Best Rowing Machine Reviews, Benefits and Techniques 2020
The rowing machine provides a calorie burning cardio workout along with working your back, shoulder, and legs. You can do all this from a seated position, and often a rowing machine will have different handles you can use to target different areas of your back. Resistance is adjustable, so you can tailor your effort level to your own fitness needs.
Because of their multiple benefits and ease of use, indoor magnetic rowing machines have grown in popularity since the mid nineties, when inventors introduced dynamic rowing machines with a seat that can move back and forth. This advancement improved the usefulness, which have been around since the 4th century BCE as training for ship rowers.
If you’d like to add one of these magnetic rowing machines to your home gym, you can look through our top ten reviews to decide which of these products is right for you.
In a Hurry? The top ten winner after 20 hours of research
Advanced display unit
Ergonomic handle and footrests
Wireless heart rate monitoring
- Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower
- GoPlus Magnetic Folding Rower
- Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5515
- Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Bike/ Rower
- Lifecore R100
- Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Rower
- Stamina Air Rower
- Water Rower A1 Home
- First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge
- Tunturi R30 Cardio Fit Series Rower
10 Best Rowing Machines
1. Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rower
Advanced display unit
Ergonomic handle and footrests
Wireless heart rate monitoring
Flywheel not completely quiet
Concept 2, founded in 1981, is now the producer of the world's top rated indoor rowing machines. You can trust this brand, just like many commercial institutions do.
The Model D uses efficient engineering too and tough construction that will stand up to your toughest workouts, year after year.
The flywheel and damper respond to your body, and the spiral damper lets control the flywheel airflow. This means you can change the feel of the stroke to suit your preference.
Features include height adjustments to accommodate most users. Footrests are fully adjustable, and the ergonomic handle lets you find your ideal rowing angle to minimize soreness. A nickel plated chain ensures that the Model D does not have to be lubricated as often as some other rowing machines. Concept 2 promises easy and fast assembly, with just eight screws to install and a manual as well as an instructional video. The quick release feature lets you separate the machine into two parts for storage, and transportation is easy with the installed casters.
The most exciting feature of the Model D, the one that makes it so popular with hotels, schools, and gyms, is probably the advanced monitor. The compact screen provides premade workouts, as well as tracking your calories, pace, stroke rate and watts. The flywheel powers the monitor until it stops moving, saving battery life. The Model D has full connectivity to let you share your rowing data with your other devices.
2. GoPlus Magnetic Folding Rower
Affordable for those on a tight budget
Several comfort features
The monitor only provides the most basic information
Durability and comfort are the highlights of this budget-friendly portable rowing machine.
The aluminum beam frame is hard, thick, and solid, designed to last a long time. The magnetic flywheel, made of six small wheels, creates a fluid and quiet experience.Read more
There are eight adjustable tension levels, and oversized anti-slip pedals featuring foot straps for added stability. Multiple users, with different fitness levels and body types, will be able to use this machine easily.
The large, eye-friendly LCD monitor tracks calories, strokes per minute, total strokes, and elapsed workout time. Handlebar grips and a seat with ample padding help you stay comfortable during your rowing session. The rower weighs just 49 pounds, with a user capacity of 220 pounds. Casters make the rower easy to move. The body is made from steel.
This is a cost-effective indoor magnetic rowing machine that newer and more experienced fitness buffs will enjoy alike.
3. Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5515
8 levels of adjustable resistance
Smooth, jar free movement
Sunny Fitness is a trusted brand
The rower will move around if not secured to the floor
This rowing machine provides heart rate while you experience a smooth, quiet, effective workout experience. The Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5515 magnetic rowing machine makes use of a magnetic tension system to provide 8 levels of adjustable resistance. A simple, functional LCD monitor displays all your needed workout diagnostics.Read more
It also has a set, mode and reset button. The large, rigid pedals on this unit have adjustable safety straps and provide a secure non-slip surface for added comfort and stability.
The cushioned seat offers extra padding for an increased comfort level. Pulse rate comes via a grip sensor on the handle. Magnetic resistance ensures a quiet ride, and the steel frame will stand up to your most intense workouts over time.
