated on February 14, 2018 by Sam Kraft

Sam is a marketing/communications professional and freelance writer who resides in Chicago, IL and is perpetually celebrating the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory.

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