Indoor rowing started out as a way for racing crew to train when they can’t get on the water. Today, it is accessible not only to the exclusive boat houses, but also in gyms and homes for anyone who wants to get in shape or train for the sport. If you’re in search for a rower, our rowing machine reviews will help you find the best rowing machine that fits both your needs and budget.
While you won’t be able to get the feel of sweeping the oars through the water, you won’t also need to worry about boat storage or having to keep the row boat balanced as you row.
Best Rowing Machine Reviews – by Price Range
When you have a budget in mind one of the most useful things to know is what’s the best product at this price level. One you have a quick recommendation of what the best your money can get at that cost. And for each level you can’t go wrong with these. The other reason is it also serves as a benchmark by which you can compare other products. You may not like the best product recommendation for one reason or another, but it gives you something by which to base other items to see if they’re worth considering.
Here are the best rowing machines per price level and concise reviews of each.
Under $300 Price Range
There are cheaper prices and quite honestly we could have gone down to under $250 or $200 but we thought $300 was a good round figure that allowed us to pick from more items. Our choice here is the Stamina 1215 hydraulic rower, which at under $250, is the best rowing machine under $300.
Small and sturdy, it gives you a very stable, low to the ground seat set up that lets you use your legs to the hilt. After all, rowing is 65% to 75% legs and a smaller percentage arms when done properly. That’s why the first things you’ll notice with elite crew members is their tree trunk size quads.
Dual hydraulic cylinders with 5 adjustable resistance levels make for a quiet workout. Hand grips are covered with foam that reduces the chance of getting blisters, and the thick seat padding keeps you comfortable even on workouts that span over half an hour.
Between $300 – $500 Price Range
LifeSpan Fitness RW1000
At under $500, we like the LifeSpan Fitness RW100 indoor rower. This folding rowing machine is as quiet and consistent as it gets in part thanks to the magnetic braking system which produces the least amount of noise among the different types of resistance systems used for rowing machines.
You get to choose from 5 levels of fitness which allows you to use it for both a low resistance, high repetition session that focuses on cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Or set the difficulty to high to build muscular strength using a lower number of strokes.
The LifeSpan RW100 has a long rail which allows even tall individuals or those with long legs to use it without compromising leg and body extension during the drive and finish. Long and slim you’ll need space of around eight and a half feet long by three feet feet wide to use this machine. It is much more manageable to store though since it folds up to the size of a chair after use.
Between $500 – $750 Price Range
H2O RX-750 ProRower and Velocity CHR-2001
In all our rowing machine reviews this price range seems to offer the best balance between cost and quality. More specifically choosing items between $400 and $700 gives you a good number of options that fit different needs. Why such a large range? It’s because the machines here are a cross between the different types of damper systems, and based on the mechanism the rower uses prices can vary a lot.
That’s why here, we have a toss up between two similar machines that are quite different.
First off is the Velocity CHR-2001 magnetic rowing machine. At $600 it is the cheaper of the two top picks in this price range. You’ll notice by now that in the cost progression of rowers, hydraulic resistance machines are the cheapest, then followed by those running on magnetic braking mechanisms.
The beauty about the CHR-2001 is it allows you to select from 8 fitness levels so you can start from the lowest and work your way up. The other thing about magnetic resistance rowers is they give you a consistent amount of resistance, unlike the others which vary depending on how hard you pull.
From someone looking to get fit, this style is most ideal, since you can’t cheat. Another advantage it has over the cheaper products is it comes with a heart rate monitor in addition to a monitoring system that tracks stroke count, distance, time, speed and other training statistics.
Our other choice is the H2O RX-750 ProRower water rowing machine. This was just too good to pass up because of its ability to very closely simulate rowing in the open water. At $700, it’s a steal since other similar options easily cost over $1000.
At first glance, you’ll notice a water tank. That’s because unlike any of the other rowing machine types in our reviews, water rowers actually allow you to paddle on water.
The ProRower RX-750 uses a Hydro-Power Drive System on a virtually unbreakable polycarbonate water tank to achieve this. Water rowing is just as smooth as that experienced on magnetic rowing machines, but the major difference is most of the resistance control falls upon the user. The harder you row in water rowing machines, the more drag from the water you get making it more difficult. The slower, more relaxed paced you go the easier it is to row. This leads some to cheat but it is also how real open water rowing is, which is why those training for regattas or boat races prefer these types of variable resistance rowing machines.
