Which rowing machine should you get?

Even if you’re not a water sports enthusiast, you can still appreciate a great total-body workout with a rowing machine. Rowing machines simulate a realistic on-the-water rowing experience through resistance, which may be magnetic, water, flywheel or hydraulic. Users adjust resistance levels to enjoy a calm, steady row, or an intense one that mimics rowing on choppy waters.

The best rowing machine is the Fitness Reality 4000MR Magnetic Rower, a high-end interactive rower that streams live and on-demand workouts. 

What to consider about rowing machines

Rowing machine size

Rowing machines monopolize a good amount of floor space. On average, their footprint measures 36 x 90 inches. Depending on their design, they may weigh up to 250 pounds. 

Most rowing machines are fixed designs, meaning they aren’t portable. If you are looking for portability in a rowing machine, you’ll find a few folding or compact models. 

Types of rowing machines

Rowing machines are generally grouped into categories based on their resistance type. Here’s what you need to know about each type:

  • Water rowing machines: These  draw resistance from a water-filled flywheel. According to many users, they offer a realistic rowing experience on par with outdoor rowing.
  • Magnetic resistance rowing machines: Machines in this group use a magnetic brake system. They offer a smooth rowing motion, and it’s easy to adjust their resistance. However, people feel they fall short in simulating outdoor rowing.
  • Air or flywheel rowing machines: These have a flywheel with fan blades. The harder you pull on the handle, the more resistance you get. Many users feel they mimic the outdoor rowing experience better than other rowing machines.
  • Hydraulic rowing machines: These are equipped with hydraulic pistons. They generate resistance by pulling fluid or air inside their cylinders. While some people feel they don’t offer an authentic rowing experience, they’re ideal for an upper-body workout.

What to look for in a quality rowing machine

Resistance

If you’re not sure which type of resistance you should choose in a rowing machine, consider your workout goals to narrow your choices.

Rowing enthusiasts and competitive rowers often gravitate toward air and water resistance machines. Because they offer a realistic rowing experience, these machines are considered ideal for performance training.

If you’re only looking for an upper body workout, hydraulic and magnetic resistance rowing machines are fair choices. They are known for their smooth motion, and many are beginner-friendly. 

Ergonomic features

Ideally, a rowing machine should have an ergonomic design. After all, if it’s not comfortable, or feels cumbersome to use, it’s unlikely you’ll continue using the machine.

  • Wide, padded seats are seen in quality rowing machines. They’re contoured for support and help place your spine in a neutral position.
  • Handlebars should offer a comfortable, secure grip. It’s common for rowing machines to have textured, contoured, or cushioned handlebars.
  • Footrests should be wide and long enough to accommodate your feet. Many rowing machines have textured footrests to minimize slippage or shifting during rowing.

Console

Basic rowing machines have simple displays or digital monitors. They show basic information such as distance, time, or calories burned.

High-end rowing machines, on the other hand, have well-developed consoles. They’re often equipped with HD touch screens that stream live and on-demand workouts as well as other types of media. The consoles also have speaker systems, though sound quality varies quite a bit.

Cost of a rowing machine

Many entry-level machines with hydraulic or magnetic resistance cost $500 and below. Air and water resistance rowing machines typically run $900-$1,500, while high-end models with touchscreens go as high as $2,500.

Rowing machine FAQ

How loud are rowing machines?

A. Like other exercise machines, rowing machines make considerable noise during operation. Magnetic and water resistance machines, however, tend to be a bit quieter than hydraulic and air resistance machines. 

Do I need to pay extra to access live and on-demand classes with my rowing machine?

A. Yes. Some rowing machines are sold with limited-time access to their companion apps, but after that expires, you’ll need to pay monthly or annually for them. On average, these apps cost around $40 per month. 

What’s the best rowing machine to buy?

Top rowing machine

Best Fitness Reality 4000MR Magnetic Rower

Fitness Reality 4000MR Magnetic Rower

What you need to know: This premium machine offers a realistic rowing experience with smooth yet challenging resistance.

What you’ll love: It comes with a 5-inch LCD touchscreen that shows you the distance, time and calories burned. It has 10 preset workout programs and five customizable programs with various tension levels.

What you should consider: It’s expensive, and there are occasional syncing issues with certain devices.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top rowing machine for the money

NordicTrack RW900

NordicTrack RW900

What you need to know: Made by a trusted brand, this mid-range rowing machine has plenty of premium features. 

What you’ll love: It’s equipped with 26 resistance levels and offers manual as well as air resistance. It has a 22-inch HD touch screen to stream iFit classes. Users are big fans of the interactive iFit platform and its dynamic workouts. 

What you should consider: There’s a small learning curve when it comes to collapsing the machine.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine

Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine

What you need to know: This affordable rowing machine is popular among budget-conscious consumers.

What you’ll love: It has a digital monitor and is equipped with eight resistance levels. The machine has a wide, cushioned seat that users find comfortable. Its overall simple design is beginner-friendly. 

What you should consider: The digital monitor is small and can be hard to see. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Sian Babish writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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