Introduction: setting the standard
Concept2 set the standard against which all other rowing machines are measured.
Their rowers are used in CrossFit games, US Indoor Rowing Championships, thousands of gyms across the US, and in many homes and garages.
Olympians and ocean-going adventurers train on Concept2 rowing machines.
If you’re looking at buying a rowing machine, should you get the RowErg?
The short answer is that you won’t regret it. It’s a good fit for people who:
- Are training for sport or adventure rowing
- Incorporating rowing into other fitness programs, such as HIIT-style workouts
- Beginning to row for the first time, since it’s simple to use
- Looking for an inexpensive machine that can let you use live or on-demand exercise classes
Concept2 RowErg in Brief
This rowing machine lives up to and exceeds the high standards set by its predecessors.
It’s strong and will last for years of tough rowing. Yet at only 57lbs for the standard model it’s one of the lightest high-quality rowing machines on the market.
Concept2’s PM5 device not only displays stats as your rowing, but can share data with third-party apps like Strava or Apple Fitness+. It syncs data to apps that offer live or on-demand classes, though you will have to bring your own screen to watch these on. Today’s RowErgs all ship with a tablet-clip that will accomodate even the largest iPad Pros.
The RowErg doesn’t try to look stylish or sleek, but at a very reasonable price (typically $900 + shipping) who can fault it for that?
About Concept2 the company
When you invest hundreds of dollars in a piece of fitness equipment, it’s worth understanding a bit about the company that makes it.
Do they have a reputation for quality? How is their customer support? Will they be around in the future in case you need spare parts or want to buy accessories?
In the case of Concept2, you’re dealing with an established company that has a track record of making durable, functional, and simple-to-use rowing machines. Their customer support is superb.
Founded in 1976 by the Dreissigacker “rower-engineer” brothers, Concept2 assembles all its rowers at its Morrisville, Vermont headquarters.
They began by making high-performance rowing oars, and developed a prototype rowing machine to train on during the winter. The Model A was not the first rowing machine, but it made indoor rowing much more accessible and popular, to say nothing of more realistic when compared against existing rowers.
Today, Concept2 rowing machines can be found across the country in gyms from chains like 24Hour Fitness to independent CrossFit boxes. They’re the only rower used in the US Indoor Rowing Championships and the CrossFit Games. They’re used by Division 1 NCAA crew and sculling teams for supplementary and off-season training. And on top of that, they’re found in thousands of homes and garage gyms.
In other words, Concept2 has proven beyond a doubt that they make rowing machines performant enough for elite athletes, durable enough for long-term commercial use, and simple-enough to use for first-time rowers.
About the Concept2 RowErg
Concept2 makes two rowing machines, the RowErg and the Dynamic RowErg. This review is about the RowErg.
The Dynamic RowErg is designed for serious rowers who are looking for a specialized machine that mimics the feeling of being on the water. Only consider a Dynamic RowErg for home use if you actively compete in crew or sculling and know you’re dissatisfied with static rowing machines.
The RowErg is used by Olympians, varsity athletes and simultaneously appeals to a much, much broader market.
Like all other mainstream rowing machines, the RowErg is a “static” rowing machine, meaning that the seat moves but your feet don’t. Fewer moving parts means that static rowers are a bit cheaper to manufacture, a bit less work to maintain over time, and a bit easier for beginners to learn how to use.
Today’s RowErg is essentially a combination of the Model D and Model E rowing machines with a new paint scheme and the modern PM5 performance monitor.
RowErg Specs & Size
You can buy the RowErg with the standard height legs, which yields a seat height of 14in (36cm) or with the tall legs, which raise the seat to 20in (51cm) off the ground.
Although Concept2 recommends having a space 9ft long and 4ft wide for using the RowErg, the machine is only 8ft (2.4m) long and 2ft (61cm) wide. For reference, the typical ceiling height in American homes is 8ft.
Does the RowErg’s length mean you won’t be able to store it standing up if you don’t have a garage gym or tall ceilings in your home?
The Concept2 RowErg can be stored two ways. One, by uncoupling the rail from the flywheel, which takes just a couple seconds, and then standing up each part. Two, by simply tipping the entire rower vertical. When it’s vertical, it stands at a slight angle, so even with standard-height ceilings, and even though the rower is 8ft long when horizontal, you can still store it standing up.
How much space you’ll need for storing it depends on whether yours has the standard or tall legs, and whether you uncouple the rail from the flywheel or just stand the rower vertically. This table has the space requirements for all storage options.
25in x 33in x 54in
(64cm x 89cm x 137cm)
|25in x 33in x 96in|
27in x 47in x 54in
(69cm x 119cm x 137cm)
|27in x 47in x 96in|
Materials, durability and warranty
Rowing machines need to keep working in spite of daily use for years on end. They must be able to resist:
- High forces created by pushing off with your feet
- Thousands of cycles of chain pulls
- Corrosion caused by sweat, water and sports drinks
- Occasional bumps and dings
- Twisting the handle
- Repetitive securing and releasing of foot straps, and adjusting of foot pedal positions
The RowErg stands up to all of these stresses. Its frame is made from aluminum and steel and has a powder-coat finish, which will look good for years provided that you don’t bang other metal objects into the rower. Concept2 says the frame will support up to 500lbs (226kg).
