The rowing machine is becoming very popular again. This isn’t surprising considering the many benefits of rowing regularly. This exercise targets every major muscle group, making it an effective way build strength and size, lose fat, and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Furthermore, rowing is a low impact exercise, meaning it exerts minimal impact force on the vulnerable joints of the lower spine, hips, knees and ankle (it does put stress on some of these joints in other ways though, which is why correct stroke form is so important). This not only reduces the likelihood of injury but makes it highly suitable for those recovering from one.
However, while the benefits you can get from rowing are many your technique must be sound, and the quality of your rower must be high in order to fully realise said benefits. To that end, this article lists nine of the best rowing machines on the market that will help get you fit, firm and strong!
Top 3 Rowing Machines At a Glance
Best Rowing Machine Overall
The Model D and Model E are two of the most commonly used rowing machines in the world because they seamlessly combine affordability with quality. Their commercial grade parts, air resistance mechanism, and performance monitor make them easily the two best rowing machines on the market.
Best Water Rower
WaterRower’s Club Rowing Machine has it all. It has a mechanism that recreates water rowing indoors. Its durability is unmatched. Plus, it has a high maximum user weight capacity. It creates minimal noise while providing one of the smoothest rowing experiences you can get. This is quite simply the best water rower out there.
Best Budget Rowing Machine
THe SF-RW1205 is affordable for even the most budget-constrained, while still offering all the essentials of a quality rowing machine. Its hydraulic resistance mechanism is almost entirely silent with 12 adjustable levels and a monitor that tracks your progress. Weighing just 20lbs, it’s also unbelievably light and occupies minimal space in your home gym.
The 9 Best Rowing Machines
|Concept2 Model D and Model E Indoor Rowing Machines||
|WaterRower Club Rowing Machine||
|Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine||
|Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower||
|WaterRower M1 HiRise Rowing Machine||
|Merax Water Rowing Machine||
|NordicTrack RW900 Rower||
|Sole Fitness SR500 Rower/Ergometer||
|Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Exercise Bike/Rower||
|Concept2 Model D and Model E Indoor Rowing Machines|
|WaterRower Club Rowing Machine|
|Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine|
|Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower|
|WaterRower M1 HiRise Rowing Machine|
|Merax Water Rowing Machine|
|NordicTrack RW900 Rower|
|Sole Fitness SR500 Rower/Ergometer|
|Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Exercise Bike/Rower|
Concept2’s Model D is the best-selling rower in the world, and for good reason. This machine is highly resilient and suitable for all levels of training proficiency. It’s also very reasonably priced. Its air resistance system not only enables smooth motion, but also lets you control the intensity of each set based on how hard you row. This is an especially useful feature for CrossFit and high intensity workouts since you don’t need to stop or change any settings to adjust resistance. The attached performance monitor also comes with preset workout programs, games, and the ability to track distance, calories burned, pace, heart rate, and more.
Despite having a maximum user weight capacity of 500 pounds, this machine is incredibly mobile. The model takes barely 20-30 minutes to set up and can be moved around using the castor wheels at the front. You can even fold the machine for easy storage or transporting in a car.
However, for all its advantages there are a few inconveniences that come with this unit. The air resistance system can be fairly noisy when rowing hard or at higher weights. Also, with dimensions of 96″ L x 24″ W, it is larger than several other rowers out there.
Besides the Model D, Concept2 also offers the Model E rowing machine with some added benefits at a slightly higher price. It shares all the advantages of owning a Model D but comes with an elevated seat that accommodates users with mobility concerns or those who need better leg room. Model D’s seat is 14″ high, while Model E increases that to 20″. In addition to this, the Model E has a glossier finish, making for a more aesthetically appealing machine. Moreover, it improves upon the Model D’s plastic monitor arm with steel ones for extra durability. All of these combine to make the Model E more flexible, durable, and better looking than the Model D at a slightly higher price. Ultimately, these Concept2 ergos are the best rowing machines money can buy.
- Air resistance mechanism suits all levels of training proficiency
- Affordable price
- Commercial grade durability
- Easy to store
The Not So Good
- Very pricey
- Can be noisy
WaterRower’s Club Rowing Machine is one of the premium products in the market. This handcrafted model replicates the experience of rowing in water through its self-regulating water resistance mechanism. Its maximum weight capacity is 1000 pounds—double the Model D. Its resistance is generated through two paddles suspended in a water tank that was patented by WaterRower. This is also what gives this machine arguably the smoothest rowing motion of any rower on the market.
