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Rowing Machine Reviews Guide

Best Rowing Machine Reviews and Comparisons 2017 | Buying Guide

This rowing machine reviews guide is designed to help you find the best indoor rower for your budget. Whether you’re looking for a way to compliment your on-water rowing, or simply looking for an effective way to improve your fitness at home, a rowing machine makes an excellent choice.

As with any form of exercise equipment, it’s important to do your research into the pros and cons of each company. This helps you to identify the most affordable indoor rowing machine, based on the features you need.

You also have to consider how frequently you’re likely to use the machine. A less expensive model may seem like a good idea, but if you’re including rowing in your workouts on a regular basis, you might want to invest in a machine with higher quality parts and a longer warranty.

But with entry level machines costing little more than $100, and top-end light commercial rowing machines costing in excess of $2000, knowing where to start your research isn’t easy.

That’s why we put together this guide to all aspects of indoor rowing machines, from the resistance system right through to the ergonomic handle design, to help you find the best rowing machine for your budget.

We’ll start by looking at the benefits of rowing at home, but if you can’t wait any longer, feel free to jump ahead to our guide to the top 10 rowing machines for 2017.

Why buy a rowing machine?

There are a number of reasons why you may want to invest in a new indoor rowing machine.

    Convenience

  • It’s possible that you love indoor rowing but have never set foot on a boat in the water. In this case, your rowing experience will probably be based on the machines that you’ve used at a local gym or health club.

    If you’re fortunate enough to live close by, then time spent travelling probably won’t be an issue. But if you’re spending 30 minutes or longer just driving to the gym to use their rowers, then this may be time better spent on your own machine at home.

  • Cost efficiency

  • Throughout this guide we’re going to highlight a number of high quality rowers at different price points, ranging from machines costing just $70 all the way up to $2000+.

    While some budget gyms are available, the fact remains that the average price of a gym membership is rising across the country. Consider how many months of membership would equate to the bestselling rowing machine from our ‘under $200’ category.

    Even if you were to spend $1000+ on a top-of-the-line rowing machine, that probably wouldn’t cover 2 years membership at many commercial facilities. Warranty coverage on such a machine is usually a minimum of 2 to 3 years on parts, and lifetime on the frame.

    A quick browse through the used product listings on eBay will also reveal how well models like the Concept2 retain their value years after purchase.

  • Off-season rowing

  • If you row as part of a club or at competition level, then you may not always be able to train as often as you would like in the colder months.

    Having a machine that can accurately emulate the feeling of rowing on water will help you maintain or even improve upon your conditioning and performance in time for the next competitive season.

  • Compliment an existing fitness routine

  • It may be the case that you have a gym nearby, but would like a way to row from the comfort of your own home when you’re short on time.

    Alternatively, you might already have a collection of fitness equipment at home (elliptical, treadmill, exercise bike etc.), and you would like a lower impact form of high intensity cardio to add some important variation to your training.

Best rowing machines by price

PRICE RANGE: $50-$200:

PRICE RANGE: $200-$500:

PRICE RANGE: $500-$1000:

PRICE RANGE: $1000-$1500:

  • Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Rower – 50+ Reviews
  • WaterRower Club Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor – 100+ Reviews
  • WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine – 100+ Reviews
  • Concept2 Model E Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Monitor – 50+ Reviews
  • WaterRower Oxbridge Rowing Machine in Cherry with S4 Monitor – 50+ Reviews
  • LifeCore R100 Commercial Rowing Machine – 30+ Reviews

PRICE RANGE: $1500 and up:

Top 10 indoor rowing machines for home gyms

With more new models being released each year, it can be difficult to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in rowing machine design and technology.

That’s why, as part of our rowing machine reviews guide, we’ve included the top 10 best indoor rowers for home gyms. This is based on a number of factors, including overall review ratings, level of customer service, most advanced indoor rowing technology, and most efficient rowing motion for their respective price categories.

The list is updated on a regular basis to ensure that the 10 models shown are always the very best that the industry has to offer.

Fixed vs. floating head ergometers
While the majority of our list is made up of fixed head ergometers, we’ve also included a floating head model called the RP3, from a company called RowPerfect.

A study from the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports found that the rowing technique created by the floating power head design a RowPerfect rowing machine was similar to that of on-water sculling.

Handle force, body position at the catch and finish of a stroke, and the stroke length itself were measured and compared, with the results closely matching those of rowing on the water and validating its efficiency for off-water training.