All that said, the rower only weighs 57lbs (26kg) in the standard configuration and 68lbs (31kg) in the tall configuration. This is substantially less than other rowers of comparable quality or price. The RowErg one of the easiest rowing machines to lift and move around.
The pull chain is made of nickel-coated steel and the rail the seat glides on is stainless steel, making these parts highly resistant to corrosion from sweat and water.
Most other parts of the RowErg are made from high quality plastic, including the handle, the foot rests, the monitor arm, and the flywheel enclosure. The foot straps are nylon webbing with plastic cinch buckles.
The foot rests are adjustable and use high-quality nylon webbing. Non-slip rubber feet ensure that the RowErg doesn’t slide while you use it.
Concept2 offers a 5-year warranty on the frame and a 2-year warranty on the components, including the electronics. If you decide to sell your RowErg second-hand within the warranty window, the buyer will enjoy the remaining warranty coverage.
Given the robustness of the RowErg’s construction, it will last you well beyond the warranty periods.
The RowErg’s Resistance Mechanism
Since their very first prototype, all of Concept2’s rowers have relied on air resistance. When you row on the RowErg you pull a handle, which transfers force via the chain to the flywheel. The flywheel has fan blades that push against the air as you row.
Air resistance is great for users of all ability levels. It adapts to different fitness levels and workout intensities. The harder you row, the more resistance you need to overcome.
The RowErg also has a “damper”, which is a large dial on the side of the fan enclosure that limits how much air can pass through to the fan. Restricting how much air can enter the fan makes for more challenging rowing. Set the damper to 1 and it’s like you’re rowing a sleek crew shell. Set it to 10 if you want to row a barge.
Read Concept2’s “Damper Setting 101” if you’re interested in more details.
The Brains of the RowErg, the PM5
Concept2 equips all their machines with a performance monitor, the current generation being the PM5.
The PM5 is a tremendously capable device, but in the simplest terms it has three functions:
- Measure, calculate, and display metrics to the rower (e.g. pace, calories burned, etc.)
- Store data and communicate with other devices (e.g. a chest heart rate monitor, or the Strava app)
- Guide the rower in pre-set workouts (e.g. rowing for a set distance or an interval-based HIIT workout)
The PM5 lets you view the following metrics as you’re rowing, as well as after your workout if you save your data to the Concept2 logbook or a connected app like Strava.
- Pace per 500m and total distance and time rowed
- Calories per hour and total calories burned
- Watts per stroke and average watts for the workout
- Heart rate (if a heart rate device is connected to the PM5)
- Stroke rate per minute
During your workout the PM5 will also show these metrics for each split. The RowErg comes preprogrammed with default splits for common workout distances, and you can program your own when making a custom workout.
You can also view the “drag factor”, which is mostly determined by the damper setting (1 to 10) but also affected by altitude. Knowing the drag factor is important for keeping your workouts consistent over time. Olympic rowers, for example, stick to one drag factor or a small range for the vast majority of their workouts. I like to think of drag factor as corresponding to the imaginary boat I’m rowing – 1 is a sleek racing boat and 10 is a barge.
Storing data & communicating with other devices
Any workout longer than 1min will automatically be saved by the PM5. It can store up to 1,000 workouts in memory.
You can sync data with your computer using a USB stick, but most people will rely on the PM5’s Bluetooth capability to connect to their phone via the Concept2 ErgData app or one of numerous third party apps that work with the PM5.
Connecting the PM5 to the ErgData app takes just a second — it’s noticeably faster than connecting other bluetooth devices I own, such as a portable speaker.
For apps like Strava, you will need to use the ErgData app to sync your workouts to Concept2’s online LogBook. Strava and other apps are able to connect to the LogBook and automatically receive new workouts.
The might seem complicated, but it’s really just a couple one-time setup steps plus connecting your phone to your PM5 whenever you want to upload workout data.
Aside from your phone, the other common device you might want to connect to the PM5 is a heartrate monitor.
The PM5 can not only display heartrate data during the workout but also save heartrate data so you can better track your workouts over time. It does not store a second-by-second record of heartrate. Instead, it stores the last good value for each interval, split or rest period – details here.
Concept2 has page outlining which heartrate monitor communication technologies are compatible with the PM5. However, it can be unclear which specific devices will work with the PM5.
In short, most all modern chest strap heartrate monitors will work just fine as long as they use Bluetooth or Ant+ and can broadcast an availability signal to other devices.
The same goes for smartwatches that have heartrate monitors, though they usually aren’t as accurate as chest strap heartrate monitors.
Pre-programmed and custom workouts
The PM5 is incredibly easy to use and Concept2 has plenty of how-to guides so you can take full advantage of its capabilities.
