Rowing has long been favored by people looking for a full-body workout that’s cardio-heavy yet low impact. Invest in a machine for your house and you’ll never have to wait around to use the one at the gym.
All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.
By Chelsea Wolf2020-05-31 09:00:00 UTC
As the weather gets warmer, you may be thinking about getting in shape. Or maybe you’re spending more time at home and thinking of investing in a high-quality piece of exercise equipment.
Whether you’re looking to add a piece of equipment to your home gym or are in search of a single machine that will provide a full-body workout without taking up too much space, a rower is a solid choice. Rowing has long been favored by people looking for a full-body workout that’s cardio-heavy yet low impact. This means that you’re not putting large amounts of stress on your joints, giving you less of a chance of sustaining an injury. This makes rowing a safe and effective workout for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities.
When it comes to purchasing a rowing machine, there are a lot of factors to consider. Air resistance or magnetic resistance? Water resistance or hydraulic resistance? Hi-tech features or just the basics? Built-in workouts or flying, er, rowing solo? Fear not, dear reader, we are here to answer all of your rowing-related questions and steer you in the right direction.
So what exactly is a rowing machine?
Simply put, a rowing machine mimics the effects of rowing on the water. This is achieved by using different types of resistance.
When it comes to rower resistance, there are four types to consider: air, magnetic, water, and hydraulic. While each type of rower exercises the same muscle groups, there are a few major differences to consider before making a purchase. With an air resistance rower, the machine uses a flywheel to generate air resistance as you pull your body. So the harder and faster you pull, the harder the resistance or “drag” becomes. This creates a workout that mimics the sensation of rowing on the open water. Air rowers are favored by Olympians and professional athletes alike. So if you’re looking to go pro or at least train like one, an air rower is your best bet.
With a magnetic rower, the user sets the desired resistance by moving a magnet closer or further away from the flywheel. Air resistance rowers tend to be louder than magnetic resistance rowers, so if you live with others or find yourself easily distracted, a magnetic resistance rower may be a better fit.
Water rowing machines use water resistance to create what some say is the smoothest stroke. These rowers are typically made of wood and feature a large water tank at the front of the machine. There are no resistance settings on water rowers, meaning that in order to feel more resistance, you have to row faster. The level of water in the tank is controlled by the user and represents the weight of the boat and its captain. If you want a heavier boat, you add more water to the tank. If you want a lighter boat, you add less water to the tank. Across the board, water rowers have the most basic type of monitors. No live workout classes or Olympic champion instructors to keep you motivated here. But perhaps you’re more of a meditative type who prefers the lapping of the water to lull you into a methodical rowing trance. If that’s you, go the water route.
The hydraulic resistance rowing machine is the most basic of rowers. Hydraulic rowers get their name from the very system that makes them run: a hydraulic cylinder. These machines rely on a cylinder filled with oil or air that a piston runs through. Resistance is created when the piston, which has an attachment connecting it to the arms of the rowers, moves in and out of the cylinder as you row. The great thing about hydraulic rowers is that they’re usually on the cheaper end of the spectrum. They also tend to be smaller machines, typically weighing no more than 60 lbs with a length of no more than 5 feet.
If you’re a bigger person, a hydraulic rower won’t allow you to fully extend. However, hydraulic rowers offer more flexibility when it comes to the arms of the machine. So if giving your arms range of motion is important to you, a hydraulic machine may be your best bet.
What type of monitor do I need?
The type of monitor you’ll need depends on the type of workout you want. Do you want to be rolling on the virtual river with a community of athletes? Or are you more of a lone rower who prefers a solitary session sans technology?
The monitors on magnetic rowers typically offer more options than those on air rowers. Similarly to a treadmill or an elliptical, you can choose from a variety of preset workouts. This is a great feature for anyone who doesn’t want to think too hard about their workout.
Regardless of the type of machine you chose, even the most basic monitor will include preset H.I.I.T (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts that will have you engaging not only the muscles in your arms but in your legs, back, and core too.
But which rowing machine is the best?
