Finding the best rowing machine can be difficult.
There are lots of different options and you can easily make the wrong decision. If you end up with a machine that does not suit your needs, you are more likely to use it less and it will more than likely end up on the scrap heap very quickly.
However, the right rower can become a cornerstone of your workout routine.
If you keep reading, I will guide you through 3 simple steps to guarantee that you find the perfect rowing machine for you. The steps below are designed to help people buying a machine for the first time but there are lots of tips and info for prospective and experienced rowers alike.
The process of buying a machine can be daunting, but if you work through these 3 steps you will see it’s actually quite straightforward:
- Step 1- Choose the size.
- Step 2- Choose the resistance type.
- Step 3- Choose your price range.
In Step 1 we’ll work out what kind of machine suits the space you have. In this step we will also consider what body type you have as this directly effects what size machine you may need.
In Step 2 I’ll introduce the various type of resistance available and match that to the type of workout that you are seeking.
And in Step 3 I’ll go through the different price ranges and will provide you with a brief summary of what brands and types of rowers you can expect to find in the different price groupings
It is as easy as that. So what are you waiting for? Keep reading below and figure out what type of rowing machine best suits your needs!
Step 1 – Choose a rower size
It is important to consider the space you have in your home before purchasing a home rower. Rowers can be awkward to ship and the last thing you need is to order a rower that won’t fit in your workout space.
Rowing machines can be up anywhere from 6 -8 feet long and are typically 2 feet wide. Most rowers can be stored by standing them up vertically. These machines usually have transportation guide wheels on the top of the machine which allow you to easily wheel the machine into a cupboard or store up against a wall.
Other machines can be folded in half or split into two sections which makes it more convenient for storage.
In terms of machine length, it is important to consider the amount of the leg room that you may require. Most machines cater for people with long legs but I would advise any tall person to check the reviews, especially for some of the smaller machines. Some people find themselves unable to get a full extension on their row which can be frustrating. See the table below for more info on the machine best suited to those of you that are built longer than most!
The height of the chair on the machine varies between brands and resistance types. If you are a person with limited mobility you may find it difficult to use a lower chair. Many rowers come with an adjustable chair height which can help but some of the more professional rowing machines tend to be quite low in order to accurately simulate boat rowing.
Weight of the machine
It is also important to consider the weight of the machine before you make your purchase. Some of the cheaper machines have a weight limit of around 90kg. However, most machines will support well over 120kg with many machines easily able to handle 200kg+.
As a general rule of thumb the heavier machines tend to be sturdier and are more likely to be a permanent fixture as they stand up well to the wear the tear that is experienced with an normal level of use. Just like an exercise equipment the cheaper options tend to be lighter on materials and have a shorter lifespan as a result.
Finally, it is also worth consider what type of floor you plan to use the machine on. If you have an expensive wood floor you need to be careful in ensuring that the floor is not marked when moving the machine.
Step 2 – Choose the type of resistance
Choosing the type of resistance you want basically means choosing the type of rowing machine that you want.
Rowing is a resistance based exercise. It is similar to weight lifting in that you are moving against an impeding force which causes you to fatigue quicker but helps you build strength. The difference with rowing is that the harder and faster you row the greater the resistance. This is what makes it such a brilliant exercise for building strength and endurance.
In general rowing machines can be divided into 4 different resistance types: Water, Air, Magnetic, and Hydraulic, and each type has different advantages and features. Here follows a brief description of the main features of each type.
Water rowers have a round tank filled with water at the top of the rower. Within this tank there is usually a set of paddles or rotating fins. When you begin rowing these paddles rotate within the tank and the water acts as the resistance against the paddles.
The level of resistance provided by the water increases with the speed of the pull which simulates the way an actual boat moves through water. The machine is relatively quiet compared to other resistance types with the swooshing of the water simulating the ambience that once might experience when rowing on a river.
