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Rowing is one of the best aerobic fitness activities for both men and women. Since most people can’t get regular exercise by taking an actual boat out for a ride, you could consider an indoor rowing machine. Not only will you get a good cardio workout using it, but you’ll also work lots of muscles in both upper and lower body because you use your arms and legs on this machine. But what is the best rowing machine for home use? We’ll reveal our top picks but before that let’s do a quick run through of the types of rowing machines available and which kind to choose for your needs.
Another good benefit of the rower is that you can adjust the level of resistance to concentrate more on either a cardio workout or on an anaerobic muscle building workout. The lower the resistance the faster you can row, and the higher it is the harder your muscles have to work. The resistance is against the movement of your seat sliding forward.
The four kinds of rowers are classified according to the method of resistance they use. They are air, magnetic, water/fluid and hydraulic. Hydraulic is quite outdated and will probably soon disappear from the market but they don’t cost much and can have a much smaller footprint than machines that use a flywheel. Don’t choose this if you want a completely silent machine or a very smooth and natural rowing action, as it uses pistons to provide resistance.
An air rowing machine uses a flywheel with resistance provided by air flowing over the wheel. The wheel is connected to the rowing handle by a chain, which is what spins the wheel. If you want more resistance you have to row faster. This type is the most popular for serious rowers because the range of resistance replicates real boat rowing in water and it adjusts to your stroke rate. Movement also feels smooth with an air rower and they are preferred by professionals who have to train out of season. The downside is that they are a bit noisy.
If noise is a factor, then go for a water or magnetic resistance rower. If you like the smoothness of an air rower but don’t want the noise, then a water rower is best. It uses flywheel paddles moving in a water tank to create resistance. A chain connected to the flywheel spins it to create resistance. Some professionals like this type of machine best because it most closely replicates real boat rowing. It is quiet except for a slight swooshing sound as the paddles moves through the water. All you have to do for maintenance is refill the water in the tank as it evaporates. Unfortunately, water rowing machines are expensive and large.
Magnetic rowers are some of the most popular for home use. They are more compact than water and air rowers and are very quiet. A spinning flywheel attached to a rowing chain gets its resistance from strong magnets that slightly move away for lower resistance and closer together for higher resistance. You can vary the resistance levels manually or digitally and the rowing action is smooth. Maintenance is usually hassle-free.
Now that you know about the types of machines available, let’s get straight to our rowing machine reviews so you can make your pick easily. We also have a more in-depth guide on how to choose a rower for your needs.
- 1 Top Rated Rowing Machines
- 2 Best Rowing Machine for the Money
- 3 Best Budget Rowing Machine
- 4 Compact Rowing Machine
|Product||Rating (out of 5)||Seat height||Resistance||Footprint||Max. User Capacity||Price|
|Concept2 Model D rower||4.9||14"||air||8'x2'||500 lbs||$$$$|
|Concept2 Model E||4.9||20"||air||8'x2'||500 lbs||$$$$$|
|Stamina Air Rower||4.3||12"||air||6.4'x1.5'||250 lbs||$$$|
|Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515||4.3||10"||magnetic||6.8'x1.6'||250 lbs||$$|
|Stamina InMotion 35-0123||4.2||10"||hydraulic||4.7'x1.6'||250 lbs||$|
|Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050||4.1||9"||hydraulic||3.8'x2'||250 lbs||$|
Top Rated Rowing Machines
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
Concept2 is one of the most respected names in the rowing machine business, and their rowers are the choice of many professional rowers for their in-home use. The Concept2 Model D rower is at the top of the company’s line. This is an air resistance machine, which means that a fan and chain mechanism controls the operation. There is no knob to adjust the rower’s resistance. Rather the level of resistance and intensity of your workout is controlled by the speed and pressure of your rowing stroke. However, there is a speed damper to adjust airflow over the wheel so that you can adjust stroke feel.
A feature that is unique to Concept2 is the PM5 (performance monitor). The monitor is installed in an adjustable arm for maximum visibility. Not only does this monitor measure five different aspects of your workout, but it allows you to store your data to compete against yourself and others at a later time. You can also upload your performance to a number of external devices. The PM5 is compatible with a number of workout programs that you can upload to to continue to challenge yourself.
The Concept2 Model D is engineered to be sturdy and comes with great customer support, making it the best indoor rowing machine you can buy. With this machine, you get one of the longest warranties with two years overall and five years on parts. It is designed to suit all rowers, with a weight capacity of 500 lbs, an ergonomic handle, adjustable footrests and an extra wide seat.
You’ll need 9 by 4 feet of space but it has wheels if you want to move it and it be separated into two parts for storage. In spite of all these features, customers report that the machine can be noisy and uncomfortable on longer rides.
Concept2 Model E Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
The Concept2 Model E rowing machine is the Model D’s big brother. The two machines have most of the same features, with the Model E designed to address some of the concerns found in the Model D. The seat is 20” high, 6” higher than that of the Model D. This changes your rowing angle and makes the seat much more comfortable. It also makes the machine easier to access for those with more limited mobility.
Concept2 also handled the issue of no adjustable resistance control with the Model D by allowing you to adjust the resistance on the wheel using a manual lever. This gives you a little more control over the level of resistance, however, it is awkwardly located and you’ll have to get up to change it each time.
