Rowing machines weren’t always the most popular or well-known exercise equipment when compared to some others, but as time has gone on, more people are discovering the efficient and low-impact workouts these machines can provide.
Now that these machines have caught on, some manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon to put their versions of them out there, which is an excellent thing if you’re in the market for finding the best rowing machine for your needs.
Below, you’ll find a list of our current favorite rowing machines for 2018, spanning all the main types, with plenty of variance in price points as well. We’ve also included some helpful buying advice to help you with your shopping process.
Let’s get right to it, starting out with our overall favorite.
Best Home Rowing Machines
Winner: Concept2 Model D
When it comes to notoriety, the Concept2 Model D is probably the most well-known rowing machine on the market. That’s not necessarily a commentary on whether or not air resistance rowing machines are the best type, but rather the fact that the Model D is just an excellent all-around rower for a great price.
The Model D offers smooth functionality, high ease of use, and some helpful features that make it a breeze to workout on, while also allowing you to move it out of the way when not in use.
Everything starts with the air-resistant flywheel assembly, which is the heart of the Model D. Despite the size and capability, the flywheel is much quieter than expected and provides the smoothness that air models are known for. The flywheel’s dampers offer adjustments on a level of 1 through 10, letting you easily dial in the perfect resistance for your workout needs.
The seat of the Model D is located about 14 inches off the ground and has a durable outer upholstery that stands up to frequent use, while also keeping you stable and comfortable. Adjustable footrests and an ergonomic handle further add to the overall comfort and fit any body type.
A handy Performance Monitor 5 console is included with the Model D that offers a convenient way to gauge your progress and track your workouts in real time, such as time, distance, and intervals. The console is also Bluetooth compatible and works with a wide range of fitness apps.
The console is self-calibrating, and also contains games you can use with your workout sessions. The data easily integrates with fitness apps, and you can save your data to a USB drive if desired.
Assembling the unit is very simple and requires only eight screws to be dealt with. When fully assembled, the Model D measures 96 x 24 x 44.5 inches, but can quickly compact down to 25 x 33 x 54 inches when not in use. Rear casters make it easy to roll out of the way as well.
It’s not hard to see why the Concept2 Model D is so popular among regular rowing machine users, be it at home or the gym. The unit has everything you need for efficient and engaging workouts on any level and also has a portable aspect that prevents it from dominating a room due to size.
You can certainly purchase cheaper air rowing machines, but if you want the combination of high quality and a fair price, this is the way to go.
Runner-Up: Stamina ATS 1399 Air Rower
If you’re looking for a high-level air rower, but don’t want to keep the price under $300, the Stamina ATS 1399 Air Rower is the ideal solution. This model meshes solid craftsmanship and engineering with convenient features and very smooth operation.
In fact, it’s quite easy to say the Stamina ATS 1399 far outperforms its price range and has the feel and performance of many of the elite rowing machines, but with a very accessible price point. No, it’s not rife with flashy features and designs, but it is a reliable machine that you’ll appreciate for years to come.
The flywheel of the Stamina ATS 1399 is located in the front of the unit and is half covered, so you get a very quiet operation, even at higher speeds. The unit’s body is constructed from steel and also comes in a few different colors if you’re into exploring some bolder choices.
Although the ATS 1399 does not have manually adjustable resistance settings, the actual resistance and difficulty of the workout are determined by how fast you are going. If you pull the handle at a faster rate, the resistance will increase as you go, just as it would if you were rowing in water.
The ATS 1399’s seat is fully upholstered and is paired with velcro foot straps that make getting in and out of the unit fast. When locked in and ready to go, the angling of the seat bar and handles are positioned just right, and the motions feel very natural.
The console comes with a very basic monitor that displays basic data, such as speed, distance, time, and calories burned. That’s about all you can ask for at this price point, and the console is clear and very simple to operate.
Another great aspect of the ATS 1399 is its size. When fully set up, it measures 77 x 18 x 22, and can quickly fold up to 48 x 18 x 28. Floor protectors on the bottom of the legs prevent scuffs, and rear wheels allow for easier transport when moving the unit out of the way.
As I said, the Stamina ATS 1399 is one of the most cost-efficient buys you can make with an exercise machine, let alone a rowing machine. It’s comfortable, designed for years of frequent use, has just enough convenient features, and can be ushered out of the way in a moment’s notice. Don’t overlook this one.
