The Best Rowing Machines of 2022

Rowing machines provide a low-impact workout that tones the whole body. Read on to learn which features and options to consider when choosing the best rowing machine.

By Mike Bruton | Updated Aug 24, 2022 2:56 PM

BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

The Best Rowing Machine Option

Photo: amazon.com

Popular with crew teams worldwide, rowing machines simulate the rowing motion to provide a low-impact, full-body workout perfect for fitness goals ranging from shaving off a few pounds to training for a triathlon.

Rowing machines are an excellent option for those who prefer to exercise from home, but not all machines are created equal. Be sure to consider factors such as mechanism, noise level, space, and monitor displays, as well as fitness goals and lifestyle, when shopping for a rowing machine. This buyer’s guide outlines what users need to know to choose the best rowing machine for their purposes.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
  3. UPGRADE PICK: NordicTrack RW900 Smart Rower
  4. BEST BLUETOOTH COMPATIBLE: FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
  5. BEST HYDRAULIC: Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
  6. BEST WATER: Sunny Health & Fitness Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine
  7. BEST COMPACT: Stamina 1205 Precision Rower
  8. BEST FOR BEGINNERS: Yosuda Magnetic Rowing Machine
  9. BEST FOLDABLE: Merax Folding Magnetic Rowing Machine
  10. BEST UNDER $500: Circuit Fitness Deluxe Foldable Rowing Machine
The Best Rowing Machine Option

Photo: amazon.com

Types of Rowing Machines

A Greek admiral named Chabrias is credited with creating the first on-land rowing simulator as a training tool for oarsmen in the Athenian navy. If sweating below decks of an ancient oar-driven warship doesn’t fit into your training schedule, you will need to choose between four types of modern rowing simulators. Air, hydraulic, magnetic, and water rowers all use different mechanisms to create resistance for their users.

Air Rowers

Air rowers use wind resistance to generate tension for the rower. Rowers enjoy their smooth delivery of power, high resistance levels, and intuitive control over a workout.

When a rower begins rowing, a flywheel on the end of the machine pulls air into its housing. The harder a rower works, the faster the flywheel moves, generating more resistance. Rowers can alter the intensity of their workout by merely moderating their pace. Athletes in training often choose air rowers for the enhanced control they offer.

Hydraulic Rowers

Hydraulic rowers are effective at providing everything from light physical therapy to an intense cardio workout. Hydraulic pistons fastened to an articulating arm generate resistance. Because they don’t incorporate a pull chain or flywheel, hydraulic rowers are often smaller than other models, but they sometimes leave the leg muscles out of the workout due to lack of a slide rail.

Unlike their air-based counterparts, hydraulic rowers do not respond to changes in intensity. The exerciser must manually adjust the resistance between workout sessions.

Magnetic Rowers

Electromagnets within the flywheel housing interact with the wheel as it turns. To adjust resistance level, the user changes the distance between the magnets with mechanical sliders or digital controls.

Magnetic rowers represent the highest level of technology in the rowing machine market, and their price tends to reflect that. However, if waking the family with a noisy workout or catching a movie as you exercise is a concern, magnetic rowers offer nearly silent operation with many of the advantages of air rowers.

Water Rowers 

Water rowers generate resistance via a chain attached to paddles that move through a tank of water. Beginners favor them for their ease of use, but they can accommodate even the most seasoned athletes.

Water rowers offer an expanded ability to change resistance, a feature not found in other models. Aside from the included settings, rowers can raise or lower the tank’s water level (think a half-full watercooler) to adjust the tension. Similar to air rowers, water models also allow for on-the-fly adjustment of intensity.

Finally, water rowers generate less noise than air rowers while providing an excellent workout, and many of the wooden rowing machines are very stylish.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Rowing Machine

Generating resistance is just one factor to consider when shopping for top-rated rowing machines. Aside from the type of machine, buyers should consider footprint, resistance settings, display monitors, noise level, and weight capacity when making a selection.

