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Rowing Machine Reviews Guide

Best Rowing Machine Reviews and Comparisons 2017

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 training

    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 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
  • WaterRower Oxbridge Rowing Machine in Cherry with S4 Monitor – 50+ Reviews
  • Concept2 Model E Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 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.

NameProduct FeaturesRatingMore Info
Concept 2 Model D Rower
Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower


  • Flywheel and damper design minimizes noise

  • Advanced workout tracking

  • Separates easily into two pieces for storage


5
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor


  • Handcrafted rowing machine with "water flywheel" that replicates actual rowing feel

  • Series 4 performance monitor tracks workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, and more


4.5
RowPerfect3
RowPerfect3


  • 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


5
ProRower H2O RX-750 Home Series Rowing Machine
ProRower H2O RX-750 Home Series Rowing Machine


  • 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


4.5
Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine
Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine


  • 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


4
Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine


  • 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


4
Kettler Kadett Outrigger
Kettler Kadett Outrigger


  • Outrigger style rower simulates actual water rowing

  • 12 resistance settings

  • Program for desired distance covered and stroke speed


4
Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine
Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine


  • Smooth hydraulic cylinder resistance

  • Adjustable tension controls

  • 250 lb weight capacity


4
Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399
Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399


  • 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


4
Sunny SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine
Sunny SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine


  • 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


4

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

In terms of bestsellers, this is a price range dominated by hydraulic resistance rowers.

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

With such a compact frame it’s quick to assemble, and only needs the handle to be attached before you’re ready to start your first rowing workout.

Relying on 12 levels of hydraulic piston resistance, this also means the rowing motion is incredibly quiet compared to machines that rely on air or water, making it ideal for apartments and bedrooms.

Instead of being mounted on a separate bracket arm, the console is actually light enough to be attached to the rowing arm without hindering your performance. Although the SF-RW1205 has a relatively small LCD screen, you can still keep track of your time, calories burned, and row stroke count.

Weighing in at just 24 lbs, this isn’t just one of the most affordable indoor rowers available, it’s also one of the lightest. This makes it easier to move around without the need for transport wheels. The frame also folds down to virtually flat, allowing for easy storage and helping you save space when not in use.

There’s also a large number of highly rated reviews on Amazon. These have been created by other people who have bought and used the Sunny SF-RW1205 rowing machine, with the reported height of reviewers ranging from 4’11” to 6’5″.

Read the full Sunny SF-RW1205 rowing machine reviewBuy now

Best rowing machine under $500 – Stamina 1215 Orbital

Stamina 1215 Orbital

Despite the difference in price, the winner of our ‘under $500’ category still features a hydraulic piston resistance system.

If your budget can extend to $500 then you really do have many more options to choose from, including bestselling outrigger designs from companies such as HCI Fitness and Kettler.

Our top choice of indoor rower for this price category actually features free motion arms. These have a very similar stroke style to an Outrigger, but with 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 with a wide range of motion, and the smooth and quiet movement created by the hydraulic resistance system.

The console also lets you keep track of more feedback metrics than the Sunny model we mentioned above. This includes your speed, distance, time, row count, calories burned, and number of miles rowed using a single button function.

Although the weight capacity was a little lower than the Kettler (250 lbs compared to 285 lbs), the warranty is possibly the best, with 5 years on the frame and 1 year on parts. If you want to find out how other customers have reacted when it’s delivered, there’s no shortage of Stamina 1215 rowing machine reviews online, with over 100 available to read on Amazon alone.

Read the full Stamina 1215 Orbital rowing machine reviewBuy now

Best rowing machine under $1000 – Concept 2 Model D

Concept 2 Model D

It probably comes as no surprise that our top choice of rowing machine under $1000 is the Concept2 Model D, with either the PM4 or PM5 console.

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

However, there are several important reasons why the Concept2 was chosen.

Firstly, the weight capacity. At 500 lbs it’s a full 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 wide range of feedback metrics, these were all similar to what we found on machines at lower price ranges. Although there’s a $250 price difference between the two models, for this price category we expect something special.

In our opinion that’s exactly what the Concept 2 Model D rower manages to deliver. You can enjoy an extensive collection of preset indoor rowing workouts, goal setting options, and even the ability to 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 in segments / splits to show how your performance changes as the workout progresses.

There are simply too many innovative features that can benefit your workouts to list them all here, so we would strongly suggest using the link below to read the full review.