Best Water Rowing Machine
Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine
For many, the pinnacle of rowing machines is water rowing machines, and it’s pretty understandable as to why. The WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine is a prime example of the level of quality these types of rowing machines can offer.
Simple yet intricate, the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine brings a lot to the table, providing smooth rowing action, a commitment to comfort and function, plenty of modern console features, and of course the always appreciated ability to save some space when not in use.
So, about that smooth rowing feel. The natural resistance and row-like feel are all thanks to a dual-paddle flywheel setup that is situated inside the water tank, which is located in the front of the unit. This results in a fluid workout (no pun intended) that is a very close recreation of actual rowing, in terms of the type of resistance.
While the unit looks very simple overall, the seating and handle assemblies have a high-quality feel to them, and the seat’s sliding action is very smooth itself due to the dual rails and four corner wheels that ensure seat stability and even reduce sweat buildup.
As far as the unit’s console goes, the Series 4 performance monitor delicately balances sophisticated technology with a user-friendly interface.
The monitor has six information and programming windows, sixth Quick Selection buttons, and three navigation buttons, and displays workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, zone bar, duration, and distance. It’s also compatible with many heart rate chest straps and receivers.
One of the most striking aspects of this unit is its look. The WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine is constructed from solid ash and stained honey oak woods, giving it an organic and modern appearance.
The unit’s size is average for its class, measuring 84 x 21 x 22 inches when in use. When not being used, it can quickly fold up in the center to save precious floor space. Also of note, registering the product gets you a 5-year frame warranty, and a three-year parts warranty.
If you’re looking for the top water rowing machine and price isn’t an issue, the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine should be at the top of your list. It’s smooth, quiet, efficient, and includes helpful features that let you track progress, all while providing a realistic rowing experience for the indoors.
Best Magnetic Rowing Machine
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515
For many, magnetic rowing machines seem to be a very popular choice as of late, and it’s fairly easy to see why. These machines are typically very quiet and highly adjustable, and usually don’t cost an arm and a leg either.
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 isn’t the flashiest and most advanced magnetic rower out there, but it’s my favorite for many reasons, mainly having to do with simplicity and price. It’s also just straightforward to use and has a lot of variance regarding resistance.
The magnetic flywheel assembly is located in the front of the unit and has a conventional setup. A knob is located right in front of where you sit and allows for quick adjustments to the resistance, ranging anywhere from 1 to 8.
The various resistance levels offer a lot of different tiers with your workout, as the more difficult settings will cause you to not only work harder but use your body in different ways as well. Regardless of which setting you’re on, the flywheel is always incredibly quiet.
The seat assembly has adequate padding, and the seat sliding action is always smooth and responsive. The SF-RW5515’s handlebars have a no-slip grip, as do the large foot pedals. Extra-wide velcro straps keep your feet stable without feeling restricted.
The LCD console is rather simple, but still displays all the essential information and data, including time, row count, calories, etc.
Assembling the SF-RW5515 takes around 30 minutes, and once put together and fully set up, measures 82 x 19 x 25 inches, and can easily fold up in the center to save space, or be wheeled away using the rear casters.
All of these aspects come together to create a fun and engaging rowing workout that won’t cause you to turn your music or television up to full volume to drown out the flywheel, while also remaining comfortable and in control. For just over $200, it’s all you could want and more.
Best Budget Rowing Machine
Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050
Rowing machines are a lot more affordable than they used to be, and these days you have several different choices when shopping for a budget-minded machine that will still make a great addition to your home gym setup.
For those looking to save some extra money, but without sacrificing quality or an effective workout, the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 is clearly the best choice. This rowing machine manages to pack a lot of quiet performance in a small and mobile package and costs less than $130.
This machine forgoes the standard flywheel assembly, opting instead for a hydraulic cylinder located in the center that creates a substantial amount of resistance. It creates a smooth and natural rowing motion that can be very challenging if desired and does so at a very quiet volume.
The hydraulic cylinder’s resistance can be adjusted with a few quick turns on the knob, ranging from a light workout, too much more difficult exercises that provide an opportunity to push yourself more and make noticeable gains.
The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050’s contoured seat and padded foam handles are not as plush as higher-end models, but they are still quite comfortable and don’t cause any soreness. Textured foot plates with velcro straps help to keep you locked in a proper position throughout.
The rower’s dash includes a versatile fitness monitor that records your time, stroke count and calories burned, and can also keep count of your as well as total strokes as long as you’ve used the machine.
