Finding the time to work out can be a challenge. You live a busy life, and trying to fit in regular exercise in with that requires a lot of sacrifice and dedication.
There’s not a lot of stationary exercise equipment that can provide your body with a full workout. This means that a lot of people spend hours at the gym working out with a wide variety of different exercise equipment, from treadmills and ellipticals to lifting weights and doing pull-ups.
If you’re trying to work out at home, it’s even harder. A proper home gym requires a lot of room and a significant investment. That’s why late-night television is peppered with obnoxious ads about new training equipment that purport to be everything you’ve ever wanted.
A rowing machine is an excellent way to achieve that full-body workout you’re looking for. Rowing machines effectively utilize and work muscles in your arms, shoulders, chest, thighs, legs and abdomen, making it truly a tour de force of exercise.
Even more, rowing is an impact-free exercise and can be performed safely no matter your age with minimal risk of injury.
Of course, you’re not going to get the same sort of results on your pecs and abs with a rowing machine as you will with exercises that specifically target those muscles. In the same way, a rowing machine isn’t going to build muscles in your arms at anything approaching weight lifting.
Still, a rowing machine is a great one-off exercise station, and if your agenda is staying fit and healthy, rather than bulking up, a rowing machine is one of the best pieces of exercise equipment you can buy – if you buy the right one, that is.
Things to Consider
As you no doubt imagine, there are a lot of things you need to take into consideration before you consider buying a rowing machine. Rowing machines vary in price from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand. What kind of action do you want? What kind of resistance?
This list here doesn’t cover every variable you need to weigh, but it will help give you enough information to start making an informed decision.
1. Folding or Fixed
Space is often a price concern where home exercise equipment is concerned, especially for those who can’t set aside an entire room for a home gym. Folding rowing machines are popular because they don’t take up as much space. On the other hand, fixed rowing machines are more durable.
Cost is another huge factor to take into consideration. Low-end machines are much more affordable, but you’re not going to get the same results or performance with a cheaper model. You can still experience good results with a less expensive rower, but if you’re expecting the same performance as a rower in the gym, you’re sure to be disappointed.
Are you buying a rowing machine just for your personal use, or will others in your household be using it as well? How many times per week do you intend to use the rower? Take these things into consideration when you consider how much you want to spend.
Buying a rowing machine is not a purchase to be taken lightly, but a major investment. You want to make sure that your investment will pay off. Try to look for one- and two-year minimum warranties, if at all possible.
There are four different types of a rowing machine, each built with a different resistance. There’s air resistance, water resistance, magnetic resistance and hydraulic resistance. There are various strengths and weaknesses associated with each of these types of resistance.
The Best Rowing Machines
If you’re looking for the best of the best, our recommendation is the Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine. Although it’s fairly expensive, there is simply no competition to its performance, quality, warranty or customer satisfaction.
Best Rowing Machines Under $100
Sunny SF-RW1205 Health and Fitness Rowing Machine
f you’re expecting a top-notch rowing machine for less than $100, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you keep your expectations reasonable, however, you might be pleasantly surprised by the Sunny SF-RW1205 Health and Fitness Rowing Machine.
The machine lacks the durability and advanced features of more expensive models, but it has a few things to offer. The rower uses hydraulic piston resistance and has 12 adjustable levels, so you have a lot of control over how much resistance you face. An LCD monitor lets you know how long you’ve been working while displaying how many calories you’ve burned.
The frame is made of solid steel, and the cushion is ergonomically designed. There is a maximum weight limit of 220 pounds. It’s also very light. Weighing a mere 23 pounds, this is easy to move around the room. There aren’t a lot of extra features to the model, and it has a few annoying design flaws, but for the price, this is an absolute steal.
Best Rowing Machines Under $150
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
Another basic budget model, the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine nevertheless offers up some improvements over the previous rower. The most obvious difference is in its design; this is a much more comfortable machine to work on.
