I tested 11 budget rowing machines and found the Stamina ATS Air 1399 Rower to be the best combination of value, quality, and performance in a rowing machine under $500.
When it comes to budget rowing machines, the old Latin phrase Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) applies more than ever. Many manufacturers compromise on quality and performance to make the price as attractive as possible. That’s why you need an experienced eye to sort out the best from the rest. I’ve been in the fitness industry for 35 years and have been training with, recommending, and analyzing rowing machines since the 1980s.
For this best of review, I’ve spent many hours poring over the 11 top contenders that I’ve culled from the hundreds of budget rowing machines on the market. I’ve also taken the time to study reviews from verified purchasers online to get real-world feedback. The combination of all of this research comes together in this article to provide you with the ultimate ‘best of’ article.
The rowing machine that comes out as the number one on our list is the Stamina ATS Air 1399 Rower. This magnetic rower provides you with a solid frame, a long monorail, and a smooth-rolling seat. The rowing action is fluid and the monitor, though quite basic, is functional.
Because we’re all different and don’t have the same prioritized needs in a budget rowing machine, what might be best for one person may not be for someone else. That’s why, after allocating an overall best-of-winner, I’ve also broken down several ‘best for’ categories.
I’ll identify the best rowing machine under $500 for tall people, the best value for money, and the best for heavy people. I’ll also identify the best sub-$500 rowing machine in each of the resistance methods; water, air, and magnetic.
Keep reading to get the full story.
Best Rowing Machines Under $500 In 2022 At A Glance
- Very affordable
- Sturdy frame
- Smooth rowing action
- Free access to müüv smart audio training app
- Easy assembly
- No backlight on the monitor
- No fan damper
The Stamina ATS 1399 Air Rower is a budget-friendly air rower that loses nothing in performance and design robustness for its $399 price tag. It’s got a sturdy steel frame with a maximum user weight of 250 lbs. The monorail is especially solid and is long enough to accommodate taller users. This rower is rated for light commercial and home use.
The contoured seat on this rower is padded for comfort. It features high-quality ball bearings to ensure a smooth glide up and down the rail. The rail is slightly angled to make it a little harder to complete your rowing stroke. Slightly oversized footplates suit people of all sizes and come with secure velcro straps.
The padded handle on this rower extends from a point above the flywheel, allowing for a full range of motion. It is connected to the flywheel by way of a strong nylon strap.
The display monitor on the ATS 1399 Rower is basic but functional. It will provide a readout of your time, speed, calories burned and distance traveled. There aren’t any games or workouts built into this monitor. Neither is there a backlight. However, the digits can still be seen quite clearly when you’re rowing.
The ATS Air 1399 rower will provide you with a relatively smooth, fluid rowing performance. However, there is no damper setting to allow you to control the airflow into the fan. That means that you cannot change the drag factor.
Being an air rower, however, the ATS Air 1399 is quite noisy. It’s a great option for beginner rowers who are wanting a more natural rowing experience than you’d get on a magnetic rower and who don’t require a set resistance level.
The warranty on the ATS Air Rower is 3 years on the frame and 90 days on parts, which is not bad for a budget rowing machine.
- 9 lb flywheel
- 10 levels of magnetic resistance
- Decent monitor
- Excellent warranty
- Monitor not backlit
The Schwinn Crewmaster Rower is the only rowing machine produced by Schwinn. This is a magnetic rower that operates off a 9 lb flywheel. That’s pretty good for the budget market. You get 10 levels of magnetic resistance on this rower, controlled by a centrally located dial. The resistance is smooth and consistent.
The monitor on this machine is quite impressive for the price. It is larger than standard and provides you with the following diagnostics …
- Count (number of strokes for current workout)
- Total Count (total strokes done for the history of the machine)
- RPM (stroker per minute)
Even though the monitor is backlit, the digits are big, making it easy to read your training data.
The warranty on this machine is excellent. You get 10 years on the frame, 3 years on parts, and 12 months on labor. That’s the best of any rower on this list.
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower is a solid magnetic rower that provides the basics and does it well, as you’d expect from the guys at Sunny Fitness. There are 8 levels of adjustable resistance controlled by a knob located under the monitor. The rowing action is generally smooth but does get a little clunky during the resistance level transitions at higher levels.
The basic monitor displays workout time, calories, and stroke count. The calorie count shouldn’t be relied upon so don’t buy this machine if you are after accurate training diagnostics.
Even though it weighs just 59 pounds, this is a relatively sturdy rower, with a max user weight of 250 lbs. This is a compact machine that operates quietly, making it ideal for apartment dwellers.
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower is well suited for beginner rowers who are after a set resistance and who aren’t concerned about generating accurate training data. If you’re wanting a more intense rowing experience, look for an air or water rower where your resistance level is commensurate with your rowing stroke speed.