Read the full Concept 2 Model D rowing machine reviewBuy now

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, with highly rated models from Concept2, WaterRower, BodyCraft, and Lifecore Fitness.

However, our top choice of indoor rower for under $1500 has to be the WaterRower Natural, although it’s not unusual to find their 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? This is something we go into great detail about in our review.

Overall, we chose the Natural model over the Lifecore and BodyCraft rowing machines due to a variety of reasons. This includes the obvious aesthetic appeal, ease of storage, high weight capacity (1,000 lbs), and the natural rowing resistance created by the water.

We also chose this model over other designs that utilise water as a form of resistance – such as the H2O Club Series ProRower. This is due to the advanced console functions, such as a collection of preset workout programs, and the ability to enter water volume in the tank for accurate watts power measurements.

Read the full WaterRower Natural rowing machine reviewBuy now

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 included this price range to provide a full list of recommendations to suit every budget. But also to review the large number of machines that were completely unique to the WaterRower Natural model from our ‘under $1500’ category.

A quick glance at rowing machines on larger ecommerce stores will probably show that this category is dominated by two main companies – WaterRower and First Degree Fitness, both of which use water to generate resistance.

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

In contrast, the Classic and HiRise models from WaterRower use their patented WaterFlywheel. This has been specifically designed to recreate the dynamics of outdoor rowing on a body of water, and maintains the company’s impressive track record for weight capacity at 1,000 lbs.

But it’s actually the VR500 from BodyCraft that we wanted to draw attention to, as our top rated rowing machine over $1500.

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

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.

Read the full BodyCraft VR500 rowing machine reviewBuy now

What are the health benefits of rowing

If you’re looking for a way to increase your physical health without having to subject your joints to high impact activities, rowing is one of the best forms of exercise available.

The low impact nature of rowing with its fluid range of motion means that you don’t have to worry about pressure on your joints. In many cases you are positioned on a seat that slides along a rail, resulting in minimal assistance from your hip flexors. For additional lower back protection, some models even offer provide you with a detachable back support.

In a similar way to crosstrainers that can require both your upper and lower body muscle groups, rowing machines provide you with a full body workout that trains almost every muscle group. This includes your back, shoulders, abs, triceps, biceps, and forearms.

However, unlike certain strength training workouts, indoor rowing is available to almost any age group.

Assisting with weight management
Rowing isn’t just a great way to improve your cardiovascular health, it’s also a great way to burn a large amount of calories in a relatively short space of time.

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

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

This idea of rowing against your friends in different geographical locations from the convenience of your own home looks set to make the experience much more social.

Showing the Live Rowing app in a competitive race

Live Rowing is an indoor rowing app which offers you the chance to compete against other rowers on indoor machines, and allows you to create and send target-based workouts.

These help to add an extra element of variation to your training, as well as a greater sense of achievement when you reach or exceed your goals. Live Rowing also provides some really interesting feedback during your row, as well as providing you with a complete 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, frame design, or console feedback, but you can generally break their features down into 10 main categories.

  • 1. Type of resistance system

    If you’re thinking about buying a new rowing machine, after taking any budget limitations into account, you’re going to want to think about which resistance system you prefer.

    Whereas indoor cycling bikes will 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 generally regarded as the most difficult decision to make when choosing a new rowing machine, as the accuracy of the natural rowing motion will vary between each type of resistance. You also have to consider the level to which your muscles are engaged during the stroke, and the ongoing maintenance required. e.g. Chlorine / water purification tablets for the rowing machines that use water tanks.

    Air – This system works based on the air resistance generated by the movement of an internal fan, which is created by the flywheel rotating when you pull the handle towards you. Benefits include keeping you cool during your workout, creating a kind of adaptive resistance that will vary based on your stroke rate, and the wide range of resistance levels available.

    Although air resistance rowing machines tend to be noisier than their hydraulic or magnetic counterparts, due to the wind-resistance created by the internal fan. But due to the fact that they’re available at prices ranging from little more than $100 up to $1000+, they remain a popular choice for all budgets and experience levels.

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

    Piston (hydraulic) – Rowing machines using hydraulic resistance tend to be priced around the entry level to mid-range (up to $500), although there are a small number of exceptions.

    They are often the design of choice where space is at a premium, requiring no flywheel or fan casing. Instead, companies like Kettler (Favorit), Stamina (1205 Precision Rower), HCI Fitness (Sprint Outrigger), and Sunny Health and Fitness (SF-RW1205) have developed lightweight and low cost rowing machines that still offer challenging levels of adjustable resistance.