Name More InfoRatingProduct Features
Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower
5
  • Flywheel and damper design minimizes noise
  • Advanced workout tracking
  • Separates easily into two pieces for storage
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor
4.5
  • Handcrafted rowing machine with "water flywheel" that replicates actual rowing feel
  • Series 4 performance monitor tracks workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, and more
RowPerfect3
5
  • Floating head ergometer closely matches the feeling of rowing on water
  • Unique mass balanced double sliding action
  • Tilting seat encourages the rower to sit and pull symmetrically
ProRower H2O RX-750 Home Series Rowing Machine
4.5
  • High-quality rowing machine with innovative Hydro-Power Drive system
  • Polycarbonate water tank and internal paddle system mimics feel of actual rowing
  • Folds for storage
Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine
4
  • Two hydraulic cylinders with continuous resistance and a comfortably ergonomic seat
  • Training computer provides info on time measurement, number of oar strokes, speed of strokes, distance covered, and more
Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
4
  • Home rowing machine with compact footprint--23.5 x 46 inches
  • Adjustable gas-shock resistance
  • Monitor shows time, stroke count, and calories burned
  • Sturdy, steel frame construction
  • Folds for easy storage
Kettler Kadett Outrigger
4
  • Outrigger style rower simulates actual water rowing
  • 12 resistance settings
  • Program for desired distance covered and stroke speed
Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine
4
  • Smooth hydraulic cylinder resistance
  • Adjustable tension controls
  • 250 lb weight capacity
Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399
4
  • Wind-resistance with multi-function performance monitor
  • Monitor displays speed, distance, time, and calories burned
  • Folds for storage
  • Three-year frame warranty; 90-day parts warranty
Sunny SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine
4
  • 12 levels of adjustable resistance
  • Comfortable, smooth running seat
  • Pivoting foot plates for added comfort
  • Electronic monitor displays time, count, total count, calories burned, scan

What’s the best rowing machine for your budget?

Hopefully, by highlighting our choice for the top 10 indoor rowing machines, we’ve shown that you can still find high quality machines on a tight budget.

But the fact is that what works for one person may not work for another, and you have to base your final buying decision on much more than just price.

Our list detailing the top 10 design features to look for is meant as both an informative guide to a rowing machine’s design, as well as a checklist of what to consider before you buy.

Do you need a rower that can be folded away after your workout? If you like listening to music or watching television while you row, then perhaps the noise generated by the resistance system will be an important factor? Or do you have a set heart rate range that you like to stay within when rowing? In which case, telemetry heart rate monitoring and heart rate control workout programs may be the most important features to look for.

Even after all of this is considered, you may need to think about which features are a necessity, and which are more of a ‘nice-to-have’ if you want your budget to include the higher priced machines.

To save you time and help get you on the right track, we compiled a list of our favourite rowing machines for each price range, based on the 10 key design elements we talk about later in the guide.

Best rowing machine under $200 – Sunny SF-RW1205

Sunny SF-RW1205

This is a price range that’s dominated by hydraulic resistance rowers.

Despite tough competition from the bestselling Stamina Body Trac 1050 rowing machine, the Sunny SF-RW1205 just edges our $200 category. This is due to its low price, versatility, and variety of resistance levels.

The compact frame means assembly, and only needs the handle to be attached before starting your first rowing workout.

Having 12 levels of hydraulic piston resistance also means the rowing motion is incredibly quiet, compared to water rowing machines. This makes it ideal for apartments and bedrooms.

Instead of being mounted on a separate bracket, the console is light enough to be attached to the rowing arm. Although the SF-RW1205 has a small LCD screen, you can still track your time, calories burned, and row stroke count.

Compact rowing machine design

Weighing just 24 lbs, this isn’t just one of the most affordable indoor rowers, it’s also one of the lightest.

Having a lightweight frame makes it easier to move around, without the need for transport wheels. It also folds almost completely flat, allowing for easy storage and helping you save space when not in use.

There’s no shortage of highly rated reviews on Amazon too. These have been written by people who have bought and used the Sunny SF-RW1205 rowing machine, with user heights ranging from 4’11” to 6’5″.

Best rowing machine under $500 – Stamina 1215 Orbital

Stamina 1215 Orbital

Despite the difference in price, the best rower under $500 still features a hydraulic piston resistance system.

If your budget can extend to $500, you have many more home rowing machines to choose from. This includes bestselling outrigger designs from, companies such as HCI Fitness and Kettler.