WaterRower’s rowing machine is also ideal for regular heavy-duty usage. Its frame has been designed from ash hardwood that is reinforced with rosewood and urethane. These materials combined not only make this model extremely durable, but also minimizes the sound and adds an attractive exterior. Further, the Club rowing machine comes with its own performance monitor that helps you prepare highly customizable workouts and track essential data such as distance, time, heart rate, and more. All in all, this machine is a complete package unlike any other, making it the best water rower you can buy.
- Replicates the experience of rowing in water
- Maximum weight capacity of 1000 lbs.
- Extremely durable
The Not So Good
- Slightly expensive
- The water resistance takes some getting used to
If you’re looking for a bare bones rower that combines quality and affordability, look no further than Sunny Health & Fitness’ hydraulic-piston rowing machine. You need to weigh 220 lbs. or under to use this machine, but if you do, this model promises a workout as effective and comfortable as many premium rowers.
Made of solid steel, this machine comes with 12 adjustable resistance levels that you can switch between by turning a knob. Due to the way a hydraulic piston works, you’ll need to adjust the resistance every 15 minutes to prevent overheating. Alternatively, you can rest for 5 minutes after every 15-minute burst while the unit cools down. The attached performance monitor also displays some basic information such as time, calories burned, and total rows.
With dimensions of 53″ L x 20″ W and a weight of only 20 lbs., this machine is extremely easy to store or move around. The hydraulic piston also ensures this machine produces almost no sound, making it ideal if you live in a small apartment or have neighbors you don’t wish to disturb.
- Ideal for beginners and the elderly
- Extremely light and small
- Combines affordability with quality
The Not So Good
- Users must weigh below 220 lbs.
- Very simplistic, and won’t impart many of the benefits of a ‘proper’ rower
Velocity Exercise’s rowing machine is yet another affordable option that more closely resembles traditional indoor rowers. The frame here is designed from lightweight aluminum that feels incredibly sturdy while rowing. Its magnetic resistance mechanism combines the quietness of hydraulic pistons with the smoothness of air resistance flywheels over 8 levels of adjustable resistance. Having said that, the experience of rowing doesn’t reflect the actual motion of rowing on water.
However, this is a relatively minor caveat if your main objective is to get in an effective full-body workout. The polyurethane seating is soft and comfortable, while its oversized pedals support users of many different builds as long as they weigh under 275 lbs. The LCD monitor comes with six preset training routines, with memory for saving four customized workouts of your choice. It also tracks basic statistics like other rowers on this list. Overall, this product provides considerable quality without burning a hole in your pocket.
- Magnetic resistance mechanism is virtually inaudible
- Comfortable seating
- Sturdy aluminum frame
The Not So Good
- Maximum user weight capacity is only 275 lbs.
- Doesn’t replicate actual water rowing
Among the rowers discussed here, WaterRower’s M1 HiRise rowing machine is most likely to be used by competitive rowers. Its simulation of water rowing is akin to that offered by their Club rowing machine, but with a heavy aluminum frame instead. Its exterior is powder-coated carbon black by default, but you can choose from up to 1,600 different colors at an extra cost. Besides the construction, the raised 20″ platform on this machine makes it ideal for users with mobility issues. However, even the perfectly abled will notice the ease of hopping on and off this model regardless of their height or size.
This model comes with the same S4 performance monitor as the Club rower that supports a wide range of units (m/s, mph, watts, etc.). It features six pre-designed workouts, and tracking ability for time, distance, intensity, among others. You can also connect it to your PC for integration with software. This allows you to join rowing completions and compete with friends! When you’re done working out, you can simply flip up the machine for easy storage too.
- Raised seating makes it suitable for a wide variety of users
- S4 monitor connects to PC’s
- Durable heavy aluminum frame
The Not So Good
- Fairly expensive
- Requires a lot of space
If you’re in the market for a realistic water ergometer but can’t afford a WaterRower, Merax’s water rowing machine might be worth considering. Functionally, this model performs as well as any other water rower. It provides a smooth rowing motion with dynamically adjustable resistance through a polycarbonate water tank that is virtually indestructible. The inclined position of this tank also offers more overall resistance than those positioned horizontally.
This machine’s solid steel frame also holds up well against wear and tear. Users weighing up to 330lbs and measuring 6″ 3’ high can use it comfortably. The frame also comes with three sets of attached rollers, and the rail folds vertically for easier storage and movement. Though this unit might be a little noisy depending on how much force is applied, the ‘swishing’ sound of water has often been described as pleasant and soothing. The machine also comes with an LCD monitor that has two workout modes—manual and race. The latter allows you to row at various difficulty levels, while its recovery function rates your workouts on a scale between F1 (Excellent) and F6 (Poor).
