Best Rowing Machines Of 2020: Buyers Guide and Reviews
Top 10 Indoor Rowers
Choosing the best rowing machine can be a tricky proposition. What is best for you might not be best for another user. With so many different manufacturers and models available and prices that range from under $200 to over $2000, there is a lot to consider. The aim of this article is to offer some suggestions that will hopefully help narrow down your choices from hundreds of options to just a few.
Buyers Guide: Are Rowing Machines Worth It?
Rowing is a great workout that can get you very fit, help you lose weight and can even be an outlet for your competitive urges but unless you are content to use the rower at your local gym, you will probably prefer to buy a rower of your own to use at home.
There are several manufacturers and lots of different models available so choosing a rower can be a daunting prospect and the last thing you want to do is spend your hard-earned money on a machine that fails to live up to your expectations.
What Is The Best Type Of Resistance For A Rowing Machine?
Rowers are best categorized by the mechanism used for creating resistance. There are four main types:
Very smooth and quiet to use, electromagnetic resistance rowers usually require an external power source and contain often sophisticated electrical components. Resistance can be changed quickly and easily but, in my experience, the top resistance level is normally not very high. There is a lot to go wrong with an electromagnetic resistance rower but if well maintained should be reliable and long-lasting.
Built around a sealed drum of water and a propeller attached to the handle by a cord or chain, water-resistance rowers are becoming increasingly popular. The water drum looks really cool and the swishing sound they make in use gives a very authentic rowing experience. Because water is very heavy, water rowers tend to be heavy too and less portable as a result. The rowing action tends to be heavier at the start of the pull than at the end – much the same as rowing on “real” water but different to other types of braking system where resistance is more constant.
This type of rower is the most popular with “serious” rowers. The resistance is variable and there is plenty of it for even the strongest exerciser. The machines themselves are usually hardwearing and very easy to maintain. On the downside, air resistance rowers can be quite noisy in use, especially if you are doing intervals or sprints. Air resistance rowers are generally lighter than water rowers and can be broken down into sections for easier transportation and storage.
Old school rowers almost always used hydraulic resistance. Modern rowers using hydraulics are generally cheap and far less enjoyable to use than the preceding three resistance methods. Because the handles inevitably travel through an arc rather than in a straight line, hydraulic rowers use a very unnatural rowing action that can prove uncomfortable. Resistance is usually adjustable but not by much. Hydraulic resistance rowers are light, portable and easily folded flat for storage but are not really suitable for “serious” rowing training although Kettler, a good quality German fitness company, still use hydraulics in their rowing machines.
Now you know a little about the different types of rowing machine resistance, let’s look at a few other things that you should consider when buying.
How Much Does A Rowing Machine Cost?
An indoor rowing machine can cost as little as $200 and as much as $3000 depending on the model you choose. Most expensive doesn’t necessarily mean best and, in my opinion, the best rower around sits halfway between these two extremes. While it is true you get what you pay for, some rowers are definitely overpriced compared to the competition.
Some rowers are longer than others so it’s important to make sure your rower will fit into the space you have set aside for exercise. Make sure the rowing machine is big enough to accommodate you too – if you are very tall, you’ll probably need a rower that is around two meters in length.
Is your rower going to stay in one place, e.g. your spare room, or are you going to have to store it in one place and use it in another? While some rowers will break down into two or even three sections, others do not. Some machines are fitted with wheels for easy movement while others will need to be carried.
Some rowers are very “no-frills” while others have every bell and whistle imaginable. More often, the more expensive the rower, the more functions on offer. Don’t feel that more functions are best – you may end up paying for things you never use. Choose a model that does what you need rather than pay for things you do not want. Also, the more technology that is crammed into your rowing machine, the more there is to go wrong; an important factor to consider if your rower is going to get heavy usage.
Even the best rowing machines go wrong from time to time so make sure your rower has a decent warranty. More expensive rowers often have a longer warranty but in return, you get peace of mind that your investment is protected.
Number Of Users
If your rower is going to be used by a lot of people or used heavily by just a few, make sure you chose a machine designed for light commercial or commercial use. Home use machines are fine for light or occasional usage but are not up to the punishment of constant, heavy use.
That rower that felt fine in the showroom can be butt-crippling uncomfortable 20-minutes into your first proper workout. Make sure the rower is long enough, has a good seat and a sufficiently wide handle to accommodate you comfortably. The best rower in the world is a waste of money if you can use it without severe discomfort.
