It can be tough to get into shape, especially if you don’t know where to start. The selection of equipment is overwhelming, and there are even some that require a monthly subscription.
But it doesn't need to be complicated, as a rowing machine is one of the best starting points for beginners. We recommend Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine. This is the closest you can get to feeling like you're rowing on a body of water without ever leaving your home.
What to know before you buy a rowing machine for beginners
What are the different types of rowing machines?
Rowing machines are categorized according to the type of resistance they offer. There are four options: hydraulic, magnetic, air and water.
Hydraulic: A hydraulic rowing machine has arms that are attached to pistons which create the resistance. This is a good choice for beginners who want the most affordable option. A hydraulic rowing machine can deliver a suitable workout, but it doesn't accurately replicate the rowing experience.
Magnetic: A magnetic rowing machine is very quiet, making it great for a home or an apartment where too much noise may be an issue. The smooth motion is great for a beginner who is learning the mechanics, but it doesn't offer the most authentic rowing experience.
Air: A rowing machine that uses a fan to create resistance can be very effective — the faster the fan spins, the harder the workout becomes. These models are good for beginners because they can grow with the user as they get stronger.
Water: Arguably the best (but also the most expensive) option is a rowing machine that uses water for resistance. Instead of rotating through air, the blades in this type of machine must move water. This provides the most realistic rowing experience you can have while not being out on an actual body of water.
Rowing machine features
Is a rowing machine comfortable?
When used correctly, a rowing machine is comfortable. A padded grip and secure footrests are more important than you might think, but a comfortable seat is key.
You’ll be doing a lot of gliding with a tiny bit of rocking back and forth, and if your seat is hard, rises up too high in the back, or your form is off, you may quickly develop abrasions on your lower back (near your sacrum) which may make rowing a painful experience.
Most models — especially those for beginners whose form might not be perfect — feature comfortable seats.
How do I use a rowing machine console?
The console is the electronic device that allows you to track not only your individual workouts, but also your overall fitness progress on a rowing machine.
In general, the more flexible your console is, the easier it will be to tailor it to your specific needs. Consoles can be set to monitor your stroke rate, distance and split time. Some models can also track calories burned and allow you to set workout targets.
How do I store a rowing machine?
If you need to store your rowing machine when it’s not in use, you want a lightweight model that’s easy to move. On some rowing machines, the console folds down so you can slide the unit beneath your bed, while others fold in half or can be placed on end to better fit in a closet. Be careful if storage is important, because not all models can be easily stored.
Rowing machine cost
While it’s easy to spend over $1,000 on a rowing machine, if this is your first one, it might be best to stay below $500, as this provides a much more comfortable financial entry into the activity.
Rowing machine for beginners FAQ
How do I breathe when rowing?
A. Just like any exercise, exhale is on exertion. In rowing, when you're driving back, exhale. Inhale slowly as you recover (glide back to the starting position). If you find yourself getting out of breath, you may be rushing the recovery and not allowing yourself enough time to exhale.
How far back do I lean at the end of my rowing stroke?
A. While you might think leaning way back at the end of a stroke is good, it actually increases the risk of injuring your back. At the furthest point away, when your legs are extended and your hips are open, your upper body should only be leaning back a few degrees — if you imagine a clock, your back would be roughly at the 11.
Which rowing machine for beginners should I get?
Best of the best rowing machine for beginners
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500: available at Amazon
Our take: This is the model to get for a beginner who's looking to have the most realistic rowing experience.
What we like: The resistance in this model is generated by fan blades spinning through water so the user has the most realistic home rowing experience possible. The raised seat makes it easier to get on and off of the machine without straining your back.
What we dislike: A higher-priced item, but it's a great price for this type of rowing machine.
Best bang for your buck rowing machine for beginners
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine: available at Amazon
Our take: A machine for the individual who wants to give rowing a try but doesn't want to spend a lot of money.
What we like: This compact rowing machine features a hydraulic system with 12 levels so you can adjust the resistance to your specific needs. It features a durable build and an ergonomic design with pivoting pedals and foam handles for comfort.
What we dislike: Taller users don't have the same pleasant experience as people of average height.
Honorable mention rowing machine for beginners
Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Bluetooth Magnetic Rowing Machine: available at Amazon
Our take: A highly versatile magnetic resistance machine that allows you to do more than just rowing workouts.
What we like: This model operates quietly. It features easy assembly and the LCD screen is large and easy to read. The model has 14 levels of resistance and it's designed so you can also perform standing exercises such as curls, tricep extensions and more.
What we dislike: If you need to store this unit between sessions, it can take a little effort to fold up.
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Charlie Fripp is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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