As with any major equipment purchasing decision, there are several factors to take into consideration. Lucky for you, there are tons of rowing machines out there at a variety of price points and sizes. We’ve done most of the work for you (you can thank us later), so we can get you off the computer and onto your rower in no time. So whether you’re just starting out or looking to take your workout up a notch, we’ve compiled this list of the top rowers on the market based on both user and expert reviews.
Quiet • Smooth • Includes a one-year iFit membership
Some users have said that the customer service is unreliable
Perfect for anyone who loves taking classes and is looking to kick their workout into high gear.
1. NordicTrack RW500 Rowing Machine
A high-quality rower that utilizes air and magnetic resistance and offers tons of added features.
86.5″ L x 22.0″ W x 42.8″ H
Maximum User Capacity:
NordicTrack offers three solid options when it comes to rowers. As a well-known exercise brand, whichever NordicTrack machine you go with is a solid choice, but the RW500 is hard to beat. This rower offers two forms of resistance: Silent Magnetic Resistance (SMR) and air resistance. SMR is controlled by your trainer and provides a smoother, quieter workout. The air resistance is controlled by you and can be adjusted to add more intensity to your workout. The monitor is a 10-inch tablet preset with 30 workout apps. With 26 resistance levels, two large speakers, on-demand rowing workouts, and live interactive workouts where your SMR is controlled by your trainer, the NordicTrack RW500 gives you the feel of being in a workout class while in the comfort of your home. Alternatively, you can chart your own course by using the Google Maps feature to explore different bodies of water around the world. Bonus: Each purchase comes with a one-year iFit membership. You’re allowed up to four profiles, which makes it great to share with your family or roommates.
Large monitor • 500 pre-programmed workouts • Free Bose headphones with purchase • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatibility
Upright storage kit sold separately
While this rower will definitely set you back a stroke or two, the quality of the machine and the inclusive community make it worth the plunge.
2. Hydrow-Connected Rower
Perfect for the serious athlete who loves switching up their routine and being part of a community.
86″ L x 25″ W x 47″ H
Maximum User Capacity:
Described as the “Peloton of rowers,” the Hydrow-Connected Rower is a great choice for the serious rower. Unlike some of their competitors, Hydrow only offers one rowing machine (so far) and is focused on providing the user with the best possible experience. The Hydrow-Connected Rower offers a comprehensive list of features including computer-controlled resistance, ergonomically designed seating for a smooth and comfortable workout, as well as a variety of stunning visuals and realistic sound effects to help give you that “on the water” feeling. New live workouts are added daily to help keep your routine fresh and exciting. With the help of your Hydrow Athlete and team, you’ll receive boatloads of support and motivation. The 22” HD rotating screen and front-facing speakers make for the most comfortable and immersive workout experience. The only downside to this machine is that it isn’t easy to transport and if you want to store it, you’ll need to purchase a separate upright storage kit. Bonus: Once you’ve completed 60 workouts, Hydrow will make a donation in your name to Water.org, a charity that provides water and sanitation to millions of people in the developing world.
Lightweight • Quiet • Stores easily
No memory capacity • No compatibility with other devices • Confusing assembly instructions
A great option for beginners or anyone looking to up their cardio without shelling out an arm and a leg.
3. Stamina Magnetic Power 1110
This magnetic rower is perfect for small spaces and small budgets alike.
60’’ L x 22’’ W x 27’’ H
Maximum User Capacity:
The Stamina Magnetic Power 1110 is just one of many rowing machines offered by Stamina. The thing that sets this model apart from the others is how affordable it is. As a budget option, this simple yet effective rower is hard to beat. The Stamina Magnetic Power 1110 offers eight levels of magnetic resistance, a workout monitor that tracks total strokes, strokes per minute, total distance, workout time, distance and calories, and built-in wheels for easy portability and storage. The downside is that the monitor won’t track your progress, so you’ll have to do that on your own. There’s also no knob to adjust the difficulty of your workout. Your resistance is determined by how hard you row. If you don’t feel like coughing up a ton of cash though, it’ll get the job done.
