Rowing machines have never been as popular as they are today. However, these machines (also known as rowers or ergometers) are experiencing a renaissance due to their unmatched versatility. Regardless of whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or improve your aerobic fitness, a good rower can help you achieve all of your fitness goals.
As with most fitness equipment, you get what you pay for. Premium rowers can be incredibly expensive. But they’re generally designed and built to last. Inexpensive rowing machines are cheap because they use cheap materials and are rarely quality assured. They’re not made for serious athletes that will put an ergo through its paces day-in day-out.
However, we hope to demonstrate that if you spend wisely you can still get a machine that provides excellent value for your money. The following are 6 of the best budget rowing machines that will make a great addition to your home gym without breaking your bank.
Top 2 Affordable Rowing Machines At a Glance
Best Budget Rowing Machine Overall
This machine by Sunny Health and Fitness packs all the essentials. This stably built rower features a 16-level magnetic resistance system, comfortable seating, and can be folded to save space. The console also gives you all the important data you need to keep up with your fitness goals, making this machine worth serious consideration no matter what your budget is.
Next Best Low-Cost Rower
Stamina’s rowing machine is brimming with quality features that make it a worthy option for all types of users. While its small size and sturdiness are its highlights, the rower also features a smooth and silent hydraulic-piston mechanism for challenging workouts. Coupled with basic data tracking, comfortable seating, and foldability, this rower is about as good as it gets in this category.
The Best Budget Rowing Machines
|Sunny Health and Fitness Compact Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine||
|Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine||
|Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW1205 Adjustable Resistance Rowing Machine||
|Sunny Health and Fitness Incline Full Motion Rowing Machine||
|Sunny Health and Fitness Squat Assist Row-n-Ride Trainer||
|Sunny Health and Fitness Compact Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine|
|Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine|
|Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW1205 Adjustable Resistance Rowing Machine|
|Sunny Health and Fitness Incline Full Motion Rowing Machine|
|Sunny Health and Fitness Squat Assist Row-n-Ride Trainer|
This machine is one of the few rowers in this category (and only one on our list) to feature a magnetic resistance system. Not only does this make for a smooth rowing motion, but it’s also incredibly silent, allowing you to watch television or listen to music while working out. The system is equipped with 16 levels of resistance to suit users with different levels of fitness and rowing experience.
The magnetic resistance means that this machine is slightly large compared to other models. Its dimensions are 77″ L x 23″ W. However, you can fold it after use for convenient storage, and its large size enables the rower to accommodate tall users, as well as support a maximum weight of 250 lbs. This machine also comes with a comfortable padded seat, along with stable footrests that have reliable straps to keep your feet firmly in place. The included console records data relating to your time, calories burned, and stroke count efficiently, but it can be slightly hard to read while rowing
Ultimately, this machine has all the essential elements of a good affordable rowing machine, and its magnetic resistance system makes it a standout in this category.
- 16 levels of magnetic resistance
- High maximum weight
- Comfortable seating
The Not So Good
- Slightly large size
- Console is hard to read while rowing
Stamina’s 1050 model is a great value rower that offers a unique design. Despite being extremely lightweight at just 37 pounds, it features an impressively stable steel frame accompanied by an aluminum center beam. This helps the machine remain sturdy during intensive workouts and also ensures its durability.
Instead of magnetic resistance, this machine utilizes a hydraulic-piston mechanism that is just as silent and smooth as the former. Though it’s equipped with 12 levels of resistance, the piston tends to overheat after 15-20 minutes of continuous usage, forcing users to take a break periodically. This, along with the rowers inefficient Velcro straps that make your feet slip are the only two downsides in an otherwise great machine.
Besides being smooth and sturdy, this machine is fairly compact – making it ideal for those short on space. Users can fold the machine to further reduce its size. It has a high maximum weight of 250 lbs, it supports users as tall as 6’ 6″, and also features comfortable seating. Lastly, its console tracks all your essential data, like time, stroke counts, and estimates burned calories.
- Compact size
- Heavy-duty frame
- Suitable for tall users
- High maximum weight
The Not So Good
- Can only be used for 15-20 minutes at a time
- Inefficient Velcro straps
Sunny Health and Fitness is renowned for seamlessly combining quality with affordability, and the SF-RW1205 does this better than most. Even though it weighs only 20 lbs, this rower features a solid steel frame suitable for long-term use. Its modest footprint (53.2″ L x 20″ W) means that it requires minimal space while rowing. Moreover, you can fold this machine for convenient storage.
The resistance mechanism here is almost identical to the previous model – a hydraulic-piston system with 12 levels of resistance. However, the rail in this rower is slightly inclined, making workouts more challenging. As before, the piston loses its resistance due to overheating after approximately 15 minutes, restricting how long it can be used before it needs to cool down.
The included console is also similar to others on this list, tracking basic metrics like time, calories burned, and stroke count. However, the latter can sometimes be inaccurate since the rower either fails to register some strokes or double counts single strokes. Lastly, the seating on this rower is comfortable and glides smoothly along the rail.