    However, it’s important that we also mention the downsides of this type of machine, as 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 a constant. It will change as the oil inside the pistons heats up, making the resistance level that you started with feel easier as the workout progresses.

    Secondly, they require the highest level of maintenance, and we’ve seen some models recommend that the machine isn’t used for longer than 30 minutes at a time due to potential overheating problems in the pistons.

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

    Water – In contrast to the hydraulic systems we mentioned above, rowing machines that rely on a system of water, paddles, and a tank to generate their resistance are often towards the upper end of the price scale. But for many rowing enthusiasts, they offer the most realistic sensation of moving across water.

    Like rowing out on the water, if you want to increase the resistance, then you’re going to have to increase the WaterFlywheel rotation speed. This is achieved by pulling the handle directly towards you, which causes the belt or band 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 different resistance levels in such a machine is often considered exponential, as the harder and faster you row, the higher the resistance 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

    Although WaterRower is probably the most well known company to specialize in water resistance systems, creating machines with natural wood frames that blend in with modern surroundings, there are a number of other companies releasing models that offer the WaterRowers some competition.

    First Degree Fitness (Newport model) and ProRower, with their RX-750 and RX-950 models, are two companies that are definitely worth investigating if you’re looking for an experience that’s as close to rowing on water as possible.

    The sound created by water moving inside the tank as the paddles rotate tends to vary by machine, but they’re generally considered to be on a similar level to the machines using air resistance.

    Magnetic – Despite being slightly larger than most hydraulic rowing machines, rowers that rely on magnetic resistance systems offer the same low noise generation benefits.

    In terms of maintenance, rowing machines that use magnetic resistance are actually some of the best performers. This is 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 (important to check the customer reviews).

    Some of the highest rated magnetic 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 the vast majority of modern rowing machines. But much like the consoles you’ll find on bikes, ellipticals, and treadmills, there’s a big difference between the single-screen monitor you find on a $70 machine, and the PM4/PM5 console that’s supplied with the Concept2 Model D.

    Before you start reading through detailed reviews of specific machines, we recommend you think about what it is you hope to achieve from your indoor rowing, and what feedback you’ll need to monitor progress.

    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

    You may only want to measure distance and time, or you may want to record split times over 500m and be able to create a historical record of your workouts online.

    As with most of the features in this list, budget will often need 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.

    Jumping to 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

    As we just mentioned, there are a select few rowing machines that allow you to maintain a historical log of your workouts by uploading the data to an online logbook.

    WaterRower are currently rewriting their We-Row software that’s compatible with their S4 monitors, so that you can participate in online races with up to 5 other rowers, as well as monitor a full statistical analysis of your workout.

    In addition to We-Row, WaterRower also offer their WebRacing and WaterCoach FIT software 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 the sense 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 has been replaced with a rowing software called RowPro.

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

    For more information on the features of RowPro and how it’s used in combination with the Concept2 Model D, you’ll find all the information you need in our in-depth review.

  • 4. Customizable workout programs

    Due to their smaller consoles, you might be forgiven for thinking that preset workout programs weren’t an option with rowing machines. However, we’ve actually been able to identify a number of machines from each price range that not only offer preset training profiles, but in some cases the option to create custom workouts as well.

    The Stamina Avari is perhaps one of the best examples, with 6 cardio profiles, a heart rate program, and 4 custom profiles that you can create yourself.

    The Vantage model from Velocity Exercise is from the next level up in terms of price (usually retailing for around $900), but offers even more choice than the Avari. This includes 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 more traditional workout profiles. In this case you can simply set a target distance or workout duration, then watch the number count down on the LCD screen as your workout progresses.

    Finally, we couldn’t include a section about rowing machine workouts without giving a mention to the PM series of display consoles from Concept2.

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

    The modern PM4 and PM5 consoles use a more advanced generation of firmware than the PM3, PM2, and PM1 consoles, which essentially means you have much more choice when it comes to workout selection. For a full explanation of the various benefits firmware upgrades have brought to the modern Concept2 consoles, you might be interested in taking a look at the firmware timeline.

    Back to the workout programs, and the PM4 actually combines the two types that we mentioned earlier; the preset and custom workout selection, as well as distance and time goal setting programs, similar to the ones we saw on Kettler’s Favorit.