Water rowers typically have a more luxurious feel to them when compared to other resistance machines and they often come in beautifully stained hardwood with perfectly symmetrical lines on the wood and tank. These stylish machines look great in dens and workout spaces when lying flat or stored vertically and are appealing to people who are looking for a high end fitness equipment that will fit with the aesthetic of their house. The tank at the top of the machine acts an anchor when placed vertically which ensures safe storage.
WaterRower is the dominant brand in these machines but several competitors have emerged over the last few years.
Best Water Rower
The WATERROWER is a beautifully crafted rowing machine that provides the simulation of rowing on water better than any other machine on the market. In my opinion it is also the most stylish water rower available and the beautiful hardwood frame compliments any living space.
It is not the cheapest machine on the market but if you have the budget and the space, then this is the machine for you. 5 stars!
Air rowers are probably the most popular type of indoor rowing machine and come in many different sizes and styles.
They create resistance through the use of a flywheel which spins when you row. The flywheel has small fins attached which create resistance when the wheel spins. The faster you row the faster the flywheel spins which in turn creates a greater resistance.
You can alter the level of resistance through the use of a damper (lever on the side of the flywheel). The damper allows you to control how much air is inside the flywheel casing. The more air, the harder the resistance and vice versa. This ability to easily alter the level of resistance makes them very good for a HIIT (high intensity interval training) type workouts.
Air rowers are favoured by professional athletes for their indoor training sessions as it provides the best simulation of rowing a boat on water and provides a overall smoother experience than many other types of rower.
Air rowers are typically offered in many different price ranges which makes them popular with everyone from first time home rowers to professional athletes.
Most air rowers come with some kind of Tachymeter and screen which tracks various other aspects of performance/body metrics.
The Flywheels in air rowers tend to make quite a bit of noise so they are not ideal if plan to use in an apartment or while watching tv!
Best Air Rower
The Concept2 offers an intelligent resistance system that can easily be adjusted to suit any level of experience. The machine offers a smooth rowing stroke and is relatively quiet compared to other air rowers.
It comes with a slick backlit performance monitor interface which offers key statistics, games, pre-set workouts, and wireless connectivity.
Finally, it is easy to transport using the guide wheels at the front of the rower and can be easily folded in two which makes storage easier.
In my (and the industry’s) opinion the best rowing machine on the market!
Magnetic rowers use small electromagnets within the flywheel to create resistance. This magnetics never actually touch the flywheel and can be moved closer or further away depending on the amount of preferred resistance. To increase the resistance, you would adjust the machine so that the magnet is closer to the flywheel.
Unlike many other rowers the level of resistance on magnetic rowers is set at a fixed level and the resistance does not increase as the pace of rowing increases. This is because the magnetics position is constant and they consistently deliver the same pulling force on the flywheel no matter what speed it moves at. This makes the simulation of rowing very different to rowing on water but many people prefer the consistent resistance as they can easily track and see strength gains similar to the way you might do when lifting weights in a gym.
Magnetic rowers are typically quieter than most air rowers as there is no friction or moving substance within the flywheel and are often preferred for home use as a result.
Best Magnetic Rower
The JLL R200 is a solidly built rowing machine which is suitable for beginner and mid-level rowers. It offers 10 levels of magnetic resistance and boasts an LCD screen which tracks key metrics such as Time, Distance, and calories burned.
The magnetic resistance means that the machine is significantly quieter than other types of resistance. The machine itself is only 23kg in weight and can be easily folded for storage.
The machine is regularly discounted and is excellent value for money if you are seeking an entry level light weight machine that will provide you with a solid rowing workout.
You can read our full JLL R200 rowing machine review here.
Hydraulic rowers use pistons (small cylinders filled with hydraulic fluid) to create resistance. These pistons are usually connected to the handles and the amount of resistance can usually be adjusted with a dial.
Many of the hydraulic rowing machines on the market have a fixed seat position which makes it a workout for the upper body only. This eliminates the leg press part of the row which is one of the key features of rowing which makes us wonder whether these machines can even be defined as ‘rowers’.
Hydraulic rowing machines are typical the cheapest option available on the market and are very much targeted at the budget conscious.
