The Best Rowing Machines for the Home Gym

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

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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 provide 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 your fitness goals and lifestyle, when shopping for a rowing machine.

Read this buyer’s guide to find out what you need to know to get the best rowing machine for you.

  1. BEST MAGNETIC: MaxKare Magnetic Rowing Machine
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
  3. BEST BLUETOOTH COMPATIBLE: FITNESS REALITY 1000 PLUS Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
  4. BEST HYDRAULIC: Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
  5. BEST WATER MODEL: Sunny Health & Fitness Surge 500 Water 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. They are favored by beginners for ease of use, but they can accommodate even the most seasoned athletes.

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

Finally, water rowers generate less noise than air rowers while providing an excellent workout.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Rowing Machine

Generating resistance is just one factor to consider when shopping. 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 between models, so before making your purchase, be sure to consider the following to find the best rowing machine for you.

Available Space

Working out from home can mean you have less space for fitness equipment. Check the dimensions of a rower before you make a purchase. Those with smaller or shared areas will want to be sure to pick up a rower that folds for easy storage.

Rowers can take up as much as 9 linear feet! Rower designers have taken this into account by engineering features that facilitate easy storage and movement. If you plan on hiding your rower away 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 offer wheels for ease of movement.

Resistance 

Besides the four methods of generating resistance, rowing machines 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 by manual manipulation, individuals can choose from various settings based on their fitness goals. Checking how many resistance settings your prospective machine offers may be the difference between using your 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

The Best Rowing Machine Option: MaxKare Magnetic Rowing Machine
Photo: amazon.com

What could be considered the monarch of the magnetic options, the MaxKare Magnetic Rowing Machine includes a digital display, 16 levels of resistance, padded handles and a cushioned seat, and nonslip foot pads. A foldable model, the MaxKare leaves a little to be desired in weight capacity with its 240-pound limit. With a slide rail length of 49 inches, the MaxKare can accommodate rowers up to 6 feet 5 inches in height.

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.

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 your 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 like cable tricep extensions. At 88.5 inches by 21.5 inches by 21.5 inches, the 1000 Plus folds up for storage and will support most rowers with its 250-pound weight capacity.

Best Hydraulic

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

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

The monitor is spartan 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 Body Trac Glider 1050 offers a comfortable, quiet rowing experience without a lot of pricey features.

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 Obsidian 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.

FAQs About Rowing Machines

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.