This guide to the best rowing machines is designed to help you find the best indoor rower for your budget.
Whether you’re looking for a way to complement your on-water rowing, or simply looking for an effective way to improve your fitness at home, a rowing machine makes an excellent choice for a total body workout and single cardio machine.
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 best rowing machines 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 workout routine regularly, you might want to invest in a good rowing machine with higher quality parts and a longer warranty.
When it comes to the rowing machines’ cost, with entry-level machines costing little more than $100, and top-end light commercial rowing machines costing over $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, this will help you find the best rowing machine for your budget.
Why Buy a Rowing Machine?
There are several reasons why you may want to invest in one of the best rowing machines on the market.
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 one of the many rowing machines that you’ve used at a local gym or health club.
If you’re fortunate enough to live close by, then time spent traveling 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 machine at home.
2. Cost efficiency
Throughout this guide, we’re going to highlight several high-quality rowers at different price points, ranging from machines costing just $70 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 of 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.
3. Off-season rowing
If you row as part of a club or at the 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 the water will help you maintain or even improve your conditioning and performance in time for the next competitive season.
4. Complement an existing fitness routine
Even if you have a gym nearby, rowing from the comfort of your own home can be a great way to save time if you need a quick workout.
You may already have a collection of fitness equipment in your home gym (elliptical, treadmill, exercise bike, etc.), but want a new type of low-impact, high-intensity cardio that targets all your major muscle groups.
Best Rowing Machine for Home by Price
PRICE RANGE: $50-$200:
- Sunny SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine – 400+ Reviews
- Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine – 1,500+ Reviews
- Stamina InMotion Rower – 80+ Reviews
PRICE RANGE: $200-$500:
- Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine – 100+ Reviews
- Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 – 350+ Reviews
- Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine with Free Motion Arms – 200+ Reviews
- ProForm 440R Rower – 100+ Reviews
PRICE RANGE: $500-$1000:
- Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Monitor – 550+ Reviews
- Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower – 140+ Reviews
- ProRower H20 RX-750 Home Series Rowing Machine – 60+ Reviews
- Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Bike/Rower – 70+ Reviews
- Kettler Kadett Outrigger Style Rowing Machine – 90+ Reviews
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:
- BodyCraft VR500 – 10+ Reviews
Best Rowing Machines for Home Gyms
With new models being released each year, it’s easy to lose track of the latest developments in rowing machine design and technology.
That’s why, as part of our best rowing machines reviews guide, we’ve shortlisted the top best indoor rowers for home gyms.
Our selection is based on 10 key factors:
1. Ability to track performance
2. Warranty coverage and duration
3. Weight and height support
4. Level of maintenance required
5. Workout program variation
6. Customer review ratings
7. Level of customer service
8. Indoor rowing technology
9. Efficiency of rowing motion
10. Type of resistance system
The list is updated regularly to ensure that the top models shown are always the very best that the industry has to offer.
|Check price on RogueRead Review|
2. WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine
|Check priceRead Review|
|Check priceRead Review|
4. Echelon Smart Rowing Machine
5. Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050
|Check priceRead Review|
7. Stamina BodyTrac Glider Pro Hydraulic
9. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower
|Check priceRead Review|
What’s the Best Rowing Machine for Your Budget?
Hopefully, by highlighting our choice for the top 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 this 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 favorite rowing machines for each price range, based on the 10 key design elements we talk about later in the guide.
- Heavy-duty design
- PM5 Display
- Programmable Workouts
- First choice for athletes
- Value for money
Our top choice of rowing machine under $1000 is the Concept2 Row Erg, with the 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 and the older Concept2 Model D.
However, there are several important reasons why we selected Concept2 and not just for those hard-hitting interval workouts. This is the power of choice for serious rowers and one of the top-rated rowing machines available today.
Firstly, the weight capacity. At 500 lbs, we liked how it’s 150 lbs higher than the RX-950. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, is the design and functions offered by the display console which make it a favorite not only for us but in every CrossFit gym. These performance monitor dimensions are critical to keep track of during those metcons, a feature we found very useful.
While the RX-950 offered a range of feedback metrics, we feel 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 Row Erg 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 — something the fitness friends between us enjoyed a lot. You can create custom workouts in the PM5 console as well, which we liked as we try to hit our fitness goals.
The damper has 10 levels of resistance, making a partner workout easy as we just added more resistance for those who wanted/needed it.
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 for us to list them all here. To find out more, we recommend using the link in the product box above to read our full review.
- 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
The entry-level price range is 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 as the best budget rowing machine. This is due to its low price, versatility, and variety of resistance levels.
The compact frame requires some assembly, but 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 screen is a small LCD, you can still track your time, calories burned, and row stroke count.
Compact rowing machine design
Weighing just 24 lbs, the SF-RW1205 isn’t just a contender for the top budget rowing machine, it’s also one of the lightest.
