If you are looking for a fitness powerhouse, there is no need to go further. The rowing machine is quite possibly one of the best inventions in exercise machinery, easily outranking even the treadmill. But what makes rowing machines so useful and what is the rationale behind investing in one of them?
This comprehensive guide will make you an expert on machine rowers, and teach you everything you need to know about rowing in general. You’ll learn about the best rowing machines, how to train, how to maintain them, and what to look for when buying a rower. I’ve included several in-depth rowing machines reviews, and dedicated entire chapters on technique, muscle development and rowing jargon.
Made popular recently, after being featured in Netflix’s House of Cards, where Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood is training with a rower, interest in these contraptions spiked. Also helpful, was the massive shift in design, and market saturation with water rowers that greatly mimic the real action.
Rowing machines provide a full-body workout, different stats to measure, and a garden variety of opportunities to improve both looks and performance. Elegant enough to blend into any interior design concept, some of the models command attention in a more decorative sense.
Choosing between hydraulic rowers, water rowers, air rowers, and magnetic rowers (more on that below), you can navigate through low-end, mid-range, and high-end models. Affordability, however, becomes evident once you consider usage frequency and make the calculus. Durable enough to last you a decade plus, a rowing machine will cost $1-2 per day of use (even if you row once per week). Yeah math!
So writing this comprehensive guide, and including the best rowing machines reviews, I do hope to give this piece of workout equipment the extended treatment it deserves.
Home rowing machines
Created for indoor rowing during off-season, these machines gained popularity rather fast. Before long, they stopped being a supplement, and instead spurred a separate branch entirely.
Also known as ergometers (erg, ergo), machine rowers provide a realistic simulation that encourages flow, keeping you motivated to row for extended periods of time. Similar to the viral growth of spinning bikes, they are the center of a separate movement.
The best rowing machines are super convenient. They take up less space, are easy to store, and work with a surprising lack of noise. Unlike treadmills, or any other equipment on the market, rowers have a higher ceiling when it comes to weight capacity. Most of the best rowing machine models support up to around 600 pounds in maximum user weight.
You’ll still have to look at length measurements before buying a rowing machine, but do note that most of them are fairly close to one another (the rowing machines reviews below will include detailed measurements as well).
Avoid, however, rowers with side handles, also known as rowing simulators. These compromise range of motion, greatly decrease performance, and hinder muscle development as well. But we will discuss the fitness angle in a minute.
Types of rowing machines
While people differentiate between water, hydraulic, magnetic and air rowers, the division is rather simpler.
Hydraulic rower machines
Hydraulic rowers provide piston resistance that comes from hydraulic cylinders attached to the handles of the rowing machine. Having a fixed seat position, many models from this class eliminate the leg drive altogether, which is the foundation of the rowing technique. They also provide handles which are fairly limiting due to the reasons we discussed above.
Braked flywheel resistance
These models range from magnetic, air and water rowers. Mechanically similar, all of them feature a handle connected to a flywheel by rope, strap or chain. The only difference is the breaking mechanism which provides resistance.
Being attached to the resistance source with a flexible connector, the trajectory of the hands is completely free, making it possible for the rower to successfully emulate the proper difference between the stroke and return (more on this below). Majority of these models offer a sliding seat which perfectly mimics that of competitive rowing boats.
Water rowing machine
For water rowers, resistance is created by the contact of a paddle which revolves in an enclosed tank of water. The mass and drag of the moving water is what provides resistance. In quite many respects, this feels more realistic and closer to the actual stroke.
I not so secretly have a big crush on the water rower, and it is easy to see why. By and large, it looks far more elegant when compared to any of the other models. There is also the soothing sound and friction which only water can provide.
Air rowing machine
Using fan-like breaking fins to provide resistance, air rowers are very similar – the stronger the pull, the faster the flywheel spins, which ultimately affects resistance. These models, however, can also provide resistance adjustments – vents are used to affect the airflow, increasing or decreasing the amount of resistance.
Used by professional rowers during off-season, they too are a fairly popular variety.
Magnetic rowing machine
Magnetic rowers provide resistance by means of electromagnets, which continually engage a mechanical break with the flywheel. Thanks to the mechanism, magnetic rowers produce less noise than any other method.