These characteristics vary among models, so before making a purchase, be sure to consider the following.

Available Space

Working out from home can mean less floor space for fitness equipment. Check the dimensions of an indoor rower before making a purchase. Those with smaller or shared living areas will want to be sure to choose a rower that folds for easy storage.

Some professional rowing machine options can take up as much as 9 linear feet! Rower designers have factored this into their designs by engineering features that facilitate easy storage and movement. For those who plan on storing their rower when it’s not in use, get a foldable model for easy storage. Foldables tend to have a lower weight capacity, but some models also come with wheels for ease of movement.

Resistance 

Besides the four methods of generating resistance, a good rowing machine will also have different resistance settings. Water and air rowers respond to changes in intensity, while hydraulic and magnetic rowers must be adjusted between sessions.

Whether via a digital display or manual manipulation, exercisers can choose from various settings based on their fitness goals. The number of resistance settings a prospective machine offers may be the difference between using the rower for life and outgrowing it in a few years.

Some machines have dozens of resistance settings, while others offer only a few. Inexperienced rowers may opt for a machine with few options, while accomplished rowers might require the entire gamut of settings in their training.

Monitor Controls

More sophisticated machines come with large displays that feed the rower exercise metrics, while simpler models rely on small digital monitors to display basic information.

Consider the location and size of the display. For example, make sure you can see it easily from your seat and that the buttons are large enough to use in the middle of a challenging workout. For the tech-averse, a hydraulic rower with no digital component may be perfect, but some models link to smartphones to track biometric information.

Make sure the rower you select has a display that is comfortable to use and easy to see during a workout.

Comfort

Quality seats, footplates, handles, materials, and quality of construction impact how much time you spend rowing. If a rowing machine is uncomfortable, you won’t use it.

Your body makes contact with a rower in three places: the footplates, the seat, and the handle. Making sure these are of quality construction, comfortable, and the right size for you is crucial. Seat width and padding level is key to a comfortable ride, as is adjustable footplates and a comfortable grip.

Users will be uncomfortable on an improperly sized machine. Check the length of the slide rail to determine if a device is suitable for your height.

Noise Level

An important factor when choosing home gym equipment is noise. Those with shared walls, sleeping family members, or a preference to watch movies while exercising will want to be sure to get the quietest rower available.

Air rowers are the noisiest type of rower. The flywheel is essentially a fan, and the faster it moves, the louder it gets—so an intense session might result in a tired or unhappy spouse, child, or neighbor. Water rowers also tend to make noise, though it is a soft swishing sound made by the paddles cutting through the water tank.

Magnetic rowers are known for their silent operation, so consider one if higher noise levels will impact your lifestyle.

Weight Capacity

Weight capacity is as much a safety issue as anything. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure your rowing machine can accommodate any person who hops on. Some manufacturers explicitly engineer some rowing machines to accommodate up to 500 pounds, while folding models sacrifice weight capacity in favor of convenience.

High-capacity rowers tend to be sturdier and more durable than their low-capacity counterparts. Additionally, if you plan on moving the rower for storage, don’t neglect how much the rowing machine weighs. Mobile and foldable units tend to be easier to move after a workout and therefore have lower weight capacities due to engineering trade-offs.

Our Top Picks

The following models offer a combination of features and qualities that will fit into most rowers’ lifestyles with ease. Whether you’re training for a crew team or just looking to knock off a few pounds, consider the following rowing machine recommendations to find the one suited for your lifestyle and fitness needs.

Best Overall

Best Rowing Machine Concept2
Photo: amazon.com

Our pick for the best overall rower for indoor home use is the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine. This air rower boasts a whopping 500-pound weight capacity, and its 14-inch  ergonomically designed seat will accommodate most users. Ergonomic grips and adjustable footrests add to the comfort, and the monitor is easy to read while offering wireless connectivity.