    This currently lets you 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.

    Although the 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

    Although we’ve mentioned them a fair amount in this guide already, it’s impossible to mention online rowing communities without referring to the WaterRower and Concept2 rowers.

    While many personal fitness trackers encourage you to create goals and share achievements with friends via their apps, rowing on these two machines is one of the only activities we can think of where you can compete in real-time against other rowers online.

    > Concept2’s RowPro
    Digital Rowing – the company behind Concept2’s RowPro software – regularly hosts online rowing races via the Crash-B website, and 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 where you can view lists of upcoming rowing events you can participate in, send messages to other Oarbits members, and sign up for future online 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 as enjoying conversations with people that share a common interest in rowing.

    > WaterRower’s 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 similar to RowPro, where you can compete with other rowers around the world in real-time, but perhaps in a way that doesn’t require your laptop or computer to be directly 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

    In our guide about indoor cycling bikes, we mentioned how important the fore, aft, and height adjustment options were in finding a bike that helped you maintain the most efficient cycling posture for your height. In contrast, adjustment options for rowing machines are virtually non-existent.

    In fact, one of the only features that you can adjust will be the foot supports, although this isn’t something that’s required on every machine.

    Providing the glide rail for the seat allows enough horizontal movement in the seat for you to fully extend your legs, then that’s really all you’ll ever need.

    If you carefully read through the manufacturer’s description you’ll sometimes find they specify a particular height range that their indoor rower is best suited for. For the Lifecore R100 this means “a full stroke for taller users”.

    Don’t be discouraged from buying a particular model if you can’t see a length specified for the glide rail. It’s a fairly common question, and in most cases a machine’s suitability to taller users will be answered in either our own review, or one on Amazon.

    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 should be one of your top priorities.

    There’s a good reason why many weightlifters choose to wear gloves when they’re lifting heavier weights, and that is that they protect your palms against the rotation of the knurling on the bar when you lift.

    To help avoid this, rowing machines will usually feature a fixed handle design that won’t rotate in your grip. Rather than the steel handles of free weights and cable machines, a good quality rower will apply a soft-grip coating such as duplon to the handle.

    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 on most other rowing machines the handle is more cylindrical.

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

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

    A relatively new concept, these simply slide over each end of the handle, changing its shape and potentially improving your rowing technique. If more than one person will be using the machine in your home, you can always slide them off again to suit personal preferences.

  • 8. Rowing handle design

    If your experience of rowing machines has been limited to commercial gyms and fitness centers, then you would be forgiven for thinking that all rowing machine handles are created equal.

    Taking the Concept2 rowers as an example, the short handle has been ergonomically shaped and coated to create a more comfortable grip that won’t damage your hands during longer workouts.

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

    With a short handle and nickel-plated chain running straight to the internal flywheel, the pulling motion remains almost parallel with the floor at all times. 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. In fact, one of the lowest priced, highly rated, and all round bestselling rowing machines – the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 – also uses a pivoting hydraulic handle system, providing a unique range of motion that emulates the feeling of rowing on the water.

  • 9. Combination trainer

    If you’re looking for a way to benefit from muscle toning exercises and cardiovascular workouts using the same machine, there are a number of combination rowers now available.

    These will often require you to use the same handle and resistance system for the seated rowing and standing resistance exercises, such as upright rows, bicep curls, and tricep kickbacks.

    Although the range of resistance options won’t be to the level of a home gym system, it can still be a useful feature to have if you want to 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

    However, while the space saving design and dual action strength training feature seems a sensible combination, it’s difficult to find a model that fares as well in customer reviews as your conventional rowing machine.

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

    There are also examples of where companies have combined the rowing machine with other cardio fitness equipment, such as in the case of the Conversion II Rower/Recumbent bike from Avari.

  • 10. Weight capacity and storage convenience

    With such a low center of gravity, rowing machines are one of the most stable items of fitness equipment you can buy. They’re also one of the strongest.

    Whereas you might be used to seeing a weight capacity of 200 lbs for lower priced upright exercise bikes, rowing machines in a similar price range will routinely support closer to 250 lbs.

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

    The Marcy NS-40503RW is one of the lowest priced rowing machines to offer a 300 lb weight capacity, with a list price of between $300 and $350. In contrast, you’ll be looking at closer to $1000 for the WaterRower or Concept2 models.