Similar to air rowers, the magnetic variety can adjust the resistance with precision.
There is, however, a certain drawback. Whereas air and water models accurately simulate actual rowing, magnetic rowers provide fixed resistance which doesn’t feel the same. In order to simulate actual rowing, the resistance should increase dramatically the stronger the handle is being pulled – this is possible only with air and water rowers.
Storing machine rowers
Many row machine manufacturers are aware of the size and storage issue. But they address the problem in different ways.
Being notoriously hard to construct, folding mechanisms are rather rare. The Concept 2 rower is among the few that do fold up nicely, and that’s certainly one way to go.
Other models, however, utilize the vertical flip, where the row machine is lined up against the wall. Nothing fancy, but it saves a ton of square space.
For people who are not especially eager to reorganize their workout gear, there is a more elegant fix. Instead of making them foldable, some manufacturers decided to make them stunningly elegant. The wooden frame water rower, for example, can decorate your living room as much as it can transform your body.
How to read the performance measurements
Introduced by the Dreissigacker brothers in 1980, the first Concept 2 rower was a fixed-frame, sliding-seat air rower that radically changed the industry. The model B however, featuring the first ever built-in performance monitor completely revolutionized the sport. It was in this machine that indoor rowing enthusiasts found their advocate. The accurate calibration combined with easy transport, eventually spawned the sport of competitive indoor rowing.
Most machine rowers nowadays include an LCD monitor with accurate measurements. Using an algorithm unique to the type of resistance and model, they calculate performance in several verticals.
Investing into a rower, therefore, buys you a lot of fitness.
You can track time, distance, speed, and strokes per minute. Also included are split and calories burned.
What is split time?
Using a running analogy, split is very similar to your “time per mile”. But instead of a mile, Olympic rowers measure their progress at 500 meter intervals.
The standard race distance being 2000m long, athletes like to split up the effort into four segments of 500m. These are later used for different race strategies, including a sprint start followed by “race pace”, and another 250-500m sprint to the finish.
Learning to keep pace is the foundation to improving performance, and the monitor is there to help.
Olympic athletes often work on intensity by trying to row at 2 minutes split pace, at a variety of SPM (strokes per minute).
Do note, however, that many rower monitors are hidden by being placed under the strap, which also enjoys central placement. This means that you’ll have to tilt to one side or the other in order to have a clear and unobstructed view.
Rowing machine benefits
Low impact and non-weight bearing, rowing is the ideal workout for beginners. It is primarily a cardio-vascular exercise, but stressing several muscle groups at once, anaerobically, it can easily be considered a strength and endurance workout as well.
Rowers provide a full body workout
Instead of working one muscle group at a time, in an isolated fashion, rowing provides a full-body workout. The movement is fluid and complex, stressing muscles from various angles simultaneously. This is great for weight loss as well as muscle definition.
When it comes to full-body workout claims, machine rowers outrank other equipment varieties nine ways to Sunday. They work on the legs (glutes, hamstrings, and claves), core, lower and upper back, chest, shoulders and arms.
This is the perfect machine for training the body if ever there was any. Definitely more workout complexity, and more fitness, than you essentially bargained for. Instead of training for cardio and strength separately, you can do so with one stroke (no pun intended). So why unite a knot when you can cut it with your sword? While planning workouts can take time and reduce convenience, all you have to do on a rower is sit down and get going.
Rowing is an injury-free exercise
For those of you who injure easily, rowing is the ideal strengthening exercise. Unlike the treadmill, or the stationary bike, it will develop several muscle groups, effectively improving your level of fitness.
Rowing doesn’t require a high barrier to entry
At the very beginning, you should set up low resistance (if adjustments are applicable), and try to complete short intervals with adequate amount of rest in between. Aside from heart rate, this will quickly elevate your level of fitness and level of endurance as well. Known as HIIT (high intensity interval training), this technique is almost identical with how running athletes train. A short and fast-paced split (500m – which usually takes 2-4 minutes depending on your level of fitness), followed by a 30-second rest, or maybe another much slower split.
A typical rowing machine workout can last around 20-40 minutes depending on your goal. As you progress, you can complete even shorter sessions with more intensity.
