One of the most effective ways to maximize your workouts is to use equipment that provides a full-body workout. That’s where a rowing machine comes in. Living up to its name, this versatile machine simulates the movements of rowing a boat, which works numerous muscles in the body.
If you are considering a rowing machine, there are several key points to take into consideration, including the different types that are available. We assessed their features and functions to assist you as you shop for the perfect rower for your needs. We also included our favorite models, such as the top-selling Hydrow Wave, which we found to be smooth, comfortable, quiet and highly effective in our testing.
What to know before you buy a rowing machine
Health benefits of rowing
Rowing is an effective exercise that can help burn calories, build muscle and increase stamina. Unlike running, rowing is low impact. It also provides a well-rounded upper body workout that strengthens the biceps, back and core, the last two of which are very important for posture and preventing injuries.
In addition to training the upper body, rowing also stimulates the muscles in your quads, glutes and calves. It does this while putting minimal pressure on the joints in your ankles and knees, making it suitable for a wide range of people.
Types of rowing machines
Rowing machines come in four types: water, air, magnetic and hydraulic. Each offers certain benefits.
Water rowers most closely emulate the feeling of actually rowing a boat on the water. This is because they work on similar dynamics. The resistance on a water rower is created by the flywheel working against the drag of water as it spins. Some may find the swishing sound of these can be very meditative, too.
In air rowers, the resistance is created by the flywheel spinning through air rather than water. The harder and faster you pull the handle, the more resistance is created and the more strenuous the workout. These are also effective at recreating the feeling of real-world rowing, though slightly less so than water rowers.
Magnetic rowers are equipped with magnetic brakes and have an adjustable resistance system. They usually have smooth motion, but because the difficulty doesn’t naturally increase as you pull harder and faster, they don’t mimic the feeling of outdoor rowing very well.
Hydraulic rowers are generally the most affordable. Their resistance is created by pistons pulling against air or liquid inside of their cylinders, and they are manually adjustable so you can increase or decrease the difficulty as needed. Note that hydraulic rowers feel very little like outdoor rowing.
Size and storage
The majority of rowing machines are large and, due to their horizontal design, take up a lot of floor space. Before choosing any rower, you should measure the area you intend to place it in your home to make sure it will accommodate the model you are considering.
If you don’t have a dedicated space for a rower, there are folding options that you can move to an out-of-the-way area when not in use. Additionally, some models can be stored in an upright position to free up space when it's not in use. Just make sure to look at the weight of any machine you plan on moving often to ensure that you can do it on your own safely.
Rowing machine features
The ergonomics of a machine are dictated by the seat, footpads and handle. Both the handle and seat should be well-padded for comfort. The footpads need to be wide enough to fit your feet and should have straps to hold them in place. On some models, you can adjust the size and angle of the footpads.
On water and air rowers, the resistance is progressive and increases naturally as you row harder and faster. This makes them just as suitable for beginners as advanced rowers. Conversely, magnetic and hydraulic rowers have set resistance levels that you select to customize your workout. The more settings they have, the easier it will be to match your personal fitness level.
Depending on the rower you choose, it may or may not have a dashboard. If you want to track your fitness metrics, it is important to buy one with a dashboard that displays statistics such as calories burned, workout time, distance and speed. On premium models, the dashboard may be incorporated into an HD screen for watching TV, videos of outdoor settings or following along with workouts.
Some rowers feature Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which can greatly enhance their functionality. Bluetooth allows you to sync your rower with third-party fitness apps on your phone, a heart rate monitor or wireless headphones. Wi-Fi is necessary for streaming workouts and trainer-led classes to your machine's display.
Rowing machine cost
The most budget-friendly magnetic and hydraulic rowers start around $100, with better-quality models usually costing between $200 and $300. Water and air rowers start around $300 and can cost upward of $2,500 for highly advanced machines with premium builds, smart connectivity and large HD displays.
Rowing machine FAQ
Will rowing help me lose weight?
A. Any exercise you do can help you lose weight as long as you combine it with a healthy nutrition plan. Rowers can provide both anaerobic and aerobic workouts, which can make them very effective in helping people lose weight.
How loud are rowing machines?
A. Some types of rowing machines are louder than others, specifically air and water rowers. If you live in an apartment and are worried about bothering neighbors or others in your home, it may be best to opt for a magnetic or hydraulic rower, which are both nearly noiseless.
Which rowing machine should I get?
Best of the best rowing machine
Hydrow Wave: available at Amazon
Our take: The Hydrow Wave is a premium rower with a sleek build that features a 16-inch display for following along with live and on-demand workouts.
What we like: This model's powerful speakers and ergonomic design offer an enjoyable workout. The company offers subscription memberships for interactive workouts. It can be stored vertically when not in use.
What we dislike: It's notably more expensive than most other rowers.
Best bang for your buck rowing machine
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rower: available at Amazon
Our take: Despite being one of the most affordable water rowers, the Obsidian Surge 500 feels well-made and has smooth action.
What we like: The 16 hydro blades are very effective at mimicking the feeling of outdoor rowing, and the fitness meter accurately tracks and displays important workout metrics.
What we dislike: It lacks a spot to place a media device shelf, and the seat can be noisy.
Honorable mention rowing machine
NordicTrack RW900 Rower: available at Amazon
Our take: With a 22-inch screen and 26 resistance levels, you can get a perfectly customized workout on the RW900 while also following along with trainer-led classes.
What we like: The trainer can adjust your resistance in real time and the screen rotates outward for participating in off-machine fitness classes. This updated model has a durable build with smooth performance.
What we dislike: The 250-pound capacity isn't enough to accommodate some users.
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Brett Dvoretz 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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