Between $750 – $1000 Price Range
Concept2 Model D
At the top of our rowing machine reviews is the Concept2 Model D ergometer. Built by the leader in indoor rowers, the Model D is a favorite among elite and professional rowers as well as the top boat crews and houses around the world.
This device uses air resistance where the user’s handle bar is attached to a chain that turns the machine’s flywheel. Since the flywheel has fan blades attached to it, it acts like an air fan that works based on how much wind resistance the airflow provides.
The reason why crews of racing boats use this to train is because it very closely simulates what rowing on the river or lake is. The other two major features are one, it is extremely durable. It is able to withstand two to three times a day of enduring training sessions and last for years without much maintenance. And two, it has the state of the art performance monitor in the PM3 that allows the rowers, coaches and trainers to record, extract and analyze each user’s statistics online or on their laptops using a LogCard.
Between $1000 – $1250 Price Range
A newer competitor to the Concept2 products are the WaterRower machines. The WaterRower Natural rowing machine is one of the brand’s intermediate level indoor rowers. Built for home to moderate heavy use, this is a water resistance rowing machine similar to the ProRower H2O RX-750 above.
The company produces the most aesthetically pleasing rowers around. This one built with very sturdy ash wood, similar to those in baseball bats homerun hitters use. Pulling against water not only reduces noise significantly but also allows for very smooth rowing stroke from beginning to finish.
Hard to believe that this is one of WaterRower’s entry models because that term is often used with cheap, low quality items, both of which this isn’t. There is a lot of attention to quality beginning for the solid ash and honey oak wooden construction to the smooth gliding seat rail. They also use polycarbonate plastic, which is also used for bullet proof glass, on the tank making it very durable.
Between $1250 – $1500 Price Range
Concept2 Model E and WaterRower Oxbridge
At this price range, you should be getting what you want. This is why we ended up two picks once again. Why? Because while they achieve the same purpose, they do it in very different ways. Let the following rowing machine reviews explain.
The Concept2 Model E indoor rowing machine uses air resistance whereas the WaterRower Oxbridge is a water resistance based rower. In build, the Model E uses an air fan to power the device, while the WaterRower Oxbridge Indoor Rower lets you paddle against water.
While the feeling is different they both very closely mimic rowing on a boat that’s on water. Where the major distinction lies is in the noise, air rowers produce a lot of noise when you start rowing hard.
The Oxbridge does not have such problems and the sound is somewhat soothing. This can make a difference if you have many people in the house or live in apartment complex where neighbors are close to one another.
Next, both offer very smooth rowing strokes. For the Concept2 there is only one portion of the stroke when you’re beginning the drive that there’s a jerk you need to get past. The WaterRower, uses a different type of clutch that eliminates this making the entire stroking motion very fluid.
Where the Model E has a large advantage is in the performance monitor. The PM4 which is an upgraded version of the PM3 used in the Model D, not only provides extensive real time training feedback on stroke rate, split times per distance, and other but also the ability to store historical data per user that is very useful if you plan on improving any aspect of your workout or rowing. The Concept2′s PM3 and PM4 also have rowing technique guides that help improve your rowing.
In terms of durability on heavy use, the Concept2′s Model D and Model E have history and experience on its side. Lots of people have logged over a million meters on their Concept2 ergs and it is used by Olympians and top boat crews which undoubtedly log the most mileage and continue to do so. They also have a very vibrant online community where you can share your experiences and ask for help anytime you need it.
So based on what your specific priorities are, you will prefer one over the other. But make no mistake, choose one or the other, you’ll be very satisfied with the product.
Rowing Machine Buyers Guide
Now we know the best at each price level, we need to understand what factors to consider when choosing a rowing machine. Our reviews are a good start, but for a quick recap here’s a rundown of things to ask yourself.
1. What are your fitness goals?
We know rowing machines are valued because they are able to work all the major muscle groups in one session. They allow us to build both endurance and muscular strength which is a combination not often seen with equipment since most offer one or the other. The other major plus is that indoor rowing is impact free, that means you get to spare your joints, hips, knees and ankles.
For the most part, fitness goals fall into one of these 4 major categories or a combination of them:
- strength or muscle building
- cardio or endurance
- weight loss or burning calories
These categories can dictate the type of rowing machine you choose. There are 4 types of rowing machines: Hydraulic, Magnetic, Air and Water, each with different pros and cons.