Utilizing gas-shock piston resistance, the steel-and-aluminum frame of the Glider 1050 folds down when not in use, making this a convenient rower for those who have limited room at home. The glider 1050 is designed to be as compact as possible without sacrificing the quality of the workout. The rower can support up to 250 pounds and is backed by a one-year warranty on the frame and 90 days on parts.
There are a few minor problems with the rower, small parts that wear out and not enough settings for resistance. Still, this is an affordable model that offers a timely exercise solution for a smaller home.
Best Rowing Machines Under $200
Stamina 1205 Precision Rower
Another rower with hydraulic power resistance, the Stamina 1205 Precision Rower is both more compact and more durable than the Glider 1050. It has a comfortable padded seat and pivoting footplates, so it’s easier to sit while you exercise.
The hydraulic system on the Stamina 1205 is noticeably improved over the last two rowers I reviewed. It has a specially designed ball-bearing rolling system that allows for smoother rowing, improving the fluidity of the movement. Like the last two rowers, it too has an LCD that monitors your time spent, calories burnt and other essential metrics. Adjustable tension controls give you more freedom over your workout and grow with you as you increase in strength.
With a maximum weight of 250 pounds, this machine is suitable for almost anyone. It’s not perfect, of course; the rower weighs 47 pounds and is hard to move; it’s not easy to store, and the profile may not be to everyone’s taste. Still, this is a solid, capable machine at a reasonable price. Especially when you consider it has a five-year warranty on the frame.
Best Rowing Machines Under $300
Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399
With the Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399, we reach the first rowing machine on this list that doesn’t use hydraulic resistance. As the name suggests, the Stamina 1399 uses a large motorized fan to power the resistance. Many rowers consider this to be a more realistic emulation of the experience of actual rowing.
The rower is supported with a steel beam frame. It can fold and even comes with detachable wheels for portability, making this an excellent option if you don’t have a lot of room. It also has protectors, so it will stay in place rather than skidding. The monitor displays your speed, theoretical distance covered, time spent and calories burnt.
The rower can support up to 250 pounds and is backed by an impressive three-year warranty on the frame with a 90-day warranty on parts. If you want a high-quality rower for less than $400, this is your best bet.
Best Rowing Machines Under $400
HCI Fitness Sprint Outrigger Scull Rowing Machine
Like most of the other rowers on this list so far, the HCI Fitness Sprint Outrigger Scull Rowing Machine uses hydraulic pistons to power the rowing activity, with commercial-grade cylinders to ensure a nice long life.
Like the Sunny SF-RW1205, this offers 12 levels of hydraulic resistance, letting you work out at your own pace. The rower is made out of metal, is cushioned with an ergonomic seat and has large footplates for your feet that naturally pivot as you row. The rower folds down into a compact size for easy storage. It has a maximum weight capacity of 275 pounds.
One of the major downsides to this model, however, is its weight. On the one hand, the extra weight helps keep it more stable. But at 55 pounds, its fairly heavy and may be too cumbersome to move for some people, even folded. Although it’s bulky, you can still get a great workout from this rower – but I think the Stamina 1399 is the better value.
Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine
Another hydraulic rowing machine, the Kettler Favorit sets itself apart from other models with its superior construction and sleek, modern design, including a surprisingly comfortable ergonomic seat. It’s made in Germany, so you know you can depend on quality manufacturing.
One of the most notable improvements is an improved LCD training screen that offers more information such as your pulse rate. This can be very helpful, as rowing is most effective at 70-85% of your normal pulse rate. With 50 levels of resistance, you have an awesome amount of control over your workout. The footplates have straps to keep your feet from slipping, and they naturally pivot as you row. The rower is backed by a three-year warranty on the frame and one year on the parts.
Another improvement is in the maximum weight supported. The rower can support up to 285 pounds of weight, so whether you’re building muscle mass or trying to shed some extra pounds, this can accommodate you. This is a pretty good rower all around.
Best Rowing Machines Under $500
Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
Instead of a powered fan or hydraulic pistons, the Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower uses a drum magnetic control system, which uses a magnetic pull to break the bars and providing the resistance, with an electronic tension control helping to maintain the tension when you pull.