    The following can be used as a general guide of what to expect in terms of weight capacity from each 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+

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

    Whereas models like the WaterRower can simply 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 – such as the Stamina 1215 or Kettler Kadett – actually fold away almost flat, making them better suited to storage under a bed or lying on the floor.

    Vertical storage and folding arms are two of the best case scenarios when it comes to storing a rowing machine, due to their small footprint. However, there are still many designs that don’t give you a folding option, so be sure to check for this if you want to make the best use of space.

    It’s also worth mentioning that there can be big differences between companies in terms of the size of their rowing machines after they’ve been folded away. One example would be between the Sole SR500 and the Lifecore R88, where the SR500 still requires a floor space similar to that of an upright exercise bike, even after being folded.

Brands included in our rowing machine reviews

USA Home Gym is home to a growing collection of reviews for some of the world’s bestselling indoor rowing machines, complete with in-depth comparisons.

We also hold a number of reviews for machines from lesser known companies, who we feel have models that can challenge some of the features and value-for-money aspect 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, and Velocity Exercise.

Indoor racing and world travel

This is perhaps one of the most exciting reasons for someone buying a new rowing machine, but one which we felt needed breaking out into its own category because of how much information is available.

The distance for indoor and even Olympic 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 your distance is a metric that’s displayed on almost all indoor rowing machine consoles.

When you reach the 2000m mark, you can simply record your time and divide it by four to get your average 500m split time. It’s this average pace that can then be used as a measure of your performance, allowing you to test which stage of the distance you need to improve upon, and act as a clear indicator of how much you’re improving by.

There are a number of 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.

Competition time
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.

Participants in the races will then be split up into categories, segmented by weight class (Lightweight/Heavyweight), age, experience level, and gender. You also have a number of team events, as well as races for visually impaired, physically disabled, and intellectually disabled entrants.

The location and date changes each year, so if you would like to take part in the next regatta, it’s best to register as soon as possible over at the C.R.A.S.H.-B Sprints website.

Glossary of indoor rowing machine terminology

  • 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, which 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.

  • Split time – In most cases a split time will be measured across a distance of 500m. This is actually one of the feedback metrics provided on some display consoles, and can be used as a benchmark for calculation of either distance or time.

    For example, if you know your 500m split time is 2 minutes and you want to know how far you rowed in 50 minutes, this would average out at a total of 12,500m.

    Alternatively, if you know your total distance and time, these can be used to calculate your 500m split time. For a quick and simple way to do this away from your rowing machine, there are several online pace calculators that can help.

  • Outrigger – There are many different nautical definitions for this term, but in relation to indoor rowing machines this relates to designs where the rowing arms extend parallel to the frame.

    Some of the best known examples of outrigger rowers include the Kettler Outrigger, Stamina 1215 Orbital, HCI Fitness Sprint Outrigger, and Kettler Kadett.

  • 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 against the resistance to drive the boat forwards.

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

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

    This is the stage directly after the Catch, where you pull the handle towards you until it reaches the point closest to your torso, and 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 take up the resistance again as you reach the Catch.
  • Stroke rate – This is how quickly you’re able to complete the three stages of rowing we just mentioned (Catch, Pull Through, and Recovery), and will usually be averaged out over the course of a minute.
  • Leg drive – As you bring your knees up towards your chest during the recovery phase of a rowing stroke, you’re building up important tension in your legs and hips.

    By releasing this energy through pushing through your legs into the foot supports, your legs create enough driving force to assist with the stroke, moving your entire body backwards against the resistance.

  • Damper – A term that gained notoriety through the Concept2 series of indoor rowers, the damper is a lever on the side of the flywheel casing that 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.

    Although this will have an impact on how challenging each rowing stroke is to perform, it’s not generally considered a term for describing resistance.

  • Floating head ergometer – For most models of rowing machine, the flywheel casing or resistance system at the front remains stationary, and 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 assembly is what moves along the rail.

  • Power curve – If you’re looking for ways to monitor and improve upon 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 best described as 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. Unfortunately we can’t add WaterRower to the list of rowers offering this feature, as the company that made the analysis software for their machines is no longer active.

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

    While the Concept2 PM3, PM4, and PM5 each display the Force Curve as a single line, the RowPerfect3 actually provides immediate bio-feedback by comparing your Power Curve with a template of what’s considered to be the perfect stroke profile.

    This immediate analysis of your stroke and clear graphical feedback is one of the features that sets the RowPerfect3 ahead of many similarly priced rowers.