Despite what the nursery rhyme of your youth may have led you to believe, rowing is a sport in which the effort never stops, each stroke requiring a rhythmic full-body engagement from the catch point to the follow-through. As such, it comes with countless health benefits, including improved cardiovascular output, core strengthening, and — of course — muscular growth and toning. And the best part is — it’s an incredibly efficient form of exercise. So, while a gentle jog or a session on the spin bike may require a good half an hour or more to get your blood pumping, it’s entirely possible to work yourself to exhaustion on a rower in as little as 20 minutes.
That being said, shopping for a rowing machine can prove to be quite the challenge, no matter if you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned sculler. Though they used to be a considerable investment best saved for fitness facilities, they’ve become increasingly affordable as the market has grown. And with all of the types of resistance you have to consider, the addition of digital interfacing, and the advancements in space-saving designs, the fact is: almost anything will handle the basics and you could probably Amazon the first one that comes your way. However, if you’re of a more discerning mindset then you’ve come to the right place. Below we’ve broken down some considerations to keep in mind while you shop, before diving in and discussing our picks. Read on to see what we’ve picked for the best indoor rowing machines.
Types Of Rower Resistance
Key Features To Look For
These days, most rowing machines will come with one of four different resistance types. Each one will have its own tradeoffs, so it’s ultimately up to you as the user to determine which is best suited to your needs. They are as follows:
Hydraulic: For those who are just getting into the sport or are looking for an option that won’t break the bank, a rower with hydraulic resistance would be a great buy. These types of rowing machines feature an air or fluid-filled piston, with the amount of resistance affected by a corresponding set of clamps or pins. While hydraulic rowers tend to be the cheapest of the bunch, they’re not without their disadvantages. For instance, they don’t provide nearly the same stroke sensation as models using air or magnets. And because the fluid inside the piston will heat up as you continue to row, the level of resistance tends to drop off the further you are into your workout.
Air: As the name would suggest, air rowers generate their resistance by funneling — you guessed it — air around an internal flywheel, causing it to spin according to the rate at which you’re pulling the attached chain (i.e., the faster you row, the harder it becomes). Air rowers are one of the most popular types of rowing machines on the market because of their smooth stroke action and wide range of resistance levels. However, because of the nature of the design, they tend to be quite noisy indoors, making them a poor choice for apartments and other shared living spaces.
Magnetic: Next up we have the magnetic rowing machine, an option that’s much better suited to use inside because it’s virtually silent when being used. In practice, this type of rower relies on a set of strong magnets and a spinning flywheel, with the amount of resistance determined by the distance between the two — usually controlled via a slider or some sort of digital display. Out of all of the different resistance types we discuss here, magnetic rowers offer the most fluid feel, meaning that each pull of the chain is consistent from engagement to follow-through.
Water: If you’re looking to replicate the feeling of rowing outdoors, it’s in your best interest to invest in a model that uses water for its resistance. That’s because water rowers use a paddled flywheel to push water around an enclosed tank, providing for a very natural stroke sensation without the frustrating dead spots that come with some other offerings. However, it’s worth noting that given the dynamic nature of the load (water), it’s not always as smooth. These types of rowers are also generally much larger and more expensive than air and magnetic offerings.
Sunny Health Magnetic Rowing Machine
At just 250 bucks, it’s hard to beat this budget rowing machine from Sunny Health. Sure, it may not come as feature-packed as some of our other picks; however, it still manages to give you a digital monitor to track your progress and 16 different levels of magnetic resistance to dial in your workout. And because of its floor stabilizers and transportation wheels, it’s both firmly planted while in use and also incredibly easy to pack away once you’re done.
Stamina ATS Air Rower
Although quality rowing machines are few and far between at this price point, rarer still are the ones that rely on air resistance. Stamina’s ATS air rower makes for a very intuitive user experience because it eschews the dial control of the above option in favor of a dynamic resistance setting that changes based on your amount of input effort. If you’re tight on space, be sure to give this one a look — it comes with a folding frame design that makes it great for small apartments.
Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
Velocity Exercise’s Magnetic Rower may be almost double the price of our previous pick, but it’s an option well worth the added expense. For instance, it comes with Drum Magnetic Control (DRM) and electronic tensioning, a combination that ensures smooth, consistent resistance throughout each stroke. And thanks to its high-quality touchpoints — like a molded-foam seat, non-slip foot stops, and an ergonomic handle — you can focus on the workout in front of you rather than fumbling around trying to get comfortable.
Concept2 Model D
Widely used throughout CrossFit boxes worldwide, the Concept2 Model D is a name that needs no introduction. And it’s for good reason. With features like an adjustable airflow flywheel, app-based Bluetooth connectivity, and in-depth data recording, it’s easily one of the best rowing machines on the market today. As an added bonus, it comes in two seat heights for a personalized training experience and it can be broken down into two separate pieces for storage.
Although the RW600 is the less expensive of our two NordicTrack offerings, that’s not to say it’s any less of a complete package. On the contrary, the RW600 is a rower that punches well above its weight, with 26 levels of silent magnetic resistance (great for indoor use), a 10″ Smart HD Touchscreen, and some secure quick-adjust pedals. But the best part is that thanks to its included iFit subscription, you get access to hundreds of trainer-led online workouts, with resistance changing in real-time in response to what’s displayed onscreen.
Proform 750r Rower
In many ways, Proform’s 750r Rower is comparable to the above option from NordicTrack. For instance, it comes with a 1-year iFit membership, global row streaming (meaning you can see the world from your seat), and ultra-quiet operation. So, while it may not have the edge on the RW600 in terms of its display size or its number of resistance levels, it does come with connected fitness tracking, a feature that automatically logs your data and uses it to construct future workouts and even personalized nutrition plans.
WaterRower Oxbridge Rowing Machine
As much a central decor piece as it is functional fitness equipment, WaterRower’s Oxbridge Rowing Machine is a great option for those who want something with a bit of elegance to it. That’s because it’s crafted from solid cherry wood, an addition that not only gives it added aesthetic value but also an incredibly stable base. And when you consider that it features a water tank — with incredibly natural stroke action and resistance adjustable by its fill — you’d be remiss if you didn’t give this rower a look.
If you’re after one of the most complete rowing machine packages on our list, look no further than the R900 from NordicTrack. For starters, it comes with a massive 22″ rotating screen through which you can access a suite of online iFit workouts, with included cross-training events, worldwide courses, and real-time training stats as well. And that’s not all — it also comes with a host of other top-notch touches, such as an ergonomic seat for comfort, a SpaceSaver design for storage, and even Bluetooth audio connectivity so you can stay plugged in.
The Ergatta Rower
For years now, cyclists have employed friendly competition as a way to make their indoor training more engaging. By the same token, The Ergatta features a “race workouts” mode, allowing you to go head to head with the rest of the Ergatta rowing community rather than attempting to sweat it out on your own. Add to that an American-made cherry wood construction, a compact folding design, and an immersive digital touchscreen, and the result is a rowing machine that’s leagues ahead of the competition.
Hydrow Starter Package
Less of a rowing machine than it is a full-fledged fitness system, Hydrow’s Starter Package comes with absolutely everything you need to get the most out of your workouts. So, in addition to a premium electromagnetic rower — complete with a 10-roller track, an 22″ touchscreen, and forward-facing speakers — it also includes an under machine mat, a Polar Heart Rate Monitor, and even a set of JayBird Tarah Pro wireless headphones. If you’re in need of something to kickstart your workout routine, you can’t go wrong with this offering from Hydrow.
The 25 Best Home Gym Equipment Essentials
There’s no denying that a rowing machine is a great start towards building a solid indoor fitness facility. However, if you want to better round out your routine, head on over to our guide to the best home gym equipment essentials.
HiConsumption is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more