I’m a Sports’ Physiologist and Physical Education teacher and have been rowing for a club for many years. I started this website after a friend of mine asked me which was the best rowing machine for him to buy for his home gym. My immediate response was to say the Concept 2, as this is still the one used by nearly all rowing clubs and also at the world indoor rowing championships. However, his response prompted me into doing more research and testing of different machines and the results are on these pages.
Disclaimer: I wrote these reviews as authentically and genuinely as possible. They are based on personal testing when possible and when not, as a result of a lot of reading of other peoples’ experiences. If you click on one of the amazon links and purchase a machine, I do get a small commission, which helps me keep this site going. Thanks for visiting – Craig
Why choose a rowing machine?
There are many forms of exercise that will get you fit, so why choose an indoor rowing machine? I answer this question in more detail in this post, but in a nutshell, rowing is the most efficient and effective training on the planet. It is a unique form of exercise as it both increases the volume of the heart at the same time as thickening the heart walls. Couple that with the fact that you are simultaneously building muscle and working on no-impact cardio, you can see how you can save time and gym membership money by investing in a home rowing machine.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking this machine gives you only an upper-body workout. Rowers are more advanced cardiovascular machines.”
So which indoor rower is the best?
This is a hard question to answer as there are several factors do do with a persons living situation that change the answer completely. I have given this a lot of thought and broken down these issues into a three categories which seem to be main influencers in peoples choices. They are price, storage and noise. There are also a few sub-factors that get talked about a lot and these are fitness goals (weight loss, cardio, strength), size & weight (of the person training) and build quality (warrenty & service).
On this page, I have attempted to give a summary of the best rowing machines categorized by price. Each of the machines here has its own page with a more extensive review.
Before we get into the reviews, however, I think it is important for you to understand the four basic types of rowing machine available on the market today. Not all home rowing machines are made in precisely the same way. This is particularly the case in regards to the type of resistance the machine uses to give you a workout. The four main types are:
Air – This is where there is a big drum at the front of the rower with effectively a fan inside. You can adjust the resistance by opening or closing a baffle, that generates a vacuum inside the drum. Air resistance rowers, particularly the Concept 2 models, are preferred by club rowers because they come extremely close to producing the same resistance experience you would get from actually rowing on the water. The advantages are that they it is easy to change the resistance, it blows air around, which is quite pleasant when you are all hot from training and they do not require any power to operate. The main disadvantage is that they are noisy compared to other systems.
Magnetic – An electromagnet applies resistance to a steel flywheel. This is controlled by the computer and requires AC power. The main plus here is that they are very quiet and the resistance can be varied according to the program set by the computer. However,If you are looking for a truly authentic rowing experience, they don’t feel much like being on the water due to the unnatural change in impedance during the recovery and weird dynamic on the drive. Also, you need to plug the machine into the wall socket.
Water – This might seem obvious, but having real water incorporated into the design of exercise machines is not necessarily easy. Patented by Waterrower, this system has a group of blades spinning in a tank of water. Resistance increases when you pull harder and the base level is adjusted by varying the amount of water in the tank. The big downside with this one is that it is not simple to change the base resistance as you have to change the water level in the tank to do so. This means that if you are a big strong bloke with a small wife, you will be hard pressed to find a common resistance level. On the plus side, with a water resistance rower is that you get the sound and look of water which, if you want an aesthetically pleasing machine, is nice.
Hydraulic –These machines are usually the smallest and the cheapest and have outriggers giving an arc shaped action similar to the oars on a boat. These machines do not simulate a rowing action on the water at all well despite the sweeping action of the oars due to the hydraulic not changing its resistance at all throughout the stroke at all making it feel very mechanical. On the plus side, they are small and cheap.
Best Rowing Machine Options by Category
While you will still need to check out rowing machine reviews and do some comparison shopping before making your final choice, these are some of the top choices for best rowing machine organized into a few categories.
- For Saving Space and Money: Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine
- Pros: Lightweight, Inexpensive
- Cons: You get what you pay for. The hydraulic design does not allow for realistic rowing movements. The machine does not allow for leg pushes and therefore will not give you a true full body workout; it mostly works out your arms and upper body.
- For Getting a Great Workout at Home: WaterRower
- Pros: Excellent design. Easy to use. The WaterRower offers water resistance with a full range of movement that will work out your entire body. This machine will look great in your home and even makes a stress relieving, realistic water sound with each stroke.
- Cons: More expensive than some discount models.
- For Having a Realistic Rowing Experience: Concept2 Model D
- Pros: This rower is used by many professional indoor rowing competitions because of its close similarity to real rowing. It is the best air resistance rower you can find for home use and one of the most popular on the market.
- Cons: If you want the realistic appeal of using water resistance, this might not be for you. The price can also be a deterrent if you are shopping on a budget.
The Best Rowing Machine for Home
Ultimately, the decision as to which of the top rated rowing machines is best for you is a personal one. However, there are several factors that you should take into consideration before you even start shopping for a specific model. Ask yourself these important questions to help you speed up your search and make choosing the best rower easier.
- What are my personal fitness goals? Are you a beginner looking to get in shape? If so, a basic rower with a simple design will be all you need. For more experienced fitness enthusiasts, an advanced rower with additional design features would be ideal. Before you start shopping, think about whether you just want to get in shape or you have a loftier goal, like competitive rowing.
- Where will I use the rower? If you live in a small apartment, storage space is probably a big concern. On the other hand, if you have a dedicated fitness room or home gym set up, you do not need to consider the space that a rower takes up. Some rowers are specifically designed to be space saving and can either fold up or be stored vertically when not in use.
- What is my budget for home fitness equipment? Buying an ergometer for your home is an investment in your personal fitness. While some of the best indoor rowing machines can be rather pricey, they really are not comparatively more expensive than many other exercise machines. Still, deciding what your personal budget is before you start shopping will help you narrow down your options quickly.
Make you own Rowing Machine!
This is totally cool! I guess if you have time and can’t afford a Lifecore R100, then this has to be for you. I found it fun anyway!!
There are many cardio exercise machines on the market, but which can truly be called the best? While you may have a personal preference for a specific exercise style, the reality is that there are many row machine benefits that outweigh the pros of owning any other cardio machine. Rowing gives you a full body workout that burns more calories and reaches more muscle groups than any other type of exercise machine.
If you are determined to reach your fitness goals and want to use an exercise equipment rowing machine, also called an ergometer, to help you, the next step is choosing which to purchase. This may feel like a difficult decision to make, especially if you start searching online for the best rowing machine. There are many websites dedicated to providing reviews and breakdowns of all the top rated rowing machines. In the end, however, you need to make the right choice for you personally.