Sunny health and fitness is a trusted brand, providing low-cost equipment for home gyms. If you would like to learn more about Sunny, check out our review of their elliptical trainers.
4. Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Bike/ Rower
Bike and rower in one
Allows for resistance exercises
8 levels of magnetic resistance
Quiet, comfortable ride
Does not feel as sturdy as some other units
This exceptionally comfortable rowing machine can become a recumbent bike with a few quick and easy adjustments. On this unique rowing machine, you can even do additional resistance training exercises, like biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, and forearm curls. This cleverly designed machine will even double as a leg press when you attach the rowing handle to the seat hook.Read more
The Stamina Conversion II provides you with eight levels of magnetic resistance for a custom experience. The compact display tracks your speed, time, distance, calories burned, and pulse. The switch from rower to a bike is seamless, allowing for instant change. A padded cushion and seat back provide maximum comfort. Nonslip footplates and adjustable straps provide stability while rowing.
This product is familiar to trainers and other fitness professionals, for its ease of use, versatility, and effectiveness. The recumbent design eases back pain. Reviewers note the machine’s quiet operation and natural feeling stroke.
5. Lifecore R100
16 levels of resistance
15 pre-set programs
Max weight of 600 pounds
Data storage for multiple users
Some reviewers said the heart rate feature is inaccurate
This mid-priced magnetic rowing machine boasts a few key features that make it stand out from others on the market. The Lifecore R100 is a commercial-grade rower that comes with 16 levels of resistance. The unit folds up for easy storage.Read more
There are 15 pre-set programs and an additional 4 heart rate control programs. The onboard computer can connect with any Polar heart rate monitor. Footrests are angled, with pivoting heel supports. The body is so sturdy that Lifecore gave the machine a 600-pound user weight capacity.
The Lifecore R100 provides a natural, comfortable ride that effectively mimics real life rowing. The seat and handles have generous padding and are ergonomically designed for back support. The rower uses a combination of air and electronic brake system technology for efficient braking operation. The drive system is quiet, and there is an adjustable cooling vent.
You also have the ability to store data for as many as four different profiles, so family or friends can share this machine and track their progress. With a Polar heart rate strap, you can program the R100 to increase or decrease resistance to keep you at your target heart rate. The belt is no maintenance, which is quite convenient. At 96 pounds, the unit is portable although probably a two-person lift.
6. Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Rower
12 workout programs
Smooth rowing action
Auto resistance adjustment
Can be a bit noisy
This is another compact model that folds up for easy storage, and offers an magnetic resistance flywheel for an exceptionally lifelike rowing experience. The Avari's features include a comfortable saddle and ergonomic handgrips. The angled foot pedals let you set up the perfect position for your leg length, and pedals also pivot. There are adjustable straps for your feet.Read more
This machine comes with a 3-year frame warranty and a 90-day warranty on parts and labor.
If you aren't happy with the product, Stamina has a simple return policy.
The LCD has a backlight for enhanced viewing. It displays computer data, including 12 preset workouts. Seven of these will automatically change the resistance at intervals you set up, keeping you from needing to adjust mid-workout. An optional extra heart rate chest strap will let the Avari track and display your heart rate.
The center beam is made of aluminum, making for a smooth stroke and return motion. You will get a consistent ride with no bumps or stalls so that you can focus on your cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength.
7. Stamina Air Rower
5 levels of adjustable resistance
Compact foldable design
Easy to use air resistance
Rather difficult to assemble
This compact folding rower has a sturdy steel frame and an inertia-enhanced flywheel to give you a realistic feel for your rowing workout. If you need to store or transport the Stamina, you can fold and wheel in one easy motion. This unit is designed with portability in mind, and for fitness enthusiasts who are working with limited space.Read more
The air resistance increases or decreases according to how hard you work. This is the simplest resistance mechanism we found and makes the air rower an appealing choice. You will not need to stop mid-workout to make an adjustment, and if you get tired you can just row slower.
