By clicking on the product links in this article, Active.com may receive a commission fee at no cost to you, the reader.
Rowing machines are experiencing a wave of rising popularity. That's because people are realizing that rowing as an exercise does much more than just work your upper body. Rowing is also a great low-impact alternative to jogging, which makes it ideal for people who are looking for ways to reduce stress on their joints.
But with so many new and advanced rowing machines to choose from, trying to settle on the best rowing machine for you can feel a little overwhelming. We reviewed some of the most popular rowing machines out there, along with models that have been swimming under the radar, to see which ones deliver the absolute best value and benefits—and which ones mostly tread water.
Here are our top 5 picks for the best rowing machines on the market in 2021
- Editor's Pick - Concept2 Model D Rower
- Best Magnetic Rowing Machine - Hydrow Rowing Machine
- Best Budget Rowing Machine - Stamina ATS Air Rower
- Best Water Rowing Machine - WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine
- Best Foldable Rowing Machine - Get RX'd Xebex Air Rower
Editor's Pick: Concept2 Model D Rower
The Concept2 Model D sets the bar high when it comes to a rowing machine that delivers serious indoor training. It's an easy-to-use commercial-grade rower that won't intimidate beginners or casual rowers looking for a good home workout. This rower's performance monitor packs in plenty of workouts and games, all while tracking your performance. There's also an ergonomic handle and seat, so you can stay comfortable as you work out. The Concept2 Model D is built to last, and as an air resistance rower it closely replicates the feeling of rowing on water. This rower is widely used in commercial gyms and in CrossFit but has a price tag of just over $1,000. It also increases its resistance depending on how fast you row. So it's a sturdy machine that's easy to put together, won't break down and stores easily in your home gym.
Best Magnetic Rowing Machine: Hydrow Rowing Machine
The Hydrow is one of the most luxurious rowing machines out there, but packs in a lot of value to match a higher price point. It uses patented electromagnetic, computer-controlled technology that simulates the real deal but from the comfort of your home gym. Each stroke is smooth and virtually silent, and you can see, feel and experience the level of detail that went into its sleek design. It has an ergonomic seat that provides comfort for your longest workout, and there's also a 22-inch touchscreen that offers a ton of high-intensity rowing workouts, all while repelling dust and sweat. While this is a top-notch machine, it does have a few downfalls. If you need to put this machine away when it's not in use, you'll have to pay extra for a vertical storage kit on top of the already-expensive price tag.
Best Budget Rowing Machine: Stamina ATS Air Rower
People often buy a low-end rowing machine because the price on the sticker is too good to pass up. Then, they're quickly disappointed with a rower that falls short. That doesn't apply to the Stamina ATS Air Rower. As the name implies, this indoor rower uses air resistance, so it provides a smooth and natural movement that responds to your level of intensity without the clunkiness you'll find in other models at the same price point. And just because it's relatively cheaper in price doesn't mean its design cuts corners. Its steel frame adds stability to your workout while a multi-function LCD monitor tracks your critical metrics, like distance, speed, time and strokes per minute.
Best Water Rowing Machine: WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine
If you relish a well-polished design backed by the substance of water-resistance rowing, check out the WaterRower Natural rowing machine. It's made of sustainably sourced wood that serves both form and function: While it provides a gorgeous exterior look, it also yields incredible longevity, stability and vibration absorption. These aspects help this machine be very quiet, which is a great thing to have if you live in an apartment or don't want to make a lot of noise. Because of the nature of water rowing machines, you'll have to expect extra maintenance with the WaterRower. The water within the wheel has to be emptied out and refilled every so often, and the wheel container has to be cleaned to prevent mold. The WaterRower Natural provides a very realistic rowing experience, down to the "whoosh" sound you make with each stroke. In fact, we believe this is currently the closest to actual rowing you can get on land.
Best Foldable Rowing Machine: Get RX'd Xebex Air Rower
Want a quality rower that you can fold up and hide away when you're not using it? The Xebex Air Rower is your answer. It's easy to fold–you pull a single pin behind the folding hinge, then give it a nudge in the middle of the frame—and though it is a bit on the bulky side when folded, it's ready to store in your garage or home gym. What's particularly noteworthy about the Xebex Air Rower is that it's surprisingly durable for a foldable rowing machine. The machine stayed solid during our review, no matter what we threw at it. And as an added perk, the height of the seat sits roughly 22 inches off the floor, so you have the feel of a gym rower with some added support for your knees and back when it's time to get up. It has a weight capacity of 500 pounds, so users of all body types can enjoy this home machine. There's also a large LCD screen packed with a good selection of workouts.
