By using water to create self-regulating resistance, the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine is serious competition for the Concept2.
In this review, we take a look at all aspects of the design, including the resistance system, console features, training software, and customer reviews.
We’ll also make some important comparisons between the WaterRower Natural and two of the best rowing machines on the market, from Concept2 and ProRower. to determine which is the best option for your own home workouts.
WaterRower was originally founded by Yale and US national Team Rower John Duke, who in the mid-80s had a goal to create a rowing machine that could harness the power of water.
Not only has John been able to see his goal realised, but it has also been done in a way that combines form, function, durability, and design to become possibly the most aesthetically pleasing indoor rowing machine in the world.
In fact, in 2008 this design was also exhibited at the London Design Museum, and has been the winner of various design awards.
All of the hardwood that goes into the construction of these rowing machines has also been ethically sourced from replenishable Appalachian forests.
Forest Inventory and Analysis research
It’s this natural wood appearance – strained with Honey Oak and coated with Danish Oil – that has made the WaterRower Natural model not just one of the most attractive rowing machines from a visual perspective, but also one of the most instantly recognizable.
Ergonomic seat and handle design
One of the biggest issues that people face with many lower priced rowing machines is the fact that they tend to move during high intensity workouts.
This can occasionally be seen in rowers that rely on hydraulic resistance, and can at best put you off your rowing stroke, and at worst cause you to have to get up from your workout and move the machine back to its original position.
WaterRower manage to avoid this issue by using solid wood to hand craft the frame, then resting this on 16 specially coated and reinforced cylinders that have been strategically placed in groups of 4 around the base.
It’s the combination of the coating and this close grouping that creates enough friction against wooden floors and carpets alike, helping to prevent any unwanted movement while rowing.
The wood itself was actually chosen due to its ability to absorb sound and vibration, which enhances the WaterRower’s quiet performance and smooth operation. Ash is also classified as a premium hardwood, with incredible longevity and dimensional stability.
The seat also offers something that’s fairly unique amongst rowing machines, in the sense that its wheels sit on top of the side rails, rather than following internal guides.
An extra thick, ergonomically contoured cushion has been included to help make your seated position as comfortable as possible, which is particularly important for the enjoyment of longer workouts and can in turn lead to faster results.
To help prevent any damage to your hands, the handle has been specially coated to provide a soft grip texture that’s easier to hold onto.
WaterRower Natural – Features Summary
- Handcrafted rowing machine with “water flywheel” that replicates actual rowing feel
- Flywheel sits in enclosed water tank to provide smooth, quiet, self-regulated resistance
- Series 4 performance monitor tracks workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, and more
- Solid ash and stained honey oak construction absorbs sound and vibration
Transport and storage
Another great feature of the WaterRower is how easy it is to fold it away and move it to a different space when required.
The dual caster wheels attached to the base make it easier to roll the rower towards your storage location, where it will stand almost completely vertical, without the need for any disassembly or folding away of parts.
This is another of the reasons why it’s so beneficial for the frame to be made from natural wood, as it blends in with surroundings so much better than the plastic or metal framed designs.
The only thing to ensure is that the water level has been siphoned down to 50% or lower in order to prevent any water from leaking out of the tank in its vertical position.
For comparison, when lifted into its storage position, the footprint is actually exactly the same as the ProRower H2O RX-750, measuring just 20″ (L) x 22.5″ (W).
Using water as a form of resistance
One of the great benefits of using water as a resistance is that you don’t need to manually adjust any settings when you want to increase / decrease the intensity of your workout.
Put simply, this self-regulating resistance means that the faster you pull on the rowing belt, the more resistance is generated as the paddles cup the water that’s now moving around the tank.
That being said, if you want to make more drastic changes in the level of resistance, then you will need to adjust the amount of water in the tank using the siphon and pump system provided.
This also means that you are always in complete control of the pace of your workout, with the patented WaterFlywheel creating a smoother stroke than air resistance machines can provide, which leads to a more realistic rowing experience.
Series 4 Display console: Polar vs. ANT+
While the WaterRower A1 does have some advantages over the Natural model in terms of the lower price point, this would mean that you are sacrificing a lot of functionality that you only find in the S4 Performance Monitor.