The Model D checks in at 94 by 25 by 14 inches, making it large by rowing-machine standards, and it does not fold up. Fortunately, moderate styling helps integrate this rower into one’s home without any fuss. Just be aware, as an air rower, the Model D will be a little noisier than some of its peers, but it more than makes up for the noise with solid construction and features.

Product Specs

  • Type: Air
  • Weight capacity: 500 pounds
  • Space requirements: 9 feet by 4 feet

Pros

  • Includes preset workouts to choose from
  • Wireless connectivity
  • Adjustable footrests
  • Separates for compact storage

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Fan rower can be quite noisy

Get the Concept2 rowing machine at Amazon, Rogue, or Concept.

Best Bang For The Buck

The Best Rowing Machine Option: Sunny Health and Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
Photo: amazon.com

Sunny Health & Fitness’s magnetic rower offers a smooth and quiet operation, a large and easy-to-read LCD display for workout statistics, and an affordable price point. Additionally, the SF-RW5515 offers eight resistance settings and accommodates rowers weighing up to 250 pounds. The design also features nonslip foot pedals and foam grip handlebars for extra stability and comfort.

The magnetic flywheel, while ultraquiet, may not provide enough resistance for high-level rowers. At 82 inches by 19 inches by 23 inches, the RW5515 isn’t the smallest rower on the market, but transport wheels make it easy to tuck out of the way when not in use. Overall, Sunny Health & Fitness provides a competent rower with enough features to make this rower a great choice at a friendly price.

Product Specs

  • Type: Magnetic
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Space requirements: 2 feet of clearance around the rower

Pros

  • Affordable
  • 8 resistance levels
  • Easy-to-use digital monitor
  • Relatively quiet operation

Cons

  • Not suitable for users over 250 pounds

Get the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic rowing machine at Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Sunny Health & Fitness.

Upgrade Pick

Best Rowing Machine Nordic
Photo: amazon.com

The magnetic RW900 Smart Rower entices the most dedicated rower with some excellent features. The 22-inch display is more than ample for checking out health stats and simulates actual bodies to row by for those missing the lake. The interactive e-fitness platform iFit offers a subscription service, giving RW900 owners on-demand access to thousands of training programs.

A molded ergonomic seat, foam handlebar, and adjustable foot straps make the RW900 comfortable for long workouts. At 86.5 inches long, the RW900 folds for easy storage but sacrifices weight capacity with a 250-pound limit. The RW900 boasts an impressive 26 levels of digital resistance.

It may be overkill for some rowers, but the RW900’s bells and whistles are designed with a passionate rower in mind. In addition, this magnetic rower operates silently for a quiet home workout.

Product Specs

  • Type: Magnetic
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Space requirements: 2 feet of clearance around the rower

Pros

  • Large LCD monitor included
  • Multiple settings to choose from
  • Fully adjustable for maximum comfort
  • Robust construction

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Very heavy once assembled

Get the NordicTrack rowing machine at Amazon, Best Buy, NordicTrack, or Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Best Bluetooth Compatible

The Best Rowing Machine Option: FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
Photo: amazon.com

The Fitness Reality 1000 Plus is a reasonably priced magnetic rower offering a quiet operation and a few tricks up its sleeve. An internal Bluetooth module connects to the MyCloudFitness app that provides detailed workout information. The included display is spartan but supplemented by a built-in smartphone mount that turns the user’s phone into an additional screen.

Fitness Reality boasts of its extra-wide 11-inch seat, foam-grip handlebars, and adjustable footplates that allow for upper-body exercises such as cable tricep extensions. At 88.5 by 21.5 by 21.5 inches, the 1000 Plus folds up for storage and will support many rowers with its 250-pound weight capacity.

Product Specs

  • Type: Magnetic
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Space requirements: 6 square feet

Pros

  • Bluetooth tracking included
  • 14 workout levels
  • Quiet operation

Cons

  • Some users report oil leaks over time

Get the Fitness Reality rowing machine at Amazon, Macy’s, or Sam’s Club.