Will a Rowing Machine Help My Performance?
With regular use, the right rowing machine can increase your muscle strength and get your body in prime position to burn some serious calories. Hopping on a rowing machine for HIIT workouts, endurance training and functional fitness training all deliver a great cardio workout. So while rowing machines may have been sitting idle in the back of the gym for the last decade, the health benefits they offer have finally gotten them enough attention to springboard them back into action.
Rowing Machine Factors to Consider
Rower Type and Resistance: Rowing machines are all about resistance, with the goal being to mimic the experience and provide the benefits of rowing on water as closely as possible. A rowing machine can provide that resistance in any number of ways, be it air, magnetic or water resistance. And across all three there are models available that let you adjust the level of resistance to best fit your desired workout intensity. Here's a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each rower type and how they work to provide resistance:
- Air rowers rely on air being propelled through a flywheel, or the internal mechanism that creates resistance in this rower. Resistance is created based on how hard you pull. If you're pulling hard and creating quick intervals, the flywheel is moving quickly and creating a lot of resistance. Air rowers are good at replicating the real rowing action you'd expect on the water, but they also tend to be quite noisy when in use.
- Magnetic rowers typically use strong magnets rotating around one another to create resistance as you pull. A great perk here is there's zero friction, which makes for a smooth and quiet workout. The major drawback with magnetic rowers is that they lack the authentic feel of rowing on the water.
- Water rowers are the newest of the three rower types. When you take a stroke, paddles within a drum of water turn to create resistance. The harder your row, the more intense your workout. From an aesthetic point of view, water rowers also tend to be beautifully designed and offer rowing action that can often make you think you're actually on the water. Of course, with that level of authentic feel comes a major drawback: price. They tend to run steep, and they're by far among the most expensive models you'll find. You'll also have to clean your water rower regularly or else mold and mildew may pop up. Keep in mind that leaks are always a possibility too.
Space: Much like treadmills, rowing machines come in all shapes and sizes. Some are foldable, some can be stored vertically and some even separate into multiple parts. If you have a space picked out for your rowing machine, take measurements and compare them to any model you have your eye on. And don't be fooled by the fact that a particular model can fold. Sometimes a foldable rowing machine can have a bulkier profile than streamlined models that can't fold at all.
Features: A rowing machine can come with all the bells and whistles. Some of those features are practical and even innovative while other features come off as a tad gimmicky. Here are some things to consider when deciding which features matter the most to you:
Upkeep: No matter what machine you land on there will be a bit of maintenance involved so it can stay durable. Plan on switching out the batteries every so often in the monitors, oil chains for smooth strokes, clean dust off of the dampers and change out the water periodically if you have a water rower. You can also get in touch with each brand's customer service for maintenance best practices.
Seat: Rowing involves sitting in one place for an extended period. Look for a machine that is made of high-quality materials with ergonomic features, like the seat. How high a seat sits off the floor is also important. If you're someone with knee and back pain, you'll want a seat positioned high off the ground.
Monitor/Dashboard: Rowing machines will usually have a dashboard or monitor that provides you with basic stats. Others have full-on, high-definition monitors that share those same metrics but with the added perk of selectable workouts and rowing sessions. A monitor or dashboard doesn't necessarily impact the health benefits of a rowing machine per se, but knowing your metrics and sweating through a pre-programmed workout can go a long way toward helping you achieve your health goals. Depending on how important a monitor or dashboard is to you, look for a rowing machine model that lets you adjust and reposition the screen for optimal viewing.
Foot Straps: This one might sound like a given, but it can often be a feature that goes overlooked until a purchase has been made. Like the seat, don't take this element of a rowing machine for granted. Make sure the straps on any model you're considering are adjustable enough—you don't want your feet sliding around as you row.
- Smart Features: Lastly, like so many workout machines on the market today, rowing machines can have all kinds of smart features, such as Bluetooth connectivity for headphones and wearable health devices, and can be paired with third party workout apps for additional performance tracking. You may care about some, all or none of these smart features, so make sure you do your homework not only to ensure you get a model that fits your needs and preferences, but to ensure you're not paying a high price for a bunch of features you don't even plan to use.
READ THIS NEXT: Your Guide to the Most Common Group Fitness Classes