Highest weight capacity • Compact when folded • Built for commercial and home use
On the louder side • Heart rate monitor sold separately
Perfect for anyone looking for a no-nonsense, high-quality workout.
4. ETHOS Rower
A compactible rower designed with athletes of all sizes in mind.
96” L x 20” W x 47” H
Maximum User Capacity:
The ETHOS Rower, formerly known as the Xebex, is a sleek and durable machine. Though the brand name might not be household, it is commercial grade. The airflow setting offers 10 resistance levels as well as a built-in fan to further utilize the air resistance. The three built-in training programs (Quick Start, Interval Training, and Competitive Racing) make it easy to customize your workout. The monitor may not be high tech but it does track the essentials like total distance, total strokes, strokes per minute, and calories burned. It also is heart rate monitor compatible, but you’ll have to purchase that separately. This rower is also very compact: when folded it’s a mere 3 feet by 20 inches. Another feature that sets this machine apart is its ability to hold up to 500 lbs. That’s double the weight of some of its competitors. So while this machine is definitely a space saver, its inclusive for rowers of all sizes.
Quiet • Durable frame • Recovery feature to track improvement
Heavy • Monitor is battery-operated
A quiet rowing machine that gives you all of the health benefits with none of the noise.
5. KETTLER Advantage Stroker Indoor Rower
This durable magnetic rower makes it easy to track your progress.
86″ L x 24″ W x 32″ H
Maximum User Capacity:
The KETTLER Advantage Stroker Indoor Rower offers a realistic rowing experience at a reasonable price. This rower has 10 magnetic resistance levels so you can easily customize the drag to fit your needs. The included Polar T34 chest strap monitors your heart rate and wirelessly transmits your information. Along with a recovery feature that provides cardio wellness grading, you’re able to easily track your progress. While this machine is on the heavier side, the steel folding frame is designed for long-term use. The LCD screen is small but provides you with the basics (strokes per minute, total strokes, total distance, and heart rate). The monitor doesn’t run on electricity and requires two AA batteries, so if you’re someone who is constantly running out of batteries, this could be a problem. On the other hand, if you’re worried about running up your electric bill with your newfound rowing habit, the battery-operated Kettler Advantage Stroker Indoor Rower could be the perfect fit.
Lightweight frame • Smooth stroke • Feels like being on the water
When the water tank is full it’s heavy and difficult to move • No Bluetooth compatibility
This machine will have you feeling like you’re actually outside rowing.
6. XTERRA ERG650W Water Rower
A sleek and durable rower for anyone looking to recreate that “on the water” sensation.
79.5″ L x 20.7” W x 33.9″ H
Maximum User Capacity:
The XTERRA ERG650W Water Rower comes with an easy to fill water tank for a realistic rowing experience. This machine offers six levels of resistance and a modest-sized LCD screen that displays total time, total strokes, strokes per minute, distance, calories, pulse, drag force, and watts. Some of the preset workouts include quick start and a variety of race options like 2000M, 5000M, 10000M, 30:00, and 500M/1:00 rest. To make up for the basic monitor, the ERG650W comes with a tablet holder so you can stream your favorite show while you row.This machine weighs in at 76 pounds when assembled, making it one of the lightest water rowers out there.
Lightweight • Compact • Built-in wheels make it easy to move
Lacking length-wise • Basic monitor • Difficult to assemble
Ideal for small spaces and for those who don’t need a lot of guidance.
7. KETTLER KADETT Rower
A compact machine guaranteed to give you a high-quality, no-frills workout.
59” L x 20” W x 18” H
Maximum User Capacity:
KETTLER is one of the most trusted names when it comes to exercise equipment and the KADETT rower continues to uphold that good name. This rower offers 12 levels of resistance and a small LCD monitor that tracks your total time, total distance, and total strokes. The KADETT is significantly smaller than its air, magnetic, and water resistance competitors, making it less of a hassle to store. Or less of an eyesore if keeping your rower out in the open is more of what you’re into.