How to Choose a Rowing Machine

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Air Rowing MachineThere are numerous workout routines that can help in achieving those ambitious fitness goals you have in mind. When people hear the term exercise, they only think about morning runs and evening jogs, which can be grueling. With the right equipment, you can work out at home and get that top form while staying healthy. A rowing machine is one investment you can make for your fitness routines and if you want to know how to choose a rowing machine, we’ve got you covered.

The rower market is full of different products that aim to cater to a myriad of fitness demands. Deciding which one is the most suitable for your home can be daunting when you don’t know how to gauge which type and model is designed for the average user and which one is for someone who is training for a sport. This rowing machine purchasing guide looks at these aspects and more.



Indoor Rowing Machine Benefits

Before you start shopping for a rowing machine, ask why you need it. Is the investment worth it? The answer is yes if you aim to have a fully toned body and want to do it using the fewest pieces of equipment. Rowing machines are suitable for regular individuals and professional athletes who want to stay in shape even in the off season. Rowing workouts are recommended because they exercise the entire body. The practice requires your upper, lower body, and core, which all have to get engaged when rowing, not to mention your heart rate is always up during the workouts. If you intend to tone muscles, then these machines will get you there with the right exercises.

Your cardiovascular health gets a big boost with each session because you retain an aerobic state when exercising. The lungs benefit from improved circulation and high energy levels, thereby enhancing your endurance. Also, rowing equipment doesn’t exert any pressure on the back or joints.

Rowing machines are also excellent investments for anyone who wishes to lose weight because vigorous exercises on a high resistance rowing machine can burn copious amounts of calories. The frequency and workout techniques determine the rate of weight loss. It is advisable, as well, to combine rowing with other fitness routines and a comprehensive diet for the best weight loss outcomes.

A few minutes on the best exercise rowing machine you can find for your budget can do wonders for your stress levels, especially after an exhausting day. With your equipment at home, you can easily spare a moment after work to do a few routines. A user can even row while watching TV, thus maximizing on your free time.

Whether you are a hardcore fitness enthusiast or just looking to burn some fat, a rowing machine doesn’t disappoint. However, which one is best suited for your type of exercise? Read on to find out and then take a look at our picks for the top models in each category.


Different Types of Rowing Machines

Rowing machines are categorized according to their resistance mechanism, and there are four distinct selections. The resistance of the device is what makes it possible to work out different parts of the body, and it is applied when the user pulls on the pulley rope and leans back on the seat while pushing forward with the feet on foot plates. The machines have varying levels of resistance, which influences the stroke rate and consequently, the pace of the exercise routines.


Air Rowing Machine

Concept 2 RowerAir rowers make the user feel as if he or she is outside. The device contains a flywheel and fan blades, which spin whenever the user pulls, thereby providing enough wind to fuel the resistance. The harder the user pulls on the rope, the faster the flywheel spins and the more the wind, which provides a higher resistance.

One advantage of air rowing machines is that the wind allows smoother rowing strokes and this closely resembles water rowing, thereby making it a popular choice for fitness enthusiasts and professional rowers. This smooth action causes minimal wear on the resistance mechanism, meaning your rower has a longer life span compared to hydraulic or even water. You also get to determine the stroke rate by how hard you pull when rowing.

The downside is that when starting, the first few strokes may have very little resistance, which can make workout routines more time consuming. To combat this, the better models include a damper that allows you to control the airflow over the flywheel, and therefore the resistance. Concept 2 makes the world’s best rowing exercise machine and it is an air rower.

The fan housing included in this device requires it to be longer than other models and the fan blades can create some noise as they spin through the air.


Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Hydraulic Rowing MachineA hydraulic rower is designed with two cylinders or pistons (one for each handlebar) that is filled with compressed air and fluid, which is responsible for providing the needed tension for resistance. The biggest distinction between a hydraulic and air, water, or magnetic rower is that the user can’t pull in an elliptical motion like when actually rowing. Also, the seat is fixed and you only work your upper body.

The small size of a hydraulic rowing machine is its best selling point. Some can even be folded up for storage. When you have a cramped space but still want a home rower, then this is a good option. Additionally, this rowing device is cheaper than all the others. Given the benefits, a hydraulic is an appropriate investment for an individual with a passion for rowing workouts but with limited space and budget. It is also quiet in its operation.

Hydraulic rowing machine users cannot achieve natural motion because you use a straight back and forth motion rather than forwards and upwards and downwards and back. This makes it hard to keep the arm and leg movements synchronized. As the oil inside a hydraulic rower heats up, the resistance level changes. You, therefore, need to do regular maintenance.


Magnetic Rowers

This one is the most quiet rowing machine of the four, and it functions by using a magnetic brake system to create resistance. Electro-magnets are placed near the flywheel, and moving them closer increases the rate of resistance. The silent operation of this device is due to the lack of friction when pulling the pulley rope.