- Affordably priced water rower
- Solid steel construction
- Easy to store
The Not So Good
- Maximum weight capacity of just 330 lbs.
NordicTrack’s premium ergometer redefines the experience of indoor rowing. This machine comes with a 1-year iFit subscription and 22″ interactive touchscreen to offer thousands of unique workouts at your fingertips. Besides the 30 predesigned routines, you can access the 12,000+ workouts that iFit offers that sync perfectly with the RW900. Alternatively, you can virtually experience rowing on various rivers across the world.
However, if all you want is an effective ergometer for your own workouts, the RW900 excels there too. This machine has an incredibly solid steel frame with industrial grade components that ensure its longevity. The dual air and magnetic resistance mechanism give you the best of both worlds while keeping noise to a bare minimum. The unit also adjusts between 26 different levels of resistance, making it suitable for beginners as well as advanced rowers. The ergonomic seating and nylon straps add comfort to round up what is certifiably a premium product, albeit at a fairly high price. Its maximum weight capacity is also only 250lbs.
- 22″ monitor adds support for 12,000+ unique workouts
- 26 levels of resistance
- Dual air and magnetic resistance mechanism
The Not So Good
- Very expensive
- Weight capacity is only 250 lbs.
Sole Fitness is a newcomer to the rowing market, but it has quickly established itself as a top-quality brand. The SR500 is easily one of the most versatile machines on this list. Users as tall as 6″ 8’ and those weighing up to 515 pounds can comfortably use this machine. It comes with 16 different levels of resistance to suit athletes of varying proficiencies. The machine also includes six unique training modes for more customizable workouts. The seating is elevated to a comfortable level with a minimum height of 19″ going up to 21″ depending on its position on the rail. This helps users with mobility concerns to get on and off the machine more comfortably.
The machine’s frame is made of steel, while the rail is comprised of aluminum with additional supports added for maximum stability. Like the RW900, this rower features a dual air and magnetic resistance mechanism, though it switches to purely magnetic resistance for higher levels. Its monitor allows you to adjust the resistance level without needing to interrupt your workout, a function absent from most magnetic ergometers.
- Accommodates various different users
- Allows dynamic resistance adjustment
- 16 levels of resistance
The Not So Good
- It’s large and requires a lot of room
This is perhaps the most unique rower on this list. Switching between a recumbent bike and an ergometer, this machine allows two exercises for the size of one compact machine. The handrail also doubles as a pulley, allowing you to perform exercises like the upright row.
As a rower, the magnetic resistance mechanism performs smoothly with minimal noise. It has 8 resistance levels, albeit with no dynamic adjustment. Its durable steel and aluminum frame also hold up well against natural wear and tear. The back support reduces its center of gravity to enhance overall stability. At the end of your workout, you can fold this unit to reduce its size to just 5’. The main drawback here is the machine’s seat, which can be uncomfortable for extended usage. The maximum weight capacity of 250 pounds is also fairly low for its price, though athletes as tall as 6″ 4’ can comfortably use the machine.
- 3 in 1 package
- Smooth magnetic resistance mechanism
- Back support adds comfort and stability
The Not So Good
- Uncomfortable seat
- Maximum weight capacity of just 250lbs
Should You Get a Rowing Machine?
Buying a rowing machine is an expensive enterprise, but if you intend to use it regularly, it offers perhaps the most holistic workout of any single fitness machine. Rowing targets 84% of your entire muscle mass spread across the upper and lower body. It exercises areas like the quads, hamstrings, deltoids, lats, and rhomboids particularly well. It is also an effective exercise for losing fat or improving your cardiovascular conditioning. Plus, the risk of injuries is fairly low on rowing machines due to the low impact of this exercise. This also makes it ideal for anyone recovering from lower body injuries to slowly get back into shape.
Having said that, good quality rowing machines usually cost upwards of $800. Before spending such a high amount, ensure that the machine you’ve chosen has a long warranty, is made of durable material, simulates a smooth rowing motion, and meets any other specific personal requirements. These features are essential for any good rower, and without them you likely won’t use yours often.
Choosing the Right Rowing Machine
Given the variety of rowing machines available on the market, this section breaks them all down into seven categories, each with their own unique set of features.
This price bracket contains all the different types of water rowers available. From water, air, magnetic, or hydraulic ergometers, $500 can fetch you a genuinely effective machine that will last long. These rowers are generally made of steel, with decently functional performance monitors to track your progress. The in-built performance monitors also come with different training modes, data tracking ability, and pre-designed workouts. Ensure that your machine has a sufficient number of resistance levels, as well as an appropriate maximum weight or height capacity.
