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If you’re looking for a low-impact cardio workout that also builds muscle, there aren’t many options. A spinning machine or stationary bike will get the job done, but it won’t do much for your upper body. Conversely, swimming is an excellent workout, but you’ve got to get yourself to a swimming pool. For many people, that’s not practical daily.
A rowing machine gives you the best of both worlds. It provides a full-body workout without putting unnecessary stress on your knees, ankles, and elbows. And, when done properly, it doesn’t just build strength – it’s also an effective cardio workout. To help you get the best possible workout, we’ve put together this list of the best rowing machines that money can buy. We’ve also provided a short buying guide, so you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
Top 7 Best Rowing Machines 2021
When you’re choosing the best rowing machine for your needs, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. We’ve decided on seven options, with a range of prices, portability, resistance, and comfort. No matter what you need, at least one of these machines will be right up your alley.
#1 Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
The Concept2 Model D is an air resistance rowing machine. This means that the resistance is created by a ribbed flywheel that functions a lot like a fan. The flywheel spins inside an enclosure, which features a set of adjustable dampers. When the dampers are all the way open, the air flows easily. As you close the dampers, the airflow becomes more and more restricted, which makes it harder to pull the oar.
All in all, there are ten different adjustment levels so that you can customize your level of resistance. The one downside of this design is that the flywheel gets louder as the resistance gets higher. If you need a quiet machine, you’ll want to consider a different design. That said, many air resistance machines provide uneven resistance. The Model D has a very smooth pull, with even resistance from beginning to end.
This rowing machine is designed for portability and easy storage. The steel frame folds up in the middle, and a set of casters on the front make it easy to roll away. When collapsed for storage, it measures only 25 x 33 inches at the base, and the height is 54 inches, small enough to fit in a small closet. Alternatively, you can just set it off to the side. When you’ve opened it up for use, it’s 8 feet long and 2 feet wide. This might sound like a fairly large footprint, but it’s about what you’d expect from most rowing machines.
The overall capacity is 500 pounds. That’s as heavy as you’ll find on just about any machine. The Model D is also accommodating for people of different heights. It’s large enough for people who are up to about 6 feet, 4 inches tall. If you’re even taller than that, Concept2 offers an extended monorail that can accommodate you. The seat is molded plastic. It’s hard, but it’s ergonomically-shaped for comfort. The pull bar is well-padded, and it’s angled slightly outwards for a more ergonomic pull.
The Model D’s built-in computer includes several pre-programmed workouts, with different resistance levels and times. It also tracks your workouts. The screen will display your number of strokes, as well as the average interval between each stroke. It supports a Bluetooth connection and is compatible with most workout apps. If you use a connected smartphone app to track your heart rate, the computer will display that data right alongside your other workout stats.
#2 Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
The Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Bluetooth Magnetic Rower is, as its name implies, a magnetic rower. This type of machine uses a steel flywheel, with a set of magnets on either side. The closer the magnets get to the flywheel, the harder it is to pull. It offers 14 different resistance levels, with a maximum resistance of 250 pounds. That’s a significant amount of weight, and it’s impressive to see a rowing machine that can provide that kind of workout.
But what makes the 1000 Plus so impressive is that it’s designed to support a wide variety of different workouts, not just rowing. It features an extra-wide, 21 ½-inch padded foam handlebar that can be comfortably gripped from a variety of angles. The machine also has a set of sturdy footpads at the base, which you can brace yourself against. When standing on the footpads, you can do curls, triceps extensions, reverse grip curls, side raises, front raises, and many more muscle-building exercises. It’s not exactly a complete home gym, but it’s far more versatility than you’ll get from most rowing machines.
The front of the 1000 Plus folds up for storage. When collapsed, the footprint is 39 ½ x 21 ½ inches, and the height is 53 ½ inches. This is a little large for easy storage, but it’s shallow enough to position against a wall with ease. When it’s open, it measures 88 ½ x 21 ½ inches, a little bit shallower than the Model D, and a good fit for smaller spaces like apartments. Apartment dwellers will also appreciate the quiet action of the magnetic flywheel since it won’t bother your neighbors if you’re working out at odd hours.