Having a lightweight frame makes it easier to move around, without the need for transport wheels. It is a foldable rowing machine that is 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, written by people who have bought and used the Sunny SF-RW1205 rowing machine. We tested it with a range of different rowers who are of different heights and found that this machine works for anyone from 4’11” to 6’5″.
- 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
Despite the price difference, 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.
Our top indoor rower for this price category features free motion arms, which have a similar stroke to an Outrigger. The main difference is a wider range of motion, for increased upper and lower body muscle activation.
For us, the top rowing machines in this range were the Stamina 1215, and Stamina ATS 1399, but deciding which should take the top spot wasn’t easy. We found this to be a competitive category and loved almost every design that we tested.
In the end, we chose the 1215 Orbital from Stamina. This was due to the low price, compact folding design, realistic rowing stroke, and 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 the number of miles rowed.
Although the weight capacity was a little lower than some models, the warranty is one of the best, with 5 years on the frame and 1 year on parts. It is especially nice when your workout space is severely limited, and your area is very small to work in.
- Ergonomic seat & handle design
- Series 4 performance monitor
- Solid ash & stained honey oak construction
- Soothing water sound while rowing
- Easy assembly
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 its online software, Logbook, and LogCard functions. But these are features that you can still experience with their Model D rower, for $200 less. However, we found the WaterRower is a lot quieter and the seat is so much more comfortable when compared to the Concept2.
Does this mean the Concept2 Row Erg is better than the WaterRower Natural? Our review contains some important comparisons that help answer this question.
We chose the handcrafted 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. But, we think that if you are the more competitive athlete or rower, this rower, although mimicking that in-water-rowing, is not the right one for you. Although the WaterRower is an amazing water rowing machine, it is not as accurate and can’t handle as much abuse as a Concept2.
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.
If you are like us and your workout machine will sit in your living room or spare room, you won’t have to worry about the noise like you would with a wind resistance rower.
- Black Mask LCD w/LED backlit display & keys
- Electronically controlled air & eddy current magnetic resistance
- Easy fold & roll system
- 12 buiilt-in programs & heart rate monitor
- Ergonomic handlebar with remote resistance controls
The top-rated rowing machine in our final category was chosen from a selection of high-quality indoor rowers, each of which was priced at over $1500.
We added this price range to provide a full list of recommendations to suit every budget and get a solid workout. But also because we wanted to review the large number of rowers that were completely different from 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.
WaterRower vs. BodyCraft vs. First Degree Fitness
Each has its 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 for sale for over $1500.
The VR500 features an excellent choice of workout programs, including heart rate controlled, interval, custom, and race options. We liked how, unlike conventional rowing machines, we can even shift through 32 levels of wind resistance (air and magnetic) using controls built directly into the handle. This is a smart rower if there ever was one.
We love how it also offers a surprisingly high level of warranty coverage for a rowing machine, with a lifetime warranty on the frame, five years on parts, one year on wear items, and two 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 looking for a full body workout.
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 and lose weight in a short space of time in your home gym.
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 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.
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
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 resistance machines
These indoor rowers 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) resistance
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.
Over the years, 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.
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 the hydraulic system is gas-shock resistance, which is found on the bestselling Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050.
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 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 several other companies are competing with a WaterRower Natural rowing machine.
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 rowing system machines
They’re slightly larger than most hydraulic rowing machines, but magnetic resistance system rowers offer the same low noise level benefits.
In terms of maintenance, we found magnetic rowing machines that use magnetic resistance are some of the most reliable when it comes to a workout machine. 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 some time due to the pistons overheating, as is the case with some hydraulic rowers.
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 for when you want an on-demand classes feel.
That’s why it’s important to think about what you want to achieve from your indoor rowing.
Consoles vary from offering a simple scan function 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 create a historical record of your workouts online, which requires a much more specialized console.
As with most of the features in this list, the 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 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 software called e-Row, in later generations of the console (PM3 and PM4), this was replaced with 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 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.
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 and a contender as the best interactive rowing machine.
For a full explanation of the benefits and the firmware upgrades that have been brought to modern Concept2 consoles, you might be interested in their firmware timeline.
Back to the workout programs, and the PM5 combines preset and custom profiles. This is in addition to distance and time goal-setting programs.
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 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.
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.
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.
The software is often updated 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 for 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 every day, 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 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 older 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.
Combination trainers mix resistance training with one or more forms of cardio
The space-saving design and dual action strength training seem a sensible combination. But it’s difficult to find a model that fares as well in customer reviews as your conventional home rowing machine.
Fitness equipment companies have also been known to combine the rowing machine with other cardio equipment. One of the best examples is the Lit Method Rowing Machine.
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 forms of resistance training.
A weight capacity of 200 lbs is standard for lower-priced upright exercise bikes. In comparison, indoor 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 Row Erg– 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, and 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.
One of the best examples is the Stamina 1215 rowing machines.
Standing vertically and folding arms are the two best-case scenarios when it comes to a foldable rowing machine. 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.
Rowing Machine Reviews: Best Brands
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 review 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 written reviews for include:
- Sunny Health and Fitness
- Lifespan Fitness
- Velocity Exercise
Concept2 have a near-flawless reputation for building some of the best home rowing machines in the industry.