- Max user weight 250 lbs
- Contoured seat
- Pivoting arms
- Rowing action can become stuttery
The Lanos Hydraulic Rowing Machine is a hydraulic rower with large pivoting arms that provide a higher rowing action than normal. This more fully engages your core and shoulders. The max user weight on this machine is 250 lbs and it features a manually adjustable tension knob.
As with most hydraulic rowers, the performance on this unit fluctuates depending on the heat build-up in the hydraulic pistons; the longer you row, the more stuttery the workout will become. The pivoting footplates hold your feet securely in place. The seat, however, while contoured, provides little in the way of padding.
The Lanos Hydraulic Rowing Machine is best suited for beginners who are wanting a low to moderate intensity workout not exceeding 20 minutes.
- 12.9-liter water tank
- Solid steel frame
- Smooth, fluid resistance
- Footrest quality problematic
The XTERRA Fitness ERG600W Water Rowing Machine delivers a high-quality rowing experience at an extremely affordable price point. It delivers a smooth, fluid resistance, has a robust steel frame, a sturdy 12.9-liter water tank, and a very good monitor for the price.
The monitor on the ERG600W provides readouts of your …
- Total Time
- Strokes/Min (SPM)
- Room Temp
- Pulse (only with HRM)
There are also six programmable workout modes on this monitor. Overall, the ERG600W is a high-quality water rower that delivers the performance and functionality of a high-priced water rower at a premium price. The only potential weakness relates to the footrests which have been the subject of some quality complaints.
- Long rail
- 16 resistance levels
- Max user weight 265 lbs
- Pretty basic monitor
The ECHANFIT Magnetic Rowing Machine has a max user weight of 265 lbs, features a solid steel frame with a long aluminum rail, and provides a better than average monitor for a sub-$500 rower. It also provides you with 16 levels of adjustable resistance, being the most you are likely to find on any magnetic rower under $500.
The ECHANFIT rower provides you with a smooth, fluid, and consistent rowing action. You don’t get any lag on the rowing return, which is quite common on magnetic rowers. The monitor on this machine provides you with a running display of the following …
- RPM (strokes per minute)
- Count (strokes taken for the session)
- Distance (miles)
- Total Count (total strokes taken all-time)
- Scan (scan through metrics every 30 sec)
This magnetic rower is ideal for taller people. The longer than normal rail will accommodate people up to 6’4”, though one user reviewer who stood at 6’5” tall said he used it with no problem.
- Solid Frame
- Max user weight 331 lbs
- 16 fan blades
- Water pump included
- Bluetooth enabled
- Weak warranty
- Basic monitor
The SNODE Water Rowing Machine with Bluetooth APP is one of the most solid and stable budget rowers I’ve come across regardless of the resistance type. Its solid steel frame supports a 331 lb max user weight. The frame also looks great being finished in a sleek black paint job.
Like most water rowers, this one has a large footprint and is heavy. However, it can be stored upright when not in use. It also comes with transportation wheels to make the job of moving it easier. The 16-blade fan churns well through the water to provide a smooth resistance.
As you’d expect for a budget rower, the monitor on this rower is basic. However, the machine is Bluetooth enabled so that you can access the paired Fitshow app.
The warranty on this water rower is relatively weak, with just 12 months on the frame. That’s a pity because the durability of this frame means they could have easily tripled that offer. Still, at just $450, the SNODE Water Rower is my pick for the best value water rower on the market right now.
- Solid frame
- Max user weight 310 lbs
- Folds upright
- Goal setting functions
- Just 6 resistance levels
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5801 Compact Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine is a pared-back magnetic rower that delivers in terms of performance and value for beginner exercisers. The all-steel frame supports user weights up to 310 lbs, which speaks to its rigid construction. The 34” rail allows for people as tall as 6’2” to get a full range of motion.
The frame on the SF-RW5801 can be folded in an upright position. Six wheels at the base of the seat couple with premium level ball bearings to ensure smooth movement. There are 6 resistance levels on this rower, which is on the low side. However, the movement is smooth without any jerkiness and lagging in the return.
Even though the monitor is quite basic, it does include goal setting functions with countdowns for time, count and calories.
- 14 resistance levels
- Bluetooth enabled
- Solid frame
- Stuttery resistance at higher levels
The Fitness Reality 1000 Plus stands out in the budget magnetic rower space with its 14 levels of magnetic resistance. That’s 4 levels more than you get with most competitors. While it may not give greater resistance than those other machines, it does provide more precise gradations of resistance.
The 6.4-pound flywheel is about standard for a budget magnetic rower. It delivers a generally smooth rowing action but there may be some stuttery movement when you are working at the highest resistance levels.
As you’d expect, the monitor on this rower is quite simple. It will track the following:
- Total Count (strokes)
- Calories Burned
The Fitness Reality 1000 Plus is Bluetooth enabled. It pairs with the MyCloudFitness app and there is a phone holder alongside the monitor.
