Last Update February 27th, 2017 Finding a cardio machine that works almost all muscle groups while being easy on the joints can be a little tricky. But this is where rowing machines come into the picture.
Indoor rowers are low cost, gym-quality equipment which provide you with a challeging total cardio workout without leaving home.
But with so many rowing machine models on sale, buying the one that best fits your needs is not as easy as you might think.
Luckily you’ve landed in the right place. Below you’ll find detailed, complete reviews on the best indoor rowers available. You’ll also find out about the benefits of using a rowing machine, how to use it properly and the different construction types.
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Best Rowing Machines by Price
Choosing the best rowing machine can be tricky especially if you’re a beginner and don’t know too much about indoor rowers. You’ll probably be tempted to go for an expensive model, but the truth is that you can get a good indoor rowing machine for a cheaper price. Below you’ll find our top picks for every budget starting from the cheaper models all the way to the premium, high end rowers.
Best rowing machines under $200
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050, lowest price available: $130 (click here for the best price deal) – this is a compact home rowing machine with an adjustable gas-shock resistance system. It’s well built, it has a sturdy steel frame and it’s foldable.
Soozier Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine, lowest available price: $174 (click here for the best price deal) – good magnetic resistance indoor rower with large foot plates, an easy to view monitor that measures time, calories, distance and strokes. It’s got 8 resistance levels.
Best rowing machines between $200 and $500
Stamina 1402 ATS Air Rower, lowest available price: $399 (click here for the best price deal) – the best air resistance rowing machine under $500. It has a very comfortable seat that slide easily. The steel frame is amazingly sturdy. The monitor gives you all the information you need to track your fitness level, time, number of strokes, calories burned, speed, distance and strokes per minute.
Stamina Air Rower, lowest available price: $299 (click here for the best deal available) – because it’s an air resistance rower, the rowing motion is very realistic, very smooth. It’s got a padded seat which feels comfortable even after longer exercise sessions.
Best rowing machines between $500 and $1000
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5, lowest available price: $945 (click here for the best price deal) – the Concept2 Model D is by most people’s opinion the best indoor rower you can buy. It’s the rowing machine that olympiq athletes use to train, but it’s also great if you’re beginner. You can read our Concept2 Model D review here.
Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower, lowest available price: $699 (get the best deal here) – a very good magnetic resistance rowing machine with 12 workout programs and an easy to read monitor that tracks time, count, distance, calories, strokes per minute, pulse and watt. It has a comfortable seat and an extruded aluminum beam that provides a smooth rowing motion.
First Degree Fitness Newport AR Water Rower , lowest price available: $878 (click here to get the best deal available) – a water resistance rowing machine with a realistic and natural feel, sight and sound. The motion is very smooth and it replicates almost perfectly the real water rowing feel. You set the rowing resistance by adjusting the water quantity in the bowl.
Bodycraft VR200 Rowing Machine, lowest price available: $899 (click here to get the best price available) – a hybrid resistance rowing machine with 6 levels of resistance, level 1 is air resistance, levels 2 to 6 combines air and magnetic resistance to provide you with a smooth rowing motion. It’s light weight, foldable so it doesn’t take too much space when you’re not using it.
Best rowing machines over $1000
Concept2 Model E Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5, lowest price available: $1160 (click here to get the best price deal) – the difference between the Model E and the Model D is the distance from the ground up, the Model E is 6 inches higher and 8 pounds heavier. Here’s a Model D vs Model E comparison chart.
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine with S4 Monitor, lowest price available: $1160 (get the best price deal available here) – the Water Rower is a handcrafted water resistance rowing machine that provides a natural, smooth rowing motion. It comes with a S4 performance monitor that tracks the intensity of your workout. The resistance can be adjustated by adding in or taking out water from the water tank.
Lifecore R100 Commercial Rowing Machine, lowest price available: $1216 (click here to get the lowest price deal) – the R100 is a commercial grade rower with a hybrid air-magnet resistance unit that has 16 resistance levels. The rower has 15 preset programs and 4 heart rate programs you can choose from. The seat is very comfortable and the frame is very well built.