The aluminum frame is lightweight, which makes for easy transport. However, the maximum weight capacity is 250 pounds, which may cause a problem for taller users. That said, it’s rated for an inseam length of 39 inches, which should accommodate people of around 6 feet, 6 inches tall. So if you’re tall and lanky, you’ll be just fine.
The Reality 1000’s computer sports a 3 ½-inch LCD, with a large control button underneath. It doesn’t offer a lot of options on the machine itself. However, the computer is designed specifically to work with the MyCloudFitness app. This is a powerful app that allows you to track all the same statistics you’d expect from a normal rower computer. It will track your total time, split time, distance, and strokes per minute. It can also integrate with third-party heart rate monitors to estimate your calories burned. The app also tracks your past workouts so that you can track your performance over time.
#3 XTERRA Fitness ERG650W Water Rower
The XTERRA Fitness ERG650W is the first water rower on our list. These machines are designed to provide as realistic a rowing experience as possible. By using a water-filled reservoir – instead of air – to provide resistance, you get the experience of actually rowing against water. The flywheel is located in a reservoir with a removable cap. You can adjust the resistance by adding more water to the reservoir, or by pouring some out. This is a bit more challenging than adjusting the resistance on air or magnetic rower since it takes some time to operate. Whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze depends on what you’re looking for.
The ERG650W has casters built into the base and can be tilted and rolled away for storage. In this configuration, it measures only 33 x 22 inches. That’s a very compact footprint. However, if the reservoir is full, it’s a bit heavy, so it can be harder to move than some other machines. When it’s ready for use, it takes up 80.7 x 22 inches of floor space, which is very reasonably-sized.
The seat on this rowing machine is made from padded rubber, with an ergonomic shape that conforms to your body. It glides smoothly along a steel rail, with a weight capacity of 300 pounds. In terms of height, you’re not going to have any issues. The seat will glide to the very back of the machine, so even the tallest individuals should have no trouble getting their legs fully extended. The footrests can tilt as needed, which further improves the machine’s ergonomics.
The built-in computer on the ERG650W is especially impressive. It has a large, 5 ½-inch LCD screen that displays a number of statistics at the same time. Without needing to cycle through any menus, you can see your time rowing, total strokes, strokes per minute, distance rowed, and estimated calories burned. You can also see your pulse, although that requires an aftermarket heart rate sensor.
#4 Merax Magnetic Exercise Rower
The Merax Magnetic Exercise Rower is a quiet, magnetic rowing machine with 8 different resistance settings. It has a compact footprint, 73 inches in length and 16 inches in width. The rail and the seat fold up for storage, shrinking the footprint to 26 by 16 inches. A pair of castors on the front make storage easy, quick, and painless.
The bicycle-style seat is comfortable and well-padded, with a raised back that keeps you from accidentally sliding off. It’s somewhat unique in that the rail is angled at 15 degrees. This makes it slightly harder to pull than many other rowing machines, but the movement feels more natural, and it’s easier to maintain good form with your legs. Improving ergonomics even further, you’ll find that the footrests pivot, which accommodates people of different heights and body types. One thing that disappointed us was the pull bar, which is completely straight. This can get uncomfortable on your hands if you’re pulling for a long time.
The Merax’s weight capacity is 264 pounds, which is an oddly specific number. Regardless, the slide rail is just over 43 inches long, which is long enough for most people who are less than 6 feet, 4 inches tall. If you’re taller than that, you’re likely to have trouble. Then again, if you’re taller than that, the odds are good that you weigh more than 264 pounds, to begin with.
The computer has a relatively Spartan appearance, with a tiny LCD that only shows a single metric at a time. That said, it’s capable of tracking the same numbers as most well-engineered rowing machines. With the push of a button, you can switch between your time, stroke count, split count, and estimated calories. It’s easy to use, and the machine comes with a 1-year warranty, so you’re protected if anything goes wrong.
#5 Merax Water Rowing Machine
The Merax Water Rowing Machine is a water rowing machine with an unusual design. Rather than a horizontal water tank, the flywheel is oriented at a 45-degree angle. This provides for more resistance with a lower water volume, which allows you to keep the Merax lighter than most water rowers without sacrificing resistance.
