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The Best Rowing Machines for a Full-Body Workout

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Photo: The Ergatta Rower

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.

Best Rowing Machines Breakdown

What Are the Advantages of Rowing?

Full-Body Workout: Because of the involvement of a single stroke on a rowing machine, it’s able to hit 85% of your muscles each time. Not only that, it activates your joints, muscles, and focus, which can make it your go-to warmup or an entire day’s worth of exercise.

Low Impact: Taking care of your body and joints isn’t just important as you age, but should begin no matter what stage you’re at in your life. Like an elliptical machine, a rower puts very little stress on your knees and back, as opposed to resorting to physical weights for building muscle. Even prolonged treadmill running can do a number on your knees, hip, and spine.

Saves Time: It’s difficult enough to cram a whole hour-plus workout into our day, but having a rowing machine at home not only saves you a trip to the gym but also gives you the most efficient workout you can have in any amount of time. In other words, 15 minutes on a rower can reasonably equate to twice that, or more, doing other exercises individually.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Rowing?

While it’s inherently not going to be bad to use your rowing machine as your main workout, you need to ensure that you’re doing it correctly to avoid strain or injury. Start slowly and then increase in intensity once you’ve mastered the proper form. Also, make sure you rest every few days or so, and go light if you’re a little bit sore. Listen to what your body’s trying to tell you!

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 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

  • Built-in wheels make it easy to move
  • Lightweight yet very stable
  • Good for taller people
  • 16 different resistance levels
  • A little low to the ground
  • LCD screen is very bare-bones

Best Budget Rower: At just 350 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.

Resistance Type: Magnetic
Dimensions: 89″ x 18.9″
Weight: 60.9lbs

Stamina ATS Air Rower

  • Great space saver
  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Dynamic resistance setting changes based on your effort
  • Only 250-pound weight capacity
  • Not everyone will love the lack of dial controls
  • No screen

Best Foldable 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.

Resistance Type: Air
Dimensions: 77″ x 18″
Weight: 53lbs

Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower

  • Very smooth rowing experience
  • Molded-foam seat is best in the bunch
  • Super ergonomic handles
  • Non-slip foot stops are helpful
  • Affordable
  • A little long but too heavy to move frequently

Best Rower for Comfort: 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.

Resistance Type: Magnetic
Dimensions: 82″ x 21″
Weight: 75lbs

Concept2 Model D

  • 500-pound weight limit
  • Stores easily by splitting in half
  • Easy assembly
  • Lightweight yet very durable
  • Adjustable handles and footrests
  • Not as quiet as others

Best Overall: 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.

Resistance Type: Air
Dimensions: 96″ x 24″
Weight: 57.32lbs

Proform 750r Rower

  • Super quiet
  • Comes with 1-year iFit membership
  • User-friendly
  • Has a smart device holder
  • Really comfortable seat and handles
  • Low weight limit (250lbs)

Runner-Up: In many ways, Proform’s 750r Rower is comparable to the options 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.

Resistance Type: Magnetic
Dimensions: 86.5″ x 22″
Weight: 116lbs

WaterRower Oxbridge Rowing Machine

  • Feels like you’re actually rowing on water
  • Low profile makes it very stable
  • Several wood options
  • Pretty quiet
  • Heavy

Best Water-Like Rower: 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.

Resistance Type: Water
Dimensions: 83″ x 24″
Weight: 117lbs (with water)

NordicTrack RW900

NordicTrack RW900
  • Large rotating touchscreen
  • Great subscription service
  • Pretty comfortable
  • Bluetooth audio connectivity
  • Only 250-pound weight limit
  • Resistance ceiling may be too low for stronger individuals

Best for Beginners: 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.

Resistance Type: Air and magnetic
Dimensions: 86.5″ x 22″
Weight: 130.6lbs

The Ergatta Rower

  • Comes with row-based games
  • You can compete against others online
  • Folding design saves space
  • Wood construction is beautiful
  • Expensive
  • Built-in speaker doesn’t sound great

Best for Gamers: 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.

Resistance Type: Water
Dimensions: 86″ x 23″
Weight: 103lbs

Hydrow Wave Rower

Hydrow Wave Rower
  • 30% smaller than regular Hydrow
  • Can be mounted on the wall with add-on device
  • Can simulate real rowing with electromagnetic drag tech
  • Hydrow has one of the best fitness subscriptions around
  • Pricey, especially with subscription

Best for Small Spaces: The biggest complaint about rowers for your home is how much room they take up. Well last year, Hydrow released a slimmed-down version of its eponymous flagship model. Weighing just 102lbs and measuring 80″ by 19″, the Hydrow Wave is not only 30% smaller than its progenitor but you can also store it upright against the wall thanks to the brand’s Vertical Anchor (sold separately). The HD screen has also dropped from 22″ to 16″. Aside from that, however, it’s virtually the same as the bigger version, with a sturdy polycarbonate frame, ergonomic handle grips, and, with subscription, access to Hydrow’s library of over 4,000 workouts and one-on-one personal coaching sessions.

Resistance Type: Electromagnetic
Dimensions: 80″ x 19″
Weight: 102lbs

The Best Adjustable Dumbells For Your Home Gym

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There’s no denying that a rowing machine is a great start towards building a solid indoor fitness facility. However, every home gym needs a good pair of adjustable dumbbells to help build muscle and burn fat.