Rowers offer an impressive range of motion
At first, the rowing session doesn’t require herculean effort. It can however, dramatically improve your physique. The effectiveness, partially, is due to increased range of motion, especially when compared to other fitness machinery. Considering the complex movement, number of muscles involved, and the stress on your lower body, rowing provides a huge anabolic reaction as well, responsible for better hormonal balance, faster weight loss, and improved muscle tone.
Thanks to such range of motion, you’ll never feel stiff, and your flexibility, agility and coordination will inevitably improve.
As far as technique goes, within reasonable limits, you can intuitively catch the rhythm, ironing out the flaws once you get moving. But before you forget about posture altogether, let’s talk about the rowing technique in more depth.
The rowing technique on the indoor rower follows the same exact pattern as that on water. Four basic phases are performed in fluid motion, in order to complete one stroke. The process repeats continually, without interruption.
A nicely completed stroke would feel mighty good.
Arriving there though, like good carpentry, is a form work. Indeed, the technique is complex and bears careful consideration, but it will provide the backbone – the necessary framework – on which you’ll improve faster.
You’ll need to consecutively perform the catch, the drive, the finish and the recovery. And here is your step-by-step action plan:
1. The catch
Knees are bent, with the shins in vertical position. The back is almost parallel to the thigh, without leaning forward too far. Shoulders, as well as arms, are extended forward and relaxed. Your arms, ideally, should be level.
2. The drive
At the beginning of the drive, the body remains in the initial “catch” posture. This part of the stroke is initiated by the extension of the legs. As they continue to fully extend, the rower has to engage the core in order to tilt the body backwards, which adds to the work of the legs. Once the legs are flat, the rower has to use his arms and pull the handle towards the chest. Arms are straight and parallel to the floor.
The best rowing machines allow for more leg space, in order for the body to travel back and forth uninterrupted. Range of motion is of utmost importance, so sufficient leg space is a priority.
3. The Finish (also referred to as release)
The legs are now at full extension and flat. Shoulders still behind the pelvis (slightly), they allow for the arms to remain in full contraction for a moment, with the elbows bent and hands against the chest, right below the nipples. The back is still flat, maintaining an upright posture, with the chest seemingly facing upwards as well. The wrists should be flat. This is the position your body maintains at the very crescendo of the drive phase.
Remember this posture, and try to hold yourself there for several seconds as a form of practice. Your body should be somewhat tense, but at the same time comfortable and relaxed due to having a nice stretch with an extended range of motion.
Remember the first phase of the stroke as well (the catch), and intuition will fill in the gaps in between until you master the technique with all the nuances.
4. The Recovery
The recovery is in fact the reverse process of the drive. It is a slow slide back to the catch phase of the stroke; essentially giving you time to recover from the effort. The arms slowly extend forward, as the seat slides towards the initial position, thus bending your knees. Your torso starts to move forward at the same time, over the pelvis. The back will start to become parallel to the thighs, as you return in the catch phase.
The process of going through the 4 phases, repeated often enough, will turn the stroke technique into an intuitive movement.
Rowing machine workout
Once you get the technique right, you can progress at a rapid clip. There are scores of YouTube videos that teach complex workout regimens for free. If you like to invest few bucks more, I strongly recommend The Erg Book: 375+ of the Greatest Indoor Rowing Workouts of All Time. It is available on Amazon, in a paperback format.
In it, you’ll find tips and detailed advice on how to structure both individual and group workout sessions, improve technique, and enjoy a garden variety of exercises designed and organized by skill level, fitness training goals, time and difficulty.
Also included, are 14 week indoor rowing training plans, with tips on how to improve rowing technique, breathing, and pacing nuances.
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is also fairly common when practicing with a rower and it can help you increase your VO2 max, burn more calories, and practice for faster splits.
Training for pace, however, is usually followed by a very symptomatic curve – where both performance and endurance, experience a dramatic increase. Do aim, therefore, to focus on pacing, even in the early stages of your training.
Also important, is to row for relaxation every once in a while. Do not turn every encounter with the rowing machine into a strenuous workout. Instead of only testing your metal, the rowing machine should provide a piece of mind as well – a perfect escapism from whatever it is that clutters your mind. Should you have the inclination, allow yourself to simply row at your leisure – as much as you want, as slow as you want.
Always remember that workout and relaxation should work, more or less, in tandem.
