The Concept 2 has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the top rowing machines on the market.
With no shortage of reviews praising the high build quality, effective workout options, and level of customer service, we wanted to take a closer look at the range in more detail.
This review takes an in-depth look at the benefits of using a Concept 2 rower, as well as making some interesting comparisons between their two most popular products; Model D and Model E.
What is Concept 2?
Founded in 1976 and based in Vermont, Concept 2 is a company best known for producing world class indoor rowing machines.
As well as being a popular choice for home and commercial gyms, their Model D and Model E machines are often used in competitions, such as the CrossFit games, British Indoor Rowing Championships (BIRC), and CRASH-B Sprints.
Concept 2 rower design features
Storage and Mobility
A quick-release frame lock mechanism fitted to both machines allows you to easily separate the machine into two pieces for storage.
Caster wheels on the front foot also make it much easier to move the rower when fully assembled.
Adjustable Footrests and Ergonomic Handle
Concept 2 uses adjustable footrests on indoor rowers for quick and easy sizing. The ergonomic handle has been designed with a handle that’s comfortable to grip with a natural arm position, thanks to its 10-degree camber.
The same style of nickel-plated chain is used on both the Model D and Model E rowers, allowing for longer periods between oiling. This means that even if maintenance isn’t your strong suit, you can still enjoy the same smooth rowing motion during your next workout.
Stainless Steel Track
To match the smooth rowing motion provided by the nickel-plated chain, a smooth, gliding seat movement can also be enjoyed thanks to the stainless-steel track capped over the aluminum monorail.
Durable Construction That’s Easy to Maintain
Tough and built to last, these machines withstand rigorous use in boat houses, training centers, living rooms, hotels, health clubs and military bases around the world.
Option for Team Training or On-Water Simulation
The Concept 2 Slide (sold separately) adds an on-water feel to your workout, and makes it possible to connect multiple rowers for team training.
Concept 2’s indoor rowers respond to your effort on every stroke, so you are in full control of your exertion and resistance at all times.
What is the Concept 2 damper?
Before buying any new rowing machine, it’s important to know your options in terms of the various resistance settings. You need to know that you will still find the workouts challenging even after many years of training.
This is where the damper can be so effective. Unlike traditional free weights that let you choose a setting and move a consistent weight, the damper setting means that the more force you put into each stroke, the more resistance you will feel.
By responding to the amount of force put into each rowing movement this lets you adjust your workout to meet your training goals.
If you are using the Concept 2 to train for power output, the damper needs to be set at a level that allows you to row your target distance in the shortest time.
With damper settings on both the Model D and Model E ranging from 1 to 10, most people find that settings 7 to 10 can be used to generate more power with a slower stroke.
If you need to adjust the resistance further, you can also adjust the drag factor using the options on the performance monitor.
The drag factor is how quickly the flywheel decelerates, and when adjusted, can be used to compensate for environmental factors such as temperature, altitude, and wind.
This is a useful addition if you are looking to buy a rowing machine for competitive training, either as part of a club or competing against world rankings in the Concept 2 LogBook.
Which model to buy?
The dependable performance of the Model D Indoor Rower has made it the best-selling indoor rower in the world. Recognized by competitive rowers as the standard for indoor training, the Model D delivers an effective cardiovascular workout that will increase your fitness level and tone your physique. At a fraction of the cost of other home fitness equipment or a yearly gym membership, you can have the luxury of working out in your home whenever you choose.
The Model D with PM3 is currently Concept 2’s best-selling machine. Although not their newest, it remains their most affordable option. Providing everything you need for a great workout at home, the Model D with PM3 is most familiar to on water rowers who are looking for the same workout experience as most boathouses.
With some interesting additional features, such as a one-piece leg design, glossy finish top coat, and fully-enclosed chain housing, the Model E is recommended for high-use facilities, and individuals who prefer a higher seated position.
With a 20” seat height, the Model E sits 6” higher than the Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower, making it easier to get on and off.
The Model E also comes with the PM4 Performance Monitor as standard, and the monitor arm remains fixed in place (pivots on the Model D).
Concept 2 Model D Rower
- Indoor rowing machine with sliding seat for complete total body workouts.
- Flywheel and damper design minimizes noise while maximizing a smooth feel.
- 14-Inch (35.6 cm) seat height
- Nickel-plated chain
- PM3 monitor
- Separates easily into two pieces for storage with a quick-release frame lock.
- Caster wheels make it mobile
- Adjustable footrests
- Ergonomic handle for natural position.
Concept 2 Model E Rower
- Indoor rowing machine with sliding seat for complete total body workouts
- Flywheel design minimizes noise while maximizing a smooth feel
- 20 inch frame height, positioning you at a comfortable seat height
- Separates easily into two parts for transport and storage
- Caster wheels make it mobile
- PM4 Performance Monitor accurately measures performance and heart rate
- Includes chest belt HR transmitter
Using the Concept2 LogBook
Part of what makes the Concept 2 range of rowers so unique is the growing online community in the forum, and their collection of motivational tools.
One of the most effective ways to boost your motivation and make you actually want to get back on the rowing machine is being able to track your progress online.
With Concept 2 you can monitor how your fitness is improving using a combination of the LogCard and Online Logbook.
The LogCard is used together with the Concept2 Utility software to backup and upload your workout data to your personal LogBook. This allows you to analyze your historical performance and identify specific times when your rowing performance is at its best.