Our top indoor rower for this price category features free motion arms, which have a similar stroke to an Outrigger. The main difference being a wider range of motion, for increased upper and lower body muscle activation.

For us, the top three rowing machines in this range were the Stamina 1215, Stamina ATS 1399, and Kettler Favorit, but deciding which should take top spot wasn’t easy.

In the end, we chose the 1215 Orbital from Stamina. This was due to the low price, compact folding design, realistic rowing stroke, and the smooth and quiet hydraulic resistance system.

The console also lets you keep track of more feedback metrics than the Sunny SF-RW1205. This includes your speed, distance, time, row count, calories burned, and number of miles rowed.

Although the weight capacity was a little lower than the Kettler (250 lbs compared to 285 lbs), the warranty is one of the best, with 5 years on the frame and 1 year on parts.

As one of the top indoor rowers on the market, Amazon has over 100 customer reviews for the Stamina 1215 rowing machine.

Best rowing machine under $1000 – Concept 2 Model D

Concept 2 Model D

Our top choice of rowing machine under $1000 is the Concept2 Model D, with the PM4 or PM5 console.

But we were surprised at the high level of competition in this price range. Not just from magnetic and air resistance rowers, but models like the RX-950 from H2O Fitness. These are machines that rely on a water tank and paddle system.

However, there are several important reasons why we selected the Concept2.

Firstly, the weight capacity. At 500 lbs, it’s 150 lbs higher than the RX-950. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, is the design and functions offered by the display console.

While the RX-950 offered a range of feedback metrics, they were all similar to those found on cheaper rowing machines. Although there’s a $250 price difference between the RX-950 and Concept 2, for this price category we expect something special.

In our opinion that’s exactly what you get with the Concept 2 Model D rower. You can choose from a collection of preset indoor rowing workouts and goal setting programs, and even create a historical log of your workout data.

During your workout, you can even set the Performance Monitor to display workout data as totals or segments / splits. This is useful for showing how your performance changes as the workout progresses.

There are too many unique features that can benefit your rowing to list them all here. To find out more, we recommend using the link below to read our full review.

Best rowing machine under $1500 – WaterRower Natural

WaterRower Natural

Despite being our second highest price category, we found no shortage of rowing machines to choose from. This includes highly rated models from WaterRower, BodyCraft, and Lifecore Fitness.

However, our top choice of indoor rower for under $1500 has to be the WaterRower Natural. You can also find the WaterRower S4 Club, GX, Oxbridge, or Xeno Muller Signature Series in the same price range.

The Concept2 Model E offers some significant advantages over the WaterRower, such as their online software, Logbook, and LogCard functions. But these are features that you can still experience with their Model D rower, for $200 less.

Does this mean the Concept2 Model D is better than the WaterRower Natural? Our review contains some important comparisons that help answer this question.

We chose the WaterRower Natural over the Lifecore and BodyCraft rowing machines for a variety of reasons. The aesthetics, ease of storage, weight capacity (1,000 lbs), and natural water rowing resistance all factored into our decision.

It was also chosen over other water resistance rowing machines, such as the H2O Club Series ProRower. This is due to the advanced console functions, collection of preset workout programs, and the ability to enter water volume in the tank, for accurate watts power measurements.

Best rowing machine over $1500 – BodyCraft VR500

BodyCraft VR500 Commercial Rower

The top rated rowing machine in our final category was chosen from a selection of high quality indoor rowers, each of which was priced over $1500.

We added this price range to provide a full list of recommendations to suit every budget. But also because we wanted to review the large number of rowers that were completely different to the WaterRower Natural.

A quick glance at rowing machines on eCommerce websites will show this price range dominated by two companies – WaterRower and First Degree Fitness, both of which use water to generate resistance.

WateRower vs. BodyCraft vs. First Degree Fitness

Each has their benefits and drawbacks. For example, the E-520 from First Degree Fitness provides a patented Variable Fluid Resistance (VFR), but a somewhat limited weight capacity of 300 lbs.

In contrast, the Classic and HiRise rowing machines from WaterRower use their patented WaterFlywheel. This was designed to recreate the dynamics of outdoor rowing on a body of water.

Each WaterRower machine also maintains the company’s impressive track record for weight capacity, supporting up to 1,000 lbs.

But it’s the VR500 from BodyCraft that we chose as our top rowing machine over $1500.

The VR500 features an excellent choice of workout programs, including heart rate controlled, interval, custom, and race options. You can even shift through 32 levels of combination resistance (air and magnetic) using controls built directly into the handle.