With many brands and models coming out of the woodwork, we’ll go over the best rowing machines reviews, with personal recommendations from the entire Lifestyle Updated team. But first, let’s see the exact muscle groups that rowing would trigger, so you have a better understanding of just how complex this workout can really be.
Muscles used during rowing on the indoor ergometer
The same images from above best demonstrate the complexity of the stroke. A single workout on the machine rower can burn up to 1000 calories, and it is easy to see why.
At the catch, your legs are compressed, and your shins therefore vertical. Your triceps will work to extend the arms, and the underarm is engaged just as you are gripping the handle with your fingers and thumbs. The back muscles are relaxed, but the abdominal muscles are flexing your torso forward, as if you were tucking the hips.
For the drive, you are using the powerful muscles of the legs, while your entire shoulder section is contracting. Working through the sequence, your biceps engage to pull the handle, and your back muscles work to bring your torso past your hips. With hamstrings and glutes contracted, and your upper body completely engaged, this is where the peak of muscle activity happens.
With glutes and hamstrings still contracting, the finish engages your abdominals to stabilize the entire body before the release. Many of the back muscles, as well as the biceps, are contracting in order to keep the torso in the finish position while internally rotating the upper arms.
The release (or the recovery) begins as the triceps work to push the arms forward and away from the body. The abdominals will flex the torso forward, as the calves and hamstrings relief, legs bending at the knee joint, bringing you towards the initial phase.
Tips on buying the best rowing machine
Before you read the rowing machine reviews provided below, here is some information to help you make the calculus.
The first and most important aspect you should concern yourself with, is length. Without adequate leg space, you compromise range of motion, which is, easily, one of the most important elements of the stroke movement.
Machine rowers with air and water resistance provide the most realistic simulation suitable for competitive rowing. While air rowers allow resistance adjustments, water is mimicking the real action to an even greater degree.
Search also, for a dense and foam padded seat, and a comfortable handle grip. The quality of the sliding mechanism is directly related to durability and degree of noise while rowing.
The pedals and foot straps should be firm and comfortable, while at the same time allowing ankle flexibility.
The display can be a theme for a lengthier discussion, but at the very least make sure it is large enough so you don’t have to compromise posture in order to see the numbers, and placed adequately so you don’t have to tilt to the left or right.
Warranty is also very important, considering that your initial investment has to pay off after several years of use. Some manufacturers provide lifetime warranty for the frame, and 5 or so for each part. Numbers vary greatly, so you’ll have better understanding on what is a good deal versus a bad one once you read the rowing machines reviews.
Storage, unless you specifically need extra space, is really a non-issue. Folded or not, the rowing machine usually occupies the same square space. If you buy a pricier model, or some of the water rowers, they can even look very elegant when placed up against the wall. I do wish for my wife to fall in love with rowing as she did with cross-country cycling. My dream for buying two wooden-frame water rowers and placing them on each side of the living room may then come to realization. I might have to sell a kidney, but who knows. A guy can only dream!
When it comes to the price-quality ratio though, do note that there are several models that provide a huge bang for your buck even at lower prices. For the majority of models though, the same rule of thumb applies – the more you pay, the more you get. The investment however, once you calculate dollars per use, makes more sense. It usually pays dividends down the road, keeping you healthy and engaged, allowing you to enjoy a frictionless workout for many years on end.
Rowing machine maintenance
While nobody is looking forward to maintain yet another product in his life, and do so on regular basis, a bit of diligence can pay off a hundredfold.
But how do you maintain a rowing machine?
First, depending on the model, you might want to buy a shock-absorbent mat and place it under your rower. Some of the models though, like the prestigious WaterRower include tiny non-slip legs protecting both the machine as well as your floor.
You should, however, regardless of mode, always place the rower onto a flat and even surface.
Additionally, storage circumstances are equally important, and you should keep the machine in a dry room. This is a precaution in order to prevent corrosion, or mold stains. None of this can be a serious concern, unless you use the laundry room or already have problems with mold within your home.
Regular check before training
- Roll the seat back and forth, and see if there is friction. If you hear something or feel anything other than smooth gliding, use a towel and wipe the rail.
- If the seat feels loose and wobbly, tighten the screws before you start your session.
- Check if the handle is securely connected to the strap.
- For hydraulic models, check if there is any leak near the cylinders.