Through your LogBook you can also keep track of the current online world rankings using the distance world records chart.
Rankings can be filtered by age group records, gender, weight, season, and even location to make sure you can compete against the results that closely match your own level of fitness and body type.
A LogCard is included with every PM4.
Concept2 rowing machine workouts
Although the basic concept of the exercise is fairly simple, there are actually a number of different rowing machine techniques available that can lead produce much faster results.
With rowing machines widely regarded as providing the best total-body workout of any cardio machine, varying the distance, SPM (strokes per minute), and interval training are 3 of the most effective techniques you can include in your workout.
Tabata Intervals for weight loss
One of the most popular and effective workouts available for the Concept 2 rower is known as Tabata Intervals.
A version of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Workouts) developed by Professor Izumi Tabata, this involves 20 seconds of intense rowing followed by 10 seconds of rest.
Each cycle is classed as being 4 minutes, and a full workout involves 8 of these cycles.
This has not only been found to increase weight loss, but can also increase your anaerobic capacity. The sprints can also lead to some impressive gains in upper and lower body muscular endurance.
Weight adjustment calculator
Although not a direct feature of the Model D or E rowers, it can be useful to know that Concept 2 have also developed a formula that can calculate weight adjusted erg scores, based on a fairly simple equation.
This can be important in competitive environments where you want to recreate the natural motion of rowing on water as closely as possible. The weight adjustment equation is designed to take into account the additional drag in the water that a larger, more powerful rower would create.
Comparing weight adjusted erg scores can be critical for ensuring the right choices are made at boat selection, but not necessarily something that you need to think about if using this machine solely for individual home workouts.
PM3 vs. PM4 display consoles
Just start to row and the monitor turns on automatically to provide feedback on a variety of important workout statistics. This includes calculating your distance, speed, pace, calories and watts.
The PM4 delivers proven performance and fitness benefits, using ANT technology to support wireless racing between up to eight machines, with no computers or extra equipment needed.
The same ANT technology that makes wireless racing possible also allows for wireless heart rate monitoring. To enable you to use this feature as soon as you have the rower setup, each PM4 includes a Garmin chest belt.
You can also choose from one of five display options:
- All data
- Force curve
- Rowing with a pace boat
- Bar chart
- Large print
If you tend to find it difficult to read LCD screens when rowing, the ErgData iPhone app is available to display the same information on the screen of your iPhone.
The backlit display makes the information much easier to read at a distance, as well as providing some additional performance statistics that you won’t get with the standard monitors (Does require iPhone Connection Kit – usually around $35).
The PM4 monitor also offers built in wireless compatibility with Garmin heart rate monitors (chest belt provided). This has the benefit of improved transmission, as well as eliminating interference from any nearby rowers.
Concept 2 challenges
Throughout the year Concept2 will setup a number of different online challenges, run through their online logbook.
As well as being an excellent incentive to workout regularly, it can also be a great way anyone interested in more competitive training to see how they measure up to other rowers around the world.
To keep track of when these challenge events are happening, you can download a challenge calendar and keep track of the various individual and team events that are planned for the year ahead.
Quick to setup and easy to monitor, the individual challenges will usually be based on distance, but can also set a specific time that you have to row that distance.
Depending on the time of year, you could be set a new workout as often as every week, or even be set a goal that lasts an entire month. e.g. Row 200,000 meters in the next 30 days
With everything managed through the online logbook app, it’s actually surprisingly easy to become part of a Concept2 rowing team.
As well as being able to check which teams are currently recruiting, you can also setup your own team to take part in a number of challenges throughout the year.
The team challenges will usually be a test of how many meters can be rowed collectively between two dates.
Incentives and rewards are also offered to teams that complete a predetermined number of meters (usually 100,000+).
Warranty and machine maintenance
One of the reasons the Concept 2 range of rowing machines hold their value so well is the high quality build design.
For added reassurance, both the Model D and Model E Indoor Rowers are backed with a 5 year limited warranty on the frame parts, and a 2 year limited warranty on all parts.
The 5 year warranty covers you if anything is defective in the workmanship for parts such as the flywheel axle, seat frame, monitor mount, and legs.
The 2 year warranty is much more comprehensive, with any defective or worn out part being replaced within the first 2 years. This includes shock cord and chain replacement.
One thing worth noting is that each machine must be maintained to a certain level for these warranties to stay in effect. This includes using rowing machine chain oil to lubricate the chain at least every 50 hours.
A quick glance at the number of 5 star reviews for both the Model D and Model E Concept 2 rowers will show just how popular these machines are.
Although we would always recommend reading as many reviews as you can to get a balanced opinion, we’ve summarised some of the most frequently mentioned pros and cons in the lists below for a quick reference.
- Sturdy design
- Provides an effective full body workout
- Smooth rowing motion
- Multiple machines can be linked together for group training and rowing clubs
- Enthusiastic and growing user base around the world that takes part in regular competitions
- No renewable / yearly fees for access to the LogBook or software
- High level of calories burned
- No need to spend time setting up custom profiles if the machine needs to be used by more than one person
- Excellent customer service
- Long life expectancy for the machine means the Concept 2 holds its value much better than other rowers
- 2 display console options to choose from to suit your training style and budget
- It was actually difficult to find many low rated reviews, but the ones that we did find (1% of the total number of reviews left) could usually only report on the seat being uncomfortable to sit on for longer periods of time, and the lack of preset workout programs to follow.