It also offers a surprisingly high level of warranty coverage for a rowing machine, with lifetime on the frame, 5 years on parts, 1 year on wear items, and 2 years on labor.

Weight capacity is higher than most First Degree Fitness rowing machines, at 350 lbs.

What are the health benefits of rowing

Rowing is a great choice of exercise for improving your physical health. The low impact range of motion means you don’t have to worry about pressure on your joints and tendons.

In many cases, you sit on a seat that slides along a rail, with minimal assistance from your hip flexors. For additional lower back protection, some rowing machines even provide you with a detachable back support.

In a similar way to elliptical machines, indoor rowers give you a full body workout targeting almost every muscle group. This includes your back, shoulders, abs, triceps, biceps, and forearms.

However, unlike certain strength training workouts, indoor rowing is a safe and effective exercise for almost any age group.

Assisting with weight management

Rowing isn’t just a great way to improve your cardiovascular health. It’s also an efficient way to burn a large number of calories in a short space of time.

Improves mental wellbeing

Indoor rowing is one of the few forms of home exercise where you can become part of a global community. You can either compete in events like the Crash-B sprints, or join online forums and challenge each other to races from the opposite sides of the world (e.g. Concept2).

But there are also exciting advances in technology and app development for indoor rowers.

This idea of rowing against friends in different locations makes the indoor rowing experience much more social.

Showing the Live Rowing app in a competitive race

Live Rowing is a fitness app designed specifically for rowing machines. It encourages you to compete against other people on indoor rowers, and lets you create and send target-based workouts.

These help to keep your training varied, and provide a sense of achievement when you reach or exceed your goals.
Live Rowing also provides some interesting feedback during your workout, and a complete performance summary when your workout ends. This includes time, split time, average wattage, strokes per minute, and calories burned.

Top 10 design features to look for

No two indoor rowers are the same. There might be subtle differences in the weight capacity, design, or console, but you can generally compare 10 key features.

    1. Type of rowing resistance

  • Before buying a new rowing machine, you’re going to want to think about which resistance system you prefer.

    Whereas spin bikes usually operate using magnetic or friction pad resistance, indoor rowers offer slightly more variation. Depending on your budget, you can choose from machines that operate using air, water, magnetic, or even hydraulic resistance.

    This is the most difficult decision to make when choosing a new rowing machine, as the rowing motion can vary greatly between each type of resistance.

    You must also consider the level of muscle activation during the rowing stroke, and the ongoing maintenance required. e.g. Chlorine / water purification tablets for the rowing machines that use water tanks.

    Air

    Air resistance rowing machines feature an internal fan mounted on a flywheel, which rotates during each stroke. Benefits include keeping you cool during your workout, creating an adaptive resistance that varies by stroke rate, and the wide range of resistance levels available.

    Indoor rowers that use air resistance tend to be noisier than hydraulic or magnetic machines, due to the internal fan. But because they’re available at all prices, they remain a popular choice.

    Highly rated air rowers include the Stamina Air Rower, Stamina X Air, and Xterra ERG400 (combines air and magnetic resistance).

    Piston (hydraulic)

    Indoor rowers that use hydraulic resistance tend to be more affordable (up to $500), with a few exceptions.

    They are often the design of choice if you need a compact rowing machine, as they require no fan casing.

    Companies like Kettler (Favorit), Stamina (1205 Precision Rower), HCI Fitness (Sprint Outrigger), and Sunny Health and Fitness (SF-RW1205) have developed lightweight, affordable home rowing machines that offer challenging levels of hydraulic resistance.

    However, it’s important that we also mention the downsides of this type of rowing machine. These are issues that even some of the bestselling hydraulic rowers have experienced.

    Hydraulic resistance rowing machines
    The Kettler Favorit, HCI Fitness Sprint Outrigger, and Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 are
    the three most popular hydraulic resistance rowers available

    Firstly, the resistance level is not going to be constant. It changes as the oil inside the pistons heats up, making the starting resistance feel easier as the workout progresses.

    Secondly, hydraulic rowing machines require the highest level of maintenance. We’ve seen some models where the manufacturer recommends that the machine isn’t used for longer than 30 minutes at a time. This is due to potential overheating problems in the pistons.

    A slight variation on hydraulic system is gas-shock resistance, which is found on the bestselling Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050.

    Water

    Some rowing machines rely on a system of water, paddles, and a tank to generate their resistance. They can be a more expensive option, but for most people they offer the most realistic indoor rowing experience.