- Compact and lightweight
- Sturdy frame
- Smooth and silent resistance mechanism
- Comfortable seating
The Not So Good
- Inaccurate stroke tracking
- Can only be used for 15 minutes at a time
This machine by Stamina is ideal for those looking to introduce themselves to rowing. Its 5-level hydraulic resistance system exerts enough tension for beginner and intermediate users to get in a strenuous 15-minute workout. However, experienced athletes looking for more rigor might have to look elsewhere. Besides resistance, its compact dimensions (56.5″ L x 23.5″ W) and the fact that it can be folded mean that its footprint is very small.
The rower features a sturdy steel frame that is suitable for moderately intense exercise. The included console records basic metrics like time, calories burned, and stroke counts efficiently, though the monitor can be difficult to read while rowing. Its seating is also slightly underwhelming due to the small size and low position, making it difficult for users with mobility issues to get on or off the machine.
Users as tall as 6’ 3″ or weighing up to 250 lbs can comfortably use this machine. The pivoting footrest design also relieves some of the discomfort caused by the low seating, while the handlebar is acceptable for the short workouts that hydraulic-piston systems offer.
- Compact size
- Secure steel frame
- Pivoting footrest design
The Not So Good
- Disappointing seating
- Console is difficult to read while rowing
The Incline Full Motion rower by Sunny Health and Fitness is unlike any other machine on this list. Instead of utilizing fluids or magnetic force to generate resistance, it employs your own body weight to provide a rigorously challenging workout. However, one downside of this mechanism is that the seating, especially on the lower levels, lies fairly close to the ground. This might present some issues for those with knee pain or mobility issues. The form also relies on your upper body strength more than your lower body, while traditional rowing generally involves a better balance between the two.
If you can look past the form difference, the machine itself makes for a solid pick. It has a high maximum weight of 350 lbs thanks to its aluminum slide rail, which ensures a steady frame that can withstand intense workouts. It’s also really compact (55″ L x 22″ W) and can be folded after use. Lastly, it comes with a console that tracks metrics like time, rep/min, and stroke count.
- Bodyweight resistance ensures grueling workouts
- High maximum weight
- Compact size
The Not So Good
- Unsuitable for those with mobility issues
- Less lower body involvement
The Squat Assist Trainer is yet another rower with an unconventional form. The exercise this machine facilitates is more reminiscent of a squat than rowing, focusing more on your lower body than your core or arms. This rower is especially effective at isolating your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. You can adjust resistance through the included resistance bands, with each adding about 22 lbs. of tension. Furthermore, the saddle switches between 30, 60, and 90-degree angles to enable deeper squats.
The machine is equipped with an aluminum frame that supports a maximum of 220 lbs. This is somewhat lower than other options on this list, but the aluminum ensures that the rower is safe and secure. The rower also has an extremely conservative footprint with dimensions of just 36.5″ L x 19″ W. This reduces further when folded for convenient storage. Like previous models, this one comes with a basic monitor to track essential metrics.
Overall, this machine won’t fulfil the exact same needs as a rower, but it nevertheless offers an enjoyable and demanding workout experience that will tone your lower body in no time.
- Steady aluminum frame
- Compact size
- Offers challenging lower body workouts
The Not So Good
- Form resembles squatting more than rowing
- Minimal upper body involvement
Should You Get a Cheap Rowing Machine?
Budget rowers are a great way to introduce yourself to rowing. Even beginners can row with the right equipment, since it doesn’t require any prior experience. Rowing is also a low-impact exercise, which means that it imparts minimal tension on your joints. While alternatives like running are known to eventually cause injuries, rowing is far less likely to do so, making it ideal for anyone suffering from aches or pains in any part of their body. It’s also a good exercise for those undergoing injury rehabilitation.
Though cheap rowing machines are generally intended for moderate usage, this allows you to gradually integrate rowing into your fitness regimen. Once you experience the many benefits of rowing, you may want to opt for a better model without having spent too much on a basic one. One of the great things about rowing machines is there’s a lot of versatility in the style you can get, even in the budget segment. You can get manual rowers, magnetic resistance rowers, air rowers, and even cheap water rowers.
If, however, you discover that rowing isn’t for you, you’ll still own a machine that provides rigorous cardio workouts that you can intermittently make use of.
Choosing the Best Affordable Rowing Machine
The under $200 segment of the rower market is dominated by two brands: Sunny Health and Fitness, and Stamina Products. Scouring through reviews of their rowing machines reveals that both of these companies have cultivated a reputation for building good quality, budget rowers that generally have all the essentials.
Top tier rowing machines generally cost upwards of $1000, so producing one at a quarter of that is a sizable task that often involves compromising on key features. This can be either the quality of the frame or parts, the resistance mechanism, or something else. However, the rowing machines designed by these companies manage to avoid this as far as possible, thus making for some of the best choices in this category.
These two traits, along with folding capability, are perhaps the three most important characteristics to consider before purchasing a rowing machine. The sturdiness of a rower’s frame is crucial in ensuring that the machine remains stable even at high stroke counts and that it remains durable in the long run. Resistance mechanisms can also vary widely. While hydraulic-piston systems are the norm in this category, you might also discover other mechanisms like the incline resistance on Sunny’s Incline Full Motion rower that differ from the traditional rowing form. Some, like the first entry on this list, also feature magnetic resistance, which is the best option of the three types of mechanisms.