BodyCraft VR500 Commercial Rower, lowest price available: $1599 (click here to get the best price deal) – the VR500 is an amazing hybrid resistance rowing machine, air + magneting resistance, with 32 resistance levels. It has adjustable foot straps and heel rest. The rowing motion is very smooth and replicates the real life water rowing feel very well.
Sole SR500 Rower, lowest price: $1119 (click here for the best price deal) – another air-magnetic resistance indoor rowing machine with a foldable frame for easy storage. Because of it’s high sitting position it’s very easy to get on and off the machine. The long aluminum rail has a very smooth glide motion. The frame is solidly built and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Best Rowing Machines – Our TOP 3 Picks for 2016
If you’re not worried about price and really want to get the best rowing machine you can buy, below are our top picks and recommendations when it comes to indoor rowing machines for home use.
#1 Concept2 Model D
There’s a reason why the Model D rowing machine is on every top rowing machines list online. This is the indoor rower that professional athletes use to train. It’s also used in internation crossfit competitions.
Any veteran rower will tell you that the Concept2 Model D is the best rowing machine money can buy and without a doubt it’s the one you should spend your money on.
The Model D is very easy to set up, it won’t take you more than 10 to 15 minutes to put everything together.
The frame on this machine is very solid, you can really tell that the manufacturer didn’t cut any corners when designing and building the Concept2 rowing machine.
It’s an air resistance rower and it has 10 resistance levels which you can use to make your workout more challenging.
Air resistance rowing machines get a bit noisier when the intensity of your rowing increases but on the plus side the rowing motion is extremely smooth and controlled.
The Concept2 Model D as well as the Model E come with the PM5 performance monitor which is an amazing piece of electronic equipment. It tracks distance, speed, calories burned and watt.
You can find out more about both Concept2 models from our Concept2 indoor rowing machine review.
#2 WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine with S4 Monitor
The WaterRower Natural rowing machine is an amazing piece of fitness equipment. It’s a handcrafted, premium priced water resistance indoor rower.
Because the way water resistance works, you get a smooth, natural rowing machine just like you would be getting if you were rowing on water. The sound of the flywheel is also very similar to the water rowing sound.
The seat is very comfortable and very stable thanks to the 4 corner wheels and dual rails system. The machine is less noisy than an air resistance rower. The 2-paddle flywheel is enclosed in an water tight tank. The more water in the tank the greater the resistance of the machine.
The WaterRower comes with the S4 monitor which displays your workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, zone bar, duration, and distance. The monitor is also compatible with a wireless heart rate chest strap and receiver.
Want more information? Click here to check out customer reviews on Amazon.
#3 Stamina Air Rower
We chose the Stamina Air Rower as our 3rd top pick for 2016 because of it’s excelent value for the money ratio. It costs only $300 (click here for the lowest price deal available) but it’s performance and build quality is premium.
It has an oversized seat which makes it very comfortable even when you’ve been rowing for longer periods of time. The seat slides easily on the angled rail.
It’s an air resistance rower so it can get a bit noisy but the motion is very smooth and natural.
The frame is really solid, it’s made out of steel and it’s foldable so if you don’t use it you can easily store it and it won’t take too much space.
How to use a rowing machine
Besides the high intensity cardio workout, rowing is also a great exercise for building muscle strength. With proper technique, you’ll be able to hit all the major muscle groups.
The rowing stroke is a very natural movement which comes easy for most people. The exercise has 4 phases:
- The Catch
- The Drive
- The finish
- The recovery
The drive is the work part while the recovery is the rest portion between the drives.
The most common beginner rowing mistakes you should watch out for are:
- Leaning to far back in the finish position
- Leaning to far forward in the catch position
- Jerking the handle back with your arms
- Starting the drive with your lower back instead of the legs
When starting out, 10 minutes daily is more than enough. You can slowly add time each day once you get the hang of it.