    If you want to increase the resistance, you need to increase the WaterFlywheel rotation speed. This is achieved by pulling the handle towards you, causing the paddle to rotate against the water inside the tank. You can also adjust the amount of water contained within the tank for a more substantial decrease/increase in workout intensity.

    The combination of increased water in the tank and Rule of Cubes explains why the number of resistance levels in such a rowing machine is often considered exponential. This means the harder and faster you row, the more challenging your workout becomes.

    WaterRower are one of the best known brands of water resistance rowing machines
    WaterRower are one of the best known brands of water resistance rowing machines

    WaterRower is one of the only companies to specialize in water resistance rowing machines. Their bestselling designs are made with natural wood frames that blend in with modern surroundings, making them a popular choice for home gyms.

    But there are a number of other companies competing with the WaterRower machines.

    WaterRower vs. First Degree Fitness vs. ProRower

    First Degree Fitness (Newport model) and ProRower, with their RX-750 and RX-950 models, are two other companies using water resistance in their indoor rowers, to emulate rowing on the water.

    The sound of water moving inside the tank varies by machine, but the volume is similar to air resistance rowers.

    Magnetic

    They’re slightly larger than most hydraulic rowing machines, but magnetic resistance rowers offer the same low noise level benefits.

    In terms of maintenance, rowing machines that use magnetic resistance are some of the most reliable. That’s because there’s no need to worry about lubricating the pistons or cleaning the water tank. You also don’t have to stop rowing after a period of time due to the pistons overheating, as is the case with some hydraulic rowers.

    Some of the top magnetic resistance rowers include the Stamina Avari, Velocity Exercise CHR-2001, and Kettler Stroker.

  • 2. Display console features

  • Unlike spin style exercise bikes, a display console is included with most indoor rowing machines. But much like the consoles you’ll find ellipticals and treadmills, there’s a big difference between the price ranges.

    More affordable home rowing machines are fitted with a single-screen monitor, which often only shows one piece of feedback.

    In comparison, the PM4/PM5 console that’s supplied with the Concept2 is much more advanced. This lets you choose between five display options: all data, force curve, bar chart, large print and having a paceboat/pacer.

    That’s why it’s important to think about what you want to achieve from your indoor rowing.

    Feedback from the console is one area we use for comparisons in our rowing machine reviews
    Consoles vary from offering a simple scan function through to advanced performance tracking
    Finding the best rowing machine for your budget

    You may only want to measure distance and time, in which case almost any rowing machine will be suitable. Alternatively, you may want to record split times over 500m and be create a historical record of your workouts online, which requires a much more specialized console.

    As with most of the features in this list, budget needs to be balanced against functionality. Even the console for the $70 machine from Sunny Health and Fitness allows you to track your time and stroke count.

    At the other end of the scale, the console for the Concept2 Model D lets you accurately measure your heart rate using telemetry heart rate tracking, store workout data using their Concept2 LogCard, and even compete with other Concept2 rowers around the world via their online Logbook.

  • 3. Ability to log your workouts online

  • Only a small number of rowing machines allow you to maintain a historical log of your workouts, by uploading data to an online logbook.

    WaterRower recreated their We-Row software, so that you can participate in online races with up to 5 other rowers. This also lets you monitor a full statistical analysis of your workout.

    In addition to We-Row, WaterRower also made their WebRacing and WaterCoach FIT software available to anyone using one of their series 4 performance monitors (S4). You can find out more about this in our WaterRower review.

    Concept2 are similar in that you can also export data from the console when you finish your workout. Although their earlier PM2+ monitors used to support a software called e-Row, in later generations of the console (PM3 and PM4), this was replaced with a rowing software called RowPro.

    Created by Digital Rowing, RowPro can sync with your Concept2 to record your workout data in real time. You can also participate in virtual rowing events with other Concept2 rowers using the software in countries around the world.

    You can find more information on the features of RowPro in our Concept2 Model D review.

  • 4. Customizable workout programs

  • Due to their smaller consoles, you might think preset workout programs weren’t an option with more affordable rowing machines. However, we found that each price range contained indoor rowers with preset training profiles, and occasionally custom workouts.

    The Stamina Avari is an excellent example, with 6 cardio profiles, 4 custom profiles, and a heart rate program.

    The Vantage rower from Velocity Exercise is the next level up in terms of price (usually retailing for around $900). This offers more choice than the Avari, with 12 preset profiles, 5 user profiles, 5 heart rate control programs, and a recovery mode that acts as a form of fitness test.