Overall, this is a solid magnetic rower. However, the unreliability of the stroke performance at higher resistance levels prevents it from being our preferred magnetic rower.
- 8 damper settings
- Max user weight 300 lbs
- Adjustable angle monitor
- Pivoting pedals
- Limited warranty
The XTERRA Fitness ERG500 Air Turbine Rower is Xterra’s lowest-priced air rower at $499. This is a foldable rowing machine that features dual aluminum rails, eight damper settings, and a better monitor than you get in most budget rowing machines. The solid steel frame of this machine can handle a max user weight of 300 lbs.
The rowing action on this machine is smooth and fluid with no jerkiness. The range of motion, however, is not as great as you on higher-priced air rowers. Pivoting pedals and a cushioned ergonomic seat provide comfortable, solid points of contact.
The data console on the Xterra Fitness ERG500 has an adjustable angle and gives a readout of the total stroke count, pace, and calorie burn. It is also compatible with a chest heart rate monitor, which you have to buy separately.
- 12 levels of hydraulic resistance
- Replicates rowing with oars
- Stuttery rowing action at high resistance levels
- Footplates not overly secure
The BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine is a hydraulic rowing machine that uses pistons and swinging arms. The rowing action feels similar to a rowing boat’s oars but this machine, as with all hydraulic rowers, has a limited range of motion and can get stuttery when the pistons heat up. As a result, this rower is best suited for beginners who are breaking into rowing machine exercise and after a moderate-intensity workout.
You get 12 levels of resistance on the BodyTrac Glider. The seat is contoured to mold to your butt. However, it is a little hard for comfort. The footrests are also not as securely locking as they could be.
When you’re shopping for a budget rowing machine, it’s easy to focus on the price. If you want a machine that’s going to last and that is up to the job, however, you need to dig a little deeper. Here are the key factors to take into account.
Lower-priced rowing machines will tend to be powered by hydraulic or magnetic resistance. While these both have the advantage of providing a set resistance and allowing the user to adjust that resistance, they are not as smooth, natural, or intense as water and air resistance. Hydraulic resistance is the quietest method, but the pistons are prone to overheating and they often produce a jerky, interrupted rowing stroke.
Magnetic resistance rowers are smoother than hydraulic but are dependent on the resistance potential on the size of the flywheel. Budget rowers will unusually have a relatively light flywheel which will limit the maximum resistance. Look for a perimeter-weighted flywheel that is heavier on the outer edges of the flywheel to maximize the resistance potential.
Air and water resistance provide the greatest intensity potential as your resistance is controlled by the speed of your row. Look for an air rower that has a damper control that allows you to control the airflow into the fan. If you’re buying a water rower, be aware that you need to manually add or remove water to increase or decrease the level of the water.
A weak frame will see the base of the rower jumping around when you start rowing at higher speeds. That is indefinitely not what you want. The strength of the frame is indicated by the maximum user weight of the machine. For budget machines that are usually in the range of 200 pounds. The budget rowers with the best frame build, however, will be up around the 250-pound mark.
The monitors on budget rowing machines are usually pretty spartan. Most of them won’t feature color or backlighting. However, you should expect digits that can be easily seen when you’re rowing. Check that the rower has the following functionality:
- Total Count
Don’t be surprised if your budget rower doesn’t measure distance. There is also quite a variance in the accuracy of the metrics. Check reviews for user feedback on this.
If your rowing machine isn’t comfortable to exercise upon, you aren’t going to use it often as you should do. The key comfort points are your points of contact with the machine; the seat, handle, and footplates.
Look for a seat that is ergonomically designed to contour with your butt and that is generously padded. The handle design on budget rowers usually has the handle positioned directly above the footplates, while those on more expensive rowers have it situated further back than the footplate. This provides a greater range of motion.
A quality handle will be padded for comfort and will be sweat-resistant.
The footplates on a good rowing machine will allow for adjustment according to foot size and provide a strong lock to keep the foot firmly in place. Ideally, the footplates should also have angle adjustment.
Flywheel / Fan Blade
The size of the flywheel on a magnetic rower will determine the amount of resistance you can generate on it, as well as the smoothness of the rowing action. A flywheel that is too light will produce a stuttery movement that can be very frustrating.
When it comes to the fan blades on water and air rowers, the greater the diameter and area, the better.
While you shouldn’t expect the same length of warranty on a budget rower as you’d get on machines that are twice the price, you should expect to get at least 3 years of coverage on the frame, with 90 days on parts and labor.
As we’ve just discovered, there are some real gems among the plethora of budget rowing machines on the market. You’ll always be compromising to some degree on monitor functionality, flywheel size, and build quality but that doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up a very functional rower for less than $500.
The best overall rowing machine on today’s market is the Stamina ATS 1399 Air Rower. If you prefer a budget water rower, look at the XTERRA Fitness ERG600W Water Rowing Machine. The best budget magnetic rower is the Schwinn Crewmaster Rower.