Rowing machines provide one of the best total body workouts. Here’s how to choose the best rowing machine for your fitness goals and budget.
The rise of rowing machines and the home gym
Sure, it might look like Frank Underwood is going nowhere fast on his water rower on the Netflix series House of Cards. But he—and the countless number of people who have turned to indoor rowing lately—are onto something: Rowing is one of the most efficient workouts if you’re aiming to score a cardio boost and total body strength workout all at once. (This is the best exercise equipment for home workouts.)
Rowing engages 86 percent of your muscles. Each stroke involves 65 to 75 percent legs (glutes, quadriceps, calves) and 25 to 35 percent upper body (arms, pectorals, abdominals, upper back) effort, according to the American Fitness Professionals Association.
Unlike the treadmill (which targets the lower body) or the arm ergometer (the upper body), the rowing machine challenges you top to toe—and gets your ticker working, too.
According to 2020 research from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the average person burns about 275 calories in just 30 minutes on a rowing machine.
How to choose the best rowing machine for home use
If you’re intrigued by the idea of indoor rowing, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the best home rowing machine. For starters, steer clear of the shiny new trend, says Caley Crawford, an Irvine, California-based director of education and programming for Row House and Row House GO Coach.
“Look for how long the machine has been out in the market,” she says. “You’ll find that some of the newer, and typically cheaper, machines don’t have a lot of testing years on them. That means there’s no proof that the machine will (survive) the wear and tear.”
For the safest bet, shoot for a model that’s been around for at least five years and is proven to be tried and true.
As far as price goes, “it might seem like a good idea to go for a cheaper machine, but if you don’t like how it feels or if it breaks it’ll ultimately be a waste of money,” says Crawford. “For the best home rowing machines, you’re looking at $750 to $1,000. But for a good home gym machine, it’s worth it.”
How you plan to use it
To narrow down your choices, “it’s essential to consider what is important to you for increasing your ability to begin and adhere to an exercise program,” says Chris Gagliardi, scientific education content manager for ACE and an ACE-certified health coach and personal trainer in San Diego. “What will help you to get the most out of this new piece of equipment and how often do you plan on using it?”
Do your research
Check out the warranty, read as many relevant reviews as possible, ask your peers and social network if they have any strong feelings about specific models, and watch video tutorials of professionals and novice users on the exact product you are considering, Gagliardi suggests. (Also, beware of the secret dangers of popular gym machines.)
There are three types of rowing machines you can buy based on your personal needs and style preference.
Air: A flywheel with attached fan blades spins with each pull, and the resistance comes from the wind produced. To increase resistance, pull harder. Both Gagliardi and Crawford recommend this style.
Magnetic: A magnetic brake system provides the resistance, making this the quietest of all rowing machine styles. Some rowing machines combine air and magnetic resistance.
Water: Designed to mimic a boat progressing through water, a water rowing machine’s flywheel gets resistance from water (in this case, swishing and splashing around a tank). “Water-resistance rowers are good for shorter distances,” says Crawford. “But the feel isn’t as smooth for longer rows because the water loses momentum on each stroke taken. So it tends to feel a little stop-and-start. Maintenance can be a little trickier, too.”
Bonus tips for selecting the best rowing machine
“Ask lots of questions as you are researching products and make a list that allows you to make a side by side comparison of the multiple rowers you are considering,” Gagliardi says.
During your research, seek out answers to these questions:
What is the rowing machine’s footprint and how much space is needed to separate it from walls and other equipment?
Does the rowing machine have any height or weight limits?
What type of regular maintenance is required?
How easy is it to get replacement parts and are their repair technicians in your area?
How easy is it to store?
Is assembly required?
Is the rowing machine stable or does it tend to wobble?
How comfortable are the handles and seat?
What type of support is provided both before and after your purchase?
Will you use it as part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program or for longer durations?
Read on for the best home rowing machines for every price point to help you stay in shape.