- Make sure there is no obstacle under, or near your rowing machine before you start your session.
If you notice any unusual noise while training, stop immediately and perform another check. If nothing seems to be out of place, get in touch with the manufacturer or contact customer service.
Here is a nice video of a rower maintenance:
Monthly maintenance for your rowing machine
The frequency of this type of maintenance depends on how often you are using your rower. And considering how each model is a separate story, you’ll have to check manufacturer guidelines.
Usually, a monthly maintenance is performed once every month or every two months.
The monthly maintenance is mostly concerned with tightening screws, and lubricating the chain if applicable.
You’ll also have to clean the frame and rail with a household cleaner.
Maintaining a water rower
The same from above applies for the water rower as well, with an exception to the water tank. You’ll have to change the water and use powder or tablets for water purification. You’ll have to use manufacturer recommended products in order to prevent algae or layers that get even harder to clean.
Do note that some parts shouldn’t be disassembled for it will have an impact on your warranty. Depending on the model, many things can vary, so make sure to contact the seller.
Another reason to invest in rowers
The last year and a half marked the beginning of the biggest revolution in stationary fitness equipment. As more and more people are starting to pay lip service to VR (virtual reality) it is evident that numerous industries will go through a significant change.
While stationary fitness machines are inferior to exercising in the open, VR will work towards closing that gap. Not entirely, of course, but close enough, and realistically enough that people get an even bigger incentive for buying home fitness equipment of the stationary variety.
We shall, before long, begin to see impressive content developed for the stationary fitness equipment niche – complete immersion into an image emporium that dwarfs everything else in significance.
And machine rowers are not an exception. With an entry level VR headset, you’ll be able to row on the Danube River, the Thames, Hudson, Mississippi, the River Shannon in Ireland, and even the Amazon…
The idea is catching on, and we are likely to see gamification principles incorporated as well, where you are rewarded certain sounds and visual effects for achieving different goals – like playing a video game, only much more lifelike and much more realistic. I do expect to see digitally designed scenery to supplement the natural one as well.
Combine this with noise engineers creating more and more immersive sounds, and your sensory apparatus will enjoy each session with as little as putting the headphones and VR headset on.
Considering the years – long usage of the ergometer, I can almost guarantee that you are going to experience this futuristic rant of mine eventually (I’m betting dollars to doughnuts that it will be within the next year or so).
If you are less of an enthusiast and read this with indifference, then perhaps a television program or a favorite song can equally enhance your rowing experience.
The training session can very well be incorporated into your day without much in the way of everything else, and certainly not in the way of comfort – especially when considering the length of each workout.
Rowing machine brands and price range
My intent when I started to write this article was to create a comprehensive rowing machines buying guide. But before listing any brands, models or prices, I decided to cover the other aspect of rowing – one that I felt you might be interested in.
The rest of this buying guide, however, will be focused on rowing machine recommendations, comprehensive rowing machine reviews, brands and models.
Before we go any further, let me introduce some of the go-to brands used by professional athletes and renowned fitness centers around the US. Beginning at the top of the list, we have Concept2 and WaterRower. These two are the crème de la crème of indoor rowers, with pricier models that dwarf everything else below or above their category.
Stamina, First Degree Fitness and NordicTrack are notable contenders, though somewhat less desirable in terms of features, design, performance, price or quality. With few exceptions however, that easily compete with top-of-the-line models from Concept2 and WaterRower.
Next on the list, as we go further down into the mid-range category, we have LifeCore, Velocity, Xebex, Kettler, and ProForm. Also notable are BodyCraft, ProRower, as well as Sunny Health & Fitness.
When it comes to our recommendations within each price range, here is a short list backed up by dozens (and often hundreds) of reviews on Amazon, or elsewhere around the net.
Just below them, you’ll find the reviews of the top 5 best home rowing machines.
Low end ($50-$350)
Mid range ($350-900)
- Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
- NordicTrack RW200 Rower (an impressive rower that easily beats many competitors way above its price range)
- Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower
- First Degree Fitness Newport AR Rower Water Rower
High end ($900+)
- Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 (perhaps the most reviewed (positively) rowing machine model in history)
- WaterRower Club Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor
- WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor (Santa, I’ve been a good boy!)
- WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor (it’s black walnut – so feel free to throw away any other decoration around the house, because this is art).
Where to buy a rowing machine from
When looking for an indoor rower, Amazon has all of the rowing machines you can think of. Sometimes, they even run discounts that slash the price by up to several hundred dollars.
Another option they offer is buying a used rowing machine for sale. Though, you can browse Craigslist, or other internet listings in order to find similar deals.
I’d strongly recommend buying a new one, since you can never know how many years and sessions a used model has seen. The difference can be one or few hundred dollars, depending on the model, and it is definitely worth paying (unless you can find a friend or someone reliable enough to guarantee for the length of use and treatment).
Another option to save on price, get rewards and pay in monthly installments is by signing up for Amazon Prime, their Visa Reward card, or their Amazon store card. You’ll have to read about each deal on their official site.
This likely concludes the end of part one of the comprehensive rowing machine buying guide. What follows below are detailed reviews of several rowing machines pre-selected by our entire Lifestyle Updated team.
If you’ve read our previous reviews on other fitness related products, you know by now that we don’t like to hold back. It’s completely ok to give credit where credit is due, and also fair to point out to each and every drawback.
I hope you’ll leave this guide with enough detail to finally decide on your own.
Back to rowing now, as we start with the best rowing machines reviews.
Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine Review
With indoor rowing being one of the most effective full-body workouts, the Concept2 model D indoor rowing machine sits on top of the workout pyramid. Released after several improvements and iterations, this model is the most sought after machine rower, and one of the most reviewed fitness items ever designed.
The iconic rower is frequently used by professional athletes, providing a reliable and frictionless glide, as well as advanced and easy-to-follow performance monitoring options.
Equipped with an ergonomic handle, nickel-plated chain, and adjustable footrests, the Concept2 model D comes with a comfortable 14-inch high seat, adjustable monitor arm and perfect geometry.
The dependable performance took this rower to the first place of the bestselling list, firmly setting the standard for indoor rowing machines and competitive machine rowing. Available for what is a reasonably affordable price, it will last a lifetime, being durable enough to take the daily abuse of high intensity training.
The Reliable Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
Placing this model at the top of our list, we acknowledge its undisputed status as the king-model of indoor rowing. And you can easily see why. With a sub-1,000 price, an advanced performance monitor, several connectivity options, and ultra-ergonomic design, this is a premium grade product through and through.
Sturdy enough to withstand 500 pounds of weight, the Concept2 Model D is unmatched in terms of reliability. The glide is smooth and frictionless, to a very satisfying degree. The resistance is predictable, constant, and evenly distributed regardless of your posture, grab, or angle under which you are pulling the handle.
In quite many respects, this is the most reliable indoor rower ever created. With a surprising lack of noise, it provides a lot of stability. Your feet are firmly attached, and the weight is evenly distributed throughout the glide thanks to a comfortable and ergonomic seat.
The flywheel provides several resistance options, nuanced enough for you to progress with ease from one to the next. The spiral damper allows you to easily adjust the airflow, so every stroke can feel exactly the way you prefer. This way, you are in full control of your exertion and the parameters of your workout. By extension, this is one of the main features that make the Concept2 Model D one of the best rowers for indoor competition and training, frequently used by Olympic athletes.
The handle, when I first tried it, felt strangely comfortable. I wasn’t aware of the exact reason though. It seems, however, that the comfort comes from having a neutral hand grip, which is allowed by the 10 degree bend of the handle. Smart.
Overall, the Concept2 looks dashing and modern, and it will definitely decorate any gym, commercial or otherwise.
Feature rich performance monitor
The performance monitor of the Concept2 Model D is several classes above those of other brands. It provides super accurate data, with a garden variety of features. The USB access allows for easy data storage, whether it is on your computer, smartphone or USB flash drive. Bluetooth connectivity allows the rowing machine to be paired up with a separate heart rate monitor (only compatible ones) for wireless heart rate monitoring. It also allows for machine-to-machine racing and Bluetooth connectivity to smartphones and computers (PC and Mac).
It has an adjustable monitor arm, and a backlit display that automatically illuminates just as you start with your workout. Designed to track speed, distance, pace, calories burned and split, it provides ton of fitness data you can later work with and map.