Availability Of Spares
Because, hopefully, your rower will last many years, it is important that commonly required spares are readily available. Things like seats, handles, roller bearings and monitors eventually wear out but these are small components that, if worn, should not end the life of your machine. Make sure that there are spaces available (and that there will be continued availability) for your rower.
If you are training for indoor rowing competitions, you should buy the type rower you are going to be racing on. At the time of writing, that’s Concept2 rowing machines. If you have no intention of rowing in competition, it’s fine to go with a different model.
Which is the best rowing machine to buy?
If budget is no issue, this list of top ten rowers is a great place to start your search for the best rowing machine. While the price is not a consideration for making this list, each rower represents good value for money because of the features offered, build quality, and or long warranty.
Best Overall: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine With PM5F
This rowing machine sits at the high end of the market, engineered with aluminium and steel alloy for durability. The PM5F performance monitor is a major selling feature as it records a host of measurements which can be downloaded to a computer for reference. These include stroke rate, pace, time, distance rowed and calories burned.
Recognised for its performance by competitive rowers, the Concept2 Model D rowing machine is suitable for rowers of all abilities. The flywheel system provides resistance for the stroke, while a dampener is included to help adjust the machine for each individual’s personal skill level.
The ergonomic handle has a 10-degree bend to help row in a way which feels natural, while the adjustable foot-straps make it easy to alter for all foot sizes. It is a smooth and reliable machine with a maximum user weight capacity of 500lbs. The frame-lock has a quick-release mechanism which allows the rowing machine to be quickly folded and stored away when not in use.
- Quality, durable design
- Quick and easy assembly
- Suitable for all standards
- High-performance monitor
- Bluetooth compatibility
- Easy to fold and store
- Can seem noisy
- Seat hard for some users
Best Value For Money: Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399
This machine from Stamina offers a smooth and functional row without the more complex options, making it a more affordable choice. The durable frame is built from steel, while two stabilisers help ensure the machine does not move during work-outs.
The Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 operates on an air resistance system which sees resistance change in relation to your rowing intensity. The harder you row the more resistance there is. This can be good for high-intensity sessions as you do not need to stop to make setting adjustments.
This rower is suitable for all levels and comes with a padded, upholstered seat for additional comfort, even during longer training sessions. Large footplates help accommodate most users, while the handles are foam-padded to reduce the chance of blisters.
The maximum weight capacity is 250lbs and the machine can comfortably be used by taller folk up to 6ft 4″ in height. The monitor is functional, recording the basic data to measure performance and is operated by a single button. The rowing machine can be folded for storage, reducing to half of its extended size.
- Durable build
- Lower price option
- Comfortable seat
- Large footrest for big feet
- Good for high-intensity work-outs
- Easy to store
- Floor protectors
- Can be noisy when rowed with intensity
- No resistance change mode
- No heart rate monitor
Best Water Resistance Rower: WaterRower Natural
The WaterRower Natural is an aesthetically pleasing rowing machine, built from sustainably sourced ash hardwood. Resistance is generated using a water tub positioned under the ergonomically designed seat. It is built to simulate the feel and sound of rowing on water. The sound of the water moving around the tub can add a natural and calming experience to the row.
A water resistance model makes for a low maintenance rowing machine. The S4 monitor which accompanies the rower displays the relevant data and can be uploaded on to a computer for later use. It has the capacity to monitor heart rate using a chest strap, but the receiver and transmitter are not included.
Users can utilise 6 preset workouts or set up to 9 interval sessions to suit their personal training needs. The WaterRower Natural is larger than some machines but does flip up to allow for easy storage if space is an issue. Although fairly pricey the quality of the wood build provides a durable machine which has a large weight capacity of 1000lbs.
- Eco-minded wood build
- Realistic rowing experience
- Low maintenance
- Comfortable seat
- 6 pre-set workouts
- Quite large if space an issue
- Higher price range
- No resistance change mode
- Heart rate monitor accessories not included
Best Budget Rowing Machine: Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050
A straightforward, functional machine which provides multiple work-out options at a budget price. Compared to some modern machines this rower can look a little retro, but the handlebars placed on each side of the machine are designed to mimic the oars of a rowing boat.
Built with a steel frame and an aluminium central beam, the BodyTrac Glider 1050 is a sturdy offering for the price range. It is a hydraulic rowing machine, using hydraulic shocks to adjust resistance levels. There are twelve of these resistance levels which can be adjusted manually.
As to be expected for a best budget rower the monitor is basic but provides the important data required to follow progress. There are no pre-set workouts or any options to store performance.