When folded, the Stamina is just 48 inches long. It has a 250-pound user weight capacity. The price is reasonable for a magnetic rowing machine with many features. The air resistance means fewer moving parts, accounting for the lowered price. The comfortable, body-friendly chair moves back and forth on a larger than average rail.
Grips are textured for comfort, and large, comfy foot plates aid with stability and comfort as well. Taller users will enjoy this machine as it accommodates longer leg lengths.
8. Water Rower A1 Home
Attractive wood grain finish
Includes activity monitor
325 pound weight capacity
Good price for a water rower
Assembly is a bit difficult
The resistance in this beautiful wood and aluminum rower comes from a tank of actual water. You can simulate the feel of rowing across a lake, without having to leave your home. The patented water flywheel and wood body are carefully designed to be durable. The machine can keep up with your intense activity, just like a regular boat, while keeping your heart rate on target and strengthening your upper body.Read more
The price is also considerably lower than for other comparable models.
At 20 inches high, 22 inches wide, and 84 inches long, the A1 is about as compact as you’d expect a non-folding rower to be. It is designed to stay where you install it, but you can stand it on end after emptying the water tank. The rower weighs 98 pounds with a full tank, 61 pounds without; this means a full tank of water weighs 37 pounds. This is something to keep in mind if you have to fill the tank and take it to a different room.
The ash frame has a triple coating of Dutch oil to protect the natural wood grain. The tank is made of high strength polycarbonate, so you won't have to worry about leaks. Seats and foot plates are ergonomic and back friendly, and you get a 325 pound user weight capacity.
9. First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge
Two tank adjustable water resistance
Advanced computer and monitor
High weight capacity
Quiet lapping sound during use
Some reviewers mentioned front end lifting during intense workouts
The water flywheel in this rower will give you consistent smooth rowing motion while providing realistic resistance that will keep you working hard. Everyone from a beginner to a competitive rower can challenge themselves on row machines with water. The water also makes for a quiet, calming ride, with no metal flywheels to produce noise.Read more
You are able to adjust the resistance manually with a pulley system.
An included advanced monitor keeps track of your exercise data. You can adjust the resistance by shifting water between the inner and outer tanks. The tanks are made of durable plastic compounds and use a ribbed inner design to mimic the natural start of a lake stroke.
The red steel frame is appealing and looks fast. The frame has a protective powder coating. With an empty tank, you can set the rower on its side to keep it out of the way when not in use. The Newport Challenge AR weighs 57 pounds with an empty tank, and has a high ranking in Amazon's rowing machine department.
10. Tunturi R30 Cardio Fit Series Rower
Portable and compact
Long running company
Lacks advanced features; monitor is quite simple
This is a low priced, stripped down, effective rowing machine with a simple and intuitive user interface. There are 8 levels of flywheel and belt resistance. The onboard computer does not offer any programs, but you do get enough data to track progress by saving the readings manually on your phone or tablet. You can adjust the seat and fold the rower to store when you are done rowing.Read more
Although not widely known in the U.S., Tunturi has been around for over 90 years. The company also makes exercise bikes and elliptical trainers. This unit is remarkably compact, weighing in at 59 pounds with a 38.6 x 22 x 11.4-inch footprints. A magnetic brake system enables you to stop the flywheel quickly and safely.
The Tunturi R30 offers no advanced features, but it will enable you to increase your strength and heart health. If you are looking for a reliable and economical rower, we think this will be a great addition to your home gym.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
How much customization do you want?
When you deal with rowing an actual boat on the water, customization is virtually nonexistent. You have a seat, two oars, a place to lean the oars, and your body. That's it. Water provides resistance, and it changes when the weather conditions change.
With an indoor rower, though, you can replicate most of that experience with options to make your workout more enjoyable and effective. You can choose the resistance, change handles, and grips, and sometimes you can even change the pedal positions to fit your leg length and body.
You can also customize the big picture, meaning the core feature of your rower. You can choose magnetic, air, or water resistance. We realize not everyone wants the same experience with indoor rowing. For this reason, we have included several models of each type to give you a wide range of choices so you can make an informed decision.