As the price lowers, durability and construction become bigger concerns. Comfort is another concern that will hamper your ability to use the rower for extended time periods since this is where manufacturers cut cost. Ideally, choose an ergometer with aluminum construction and industrial grade seating with foam or other coatings that are soft. The warranty on rowers in this price range are generally short, so features that increase the machine’s longevity are particularly valuable.
Budget Rowing Machines
These rowers, usually available for $200 or lower, are usually hydraulic piston or magnetic ergometers that are compact and lightweight. They come with fairly simplistic designs and manually adjustable resistance levels. These are also likely to have low maximum weight capacities of around 250 lbs. Despite what the price indicates, there are several models in this price range made of durable materials that will easily last several years. If you haven’t owned a rowing machine before, these are a great way to discover rowing and see whether you should invest in a more expensive model.
Water rowers are arguably the best type of ergometers on the market, and they have recently become available in all price ranges. These rowers most realistically simulate the experience of rowing on water and come with a dynamically adjustable resistance level that adapts to how much force you apply while rowing. They produce a pleasant ‘swishing’ sound and are arguably the smoothest rowers of all those available. Water rowers require minimal maintenance and are generally made of sturdy materials due to the sound and vibration produced. However, they tend to have a large footprint.
Rowing Machine for Beginners
Rowing machines for beginners need not be too elaborate. They don’t need too many resistance levels, raised seating, or a high maximum weight capacity. Primary importance must be given to the smoothness of a model’s rowing motion and a reasonably functional performance monitor. This will allow beginners to follow along pre-designed workouts or use training modes to get fitter. Comfort and stability are also paramount given how some rowers can be wobbly due to cheap parts that feel clunky during usage.
Compact Rowing Machines
Compact rowing machines primarily prioritize size and mobility related features such as being small in dimensions, foldable, convenient to store, and easily movable through wheels and a light weight. They are also easy to assemble and disassemble for maximum portability. These rowers are generally packed with the least number of features. Despite this, they are still capable of providing productive workouts. Compact rowers are ideal for those with spatial constraints in their home or garage gym, and usually have a lower price. However, they tend to have fairly specific user requirements, so ensure you fit them before making a purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rowing Machines
Is a rowing machine worth buying?
If you’ve used a rowing machine before and are familiar with the movement and intense punishment they can dish up, then they’re a great investment to make for your fitness. They utilize almost all of your major muscle groups, thus providing a comprehensive full body workout that targets the core, biceps, forearms, hamstrings, glutes, and back (among other areas). While rowers are less effective in stimulating muscle hypertrophy, they excel as endurance builders. The high number of calories burned while rowing also helps you lose fat while improving cardiovascular performance.
However, it is imperative that you buy a robust rowing machine that operates smoothly for the best results. Low quality rowers typically break down fairly easily, and given the high cost of a single unit, you want your rower to last.
Can you lose weight using a rowing machine?
Yes, there are several ways in which rowing machines aid weight loss. Depending on your weight and intensity, one can burn anywhere between 400-700 calories per hour from rowing. The recruitment of different muscles during this exercise also boosts your metabolism, enabling you to burn fat throughout the day. These results can be further improved by rowing with high and low intensity in alternating sets. Ensure that your low intensity periods are twice as long as the high intensity ones. If you’re relying exclusively on rowing, incorporate around 250-300 minutes of moderately intense rowing in your routine per week to see results quickly.
Which is better: Rowing machine, elliptical, treadmill, or exercise bike?
The answer to this depends entirely on your personal preferences, your fitness goals, budget, and space constraints. There is no right answer. These machines and the relevant exercises are disparate in that they target different muscles. The rower works everything from your upper back through your core and into your lower legs. The elliptical, treadmill, and exercise bike mainly facilitate lower-body exercises. These work the hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes. If your elliptical has moveable arms, it’ll also work your triceps, chest, and core.
The number of calories you burn during each of these exercises is also different. This varies with weight and intensity, but an elliptical will help you burn approximately 500-800 calories per hour. A similar range of 500-700 applies to treadmills, while cycling tops the chart with 400-900 calories per hour. In contrast, rowing burns approximately 400-700 calories per hour.
Well, there you have it: The Best Rowing Machines in 2020
This list gives you a wide variety of rowers that incorporate various resistance mechanisms and are available at all price ranges. However, setting aside budgetary concerns, if you had to choose just one, we’ll always recommend the Concept2 rowing machines. They’re the most frequently used by serious athletes because they’re made with deep consideration of rowing as a sport, and to the highest standards of quality.