This Merax rower has a footprint of 78 x 21 inches, which is more compact than most rowing machines on the market. While it doesn’t fold, it does have casters on the front for transport, and the front of the frame allows you to stand it up on end for easy storage. When stowed in this fashion, the machine has a footprint of only 21 x 22.8 inches, which makes it exceptionally easy to store.
The steel frame is very sturdy and supports up to 330 pounds. The overall operation is very smooth, with an easy-gliding seat that’s also comfortable to sit on. It’s large and contoured, with a textured rubber finish that’s lightly padded. This is ideal since too much padding can be just as problematic as too little padding.
The strap-in footrests will tilt to any angle, which allows you to pivot your feet as you go through the motion of rowing. The pull handle is ever-so-slightly angled forwards. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s more comfortable than a straight bar. And the slide rail measures just over 43 inches, which allows it to accommodate people up to about 6 feet 2 inches tall. Your actual mileage may vary since it depends on how long-legged you are as opposed to long-waisted.
The computer on this Merax rowing machine has a large LCD. It’s remarkably similar to the computer on the XTERRA rower that we already reviewed. There’s no need to switch between different modes. Time rowing, total strokes, strokes per minute, distance rowed, and estimated calories burned are all displayed simultaneously.
#6 Mr. Rudolf Oak Wood Water Rowing Machine
The Mr. Rudolf Oak Wood Water Rowing Machine isn’t just a piece of workout equipment; it’s a piece of furniture. Rather than a steel frame, the machine is constructed from oak. It’s available in two different finishes: a black stain and a more traditional yellow stain. It utilizes a water flywheel, but the resistance isn’t adjustable. The only way to change the resistance is to vary your pace. Pulling faster will result in increased resistance. As a result, the Mr. Rudolf is an excellent choice for strength training, but a poor choice for fast-twitch workouts.
The seat is very comfortable, with a ribbed rubber cushion that provides plenty of support without pressing on any pressure points. It glides on a smooth steel rail, which is built seamlessly into the frame. On the black version of the Mr. Rudolf, it’s just about invisible. On the yellow version, it looks like an accent. The footrests allow you to strap in, and tilt as you move for plenty of comforts. While the pull bar is straight, it has a large, ergonomic profile that’s easy to grip and comfortable to pull.
While this rowing machine is designed to be pleasant to look at, it’s still possible to roll away for storage when needed. When stowed, it has a footprint of 22 x 20 inches, which is fairly compact. When it’s in its regular position, the length is 82 inches and the width is 22 inches. That’s fairly large. However, it allows even very tall individuals to use the Mr. Rudolf. The weight capacity is 320 pounds, which should cover the vast majority of people.
This machine has a large LCD screen that displays all the metrics you could want. And it goes a step further by including a gooseneck mount for your smartphone. This makes it easy to use your favorite fitness app. It also allows you to stream your favorite Netflix show during your workout. And there’s also a dust cover in the package, so you can keep your rower protected while it’s not in use.
#7 WaterRower A1 Home Rowing Machine
The WaterRower A1 Home Rowing Machine, much like the Mr. Rudolf, is designed to look like an attractive piece of furniture. It has a natural wood finish that’s easy on the eyes, with a frame that encloses the flywheel and water reservoir. The resistance is adjustable, but only by adding or removing water from the reservoir. In practice, you’ll want to find a level that works for you and stick with it. That said, WaterRower includes a set of chlorine tablets in the package, so you won’t have to worry about mold or mildew growing in the tank.
The WaterRower measures 84 inches in length and 22 inches wide, which is a substantial footprint. However, it allows for tall people to extend their legs with room to spare fully. That said, the weight limit is only 275 pounds, so heavier individuals will be better off with a different machine. There are castors on the front, which allow it to be rolled away for easy storage. When stowed, the footprint is just 22 x 21 inches, enough for easy storage in a small closet or against the wall.
Ergonomics are good. The molded seat is well-padded and glides along a steel rail. And the pull bar, while straight, has a fat profile that accommodates a variety of grips. The footrests are fixed, not swiveling. However, they’re very comfortable, and they allow you to strap in, so you don’t need to worry about your feet slipping.