    Some rowing machines, such as the Kettler Favorit, will offer you goal setting programs in place of standard workout profiles. In this case, you set a target distance or workout duration, then watch it count down on the LCD screen.

    Finally, we couldn’t include a section about rowing machine workouts without mentioning the Concept2 PM series consoles.

    The Concept2 PM5 offers a variety of useful feedback and challenging workout programs
    Feedback provided by the PM5 console. Screenshot from Concept2.com
    Comparing the Concept2 rowing machine consoles

    The modern PM4 and PM5 consoles use a more advanced generation of firmware than the PM3, PM2, and PM1 consoles. This means you have much more choice when it comes to workout selection.

    For a full explanation of the benefits firmware upgrades have brought to modern Concept2 consoles, you might be interested in their firmware timeline.

    Back to the workout programs, and the PM4 combines preset and custom profiles. This is in addition to distance and time goal setting programs, similar to the ones we saw on Kettler’s Favorit.

    You can choose from five pre-programmed workouts (including distances from 2k to 10k plus an interval training option), five custom workouts (four interval options and one marathon distance of 42,195m), and the quite unique Biathlon program.

    Biathlon is considered more of a game, with the option to set penalty distances for each interval, which manages to make an already intense workout much more challenging.

  • 5. Access to an online community of rowers

  • It’s impossible to mention online rowing communities without referring to the WaterRower and Concept2 rowers.

    Most personal fitness trackers encourage you to create goals and share achievements with friends via their apps. But competing in real-time is a rare feature, and one of the features that makes these rowing machines unique.

    Concept2 RowPro

    Digital Rowing – the company behind Concept2’s RowPro software – regularly hosts online rowing races via the Crash-B website. They also maintain an active community on Concept2’s UK Forum.

    Anyone that rows online via RowPro also has access to Oarbits, which is an online rowing club. With Oarbits you can view lists of upcoming rowing events, send messages to other members, and sign up for future rowing events you would like to compete in.

    Overall, it acts as a great motivation boost, which can help you to maintain a new fitness routine. At the same time, you can also enjoy conversations with people that share a common interest in rowing.

    WaterRower WeRow

    WeRow is WaterRower’s online rowing community, which in the past has allowed you to participate in online races with up to 5 rowers at a time.

    Currently the software is being re-written so it’s difficult to predict what new features will be included. We hope to see something like RowPro, where you can compete with other rowers around the world in real-time. Ideally in a way that doesn’t require your computer to be next to the rowing machine to view your progress.

    As soon as we find out more we’ll be updating this section, but you can also keep up to date on the official WeRow website.

  • 6. Adjustability for different user heights

  • The only feature you need to adjust on a rowing machine is the foot supports. Provided the glide rail has enough horizontal movement for you to fully extend your legs, that’s really all you need.

    The manufacturer’s description sometimes specifies a particular height range that their indoor rower is suitable for. For example, the Lifecore R100 mentions “a full stroke for taller users”.

    But don’t be discouraged from buying a particular rower if they don’t mention the length of their glide rail. In most cases a machine’s suitability to taller users will be answered in our review.

    If you can’t find an answer, Amazon also has a ‘Customer Questions & Answers‘ section where you can pose this question to the community.

  • 7. Comfort grip handle design

  • Whether you plan on rowing for 30 minutes each week, or an hour everyday, maintaining a comfortable grip on the handle is a top priority.

    To protect your hands, rowing machines usually feature a fixed handle design that won’t rotate in your grip. Rather than the steel handles of free weights, a good indoor rower will apply a soft-grip duplon coating.

    There are also subtle differences in the shape of the handle between different machines. If you look closely at the WaterRower, you’ll see that the profile resembles more of an elliptical shape, whereas most other rowing machines have a cylindrical handle.

    There’s not a great deal of difference between the two in terms of comfort. But the WaterRower does do a slightly better job at preventing any twisting in your grip.

    If you don’t have the budget for a WaterRower, but want to recreate the handle shape, you can attach a pair of Oarsome Indoor Rowing Grips.

    A relatively new concept, these are designed to slide over each end of the handle. This quickly changes its shape and potentially improves your rowing technique. If more than one person will be using the machine, you can slide them off again to suit personal preferences.

  • 8. Rowing handle design

  • If you’ve only experienced rowing machines in commercial gyms and fitness centers, you would be forgiven for thinking that all rowing machine handles are created equal.