This is a good option for those with limited space as the machine does not take up a huge amount of room with a footprint of just 23.5 x 21 x 46 inches. It is also lightweight, weighing less than 40lbs, making it easy to move for storing. With a weight capacity of 250lbs, this machine is designed to be durable for the budget range price.
- Small footprint
- Multi-functional work-out design
- Padded handles for comfort
- Twelve resistance levels
- Comfort of seat on longer sessions
- Foot straps may not suit all
- Resistance can drop off on longer sessions
Best Premium Rowing Machine: Hydrow Rower
The Hydrow Rower is truly a luxury rowing experience. The team at Hydrow have brought exercising at home to a whole other level with their interactive immersive rowing machine, designed to bring the flow of the river to you!
The Hydrow machine comes dressed to impress with a sleek and classy design. The ergonomic body has a smooth aluminium frame that is sturdy and definitely built to last. With such a hefty price tag this is what you would expect.
The resistance is computer controlled using an electromagnetic drag mechanism which makes for an ultra-smooth and quiet rowing motion. This is great for high-intensity workouts with low impact.
The Hydrow Rower also comes with a state of the art 22” HD touchscreen with built-in front-facing speakers and live outdoor reality technology. A Hydrow membership will give you access to over 1000 pre-recorded and live broadcast workouts that you can follow along with a trainer, your friends and the Hydrow community.
It’s an expensive bit of kit but if you have the means, you do get what you pay for. And Hydrow does offer a 30-day free trial. So if you’re not impressed you can send it back.
- Smooth gliding rowing motion
- Comfortable seat
- Pre-recorded and live workouts
- 22” HD touch screen with interactive features
- Easy assembly
- Quality build
- Heart rate monitoring
- Price tag
- Membership not included
- Cant be folded for storage (storage kit can be purchased separately)
Best Quiet Rowing Machine: Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower
This machine has magnetic resistance, providing a smooth and quiet rowing glide. It offers a quiet row even at high-intensity levels, good for apartments surrounded by neighbours and good for listening to music while you work out.
This is a compact, durable machine suitable for all. The solid base prevents the rowing machine moving when in use, while the moulded seat is comfortable and glides quietly over the seat rail. The handles are thickly padded to help prevent blisters, while the nylon pull cord used for rowing is strong. The footplates pivot which can cause issues for users who prefer static plates, though the adjustable straps allow them to be altered for different foot sizes.
This rower offers 12 work-out programs with resistance easily adjustable via the advanced backlit in touch monitor. Heart rate can be monitored with this rowing machine through a wireless chest strap, allowing recording of pulse rates throughout the work-out.
There is a weight capacity of 275lb for users, while a foldable steel frame allows for easy storage when not in use.
- Solid base
- Heart rate chest strap
- In touch monitor
- 12 Work-out programs
- Easy to store
- Some users find seat uncomfortable
Best Hydraulic Piston Rowing Machine: Stamina 35-1215 Orbital Rowing Machine
A compact rowing machine using dual motion handles, which can take a little getting used to, especially if previously only used to one handlebar to pull on.
It has a hydraulic cylinder resistance system which has 5 resistance settings to work with. The higher settings could be a challenge for beginners, so make sure to start at the lower end of the scale and work up as fitness and technique allows. A padded seat and foam handle grips provide for a more comfortable row, while the pivoting footplates allow users to find a natural feeling position to row
This rowing machine is designed with lengthy work-out sessions in mind and comes with floor protectors to prevent movement and unsightly scuff marks on the floor. The machine has a single button operated monitor which displays the basic data such as stroke rate, speed, distance and calories burned.
A durable machine, it has a weight capacity of 250lbs. The Stamina 35-1215 Orbital rowing machine has a small footprint and is foldable, which makes it a good option if space is an issue.
- Smooth and quiet
- Affordable pricing
- Adjustable tension
- Cushioned seat
- Pivoting foot blades
- Compact and easy to store
- Floor protectors
- Basic features
- Resistance levels can be hard for novices
Best Magnetic Rowing Machine: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine
This is a machine towards the budget end of the market, designed with comfort and durability in mind. It has a magnetic tension system which makes for a quiet machine, helpful if too much noise may be an issue where you live. There are 8 magnetic tension resistance levels available which you can select manually via a knob.
A feature of this machine is a long sliding rail measuring 48 inches, which makes it an accessible machine for most people regardless of height. The seat is fully padded and the handlebars have foam grips for comfortable rowing. An anti-slip foot pedal design helps keep the feet securely in place.
The monitor is quite basic and omits some of the data other machines display, such as distance travelled. However, the affordability of this rower needs to be kept in mind in such comparisons. The monitor also is not back-lit which can hinder viewing sometimes. The weight capacity for the machine is 250lbs and it can be folded down for easy storage once training is done for the day.