Frequently Asked Questions About Budget Rowers
Buying budget fitness equipment is often a double-edged sword: You get something useful for cheap, but it may not last long and if you have to replace it frequently, you may as well have just bought a more expensive machine that will last longer. So, you probably have some questions about low-cost rowing machines (and rowing machines in general), and we’ll do our best to answer them.
Are budget rowing machines worth it?
As long as they simulate the rowing action fairly closely, work your body in much the same way that on-water rowing does, and are a decent level of quality, then yes they’re worth it. As we’ve stressed throughout the article, rowing is a great, unique exercise that works large portions of your body simultaneously. Therefore, any piece of equipment that can help impart the benefits of rowing can be worth the money you pay.
All of the products in the list above should simulate the rowing action closely enough to provide its benefits. That said, they’re not premium rowers, and they’re not made for someone serious about rowing. If you think you’re going to be rowing frequently and for long periods, then you’ll be lucky if a budget rower lasts more than a couple months.
As mentioned above, any low-cost fitness equipment can be a gamble. Some pieces are well-made and are cheap because they’re very simple and don’t have a lot of moving parts or features. Others are cheap because they’re made from cheap materials in countries where labor costs and quality assurance processes are minimal. The former should last a long time if used properly and taken care of. The latter will likely breakdown.
What is the overall best rower on the market?
Without question, the
What is the best rowing machine for home use?
Again, the Concept 2 Model D and Model E are the pinnacle of rowing machines, and are great for home use. That said, while they fold up, they are fairly large when unfolded, so you may want to opt for a more compact model. We review a bunch of these in our article on the best rowing machines for home use.
Is rowing better than running?
That depends entirely on what you mean by “better”.
In terms of energy expenditure (calories burned), then according to data collected and published by Harvard University’s Harvard Health running tends to just edge out rowing, depending on the intensity at which it is completed. Vigorous rowing will tend to burn more calories than a moderate jog (e.g., at 5 mph), but as soon as you start running at a faster clip, then your energy expenditure accelerates rapidly.
While running may generally expend more calories, rowing provides a more complete full body workout.
Energy expenditure is not the only consideration when comparing the two activities though. You can also look at them in terms of the complexity of the movement. Running is a very simple movement that most humans can do naturally. Sure, there’s some technique in there that will make you more effective, but generally speaking, anyone and everyone can run. Rowing, on the other hand, is a complex movement that requires good technique. In that regard, rowing may be considered a more skillful exercise than running.
Finally, here’s another consideration: Whereas running is a weight bearing exercise, rowing is a non-weight bearing exercise. Therefore, rowers are less likely to experience impact-related injuries in their ankles, knees, hips and back. Runners frequently experience these injuries. On the other hand, frequent rowing carries its own risk of injury as we’ll look at next.
Is rowing bad for your knees and / or back
Back and knee pain are common in people who row frequently. That doesn’t mean that rowing is necessarily bad for the knees or back though. Because rowing is a non-weight bearing exercise, more serious knee and back injuries related to trauma to soft tissue like ligaments, and cartilage (e.g., the meniscus in the knee) is less common. Instead, rowing tends to produce more generalized pain in these areas.
This is most likely due to issues concerning rowing technique, volume of training, and range of motion in the lower back and knee joints.
In order to prevent injuries while rowing, it’s critical to ensure you have good stroke technique, you don’t overdo your training, and you do flexibility and mobility exercises for the back and knees. If you start to experience pain in either of these areas, ensure you stop rowing immediately and consult a health professional.
Is it ok to row every day, and how long should you row for?
This is a very subjective question, and the answer is a very unsatisfying “it depends”.
Your body’s capacity to withstand the stress of rowing everyday (or doing any form of intense exercise) will depend on many things, including your level of existing training, technique / form, biomechanics and body morphology including muscle imbalances, lifestyle factors, work activities, and more. The only way to know is to be smart about gradually building up your training load and listening to your body if and when the amount you’re doing starts to feel like too much.
As for how long you should row for, this also depends on the factors listed above as well as the goals you’re trying to achieve. For a cardio-heavy exercise like rowing, sessions as short as 10 minutes can be highly beneficial for both your physical and mental health. That’s the lower end of how long you should row for. The upper end is very much dependent on how much your body can handle. Again, be smart in building up to long rowing sessions and listen to your body. Stop if any part of your body starts to hurt, you feel light-headed or dizzy, or anything just doesn’t feel quite right. If you experience any of these things, consult a health professional.
Can you get fit just using an inexpensive rowing machine?
In a word, yes. Rowing works basically every major muscle group in the body. Consistent rowing with good form is fantastic for your cardiorespiratory fitness, and musculoskeletal health. This is true regardless of whether you’re using a good cheap rower or a premium one.
Well, there you have it: The 6 Best Budget Rowing Machines.
Each of these machines is a great way to familiarize yourself with an exercise as versatile as rowing. However, if you had to choose just one based solely on quality, go for the Compact Folding rowing machine by Sunny Health and Fitness.