Best Hydraulic

The Best Rowing Machine Option: Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050
Photo: amazon.com

As a hydraulic rower, the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 doesn’t make much noise, and it is easy to fold up and store. At 58.25 by 42.5 by 18.125 inches, it is far shorter than its magnetic, air, or water counterparts, making it a prime choice for buyers with space limitations.

The monitor is simple but enough to be easily viewed from a molded seat. Textured footplates and foam-padded hand grips round out this rower’s nod to comfort, and few rowing machines can compete at this price. The Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 offers a comfortable, quiet rowing experience without a lot of pricey features.

Product Specs

  • Type: Hydraulic
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Space requirements: Unspecified

Pros

  • Budget-friendly price point
  • Very compact and storage-friendly
  • Adjustable hydraulic resistance

Cons

  • Not programmable

Get the Stamina BodyTrac Glider rowing machine at Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Kohl’s.

Best Water

The Best Rowing Machine Option: Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500
Photo: amazon.com

Exercisers track statistics from the nicely sized R2 Fitness Meter, which delivers information on split times, strokes per minute, heart rate, temperature, distance traveled, and calories expended. Quieter than air rowers, the Sunny Health & Fitness Surge 500 produces a gentle swishing sound as the fins move through the water.

The 12-inch seat glides on three sets of bearings for a smooth stroke. The 42-inch slide rail and durable frame accommodates up to a 300-pound weight capacity. This rower features rubber wheels to easily move or store it upright when not in use and is a great option for the rower seeking a quiet, comfortable, and durable machine.

Product Specs

  • Type: Water
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
  • Space requirements: 2 feet of clearance around the rower

Pros

  • Immediate resistance interaction with the water
  • Includes fitness tracker
  • Rubber wheels for easy transport
  • Can be stored upright

Cons

  • Quite heavy

Get the Sunny Health & Fitness Surge 500 rowing machine at Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Sunny Health & Fitness.

Best Compact

The Best Rowing Machine Option: Stamina 1205 Precision Rower
Photo: amazon.com

This hydraulic rower is the ultimate for the space-conscious individual. Its 48- by 32.5- by 27.75-inch dimensions make it the most compact machine on the market, so finding a corner for it will be far easier than it would be with other models.

A steel frame and thick padded seat make the Stamina 1205 Precision Rower comfortable and sturdy to accommodate a weight capacity of 250 pounds. The hydraulic cylinders make for quiet operation, but the lack of a sliding track may disappoint some rowers.

The 1205 incorporates itself nicely into your home by offering a quality rowing experience with a small cost in space.

Product Specs

  • Type: Hydraulic
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Space requirements: Unspecified

Pros

  • Small footprint
  • Affordable
  • Comfortable padded seat
  • Quiet operation

Cons

  • No sliding track

Get the Stamina 1205 rowing machine at Amazon, Kohl’s, Overstock, or Stamina Products.

Best For Beginners

Best Rowing Machine Yosuda
Photo: amazon.com

Beginner rowers are likely reluctant to invest in high-end rowing machines. This model from Yosuda is an ideal mix, with a relatively affordable price point along with some interesting features, including a higher weight capacity of 350 pounds. There’s a bright LCD display that shows users distance, rowing time, count, and calories. For those who enjoy watching TV or listening to music while working out, there’s also a holder for a phone or tablet.

Noise is no issue with this magnetic rowing machine, which operates smoothly and quietly with up to eight different resistance settings. When not in use, this model can be folded into a more compact size and wheeled into storage with the two handy transport wheels.

Product Specs

  • Type: Magnetic
  • Weight capacity: 350 pounds
  • Space requirements: Unspecified

Pros

  • Includes LCD display and shelf for phones or tablets
  • Easy to transport and store
  • Ergonomic seat
  • Suitable for most body sizes

Cons

  • May require frequent maintenance with oil

Get the Yosuda rowing machine on Amazon or at Yosuda.