The Concept2 Model D can be found in fitness centers and home gyms across the country, with 98% of Amazon reviews rating it 4 or 5 stars. The Model E uses the same flywheel and damper system, with a 500lb weight limit and Performance Monitor 5 display.
Although Concept2 rowing machines are more expensive than most, you’re paying for quality and a best-in-class warranty. They’re also more affordable than many of the WaterRower machines, with less maintenance.
Stamina makes some of the best rowing machines on the market. They’re compact, affordable, and backed by thousands of highly rated reviews on Amazon.
Their top indoor rowing machine is the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050, with adjustable hydraulic resistance. The Stamina 1215 Orbital Rower also uses hydraulic resistance, but with an 8-inches shorter frame. This would be our preference for compact home gyms.
Stamina also produces two air resistance rowing machines: the ATS Air Rower 1399, and ATS Air Rower 1405. The 1399 model has a smaller footprint, but both rowers feature a folding frame and transport wheels for easy storage.
For a quieter rowing workout, you might prefer a Stamina rowing machine that uses magnetic resistance.
The Conversion II is a recumbent bike and rowing machine in one, providing a range of health benefits. But if you want their strongest rowing machine, you need the Avari Magnetic Rower.
A strong steel frame (275 lb capacity), quiet magnetic resistance, and heart rate chest strap make the Stamina Avari one of the best home rowing machines available.
The only downside is the price, which at around $700, could make you save a little more for the Concept2.
Sunny Health and Fitness
Sunny has a wide range of new and affordable magnetic, fan, and hydraulic resistance rowing machines.
The Sunny SF-RW1205 is one of the only indoor rowers available under $100. Despite the low price, it’s currently their bestseller, based on the number of rowing machine reviews on Amazon.
If you prefer air resistance to a hydraulic piston, your best option will be the Sunny SF-RW5515. It’s their most affordable magnetic resistance rower, with an LCD monitor to track your workout performance.
Sunny also produces a home rowing machine with independent arms. The SF-RW5619 has a similar rowing motion to the older Kettler Favorit, but at a fraction of the cost. But their most unique design is the Sunny SF-RW1406 Sit Up Rowing Machine, which is even cheaper than the SF-RW1205.
Padded leg rollers and back support mean it can be used for indoor rowing and ab workouts. But the constant leaning forward and restricted leg movement mean it’s not as comfortable as traditional designs.
The only company to use natural wood in the construction of their rowing machines. This is combined with a water resistance system, to create a rowing motion that closely emulates on-the-water rowing.
They’re stronger than the Concept2, with a higher weight capacity and seat that glides on dual runners. Although WaterRower machines can’t be folded, they can stand vertically when not in use to preserve space in your home.
If you need an indoor rowing machine that looks great and supports high-performance rowing workouts, choose the WaterRower.
Their current collection includes the Natural, Club, Classic, Oxbridge, and A1 machines. Each is constructed from natural wood and sourced sustainably.
In addition to the wooden rowing machines, you have the more expensive M1 LoRise commercial rowing machine, constructed from aluminum. The seat is a full 20cm lower than on the M1 HiRise model.
Xterra rowing machines are sold at a price that’s between Kettler and Sunny Health and Fitness. But they’ve struggled to gain popularity, and the review ratings for their most popular ERG400 Folding Rower are below average.
The features of their entry-level ERG200 magnetic resistance rower are also fairly standard. Its 250 lb weight capacity can be found on all Stamina rowing machines, and the warranty is just 1 year.
As the top model in their line of indoor rowing machines, the ERG500 is more impressive. Usually available for around $600, this pays for a longer warranty (5 years frame, 2 years parts), better performance monitor, a 300 lb capacity, and 8 air turbine resistance levels.
But the Velocity Exercise CHR-2001 Rower is a similar price and supports 12 rowing workout programs. That’s alongside the same workout feedback from the console and an electronic resistance system. Average review ratings are also much higher for the CHR-2001 than for the Xterra ERG500, when compared.
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 in a separate 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 participant 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
Here is a glossary of indoor rowing machine terminology to help you out if some of the words are unfamiliar.
- 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 older 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 leg muscles. Pushing through your legs into the foot supports releases this energy to assist with the stroke. Your entire body moves backward 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 two minutes lets you calculate an approximate distance for 50 minutes of rowing. In this case, it 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 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 the 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, except for the Concept2 and RowPerfect3.
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.
Final Thoughts on the Top Rowing Machines
When it comes to the best rowers, you need to choose one that is not only suited to your needs but also one that will fit your environment. A good rowing machine will keep you fit and active for years to come and is a good option if you can only get yourself one piece of cardio equipment.
The best compact rowing machine might be amazing in an apartment but if you have space and it suits your budget, grab something like the Concept2 over any of the other many rowing machines. Why not add another piece of cardio equipment like one of the best elliptical machines to shake things up a little in your routine?