    Take the Concept2 rowers as an example. The short handle has been ergonomically shaped and coated for a more comfortable grip that won’t damage your hands.

    But it’s not just the coating and shape of the handle that you need to think about. It’s the movement your body goes through as you perform the rowing motion.

    With a short handle and nickel-plated chain running to the internal flywheel, the pulling motion remains almost parallel with the floor.

    In contrast, you have rowers with two separate handles that pivot around fixed points, such as the Kettler Favorit or outrigger style of the Kettler Kadett. These require much more coordination and recruit a wider variety of upper body muscle groups.

    The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 is one of the most affordable, highly rated, and bestselling home rowing machines. This also uses a pivoting hydraulic handle system, creating a range of motion that emulates rowing on the water.

  • 9. Combination trainer

  • Combination rowers are designed to support both muscle toning exercises and cardiovascular workouts.

    They often require you to use the same handle and resistance system for the seated rowing and standing resistance exercises. This can include upright rows, bicep curls, and tricep kickbacks.

    Although the resistance isn’t as challenging as home gyms, they help you make the most of your space and budget.

    Some rowing machines combine cable exercises with seated rowing
    Combination trainers mix resistance training with one or more forms of cardio

    The space saving design and dual action strength training seems a sensible combination. But it’s difficult to find a model that fares as well in customer reviews as your conventional home rowing machine.

    Some of the designs we recommend are the ProForm 440R, Ultega Drafter 550, and Kettler Stroker Rower.

    Fitness equipment companies have also been known to combine the rowing machine with other cardio equipment. One of the best examples is the Conversion II Rower/Recumbent bike from Avari.

  • 10. Weight capacity and storage convenience

  • Their low center of gravity makes rowing machines one of the most stable items of fitness equipment available. They’re also one of the strongest.

    A weight capacity of 200 lbs is standard for lower priced upright exercise bikes. In comparison, indoor rowing machines in the same price range will routinely support closer to 250 lbs.

    Unfortunately there’s no strict pattern between price and weight capacity. But the WaterRower and Concept2 Model D – two of the most popular rowing machines available – have the highest weight limits we’ve seen, at 1000 lbs and 500 lbs respectively.

    At $300, the Marcy NS-40503RW is one of the most affordable rowing machines to offer a 300 lb weight capacity. In contrast, you’ll be looking at closer to $1000 for the WaterRower or Concept2 models.

    Average rowing machine weight capacity by price range
    • $0 – $200: 220 lbs
    • $200 – $400: 250 lbs
    • $400 – $700: 275 lbs
    • $700 – $1000: 300 lbs
    • $1000+: 350 lbs to 1,000 lbs+

    In addition to the frame strength, being such a long piece of equipment, you’ll also want to think about storage.

    Although models like the WaterRower can be lifted, rolled to the desired location on transport wheels, then stored standing up, this isn’t always possible.

    For example, many of the outrigger style rowing machines with free motion arms fold almost flat. This makes them better suited to storage under a bed or lying on the floor.
    Some of the best examples are the Stamina 1215 and Kettler Kadett rowing machines.

    Standing vertically and folding arms are the two best case scenarios when it comes to compact rowing machine storage. However, many designs don’t give you a folding option, so be sure to check for this if you want to make the best use of space.

    There can also be a big difference between companies in terms of their folded rowing machine dimensions. One example is the Sole SR500, which has a footprint similar to an upright exercise bike, even after being folded.

Brands included in our rowing machine reviews

USA Home Gym features a growing collection of rowing machine reviews, covering some of the world’s bestselling indoor rowers. These are often complete with in-depth comparisons.

We also have a number of reviews for machines from lesser known companies. These are brands we feel can challenge the features and value-for-money offered by their better known competitors.

Some of the brands we’ve already reviewed machines for include:

  • Concept2
  • Sunny Health and Fitness
  • ProRower
  • Stamina
  • Kettler
  • WaterRower
  • ProForm
  • Lifespan Fitness
  • Lifecore
  • Velocity Exercise

Indoor racing and world travel

This is perhaps the most exciting reason for buying a new rowing machine. It’s one we felt needed breaking out into its own section, because of how much information is available.

The distance for indoor and even Olympic rowing races will usually be set at 2000m. Although this isn’t exactly a short race, it’s generally considered a sprint more than a marathon.

This is great news for anyone that wants to start training at home, as distance is a metric that’s displayed on almost all indoor rowing machine consoles.