Best Foldable

Best Rowing Machine Merax
Photo: amazon.com

An unfortunate characteristic of rowing machines is their sheer footprint. Certain homes simply don’t have the space to store them away when not in use. Luckily, there are plenty of foldable options that make for a more compact workout machine. This model from Merax is an ideal solution, since the entire 78-inch seat rail can fold up into the rest of the machine, making it much easier to fit into a closet at just 63.8 inches in total length. It even includes two front wheels to avoid having to lift the entire machine.

The smooth magnetic operation means it is less likely to disturb other household members. There is a simple LCD display that tracks the basics, but the budget-friendly price is reflected in its limited additional features. The robust construction does provide this rowing machine with one of the highest maximum-weight capacities, at an impressive 330 pounds, so it’s suitable for most users.

Product Specs

  • Type: Magnetic
  • Weight capacity: 330 pounds
  • Space requirements: Unspecified

Pros

  • Quiet operation
  • Sturdy construction
  • Easy to assemble

Cons

  • Basic LCD monitor
  • No additional features

Get the Merax rowing machine at Amazon or Hydropolis. 

Best Under $500

Best Rowing Machine Circuit
Photo: amazon.com

Shoppers looking for a rowing machine that’s not loaded with additional features—with a loaded price point to boot—should check out this option from Circuit Fitness. It comes with all the basics, such as eight resistance settings, an LCD screen to monitor the standard fitness statistics, a device holder for tablets or phones, and the rowing machine itself. It’s also easy to transport because it can be folded into a more compact storage shape and rolled around on its two front wheels.

Users can opt between an updated Bluetooth-compatible model or the standard model without connectivity. Both options come with a comfortable and ergonomic seat and adjustable foot straps.

Product Specs

  • Type: Magnetic
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
  • Space requirements: 24 inches away from walls and other objects

Pros

  • Budget-friendly option
  • Can hold phones or tablets
  • Adjustable foot straps
  • Folds away for storage

Cons

  • Limited additional features

Get the Circuit Fitness rowing machine on Amazon or at Overstock.

Our Verdict

Shoppers looking for a suitable new rowing machine that will stand up to frequent use should consider the Concept2 Model D, a top-performing air rower packed with features. Those interested in a more budget-friendly option may want to check out the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine, a basic model without all the bells and whistles.

How We Chose the Best Rowing Machines

With so many options on the market, we did our research to find a range of suitable options for shoppers across a wide range of requirements. Our list of recommendations includes rowing machines for all budgets, with smart rowing machines packed with additional features, such as Bluetooth connectivity, fitness-app compatibility, and multiple resistance and training levels to choose from. For shoppers looking for more affordable options, we also include a range of top picks that skip the additional frills for a more budget-friendly price point.

We found that storage is an important factor for more shoppers, so we made sure that the majority of our picks are foldable to create a more compact machine when not in use. We also looked at the various types of gym-quality rowing machines, providing shoppers with air, water, hydraulic, and magnetic options.

FAQs

Q. Is a rowing machine a better workout than a treadmill?

Both are ubiquitous at-home workout machines, but rowers tend to take up less space and offer a workout that incorporates the upper body.

Q. What is the proper rowing technique?

Proper rowing technique is crucial to avoid injury and maximize effectiveness. Check with a trainer to fine-tune the six steps to proper rowing technique, and consult the user manual for any tips or tricks pertaining to your individual machine.

Q. How long should you row on a rowing machine?

Fifteen minutes of vigorous activity or 30 minutes of moderate exercise is enough to impact overall health significantly. Be sure not to overtrain, and consult a doctor before starting a new regimen.

Q. Is it okay to use a rowing machine every day?

While the rowing machine’s low-impact workout is easy on the joints, muscles still need time to recover. Consult a doctor or trainer before upping your rowing days.