The only thing that disappointed us about this machine was the computer. It has time and distance counters, but there’s no split or interval option. As a result, you won’t have some of the options you’ll see on more advanced computers. On the other hand, an inexpensive computer helps lower the price, and the WaterRower is very reasonably priced for such a gorgeous-looking machine.
Ultimate Rowing Machine Buying Guide
Now that we’ve reviewed all of our selections, it’s time to take a deeper dive. Here’s a quick overview of what you should be looking for when you choose a rowing machine.
Different Types of Resistance
Rowing machines rely on a flywheel to provide resistance as you row. There are four different ways of providing this resistance: hydraulic, air, magnetic, and water. Here’s an explanation of each of those methods.
- Hydraulic machines use simple hydraulic tubes to provide resistance. This makes them very cheap so that you can buy one for a fraction of the cost of other machines. It also makes them lightweight and compact, so they’re easy to store. That said, hydraulic pistons work by compressing and decompressing hydraulic oil under pressure. As they continually compress and decompress, the oil warms up, which lowers the resistance. Because of this, they’re not very consistent, and we haven’t listed any among our choices.
- Air resistance machines have a flywheel that looks and acts like a fan. They can be adjusted in two different ways: first, by restricting the amount of airflow into the flywheel chamber, and second, by responding to your rowing speed. The faster you pull the handle, the more resistance you’ll feel. This, along with their middle-of-the-road price point, makes them very popular for gym use. That said, they’re louder than other machines, which might be a problem for some homes.
- Magnetic resistance rowers have a flywheel that’s constructed from ferrous metal. A magnet or pair of magnets is positioned alongside the flywheel, which provides resistance. They adjust by moving the magnets closer to the wheel for more resistance, or further away for less resistance. They have a very even response since there’s no change in resistance over the course of your pull. For this reason, crew teams and other people who are training for rowing tend to avoid them. But they’re trendy for home users, mostly because they’re nearly silent.
- Water resistance rowers use a fan, much like an air resistance rower. However, the flywheel chambers are filled with water to provide resistance. You adjust them by allowing more water into the flywheel chamber to increase resistance. For less resistance, the water can be drained into a separate reservoir. These machines are popular because they feel like you’re rowing a boat in the water. That said, they tend to be heavy, which makes them less portable. They’re also on the pricier side.
Not all rowing machines have a built-in computer. This is particularly true for more affordable machines. After all, you can eliminate the computer without making any further changes to the design so that you can make a relatively well-engineered machine for less money. That said, a computer can be a helpful tool for monitoring your workout performance.
The most basic computers will track how much distance you’ve rowed, how long you’ve been rowing, and your average speed. But others offer even more options. You can track split time, which means you can row several virtual laps and see how you perform over time. You can also track your strokes per minute, as well as intervals, which means the average time between strokes. More advanced machines will also monitor your heart rate and estimate how many calories you’ve burned. Because we were looking for the best, all of our selections have built-in computers.
When you’re choosing a rowing machine, it’s important to consider how comfortable they are to use. For many people, this comes down to the seat. Most rowing machine seats are made of leather and are generally well-padded. However, some are made from molded plastic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
At the end of the day, what kind of seat you prefer is a matter of personal preference. And, to be frank, a lot of it depends on how much natural padding you’re carrying in your backside. If you’ve got a lot of natural padding, a molded plastic seat can be more comfortable. If you’re on the slimmer side, you’ll probably want a better-padded seat. A seat that hurts your tailbone and causes bruising isn’t going to be a good choice for long workouts.
One thing to keep in mind is that more isn’t always better. Too much padding can cause as many problems as too little. It can numb your muscles, which can cause them to fatigue faster than they otherwise would. Generally, the best choice is to err on the side of less padding. If your seat is too hard, you can always throw a towel on it. If it’s too soft, there’s not much you can do.
Getting the Most from Your Rowing Machine
So, you’ve got yourself a brand spanking new rowing machine. Now all you have to do is start working out. But to get the most out of your new equipment, you’ll need to know how to use it properly. With proper form, your rowing machine can be one of the most versatile, effective workout machines on the market. But with bad form, you won’t get the results. You could even pull a muscle. Here’s some quick advice on how to properly use your new equipment.