The best features are the ones you will use the most.
Features on a rower can include big features or smaller ones.
Resistance type is a big feature. So are beam and body type. An aluminum beam and a steel one will both keep your seat going back and forth, but each one will have its own feel. Steel is heavier than aluminum, so a steel frame rower will be heavier and harder to move. If portability, another big feature, is important, this is an important consideration.
Regarding air vs magnetic rowing machines, water resistance will create a different mood than magnetic resistance. Do you like the natural sounds of oars cutting through water on a lake? Water resistance may be good for you. But water resistance means you have a tank to fill, empty, and keep clean.
Once you have decided on big picture features, you can narrow down further with smaller convenience, comfort, or training tool features. These include monitors, handle grips, programmable resistance, seat padding, and a few others. All of those choices can be overwhelming. We aim to help by giving you the facts you need in a short and easy to read review.
Ancient ship rowers didn't bother with comfort, but that doesn't mean you can't.
Comfort factors for rowing machines include padded seats and ergonomic handles. Adjustable backrests are uncommon. There can also be padded footbeds, foot straps, and pivoting or adjustable footplates.
Thick padding will make for an easier ride, but the outer covering or upholstery will also make a difference. Synthetic covers will typically have more give. To keep the comfort level over time, be sure to clean seats regularly with a manufacturer approved solution. Sweat and tiny skin flakes can build up over time and compromise the covering. We may not think of rower maintenance as part of comfort, but over time it can be.
Fitness buffs come in all sizes, and there is a rower for each of us.
How much weight a rower can handle will vary widely by manufacturer. At least one on our list goers up to 600 pounds. Everyone deserves a chance to get healthy on equipment they can trust to be stable and supportive.
If you've ever worked on a roof or done much painting, you have probably had the experience of looking at a flimsy or rickety ladder and wondering if it will support your weight. By industry rule, every ladder must have a safe weight rating. This is to avoid serious injury and property damage.
Rowing machines are no different. A bit of research, and the willingness to ask questions, should be enough for you to have confidence in your final purchase of a rowing machine.
You may not need to move your rowing machine often, but it is good to know that you can do so easily when you need to.
This review did not focus on portability or a compact size as much as some of our other reviews. But portability is always important with home gym equipment, if for no other reason than needing to know if you'll need help getting it inside and set up.
Few of the rowing machines we reviewed weigh more than 100 pounds. Most weigh less. A water machine can weigh significantly more, when full than it does otherwise. But this is remedied by emptying the tank. Manufacturers typically provide a drain or pump system, so you never need to pick up a full water tank and carry it to the bathroom.
Heavier rowers, and even some lightweight models, usually have wheels installed to make moving them easier.
Most rowers can be disassembled and reassembled without too much trouble. It is a good idea to save the assembly instructions that came with the machine, to consult when you put it back together.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
There is something primal about a rowing machine. Even the newest and sleekest models have a connection to both the water and to the early days of fitness machines. In fact, rowing machine were not widely used for many years. It's pretty easy to imagine that people found them intimidating or hard to master.
But it's worth to overcome your fears, because the rowing machine can burn more calories than most other fitness machines. It's also low impact, and nothing this side of a barbell squat will target more large muscle groups at once. So read on as we go over a few tips for using these awesome machines safely and keeping yourself injury free.
First, make sure you aren't wearing loose or baggy clothing. Snug or formfitting gym clothes are best because they will not get caught in any of the rower's moving parts.
Choose your resistance wisely. If you're a beginner, go with a level 2 or 3 to start. If there's a monitor--there usually is--try keeping your strokes per minute under 30. You can add on the burn later, but for now you want to get comfortable with the machine.
When you sit down, use an overhand grip on the handle. Straighten your legs, but avoid locking your knees. Your hands, with the handle it them, should rest on your chest. When you reach the bottom of the stroke, your knees should be bent and your arms will be straight.
At the beginning and end of your stroke, your back should be slightly angled. The end of the stroke is when you return to your starting position.