Hydraulic and magnetic rowing machines are built more for fitness, they can be set to higher resistances if you want to build strength and lower settings if you prefer sweating out the extra calories, building your stamina or getting washboard abs. They’re quiet, and provide consistent resistance based on the level you set them to. Their downside is, while they get you in shape, they don’t really help you get better at rowing in open water since they aren’t good at simulating that motion. That said they are cheaper and more affordable to most.
On the other hand, air and water rowing machines were developed to help rowers train when the lakes or rivers were frozen during the winters or the weather didn’t allow them to get on a boat. These allow users to use technique very similar to that on a rowboat. They aren’t limited to serious rowers though because of their quality. Air and water rowers are often the more expensive types of equipment and give a better overall workout experience, ability to track workout progress and let you train for fitness or sport. The one issue that some people may find is the resistance is dependent on how much work you put in. This leads some people to cheat and row at slow paces to make the exercise easier, but less effective.
2. Price and Warranty
With exercise equipment, cost is one of the most important factors because most of them are expensive. With rowers, the level of quality correlates directly with price. The better the build and performance, the more expensive. There is a balancing point however, which falls under the $400 to $700 range. This is where the top end hydraulic powered models (close to or slightly over $400), most of the magnetic rowers, and lower priced air and water rowing machines ($600 to $700) are.
Price often will dictate the quality of the build, the sturdiness of the frame, the durability of the mechanism and seat rollers and smoothness of the chain or strap. These are important since the sport of rowing is a highly repetitive action so poor quality components will quickly give way. This is why the length of the warranty is very important here also, more so than other other products.
3. Consider the space you need to use it
Space and the equipment’s size may or may not matter to you depending on where you plan to use and store it. This section is split into two subsections. Once is the actual physical size and weight of the rower and second how it will be stored considering its storage size and transportability.
When it comes to size, the cheaper, hydraulic rowing machines are king. They are compact and often among the lightest. This makes them easy to place anywhere since most of them are between 4 to 5 feet long and around 3 feet wide. And added bonus with these models is they often fold down and fit under furniture.
The mid to higher end models are often longer and thinner, usually at least 7 feet long and more and two feet wide. The reason being their mechanism is positioned at the front of the equipment, whereas hydraulic based rowers have them at the sides or underneath. Also, you’ll need to allocate some leeway on the left and right sides for elbow space with the non-hydraulic style models.
So depending on which type of space you have more room for at home, space and storage may be a factor in your decision making process.
4. Is it comfortable to use?
Comfort when it comes to rowing machines is paramount, which is why our reviews tell you whether or not the seat, handles, and footrests do a good job or not. If you’re not comfortable on the rower you’re not going to use it. This is essential since rowing requires that you repeat the same motion for a long period of time. If you’re uncomfortable after ten strokes you’re not going to be doing much work on the equipment.
For the most part, most workouts will last between 20 and 40 minutes, and to make it effective you’ll need to execute good rowing technique in rhythm to get the desired cardiovascular benefits and hit the right muscles rowing machines are designed to do. This will only happen if you feel good on the machine.
5. Control Panel Features
In general, if you’ve used treadmills and exercise bikes, you’ll quickly realize that the control panels and monitors on those machines are much more advanced compared to those on rowers, except for a few of the higher end ergometers. All however, provide you with the basic information like distance covered, time of current session, number of strokes, speed and calories burned.
Starting in the mid-range models, around $450 and above, you’ll start finding those that include workout programs, both pre-programmed and those you can custom make. Only a few have the ability to store your training statistics or transfer them online or to a computer.
Also if you want to be able to track calories expenditure more accurately you’ll need to choose at least a mid range rower that lets you enter gender, age and weight which helps produce for accurate computations of how much calories you burn.
6. How difficult is it to assemble?
Unlike some products that come fully assembled, rowing machines like many exercise equipment require some assembly. The good news is most of the items we’ve found in our rowing machine reviews don’t take much time or difficulty in putting together. Some are much easier to assemble than others. The easiest ones range from 15 to 20 minutes since most of the components are already together all you need is to screw or bolt some of the moving parts on. Instruction guides are among the most useful tools here, along with customer support if all else fails. The one that’s a bit more difficult because their instructions weren’t too clear and lacked text explanations were the rowing machines by Kettler. The actual machines and customer support however were excellent.
Time to Get Rowing
There use to be a time when only elite rowers were able to get on an ergometer because they were expensive and not accessible to anyone. That has all changed and rowing can be done at the comfort of your own room. And now that you are equipped with the best rowing machine reviews and how to go about choosing one, you can take the next step into getting as fit as possible.