Different Flywheel Settings
An adjustable flywheel gives you the option to set your resistance level. Now, you might think that more resistance is automatically better, but that’s not necessarily the case. Your ideal resistance is going to depend on what you’re trying to do. If you’re looking for muscle mass and overall strength, slower, harder strokes are better. Set the machine as high as you can handle it. Conversely, if you’re looking for fast-twitch muscle growth, you need to be moving as fast as possible. In this case, set the resistance lower so you can pull quickly.
The Importance of Good Form
One myth among beginning rowers is that faster is automatically better. That’s only partially true. There’s indeed a bottom limit. After all, rowing at a snail’s pace isn’t going to get you anywhere. However, there’s also an upper limit. That limit is the point where you start to lose form. If you find that you’re getting sloppy, slow things down a little. It’s better to use good form slowly than to mess up and hurt yourself.
Start with Leg Isolations
Rowing machines require a complex set of motions that involve multiple muscle groups. The best way to develop good form is to start by practicing each movement individually. Since your legs are your largest muscle group, they’re an ideal place to start.
To do this, you’ll want to sit on the machine with your back straight. Hold your arms out, so your elbows are locked straight, and grab the pull bar. Next, put your legs on the footpads, with your weight on the balls of your feet. Push until your legs are straight, but don’t lock your knees. As you do this, keep your back and your arms straight. Do this several times until you get a sense of how your legs should feel while you’re rowing.
Move on to Arm Isolations
Once you’ve mastered your leg isolations, it’s time to work on your arms. If you were working your legs correctly, you should have ended up with your arms and backs straight, holding the oar with your legs extended. To practice rowing with your arms, begin in this position.
From there, you’ll want to pull the bar towards you with your arms only. Leave your back straight while you’re doing this. In this way, you’ll work your arms and your core muscles. However, if you start pulling with your back, you’re liable to pull a muscle.
Putting It All Together
Now that you’re comfortable with both your arms and your legs, it’s time to put the two motions together. Proper rowing form is to keep your arms and back straight, extend your legs, and then pull your arms when your legs are fully extended. The release will be the same motion but in reverse. Release your arms first, making sure to maintain control throughout. Then relax your legs, also maintaining control.
You’ll know you’re doing it right if the entire movement is smooth and fluid. It can help to have a friend who can spot you every once in a while. They can keep an eye on your back and let you know if you’re bending it at all. It’s essential to keep your back straight to avoid hurting yourself.
[Video] How to Properly Use a Rowing Machine
Ultimately, the best rowing machine is going to depend on what you need. So let’s sum up what we’ve learned today.
To begin with, you’ll want to avoid a hydraulic rower, if at all possible. If you need to buy a rowing machine on a tight budget, they’re a reasonable way to get started. But they’re not ideal for long-term use. That said, there’s a reason we didn’t include any of these rowers on our list. They don’t provide consistent resistance.
If you want to feel like you’re rowing a boat through the water, the best choice is to use a water resistance machine. These provide the most realistic experience and are ideal if you’re training for crew or other real-world experiences. Just keep in mind that they can be heavy and aren’t ideal if you need to move your rowing machine regularly.
For the best value, magnetic and air resistance machines are tough to beat. Both designs are a solid choice and provide consistent resistance throughout the pull. Air resistance rowers tend to be a little cheaper, but they’re loud. Magnetic machines are quiet but cost less. Which feature is more important will depend entirely on your needs.
You’ll also want to consider how much space your machine takes up. Once again, this depends on you. Are you setting up a semi-permanent machine for your home gym? Just about any machine will do. Are you looking for a living room machine that can be set up and stowed away at will? You’ll want a collapsible rower, preferably one with casters that make it easy to roll away.
Finally, consider your rowing machine’s computer. This isn’t going to be important to everybody. But if you want to measure your actual performance, there’s no better guide than a computer. Some computers and apps even allow you to track your performance over time. If this is important to you, look for a machine with plenty of options. If not, you can save a few dollars by disregarding computer features altogether.
No matter what you end up choosing, we like to think that all seven of these rowers represent the best rowing machines on the market. We’ve done the research. Now all you have to do is decide which one to buy!
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Last update on 2021-10-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API