The Model E is even sturdier than its D brother but a little more difficult to store due to its extra weight. It also costs more than the D but has a slightly smaller footprint and is more comfortable. The monitor arm is fixed as well. On the Model E, Concept2 offers a two year standard warranty and a five year guarantee on the machine parts.
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor
This WaterRower made from ash wood is one of the best-looking rowers on the market. The wood base makes it durable, sturdy, and stable. This is a water-resistant exercise machine which uses a water flywheel to make the ride smoother and more quiet. Also, water resistance rowers most closely simulate an actual on the water rowing experience. An added bonus reported by many customers is the fact that there is something very soothing about the movement of the water in the machine’s tank.
The amount of resistance during your ride depends solely on the level of intensity with which you row. You can however, adjust the tension further by changing the level of water in the tank. The seat is designed with a longer track, making it comfortable for the tallest rowers and those with long legs – up to 38″ inseam. The seat is well padded and comfortable for long workouts but it only rests 12 inches off the ground so some people might find it difficult to get on and off. The foot rests don’t swivel or pivot along with the natural movement of your feet as you move but there are foot straps to keep them secure.
The S4 monitor is basic and not backlit, but you can see distance rowed, speed, time, stroke rate and calories burned per hour. The Zonebar lets you know if you fall above or below a pre-programmed performance level.
The entire unit is handcrafted and made from ash, one of the strongest types of wood. As a result, the weight capacity is 700 pounds. Though it is heavy, it is easy to move thanks to the caster wheels. It is quite bulky during operation, but it stores in a small space by standing it on its base. The WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine does require some continual adjustments and the water tank requires a purity tablet to prevent bacteria buildup.
Best Rowing Machine for the Money
Stamina Air Rower ATS 1399
This Stamina Air Rower 1399 machine is an air/wind resistance rower. With this type of rower, the harder and faster you row, the more air you generate, and the more resistance you create. It has a multi-function performance monitor that displays speed, distance, time, and calories burned. It is designed for a capacity of up to 250 lbs and equipped with a padded seat and extra-large footplates for comfort. An additional feature is the angled rail of the seat that allows it to slide smoothly.
There is no resistance setting on this machine, since your rowing intensity is what determines the tension level. The footrests pivot along with the natural movement of your feet. This machine is a bit noisy and the seat is on the smaller side but at this price you can’t expect to have what the top of the range rowers offer.
The assembly and set up is easy, with the entire process taking thirty minutes or less. The Stamina Air Rower folds for storage and can be moved on its rollers. It comes with a three- year warranty on the frame and a ninety-day parts guarantee. In short, this machine delivers the same quality, full body, cardiac workout as many other air rowers at about one third of the price.
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine
The Sunny Health & Fitness magnetic rower offers great quality for the price. This is a magnetic resistance rower. Magnetic rowers differ from air and water rowers in that they generally provide a quieter operation versus air and cost much less than a water one. However, the resistance doesn’t increase as quickly as it does with air rowers.
This machine includes a large LCD console which monitors and scrolls through your elapsed time, count, calories, and total strokes. The maximum user weight is 250 pounds. For comfort, the Sunny is equipped with large anti-slip foot pedals with adjustable foot straps. The machine folds up for easy storage and can be moved on its roll away wheels.
Overall, this rower is highly rated but there are reports that it doesn’t provide for maximum range of motion or a full stroke. The monitor is very basic and the calorie counter is not dependable. The one year warranty is short compared to other machines, and parts are guaranteed for only ninety days. Clearly, the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 is the best magnetic rowing machine for those on a budget.
Best Budget Rowing Machine
Stamina InMotion Rower
The Stamina InMotion 35-0123 is constructed with solid steel. It is one of the most-sturdy rowers available with one of the lowest prices on the market. Its hydraulics operating system makes it very quiet during the course of your workout. It offers five levels of resistance. It also has the InTouch or one button monitor that tracks elapsed time, distance, calories burned, and total strokes.
The seat is very low to the ground but is designed for comfort. The foot plates have adjustable closures to keep feet in place. The InMotion has a compact footprint and is easy to store and assemble. There are some issues that are problematic. First, the hydraulic cylinders can overheat and leak fluid. Next, there are no preset workouts and your data cannot be saved. Also, the handlebars are push-pull but do not simulate an on the water motion. Finally, some of the machine’s parts are plastic even though they are very sturdy.
Even with the reported problems, the Stamina InMotion is the perfect machine for beginners. It provides you with an opportunity to develop your basic rowing regimen and to determine if you enjoy the rowing experience. All without costing you an inordinate amount of money.
Compact Rowing Machine
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
The Stamina Body Trac Glider Rower works in spaces where no other machine can. It is the home rowing machine with a 23.5” x 46” footprint. It is quiet enough to be used in these tighter spaces without disturbing others. Even at its small stature, the steel frame construction and aluminum center makes the machine very sturdy and durable.
Like the Stamina InMotion, it is a hydraulic resistance rower, and offers twelve resistance adjustments. You change resistance by adjusting the shocks, but since these get hot during operation, you should make your changes before your workout. The seat track can get a bit squeaky at times. The Trac Glider’s monitor calculates time, stroke count, and calories burned. Since it is a simple monitor, the calorie counter can be inaccurate at times.
The machine’s rowing handles are padded and independently operated, like in sculling where you have an oar in each hand. If you are a strong rower, the hydraulic resistance may not be strong enough for you. Also, as with any hydraulic rower, you may have an issue with leaking fluid or with the resistance becoming less effective over time.