Users get very smooth strokes with this particular rowing device. The resistance ranges are varied, which opens up a lot of options when managing workout routines. Resistance can be accurately measured, so these modern types of rowers usually come with an LCD screen that displays many fitness stats, like calories burned, time, distance, etc. You can change the resistance level by manually turning a dial or moving a slider through set levels, or the best magnetic rowing machine will allow you to electronically do it by a push of a button.

Because magnetic rowing equipment doesn’t produce a lot of friction, you don’t have to worry too much about maintenance.

The major disadvantage of a magnetic rower is that is doesn’t simulate natural rowing, but if you’re not using it for race training but only for exercise, then this shouldn’t matter. Compared to a water or air rower, the magnetic rowing machine is shorter, which sometimes reduces the slide length if not designed well but is ideal if you don’t have a large workout space and perfect if you’re a shorter rower.


Water Rowing Machines

Water Rowing MachineAs with the air rowing machines, water rowers are designed for the professional user who is used to rowing outdoors. The unique flywheel in this device is constructed to imitate the movement dynamics of a boat. A belt and pulley system connects the flywheel to a plastic water tank that provides resistance when the water moves against the blades of the flywheel.

Most professionals prefer this rowing machine because it most closely resembles rowing in open waters and is virtually silent except for the sound of the water swirling in the tank. Users also get smooth strokes that are consistent in resistance through the session. Owners only have to change the water; otherwise, there is very minimal maintenance. Water rowers come with wooden frames, making them more attractive than other types.

They come with heavy price tags just like air rowers. A water rowing machine tends to be bigger than magnetic or hydraulic types, and that means buyers must account for the needed space. The equipment is heavier than most designs, so be careful when you need to move it around the home.


What to Look for When Buying a Rowing Machine

The following features will further help you decide what type of rowing machine is best and which specific model to choose.

  • Rowing machines are fitted with at least basic LCD screens that make it easy for users to monitor the progress of their workouts. The function of the display differs from one brand of machine to the next, so be clear about what you are looking for. Some provide the calorie count while others keep track of the speed and distance traveled.
  • The seat rail length is another element that will affect how well your rowing machine serves your fitness goals. A user should aim for a longer seat rail length if space allows for it. You want to make sure you can slide up and down the seat in a full range of movement without being uncomfortable. This is especially a challenge if you’re looking for a rowing machine for a tall person. A smooth metal alloy rail for your seat is an added advantage so as to not be jerked or bumped.
  • The pulling drive system can be chain or belt, and you have to consider the durability of each material. A belt system is preferable when you are aiming to minimize the noise produced by a rower. Go for belt material that is as strong as a chain for durability.
  • If you’re going to use it for long periods, seat comfort of the rower matters. Look for proper padding. Seat height matters if you have limited mobility getting on or off. A higher seat is better in this case. The seat and handles should be easily adjustable too.
  • The footplates absorb most of the pressure when rowing, so they have to be of superior standard. Find rowing equipment that is designed with metal bracing and brackets in the footplates. The straps should secure your feet properly to avoid slippage. Articulated footplates are preferred to accommodate the natural movement of the feet as you move forwards and back.
  • Besides size, you must consider the weight of a rowing machine as well. If your home has space constraints, you want a rower that’s either compact or can easily fold and get stored out of the way, which means it has to be light enough to handle without help from others. Some rowers can just stand vertically against a wall. If the machine is meant to be permanent in your home gym, choose a heavy rower for smooth workouts. Same goes for a rower that is going to be shared by more than one in the house.


A rowing machine in your home can be just the tool you have been waiting for to finally get your aerobic fitness schedule in order due to the convenience it offers. Considering the cost of the equipment, you have to be certain that the product you purchase aligns with your exercise objectives. Have a reasonable budget when selecting your rower and don’t compromise comfort for anything. The right home rowing machine will provide you with excellent service for a considerable while, so take the time to evaluate all the features.


How big are rowing machines?

A good number of rowing machines measure around 8 feet long. The most popular rower, Concept2 RowErg, Concept2 RowErgs needs about 9′ by 4′ of floor space so that you have enough elbow room to row freely and allow the air resistance flywheel to get enough air circulation, which prevents a drag effect.

Is 20 minutes of rowing enough?

20 minutes on a rowing machine can be great even though 30 minutes is even better. The nice thing about rowing as a form of cardio exercise, is that it gives you the ability to go at a high intensity and get the same benefit as 45 minutes using a less intense machine. To maximize the benefits in 20 minutes, try doing a HIIT workout on the rower, which can help you burn over 300 calories. For example, try vigorous rowing for 30 seconds and then immediately after do 60 seconds of slower rowing. Rinse and repeat.

Can you get in shape by just rowing?

According to Harvard University, a 185 pound person will burn a whopping 440 calories with a 30 minute vigorous workout. Only vigorous cycling can match that but if you take into account that a stationary rowing machine feels safer to most overweight people than a stationary bike, the medal for getting in shape goes to rowing.

Hydraulic Rowing Machine: By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Water Rowing Machine: By Waterrower (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Air Rowing Machine: By U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Kevin T. Murray Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Concept 2 Rower: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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