The beam is made of anodized aluminium and features an ergonomic saddle seat. The rower folds for easy storage, but is quite heavy, weighing 75 pounds. What is notable about this rower is that it comes with a heart monitor that you strap to your chest while working out. This allows you to optimize your cardio training and make the most out of your workouts and exercise. The frame is backed by a five-year warranty, but the computer has a 90-day warranty, and all other parts have a mere 30-day warranty.
I wasn’t super crazy about the design. While it was designed to take up minimal space, it also can be a little awkward when you’re working out. That was my personal experience, but a lot of people are perfectly comfortable with this rower, so it’s not set in stone. Although there are twelve settings for different resistance, I wish it offered a little more resistance. Still, this is great, and the heart monitor lets you get the most out of your workouts.
Best Rowing Machines Under $600
Kettler Kadett Outrigger Rowing Machine
A second entry from the German company, the Kettler Kadett Outrigger Rowing Machine is similarly powered through hydraulic pistons. Made with carbon steel, the Kadett Outrigger features incredibly durable construction.
The hydraulic pistons used in this rower are industrial strength and seem very durable. Like the Kettler Favorit, it has a comfortable ergonomic cushion and biomechanically accurate footplates. It uses the same LCD as the Favorit. The rower can be folded to make it more compact, although, at 66 pounds, it’s heavy enough that you don’t want to haul it around too often. That said, the frame is protected by a limited lifetime warranty, so if something does break, you’re covered.
However, the Kadett Outrigger seems to be a step back from the Favorit in one significant way. Instead of 50 levels of resistance, there are a mere 12 levels of resistance, which isn’t any better than the Sunny SF-RW1205. This, combined with its heavy weight, prevents me from awarding this a perfect score.
Best Rowing Machines Under $1000
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
There’s a pretty significant price jump from the Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower to the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine. There’s also a significant jump in quality. In fact, the Concept2 Model D is quite possibly the best rowing machine on this list.
The Model D uses an air resistance model, and it is very thoroughly designed. A spiral damper gives you perfect control over the flywheel, allowing you to adjust the airflow at ease to suit your preferences. The PM5 (performance monitor) tracks a variety of statistics, including your speed, distance covered, calories burned, etc. You can even transfer your information to your PC or Mac via flash drive. The footrests are adjustable, and the machine can be broken down into two pieces for easier storage.
The Model D is used by Olympic athletes around the world. It is incredibly reliable and comes with a five-year warranty on the body and a two-year warranty on the parts. It has a maximum weight limit of 500 pounds, which is incredible. I had no problems using it, and I have nothing bad to say about it either. This rowing machine is simply excellent.
Best Rowing Machines Under $1500
Waterrower Rowing machine Ash
The first thing that stood out to me about the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine is that it’s beautiful to look at. Crafted with beautiful ash and honey oak, this is the quietest rowing machine I have ever heard.
It is also possibly the most realistic. The handcrafted rower uses a water flywheel that is powered by water hydraulics. This makes it the most accurate emulation of water rowing because you are working out against the resistance of actual water. The Series 4 monitor keeps track of everything from your workout intensity to your heartrate. It is also backed by an excellent five-year warranty on the body and three-year warranty on the parts, so long as you register the rower.
I have only one real complaint with the WaterRower, and that is its weight. At 117 pounds, it is incredibly heavy, which makes storage challenging. Although it is designed for upright storage, you have to be quite strong just to lift it. Aside from its weight, this is an amazing, life-like rowing machine.
There are a lot of options out there and a lot of choices to be weighed. Not everyone is working with the same budget or has a lot of room. If you have the money, however, the Concept2 Model D is easily the finest rowing machine on this list, and one of the best on the market.
But don’t worry. There are plenty of effective rowing machines out there for much less that will still deliver a formidable workout. Happy shopping and good luck!
*All prices mentioned above are at the time of publishing.