With hydraulic rowing machines, it is very much a case of buyer beware as they can be unreliable as the pistons used are often of low quality and can leak or need frequent replacement. In addition, the level of resistance offered by these machines can be very uneven and can often stick at different spots during the rowing motion.
On the upside, hydraulic machines do not make as much noise as other types of machines so may be suitable for people living in apartments or in places where loud rowing would be an issue.
Best Hydraulic Rower
The BR1000 is only 13kg and its light frame means it is easy to transport but may not be suitable for people over 6ft tall or 100kg in weight.
It is not the easiest machine to store as the handles are fixed. The built in display provides metrics such as calories burned, count, scan, strokes per minute and time.
If you are looking for a simple piece of kit to exercise your upper back then this may be the product for you.
Step 3 – What’s your budget?
The good news is that you can get your hands on a rowing machine for as little as £150. However a top end rowing machine can cost up to £1500.
Some rowing machines double up as feature pieces and are stylish feature pieces which are often bought to complete the look of a room.
How much you spend is really up to you and depends on your budget. From my experience rowers tend to fall into the following 3 price ranges:
- Less than £150
- £250 – £750
Here is what you can expect to find in each of these ranges:
Less than £150
In this price range, you will find the entry level rowing machines designed to provide the basic rowing workout.
There is some value to be had in this range but buyers need to be wary as there are a lot of poor quality machines that will require frequent repair and maintenance even with a relatively low level of use. Hydraulic rowers and rowers that double up as multi-purpose “home gyms” are common in this range and should be approached with caution.
In general, machines at this price range tend to be lighter and therefore less sturdy so if you are of a larger frame / have long legs you should look closely at the specifications to ensure that the machine is of sufficient size to cater for your bod
£250 – £750
In this price range, you will find a mix of machines. Air and magnetic rowers dominate this price range with many of the lesser known brands offering options for consumers that are looking for a solid piece of workout equipment but are not prepared to pay a small fortune.
The main difference in this category really comes down to branding. The brands at this level are competing on price with some of the more well-known machines in the upper ranges. These machines offer many of the same features and are typically built solid.
Most of the rowers on offer at this range offer warranty’s of 2 years+.
This range can also be the trickiest range at which to make a good selection and it is worth doing the research to ensure that you get value for your money. Lucky for you we have done all this research for you so keep reading!
This is range where you will find the premium and professional rowing machines and you will even see the same type of machine that may be in your local gym. Water rowers and the high-performance air rowers tend to dominate this price range with models such as the Concept 2 Model D and the WaterRower Natural available being two of the most popular machines in this range.
The machines in this range are typically very well built and sturdy and tend to perform very well. While they are often preferred by experienced rowers, they also just as easily used by novices and mid-level rowers. They are typically bulkier in size and take considerably more time to put together than most of the budget rowers.
You will also find extra features available in the monitors of these products with metrics such as range, stroke rate, intensity, watts and calories per hour offered in different displays. Products such as the WaterRower Classic allow you to connect to your PC and download your workout which allows you to get better insight by tracking your workout and progress.
At this range, you will also find some of the more stylish machines. As mentioned previously, some of the WaterRower ranges come in beautiful stained hardwood and work really well as feature pieces when styling a room. It can be easy to see why some of these machines were featured in the London Museum of Design and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
(If you have seen the Netflix hit “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey you may have noticed that he likes to blow off steam on a WaterRower)
Rowing machines are not cheap and if you are planning on shelling out your hard-earned cash you need to be sure that the product you are getting is going to work as promised. You should always closely read the warranty on each machine as different companies offer different types of guarantees.
Many of the budget options do not come with a warranty but most of the mid- high range machines will offer one. Typically, the frame will have a longer warranty than the parts but this is not the case for all machines.
You should also be mindful of what type of use the warranty covers as some warranty’s specifically cover home use which means that you will not be covered if you are buying the machine for commercial use.
So there you have it. If you are still reading you should have a pretty good idea of what is available on the market in 2021 and what is the best rowing machine for you.