- Smooth and quiet
- Affordable pricing
- Anti-slip pedals
- Fully padded seat
- Easy to fold
- Monitor is not back-lit
- Basic display features
Best Dual-Resistance Rowing Machine: Nordik Track RW900 Rower
A top-end rowing machine with advanced features based around a 22-inch touchscreen display.
As well as having thirty built-in work-out programs to try, an iFit Coach subscription gives you access to over 12,000 interactive sessions. This allows you to participate in live and on-demand classes, with the machine’s resistance levels changing automatically to match the class session being followed. There are 26 of these magnetic resistance levels which can be a bit of a challenge, yet they provide a quiet and smooth row.
The iFit coach also provides access to a range of nutritional, sleep and exercise advice. If preferred you can do your own workout, for which there are 10 additional air resistance levels available for selection.
An ergonomically moulded seat and handle aid comfort, with oversized pivoting pedals and adjustable foot-straps keeping feet of all sizes secure. When done with for the day the Nordik Track RW900 rower folds in the middle, making it simple to store in spaces which do not have much height. This rowing machine has a maximum weight capacity of 250lbs.
- Silent magnetic resistance
- Dual resistance control modes
- 22-inch touchscreen display
- 30 built-in programs
- iFit coach access interactive sessions
- Two digitally amplified speakers
- Large pivoting pedals
- iFit subscription process not always clear
Best Conversion Rowing Machine (2 In 1): Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Exercise Bike/Rower
This offering from Stamina can be used as a rowing machine or as a bike, a 2 in 1 route to a full-body workout. If you prefer diversity in your training then this machine is a good option.
It employs a magnetic resistance system with 8 resistance levels which are altered manually. The handlebars are padded for comfort, while the seat comes with a backrest for use depending on your choice of exercise. There are two sets of footrests being a bike/rower and both sets have straps to secure the feet.
A central, easy to read monitor displays the data and standard readouts which allow progress to be tracked. The frame is made from steel and aluminium and while this is quite a heavy machine compared to others, it is durable with a weight capacity of 250lbs. Although quite heavy to move, it is actually a relatively small machine and can be quickly folded, all good factors when space is a little limited.
- 2 in 1 exercise machine
- Quick to switch between bike and rower
- Pivoting foot pedals
- Seat backrest
- Easy to read monitor
- Folds for storage
- Seat uncomfortable for some users
- Heavy, weighing around 100lbs
- A little pricey
- No pre-set programs
Best Rowers By Resistance Type
Here are some great rowers by resistance type that didn’t quite make our top 10 list.
This is a top-end rowing machine, built to last. The high frame height of 20 inches, supported by steel legs, makes it more accessible for anyone with mobility issues. Offering air resistance, the harder you row the more resistance provided.
This offering from Concept comes with a PM5 display which has wireless connectivity to transfer all your valuable data on to your home computer. Assembly can take just 30 minutes, so for those of us not blessed with great patience will be training soon after receiving the rowing machine.
- Smooth and quiet
- Higher seat placement
- Available rail extensions
- Quality of display monitor
- Wireless heart rate data
- Divides in two for easy storage
- Ergonomic handle with 10-degree bend
- Quite a large footprint
- Higher price range
- Heavy to move around
Made to last with a solid steel frame, this foldable rowing machine has 8 resistance levels, allowing you to choose from easy to hard. The large monitor displays work-out data, letting you track and monitor progress. A padded seat and adjustable foot straps provide comfort as you row.
Like many machines, it has quite a large footprint when in use, but the foldable design makes for easy storage. With a 300lb weight capacity, this machine is built to withstand the most intense of training work-outs.
- Sturdy, well built
- Foldable and easy to store
- Comfortable padded seat
- Reasonably quiet
- Adjustable foot straps
- 8 resistance settings
- Large Footprint
- No heart rate sensor
With 16 resistance levels, this is a rowing machine all the family can use. The extra-long slide rail accommodates taller folk up to 6ft 5” tall. Comfort designs include a cushioned seat, padded handles and large, non-slip foot pedals.
The multi-function monitor tracks the work-out, displaying time, stroke count and calories burned. A scan mode helps keep track of overall progress. This magnetic rower is foldable which makes it a useful machine when storage space is tight.
- 16 levels of resistance
- Large Display monitor
- Paddled handles
- Non-slip foot pedals
- Foldable for easy storage
- Basic functions
This mid-range priced rowing machine offers a good cardiac work-out. Using a drum magnetic control system and electronic tension for 8 resistance levels, there are twelve work-out programs to explore.