When you reach 2000m, you can record your time and divide by four to get your average 500m split time. This average pace can be used as a measure of your performance, and used to track your improvement.

There are many different race prep techniques available, including Tabata intervals, HIIT, and classic steady-state rowing. It’s best to regularly switch between the three if your pace starts to reach a plateau.

Rowing machine competitions

The C.R.A.S.H.-B World Indoor Rowing Championship is an annual regatta that’s open to everyone, regardless of your current age or experience level.

Each participants is assigned to a category. These are segmented by weight class (Lightweight/Heavyweight), age, experience level, and gender. You also have team events, and races for visually impaired, physically disabled, and intellectually disabled rowers.

To participate in the next regatta, we recommend registering as soon as possible on the C.R.A.S.H.-B Sprints website.

Glossary of indoor rowing machine terminology

Equipment terms

  • Ergometer – A device that measures work done during a period of physical exercise. Rowing machines are often referred to as ergometers, or ‘ergs’.

    Accurate measurement of work done and rowing performance is often only available with specific consoles. This is why you might have heard the Concept2 described as an ergometer.

    The term ‘erg’ is sometimes used by rowers on the water to describe indoor rowing machines.

  • Damper – Commonly associated with Concept2 indoor rowers, the damper is a lever on the side of the flywheel casing. It determines how much air is drawn into the internal cage on each stroke.

    Higher damper settings mean more air is pulled in and the more work it takes to rotate the flywheel. Lower damper settings let less air in, making it easier to row in comparison.

  • Outrigger – In relation to indoor rowing machines, this is where the rowing arms extend parallel to the frame.

    Examples of outrigger rowers include the Kettler Outrigger, Stamina 1215 Orbital, HCI Fitness Sprint Outrigger, and Kettler Kadett.

Rowing stroke terms

  • Catch – If you’re rowing on the water, the ‘Catch’ will be when the blade of the oar enters the water and you start to pull. The resistance of pushing against the water is what drives the boat forwards.

    The same idea can be applied to indoor rowing. In this case, the ‘Catch’ is when you pull against the resistance created by the hydraulics, magnets, fan, or water.

  • Pull through – Another term that’s used to describe rowing on water, but one which can still apply to indoor rowers.

    After the Catch, you pull the handle towards you until it reaches your torso, directly before the recovery phase begins.

  • Recovery – We just mentioned two of the three stages in a rowing stroke, which are the Catch and Pull Through. Recovery is where you return the handle to the starting position, ready to row again as you reach the Catch.
  • Leg drive – Your knees move towards your chest during the recovery phase of a rowing stroke, creating tension in your legs muscles.

    Pushing through your legs into the foot supports releases this energy to assist with the stroke. Your entire body moves backwards against the resistance, building momentum for the pull through.

Rowing performance terms

  • Split time – In most cases, a split time will be measured across a distance of 500m. It’s a feedback metric shown on some display consoles, and can be used to help calculate either distance or time.

    For example, a 500m split time of 2 minutes lets you calculate an approximate distance for 50 minute of rowing. In this case it would you would have a total distance of 12,500m.

    Alternatively, if you know your total distance and time, these can be used to calculate your 500m split. For an easy way to do this away from your rowing machine, you can use an online pace calculator.

  • Stroke rate – How much time it takes to complete the three stages of rowing we just mentioned (Catch, Pull Through, and Recovery). Stroke rate is usually averaged out over the course of a minute.
  • Floating head ergometer – For most home rowing machines, the flywheel casing or resistance system at the front remains stationary. It’s the seat that glides along the rail.

    In contrast, a floating head ergometer is where seat remains stationary, and the front flywheel / resistance system moves.

  • Power curve – If you want to improve on the transfer of power during each rowing stroke, the Force Curve is certainly something that you’ll want to pay attention to.

    Also known as the Power Curve, this is a graphical representation of how you apply force with your legs, arms, back, and shoulders during the rowing stroke.

    However, most display consoles won’t show this feedback, with the exception of the Concept2 and RowPerfect3.

    Concept2 PM5 Force Curve Profiles
    Three of the most common Force Curve profiles, as shown on a Concept2 PM5 console

    The Concept2 PM3, PM4, and PM5 consoles each display the Force Curve as a single line. RowPerfect3 provides immediate bio-feedback by comparing your Power Curve with a template of the perfect rowing stroke profile.

    This immediate analysis of your stroke and clear graphical feedback is what sets the RowPerfect3 ahead of most rowing machines.