The series 4 offers a much wider range of advanced features, including the ability to store workout settings, and being able to see the projected duration of your workouts based on current speed and target distance.
But in terms of competing with other leading rowing machine consoles, like the PM4 and now PM5 from Concept2, it also has to offer software that links your rowing to the computer.
Fortunately the following 3 software products are available:
- 1. We-Row – WaterRower’s Online Rowing Community.
Created specifically for WaterRower users, this features online races with up to 5 rowers at a time, as well as statistical analysis of your performance which can be used for historic comparisons to see how much you are improving.
- 2. NetAthlon – At first glance this virtual reality course feels a lot like the experience you get with the LiveStrong 9.9IC spin bike, where you can race against virtual competitors on the screen.
This can be a great source of motivation for pushing yourself to row faster, with virtual locations that see you rowing historic routes like the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race, and the Carnegie Lake course.
- 3. WaterCoach F.I.T. (Fitness Interval Training) – WaterRower’s newest software is exactly what we were hoping they would come out with.
Not only can you customize workout programs to follow different target stroke rates, but you can even follow one of the preset exercise plans created by a qualified rowing coach.
Similar to the way We-Row works, you can also store your performance data for historical comparison at a later date, to see how quickly you are progressing towards your goals.
In terms of workout feedback, the Series 4 console also keeps you updated with your rowing intensity (m/s), speed, distance, total strokes, duration, watts, calories burned per hour, and your split time over 500m and 2km.
You can also monitor your heart rate in one of two ways. Either you can use a Polar Chest Belt and Receiver Box, or you can use the new ANT+ Digital system.
For what it’s worth, we would certainly recommend choosing the ANT+ system over the Polar chest strap, as this resolves the limited range of the Polar receiver, whereby you have to mount it under the seat on the inside of the rail.
This still allows you to set specific heart rate zones to ensure you stay within a certain range throughout your workout, as well as providing useful feedback on the peak heart rate and time spent outside of the zone.
The ANT+ kit also has the upper hand when it comes to accuracy, thanks in part to the increased signal range between transmitter and receiver.
Ease of assembly and filling the tank
Although the WaterRower doesn’t require anywhere near the level of assembly as an elliptical or recumbent bike, it can still be useful to know how long it will take to get setup, and what to expect from the assembly instructions.
There’s also nothing more frustrating than having your new rowing machine delivered, only to find that a fragile part inside the box has broken due to insufficient packaging.
This is why the team at WaterRower made the decision to ship the machine in two separate boxes; one containing the rails, seat, and rear spacer, while the other contains the main tank assembly.
In terms of what to expect from the instructions, there’s actually very little required, leading to a recommended assembly time of less than 30 minutes.
This is because the entire tank assembly arrives already pre-assembled, ready to slot into place as soon as the rails and spacer are connected.
Even this part of the process has been made as simple as possible, with just a couple of bolts being all that’s required to connect the three main parts of the frame (tools provided).
All that’s left to do once the tank is secured in place is to attach the Footboard, insert the Footpads under the cover plate, and connect the bungee cord to the Recoil Belt using a simple D-ring.
Although it can be useful to have someone else available to assist with holding parts of the frame in place while you tighten the bolts, with a total weight of 66 lb, this isn’t always necessary.
With the WaterRower now setup, all that’s left is to fill the tank with water to create the resistance.
The Owner’s Manual actually includes a water level gauge which allows you to find your desired level, which is typically defined as follows:
- Children: 12-14 litres
- Non-Athletes: 14-16 litres
- Athletes: 16-18 litres
Note: Municipal water should be used to fill the tank instead of distilled or purified water, as this contains additives that will deter the growth of algae.
This assists with keeping the paddles running smoothly when used in conjunction with the Puritabs that WaterRower supply.
WaterRower Natural vs. Concept2 Model D
The first difference we noticed when comparing these two rowers was in the display console.
Whereas the Concept2 monitor is attached to a console arm, the WaterRower monitor is fixed in place, which means that you can’t adjust the screen angle to suit your height and eye line.
The most recent PM5 monitor from Concept2 also features a backlight to increase visibility of workout data during your early morning and late night workouts.
This is one of the features we would like to see added to the WaterRower, but there are also many cases where the WaterRower comes out on top.
Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine
There are of course obvious differences in the frame designs and resistance systems used, with WaterRower using a water tank and the Rule of Cubes, whereas Concept2 uses a damper and flywheel.
Although some reviewers have mentioned that the flywheel system reduces the strain on your lower back, this may be due to differences in rowing technique, and isn’t something we’ve personally experienced.
Both machines also offer a range of online training options, with online communities where you can arrange and participate in a series of team and individual challenges.
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine
In terms of race software and the ability to measure your workout performance historically, Concept2’s RowPro feels very much like a combination of WaterRower’s NetAthlon and WaterCoach F.I.T.
Each program displays virtual on-water racing, against other competitors, with clear feedback on various important workout information.
That being said, WaterRower’s WaterCoach software is currently in the Beta stages and already offering everything that RowPro can provide. It will be interesting to see what further developments are made between now and when they announce their final release version.
As for the warranties, both machines actually offer the same level of coverage, with up to 5 years available on the frames.
Difference between WaterRower models
WaterRower Oxbridge – Constructed from a solid Cherry wood, which has similar vibration absorbing and noise reducing properties as the Ash used in the WaterRower Natural model.
The type of wood used in the construction of the Oxbridge is the only difference between the two, featuring the same tank capacity, weight, dimensions, and performance monitor.
WaterRower Natural – Constructed from Ash wood and Honey Oak, with minor differences in the grain and colouration compared to the Oxbridge.
WaterRower Club – Designed primarily for commercial installations, the Club model is constructed from stained Ash with protective rails to prevent any damage in high-use environments.
WaterRower Classic – Constructed from solid American Black Walnut, with minor differences in colouration compared to the other models but still finished with three coats of Danish Oil.
There is one other type of WaterRower – the Indorow, which is the model that features the most differences from the conventional WaterRower.
The seat rests on a single rail instead of the dual rail design we’ve seen on the Oxbridge, Natural, and Club. The monitor is also a simplified version, with a weight limit of 275 lbs instead of the 1,000 lbs that the other models provide.
Although we have hopefully provided you with enough information about the WaterRower collection to help you decide whether this will be the best choice of machine for your own workouts, we also think it’s important to bring up any outstanding issues.
Usually the best place to find these is ecommerce sites, and specifically Amazon, who currently has dozens of reviews for the Natural model alone.
These are the reviews that we decided to read through, as the majority of our review has been based on the WaterRower Natural. Also, as can be seen from our earlier guide, the differences between other rowers in the collection tend to be mostly superficial.
As expected, the ratings left by reviewers have been overwhelmingly positive, with only a few minor issues that mostly relate to the console feedback and foot pads.
The following lists of pros and cons have been put together based on points that were mentioned frequently throughout these reviews, and is meant as a quick reference guide.
- The sound of the water moving in the tank is much more soothing to listen to, and quieter than the more conventional air resistance systems
- Aesthetically pleasing look created by the natural wood finish
- Easy to read feedback thanks to the large LCD screen
- Comfortable seat is ideal for longer workouts
- Console can transfer workout information to your computer when you finish your workout
- Very little maintenance required
- Solid foot rest that adjusts easily
- Long enough frame to accommodate taller users up to heights in excess of 6 feet 4 inches
- Components are designed to last a long time, with very few reports of anything needing to be replaced
- Excellent customer service
- Attractive design that blends in well with modern surroundings
- Transport wheels make it quick and easy to move around if required
- Straightforward assembly
- Closely emulates the feeling of actually rowing on the water
- No delay at the catch
- Performance monitor doesn’t include a backlight feature, making it difficult to keep track of workout information in low light
- Feedback doesn’t include total counts, only listing the number of calories burned per hour
- A few reviewers found the fixed foot rests uncomfortable, and switched to a rower that offered a pivoting design
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Components: 3 years
- Wooden components: 5 years
- Spare parts: 90 days
As with most home fitness equipment, WaterRower will only uphold this level of warranty coverage for the original owner, which means you won’t be covered at all if you are buying a used or refurbished model.
Outside of the main warranty coverage, WaterRower also provide you with a lifetime supply of free Puritabs (purification tablets containing chlorine) for maintaining the water quality inside the tank.