Types of rowing machines
Indoor rowing machines come in 4 different build types, depending on the resistance or damper mechanism. Along with these 4 types, there are also folding and stationary rowers, both being very easy to move around in your home gym.
Ok, so let’s talk about the 4 resistance types:
Air rowing machines use fanlike blades on the flywheel to provide resistance when working out. The faster you row, the greater the resistance.
Because the resistance adjusts to your stroke rate, you have full control over the intensity of your cardio workout.
Water resistance rowers come with an enclosed water container and revolving paddles which generate the resistance. Same as the air rowing machine the resistance adjusts to your stroke rate, but it can also be manually adjusted by adding or removing water from the container.
Water rowing machines are quieter(there is a wave-like whoosh which water rower users enjoy) than air rowers and people seem to think that they better replicate the feel of rowing on water.
The piston resistance rowing machines consist of 2 hydraulic pistons each attached to an oar(the flywheel is replaced either by 2 oars or by a handle bar). The piston resistance rower is the smallest among the 4 build types and it’s also the cheapest.
The length of the oars/handle bar can be adjusted to fit your height.
The piston rowers are probably the best option if you’re on a very limited budget and you don’t have to much room in your house.
There are 2 major disadvantages with the hydraulic rowers:
- the rowing motion is not as smooth as with the flywheel rowers
- the oil in the pistons tends to heat up which leads to reduced resistance
Magnetic resistance rowing machines are more compact than air and water rowers. Among the 4 build types, these are the quietest and the most popular for home use.
The resistance is achieved through the use of electromagnets which engage the flywheel. Depending on the rower model, the resistance can be adjusted using a mechanical slider or from a digital panel.
Rowing machine workouts
A rowing machines will provide you with a great workout which can be easily adjusted to meet your personal goal. That being said, whatever your goal is, there is a specific rowing machine workout to help you achieve it.
As you can see in the image below, rowing machine workouts engage almost all of your muscle groups. And the best part is that, although these are fairly high intensity exercises, the impact on your joints is extremely low.
Here are 3 different workout routines you can try out on your indoor rowing machine:
Steady rowing is a relaxed pace workout — no faster than 18 to 24 strokes per minute. As a beginner this is a great way to master the stroking movement. Later on as your skill progresses you can use this workout technique for warming up before a more challenging training session.
With the interval training workout you mix up a high intensity session with a low intensity one, 1 to 2 minutes each. Fox example, you start your routine at a high stroke rate(~30 strokes per minute) and keep it up for let’s say one minute, then you switch to a lower stroke rate(~20 strokes per minute) for the same duration.
What this does, it allows you to train for a longer period of time, and it also maintains your hear rate in the fat burning zone. So if you’re goal is to burn calories fast, this is the type of workout routine you’re looking for.
Time trial workout
Time trial workouts are good for seeing how far you progressed. Once a week, track your time over a set distance, normally it’s 2000 meters but that’s really up to you. My tip here is to have a strong start, with a high stroke rate for the first half and then try to keep up the same stroke rate for the second half of the distance.
Also you can row for a predetermined time period(2 to 3 minutes tops) at your maxim stroke rate and record the covered distance.
Rowing machines benefits
The reason why rowing machines are so popular when it comes to home cardio workouts is because they offer a great deal of benefits:
- rowing works all your major muscle groups — the stroke movement uses 84% of your body’s muscle mass
- the workouts can be easily adjusted to meet every person’s needs
- indoor rowers provide the best possible cardio training while being easy on your joints – hips, knees and ankles
- because of the cardiovascular workout, endorphins are relesead in the body, which can lower the stress levels
- rowing strengthens your upper-body muscles – back, arms, shoulders, it also works the hips, buttocks and legs aswell as improving your core strength
The benefits you get from rowing workouts are probably the reason why so many professionals call the rowing machine the calorie-burning king.
To help you with choosing and buying the rower that best fits your needs, here are our reviews of some of the top rowing machine models available right now.