Measuring 23.5 x 46 inches, the rower is on the compact side and can be broken down to an even smaller footprint by folding the handles in. From there, it can be rolled out of the way and stored upright in a corner if needed, and maybe even a closet, depending on its size.
The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 offers a lot more than similar hydraulic cylinder rowers simply by focusing on efficient engineering and attention to detail. Its small size works in its favor, allowing it to be compact and out of the way when not in use, while still providing a workout near the level of much more expensive models.
Features To Look For In A Rowing Machine
Rowing machines have a lot of variances, so there are a number of different features and aspects that you should be mindful of when shopping for one.
The first thing you’ll want to check out is the machine’s weight capacity, which indicates how much weight it can safely hold during operation. Most machines have a fairly high capacity, but you’ll still need to double check.
Attention to details such as padded seats, ergonomic handles, and well-designed footboards can go a long way in not only making you more comfortable during workouts, but also preventing soreness in your bottom, hands, and feet.
Depending on the type of machine you’re considering, the noise level can be a crucial factor. If you like to watch television at a low volume while working out, rowers with air flywheels may not be the best choice, as they tend to generate a moderate amount of white noise.
To some, the noise level may not matter much at all. Just know that different types produce different amounts of noise; air rowers among the highest.
Rowing machines aren’t exactly the most compact or streamlined in their design, so they can often have a pretty large footprint when fully set up. Fortunately, many rowers have collapsible handles and pedals, and some can fold up in the middle and be rolled out of the way.
Some types, such as water rowers, are more stationary and aren’t able to be easily moved. Again, for some, this isn’t an issue, but make sure you have space and clearance.
Consoles and computers are both forms of performance monitors, just like the ones you encounter on all the other different types of exercise machines. These devices on rowers can include a wide range of information, such as simple data like time and amount of rows, to calories burned, heart rate, and even distance.
It’s also common to find rowers with performance monitors that can sync up to your Fitbit or smartwatch, sharing data back and forth via Bluetooth, and ultimately to your phone or tablet.
The caring aspect isn’t normally something most people think of when buying an exercise machine, but with rowing machines, the maintenance can be fairly extensive depending on the model and type. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s info before buying so you know what you’re in for.
Like most larger exercise machines, rowing machines are typically not cheap, as even budget-minded models can start at more than $100. This makes warranties a very important aspect if you want to have the security of knowing you won’t have wasted your money if the rower suddenly breaks a few months into use.
Types Of Rowing Machines
Now that you know the features and specs of rowing machines, let’s take a quick look at the four main types you’ll see the most often.
Water rowers are the most similar in terms of mimicking the real motions and feel of an actual rowboat. These machines use a large water reservoir that houses a flywheel inside the water, creating drag and resistance when you operate the handles.
These rowers are almost silent, except for the sloshing of the water in the tank. They are ideal for actual rowers looking for a more realistic way to train off the course, but they also make an excellent workout machine for home users and gyms.
Air rowers use a flywheel that is not unlike the ones you sometimes see with stationary exercise bikes. The flywheel spins when the handles are operated, creating wind resistance within the flywheel and making the rowing motion difficult to varying degrees, usually dependent on how hard you’re pulling.
These are among the most popular types of rowers for average users, but they do generate a certain amount of wind noise.
Magnetic rowers use a similar flywheel design like you see with air rowers, only the flywheel has polar opposite magnets inside that create drag and resistance against each other when you operate the handles or use a pull string attached to a handle.
These rowers offer a smooth and almost completely silent workout, and also have more adjustment options with resistance.
Rowers using hydraulic pistons utilize a cylinder filled with air or fluid that’s been compressed inside. This attaches to the arms of the rower, which is where all the resistance lies.
As you perform a rowing motion, you then push off with your legs in sync with your rowing and slide the seat down the body of the rower, which recreates a full rowing motion on a boat. Hydraulic piston rowers are generally the most inexpensive, and take up the least amount of space.
What began as a way to train competitive athletes for a specific sport has now given way to an entire genre of exercise equipment that many more are catching onto each day. With so many great rowers now available, it’s easier than ever to find the ideal product that can benefit your workouts and fitness the most.
We endorse all of the products listed above, but each person has different needs, budgets, and fitness levels. Be sure to carefully consider the information we’ve laid out to ensure you get the rower that will work the best for you.