The monitor is easy to operate, with 5 buttons giving access to all the relevant work-out progress data, including distance, strokes, calories and pulse. Simple to assemble it is quick to fold up into a vertical position for storage. This is a sturdy machine which is extremely quiet when in use.
- Smooth and very quiet
- Large monitor with backlit screen
- Comfortable, large seat
- Velcro straps secure feet
- Heart rate monitor
- Foldable for storage
- Requires power supply to use resistance
- Short monitor and parts warranty
An aesthetically pleasing rowing machine made from sustainably sourced walnut. Yet there is no concession on design quality and durability with this eco-friendly machine. It uses patented WaterFlywheel technology for resistance, the level of which depends on how hard you pull.
Accompanied by an S4 monitor to track progress there is a heart rate facility via an optional attachment. The wood and the water-resistant nature of this rower gives the feel of rowing on water and the machine can be folded and stored vertically.
- Sturdy and durable design
- Looks good
- 6 pre-set workouts
- Smooth and quiet resistance
- Large weight capacity
- Pricey end of the market
- Larger size
This machine provides a more affordable way to water resistance rowing. The frame is made from durable steel and has quite a long seat rail. Resistance levels can be determined by the volume of water in the water tank which has markings on it as a guide.
The large display monitor has a race mode for the competitive ones among you, though it does not have online connectivity. Although not padded, the seat is contoured and comfortable, while the feet can sit happily within a 12” footrest.
- Smooth, quiet work-outs
- Large LCD Monitor
- Comfortable seat
- Fold and store vertically
- Manual and race modes
- No backlight on LCD monitor
A good choice for novice and intermediate rowers, the hydraulic resistance system provides 12 resistant levels to work your way up through. The easy to read monitor lets you track your effort as you work-out. This is a lightweight, portable rower designed with comfort in mind.
The seat is padded with an artificial leather cover and the handles are enhanced for grip. This rower provides a smooth and quiet work-out, good for those who want to listen to music or watch the television as they train.
- Budget Price
- Smooth and quiet
- 12 resistance levels
- Compact and easy to store
- No display monitor
- Not for more advanced rowers.
An entry-level budget rowing machine which though small in size remains a durable rower. The hydraulic resistance method helps keep the price low and there are five resistance levels to choose between.
A thickly padded seat helps with support while pivoting foot pedals add an element of authenticity to the feel of the row. Although a more budget model there is still a monitor to help you track progress.
Best Budget Rowing Machine
Rowing machines are available to suit all budgets – from the limitless to the more conservative. While WaterRower and Concept 2 have the more expensive end of the market covered, the cheaper end of the market is much more open.
Best Rowing Machine For Under $500
A sturdy steel-framed machine with a price which offers water-resistant rowing to those on a budget. Add or remove water from the tank to find the resistance level you are looking for.
For a machine aimed at the budget end of the market, it comes with a decent monitor to track progress. Feeling competitive? Then use the human versus boat program to get the juices running. Although not foldable, if space is tight it can be stored in a vertical position easily enough.
- Smooth and quiet
- Work and race modes
- Adjustable stabilisers at the rear
- Good monitor for the price
- Display not backlit
- Not the easiest machine to assemble
- Not foldable
Best Rowing Machine For Under $300
An affordably priced rower offering a full-body workout with additional exercises. For the gadget-minded, this machine comes with a Bluetooth module on the monitor if you wish to sync it with a smartphone.
This magnetic rower has a good range of 14 resistance levels to challenge yourself which can be changed manually. Easy to assemble, this machine has a large contoured cushion seat for comfort and pivoting footrests to help find the best angle while rowing.
- 14 resistance levels
- Easy to assemble
- Monitor not backlit
- No pulse reading
There are a host of worthy rowing machines to select from depending on your budget as well as your training and fitness goals. However, the Concept2 Model D indoor rowing machine with a PM5F console consistently comes out as the top pick among reviewers and is viewed as the “standard” for indoor rowers amongst competitive rowers.
I’ve used a lot of rowing machines and enjoyed many of them but, ten times out of ten, I always come back to the Concept2. I’ve used the old models and the newest models and they are always a pleasure to use. Hardwearing, easy to maintain and very long-lasting, they are not the cheapest rowing machine around but, with a little bit of maintenance, they should provide you with decades of faithful service.
I have a Concept2 in my garage and in all the years I have owned it, it has never needed more than a little oil on the chain and a new battery in the display unit. I consider my Concept2 to be the best exercise investments I have ever made.