Via Amazon.comSunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine Rower
The most budget-friendly, no-frills option on this list will give you a basic low impact aerobic exercise. This rowing machine is a hydraulic resistance system that consists of 12 levels of resistance with a digital monitor that displays time, count, total count, and calories burned. It has an ergonomic-friendly fully padded seat, cushioned handlebars, and anti-slip footplates with adjustable foot straps.
Bonus: It provides a smooth, quiet row. (Here are the online fitness classes you should try right now.)
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
If you want a rowing machine that’s small, compact, and makes you feel like you’re rowing through water, opt for this second budget-friendly option. This rowing machine has a comfortable molded seat, an adjustable hydraulic cylinder, footplates with straps for your feet, and foam padded hand grips to provide comfort and stability. It also comes with a multi-function LCD monitor to help you track metrics during your workouts. (Like indoor cycling? Here are the best exercise bikes to buy.)
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower
This machine is a streamlined and super-quiet magnetic rower. It includes eight levels of resistance, a padded seat, and slip-free pedals. An LCD console offers in-the-moment readings of how many meters you’ve rowed, calories burned, and time spent on the rowing machine. It also contains an extra-long slide rail that makes this machine ideal for people of all sizes. A big plus: You can fold this rower and easily transport it to a corner of your home thanks to built-in wheels.
Via Amazon.comXTERRA Fitness ERG220 Rower
Also on the budget-friendly end of this best home rowing machine list, the magnetic XTERRA has earned rave reviews from users for its quiet, smooth feel, eight levels of resistance, and comfortable pivoting footplates. This is the ideal rowing machine if you’re short on space since the frame folds down and the base features wheels for easy roll-away storage. (Here are the best products for indoor workouts this winter.)
Stamina Air Rowing 1405 Machine
“Good rower for the price,” is one of the most common refrains on user reviews for this fan-powered air rower. You control the toughness—simply pull harder for more resistance or back off a bit for less. A foam-padded seat and large footplates make this a fairly comfortable ride for anyone up to 250 pounds. An LCD display tracks speed, time, distance, and calories burned. When you’re done, fold the frame and wheel it into a closet or corner. (Psst, here’s how to avoid weight gain when the gym is closed.)
TRUNK Water Rowing Machine
Be sure to compare different colors of the same rowing machine. In this case, for instance, you’ll save $250 by opting for a black oak frame over a white oak frame—with all the same features. This water rower ranks highly for its ergonomic seat, foot pedals, handles, and weight capacity (330 pounds). It also comes with an LCD display to track distance, stroke rate, and splits (time per 500 meters), as well as wheels and a frame that folds in half so that you can easily tuck the rowing machine away. (Going for a long walk? These are the best walking shoes for your feet.)
Via Concept.comConcept 2 Model D RowErg
If you’ve used a rowing machine at the gym, chances are good that it might have been this trainer-favorite model. If you’re one of the few who don’t fall in love right away, this rower comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a two-year limited warranty.
“Concept2 is sustainable, it’s the industry standard in the sport of rowing and the online community is amazing,” says Crawford. “It’s also what we use in all of our Row House studios around the country.”
The Model D tracks and can record meters rowed, split time, stroke rate, and calorie burn. The quick-release frame lock and caster wheels make it a breeze to store.
BodyCraft VR500 Rower
The combo air and magnetic resistance means this versatile rowing machine offers 32 levels of challenge. Plus, the seat is even more comfortable than the Concept2, fans say. They also adore the fact that it’s quiet enough to watch TV without adjusting the volume and the LCD and LED display is easy to read and track meters rowed, calories burned, time, strokes, level, and more. It folds and rolls away in three seconds, BodyCraft promises. (This is the best time to work out.)
NordicTrack RW Rower
Like the Peloton of rowers, this quiet, luxe model comes with a 22-inch interactive high-definition touchscreen to display live or recorded iFit workouts from trainers across the globe. Join one of their classes and the trainer will actually adjust your magnetic resistance for you. Or you can use any of the 26 resistance magnetic and air levels to make your workout feel like you’re in real water. This best home rowing machine has a 250-pound capacity and folds in half to store in small spaces. (Here are some other at-home smart gym equipment options to consider.)