Three best rowing machines

Bob Beacham

A mat or rug will protect your floor, prevent your rowing machine from slipping, and help reduce sound transmission.

Rowing machines are excellent for cardiovascular exercise and offer one of the best whole-body workouts available from a single piece of equipment. While upper-body strength is often seen as the main improvement, with the proper technique, legs, back and core can benefit just as much. What's more, it's low impact and therefore suitable a wide range of people, regardless of age or physical condition.

Considerations when choosing rowing machines

Rowing machines are subjected to some pretty extreme forces. A substantial frame is essential; you can use the manufacturer's maximum user weight as a guide, but be aware that these are stationary limits. Once rowing, you generate far greater energy. A budget machine with a weight limit of 200 pounds is fine for occasional exercise, but it's not for the serious enthusiast. Top machines have capacities of 500 pounds or more.

There are five ways of creating the resistance you feel when rowing.

Elastic rowing machines use what is essentially a bungee cord to create tension. These are among the cheapest rowing machines. Many cost between $150 and $200.

Hydraulic rowing machines usually have two arms that are activated by oil-filled canisters that act a lot like car jacks. Despite appearing realistic, the action is not rated highly and is seldom used by those who also row on water. Prices range from $200 to $600.

Magnetic rowing machines fall into the same price bracket as hydraulic machines ($200 to $600), but resistance comes from the pull of large magnets on a metal flywheel. The action is very smooth and often recommended for those new to rowing machines.

Air rowing machines have an impeller, which is basically a big fan. It produces what's called dynamic resistance: the harder you pull, the more difficult it gets. The sensation is actually quite close to rowing on water. As a result, these machines are a favorite with professionals. Entry-level models remain comparatively affordable at around $300, but prices for these machines can go all the way up to $1,400.

Water rowing machines sound like you'd need a very large bathtub! In fact, these machines use the same principle as air rowers, but the impeller is horizontal and sits in a large tank of water. The weight of water is considerable, and these machines are at their best when permanently positioned. Water rowing machines are often of exceptional quality, and they produce arguably the most realistic feedback. However, they are expensive: expect to pay from $1,100 to $2,000 for one of these machines.

Exercise feedback is valuable data for many people, and the majority of rowing machines have some kind of monitor for this purpose. A basic rowing machine might give you data about your speed, distance traveled, and calories burned. You might also get information about stroke rate and heart rate. High-end rowing machines can connect to apps, storing your workout data, offering challenges, and even allowing you to compete with others online.

Rowing machine noise can be a problem. Air rowers are the worst, though top models have sound reduction systems. Hydraulic rowers are usually the quietest. The type of floor you place the machine on also has an impact. Sound-deadening mats are recommended.

A folding rowing machine is often advised if you're short of space, the idea being that they're easier to store. However, some folded machines are quite large and weigh 50 pounds or more. Alternatively, some fixed machines can be stored upright.


Q. Are rowing machines difficult to assemble?

A. Most are simple, requiring minimal tools. Some come with all that's needed. On average, you can expect to spend ten minutes to half hour to put together a rowing machine, though we certainly can't speak for every model out there. Components can be relatively heavy, so you might want to have someone on hand to help you during assembly.

Q. Can tall people comfortably fit on a rowing machine?

A. Many of the rowing machines we researched suggested a maximum height of 6' 5". Some offer extension bars if you're particularly tall. Incidentally, these machines prove equally adaptable for people who aren't so tall - down to about 4' 6".

Rowing machines we recommend

Best of the best: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Our take: A superb machine for the fitness enthusiast who demands the best.

What we like: Exceptional build quality. Multiple damping adjustments. Multi-function performance monitor. Relatively quiet. Comes apart for storage.

What we dislike: Almost nothing. Still bulky when disassembled, and weighs 60 pounds.

Best bang for your buck: Stamina ATS Air Rower

Our take: A flexible, competitively priced option for those with a smaller budget.

What we like: It has many of the features and the flexibility of pricier folding machines. Monitor gives limited but useful feedback. Good seat.

What we dislike: Some durability issues, particularly with the drive belt.

Choice 3: Water Rower Club Rowing Machine

Our take: Delivers a lifelike outdoor rowing sensation, and it's beautifully crafted, too.

What we like: Smooth, powerful action provides realistic feedback. Wooden construction absorbs sound and vibration. Immensely strong; max weight loading is 1,000 pounds.

What we dislike: Heavy. More suited to permanent home gyms than multi-purpose rooms.

Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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