It's also important that your feet are strapped in so you can keep them from moving around during your workout.
There is no part of your body that you can't work out with a rowing machine. If you could only use one fitness machine for the rest of your life, you'd have to consider the rower as a top contender.
Let's take a look at exactly which of your muscle groups the rower targets and when.
When you are at the bottom of the stroke (the catch), your spine as well as your calf muscles engage. This portion also targets your hamstrings, which are engaged practically throughout the entire stroke.
When you start back up from the catch, your spine is still working hard along with your upper back, hamstrings, calf and quadriceps muscles. Quadriceps are the muscles on the front of your legs.
Just prior to the end of the stroke, when you are almost to the top of the beam, the muscles already mentioned will be working along with the deltoids and trapezius muscles in your shoulders. You will also feel the effort in your pectorals and even your wrist flexors. All these same muscle groups come into play as you hold the start position for a few seconds, along with your abdominal muscles.
Other Factors to Consider
Typically, the frame of a rowing machine will last forever with little to no problems, as long as the machine is being used according to directions. Problems you may encounter include the seat coverings, seat slides, and pedal rotation. Machines with pulleys are subject to pulley wear, tear, an misalignment. We looked for the machines with the highest rated reviews and most generous return/refund policies to guide us in determining durability.
Ease of Use
The best magnetic rowing machines will cater to advanced and newbie users equally. No matter your skill or experience level, you should be able to sit down, strap your feet in, grab the handles, turn the monitor on and go, all within a minute or two. You'll face plenty of difficulty in cranking out those last few intense strokes before you go into your cool down.
So, we looked for machines we could tell were intuitive. Pedal strap closures should be tight and easy to adjust. The monitor should have an obvious ion switch and should let you toggle between screens without much trouble. Designing an easy to use machine is in the maker's best interest because it will give the rower a good reputation and help build the brand.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Can I do HIIT workouts on a rower?
Yes, you can! Like with any HIIT workout, one based in rowing will be challenging and fun and will help you see fast results.
Plan your rowing HIIT workout like you would any interval routine. After warming up, go directly into the intense interval for as long as you decided to beforehand. Then go into your active rest interval. A rule of is to spend half as much time resting as you did during the intense interval. Plan how many rounds you want in advance, and you're good to go. As always, be safe. Stop if you experience dizziness, chest pains, sudden tightness, or lightheadedness.
q: Can't rowing injure your back?
Rowing will certainly injure your back and spine if you do not maintain proper form. Make sure you understand the different positions of a stroke before you sit down on the rower. Never lean your back forward as this will put a strain on the wrong parts of your back.
Also, you don't have to use the rower every time you go to the gym. Throw in some variety, with weightlifting or other forms of cardio, to avoid any repetitive motion injuries.
q: Why do some rowers have a wooden body?
Wood rowers are typically also water rowers. The wood construction helps further emulate the feel of being outside on a lake, for users who want that experience. The wood used will be ash or another high-grade wood, similar to the wood used in making fine furniture. Wooden rowers are coated with oil or another finishing liquid for durability and aesthetics.
The wood also makes the rower lighter, so you can transport it more easily. Remember, though, that even a wooden rower will have a metal frame and slide, which adds weight.
q: Why is it important to use an overhand grip when rowing?
Using an underhand grip puts your wrists in an unnatural position, increases arm strain, and sets you up for wrist injury. There is no advantage to using an underhand grip, in terms of strength gains or muscles worked. It is best to avoid an underhand grip and stick with the overhand.
q: Can I burn more calories with a rowing machine?
You absolutely can. In fact, you can torch calories with a rowing machine. Here are a few tips:
Use interval workouts instead of staying at a slow steady pace. Many magnetic rowing machines have programs that can set this up for you.
When rowing fast, cranking out those strokes, you still need to make sure you are using strength and not momentum to do the work. Maintain your beginning form, and pause slightly at the top and bottom of each stroke.
Don't forget to add variety to your workouts. Lifting weights or doing body weight exercises, when you aren't on the rower, will make your muscles stronger and more efficient, helping you burn more calories when you do row.