One of the most useful features is to follow the PM5’s preset workouts. For most people who are not using the RowErg as part of a HIIT-style workout, the five pre-programmed workouts here will cover 95% of all your rowing needs. You’ll get in superb shape by simply doing the short, medium, long and interval workouts, increasing the intensity over time.
If those aren’t enough for you, you can customize your workout. The simplest customization is to set a time, distance or calorie goal and row until you hit that number.
Next, you can program time, distance or calorie-based interval workouts. You’ll row until you hit the goal, rest, and then repeat for as many intervals as you set. These workouts can be comprised of multiple identical intervals, or of different length intervals.
Finally, you can program interval workouts that don’t have defined rest periods. This is what certain CrossFit workouts and most HIIT workouts, including Tabata workouts, would pick. You can row until you complete the interval, then go do another exercise, and the RowErg will be ready for your whenever you return.
In addition, being able to program workouts on the PM5 allows you to row as part of a team or challenge group. Each person can program in that day’s workout and share their favorite workouts with others.
The PM5 is a great, albeit simple, piece of tech that will just keep working day after day.
It’s got an LCD screen with a backlight that’s easy to see in sunlight or a dark room. It uses two D batteries, but gets most of its power by siphoning a small amount of energy from the flywheel.
Finally, it’s well-documented online with plenty of help available from Concept2 and experienced RowErg users if needed.
Connected Fitness: live and on-demand classes
We will cover instructor-led courses for rowing machines in another in-depth article.
There’s a lot of innovation happening in this space, from aftermarket modifications like the Ergatta (for the WaterRower, not the Concept2), online trainers like Dark Horse Rowing, and all-in-one premium subscription based rowers like the Hydrow or CityRow rowing machines.
For the Concept2 RowErg, live and on-demand workouts are an option. Obviously, you can’t watch a class on the PM5. But you can use your phone, tablet or another screen, and the PM5 can send live stats to that device. All RowErgs now ship with a device holder capable of holding tablets up to 9in wide, which is large enough to fit a 12.9in iPad Pro.
Shown below is an older iPad with a 10in screen.
Option two is to use an app or program that just plays video. These can be incredibly engaging when there’s a good coach leading the session. Dark Horse Rowing, Apple’s Fitness+, and the NordicTrack iFIT are all great options.
You can even use the Concept2 to create a premium rowing experience – check out Steve Julien’s video on how he, a Peleton addict, turned his Concept2 RowErg into what he wishes Peleton would make for rowing.
Of course, there’s always the option to escape from screens for a bit and just row.
Pricing and Purchasing
As of late spring 2022, the Concept2 RowErg is selling for $900 for the standard model and $1,050 for the tall model. In addition, there will be a shipping charge and potentially sales tax depending on where you live.
If that sounds like a lot of money, consider that any other rowing machine that’s built as well as the Concept2 will cost at least as much.
Additionally, Concept2 rowing machines retain their value. Take a look at used Model D and Model E rowers on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace and you’ll see that they regularly sell for $800 despite being years old and well-used. If you end up not using your RowErg, of if you have to move into a smaller space, you’ll almost certainly be able to sell it quickly and recoup much of the purchase price.
What about buying a used RowErg, Model D or Model E?
As we alluded to above, buying a used RowErg could be a good option.
Your best sources are Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. You should also check to see if there are used fitness equipment stores near you – they will usually clean, refurbish and certify the equipment they sell, giving you more confidence that what you’re buying will work and meet your needs.
If you decide to buy used, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Which performance monitor does it have? Older models might have a PM3 or PM4, which might not work with modern apps and devices (e.g. in order to use the ErgData app with a PM4 you’ll need a cable). If you want to upgrade to a PM5 that’s easy, but will cost you between $160-185 for a retrofit kit.
- Are the legs solid and free from twists or dents?
- Is the chain straight? Does it have any kinks, twists, or segments that have burrs on them?
- Do the seat bearings work well? Do they need oiling?
- Does the rail have any major scratches or dings that would impede smooth seat rolling?
- How worn is the handle? You might be able to cover it with rowing tape if it’s especially worn or dirty.
- How much dust is in the flywheel housing? You may have a lot of cleaning to do.
- Are there any loose nuts anywhere?
- Does the frame flex or creak at all?
If you find a Concept2 for sale and you’re game to clean it and put in some maintenance work, you might be able to save a couple hundred bucks and come out with a reliable machine ready to work for many more years.
In the event you need to replace a component, Concept2 stocks many replacement parts.
Speaking of maintenance, keeping the RowErg running smoothly is very simple. You just need a couple rags, window cleaner, basic 3-in-1 oil (do NOT use WD-40), and a vacuum if the flywheel is especially dusty. These are all available at big box stores, large grocery stores, and even many gas stations. Watch how Concept2 recommends maintaining your rower for more details.
It’s not hard to recommend the Concept2 RowErg for anyone looking at buying a rowing machine. Solid construction, proven durability, easy-to-use, great resale options, adaptable to live and on-demand workouts with instructors — the RowErg checks all the boxes. Let us know if you have any questions about the Concept2 RowErg. Do you have one? What is your take on it?