Convenient for storage
The storage feature allows the frame to separate itself in two, and the small wheels come handy when you want to move the parts around. I was trying the Concept2 with my wife by my side, and at 100 pounds she was capable enough of maneuvering it around with ease.
From what I was able to tell, the frame and rail look extra sturdy, as does the flywheel. The handle is attached to a nickel-plated chain which is easy to maintain and usually lasts longer than every other variety.
No matter how aggressively I tried pulling the handle, the machine didn’t move or show any signs of stress whatsoever. But I won’t advise you to take my experience as a measurement of quality and durability – many rowers work perfectly fine within the first month or so, only to show signs of wear and tear afterwards.
Buying a mat, however, to minimize the shock and protect your floor, is what I can in fact recommend. Doesn’t have to be the same mat they offer though. If you can find a cheaper option, definitely go for it. I’m sure it won’t make that much of a difference, if any.
Concept2 model D indoor rower features:
- Ergonomic design
- Durable frame, rail, and damper mechanism
- Adjustable resistance
- Comfortable seat
- Minimum noise when rowing
- Comfortable handle
- Nickle-plated chain
- Reliable feet platforms and straps
- Advanced and feature-rich performance monitor
- Can pair with smartphones, computers and other rowers
Concept2 Model D indoor rower specifications:
- Overall Length: 96” (244 cm)
- Width: 24” (61 cm)
- Seat height: 14” (36 cm)
- Monorail Length: 54” (137 cm), fits inseams up to 38″
- Chain: Nickel-plated steel chain
- Maximum User Weight: 500lb (227 kg)
- Space Requirements (when in use): Assembled: 8ft x 2ft (244 cm x 61 cm)
Also included is a 5-year warranty on the frame, and 2 years on all the moving parts as well as the PM5 performance monitor. The package will include tools and assembly instructions, as well as the Model D manual, along with the PM5 performance monitor user guide.
Don’t perform a test workout if you are not ready to buy though. This baby feels amazing when you build momentum, and you’ll want to get another high as soon as possible. The Concept2 Model D indoor rower is, no doubt, the best rowing machine under $1000, and arguably the best indoor rower ever designed. With a reasonably affordable price considering what you’ll get, I cannot recommend it more.
More details about the Concept2 Model D on Amazon:
Stamina 35-1405 ATS Air Rower Review
While rowers can span on an incredibly wide spectrum in both price and performance, the Stamina ATS air rower is at the surprisingly low-end with its affordable price, yet way above average when it comes to quality, durability and reliable performance.
Designed to provide a smooth gliding experience, and adjustable air resistance, the Stamina ATS rower feels natural and creates a sense of flow.
Ideal for a complete total body workout, the Stamina can provide a lot of fitness for the buck – just as the name implies. With a padded and upholstered seat, along with large strapping footplates and ergonomically designed handle, the Stamina can be used for hours on end without feeling discomfort whatsoever.
Sturdy and durable enough, the Stamina ATS can withstand up to 250 pounds of weight, making reasonably low noise (most of it comes from the seat sliding up and down the rail). It also includes a decent exercise performance monitor for tracking each workout. The rower comes in three different colors, including red/black, black, and black/chrome.
The popular Stamina ATS air rower
Together with my wife I tried this model right after reviewing the Concept2 Model D. It sits on the lower end of the price chart, and goes beyond what many competing models have to offer even at double the price. Without doubt, this makes the Stamina ATS air rower one of the most popular indoor rowing machines of all time.
We tried the red/black version, but I was told that there is no difference whatsoever between each color model.
At first, the Stamina is an obvious step down from the Concept2 model D. But it’d be weird if it wasn’t. For less than one third of the price of the Concept2, the Stamina is still able to compete with it.
Smooth and satisfying
The rowing stroke feels natural, and the glide motion surprisingly smooth. The resistance, as far as I can tell with my limited layman understanding, is slightly different but more or less similar. It doesn’t offer adjustable levels of resistance, but a more organic approach to switching gears.
Overall, the experience is very satisfying, especially when you consider how sturdy it is. At 250 pounds maximum weight endurance, it is exactly half that of the Concept – though I have to stop comparing them one against the other, for all the obvious reasons.
But comparing the Stamina ATS air rower with any other similarly priced model really feels like a joke. It sits well above its competitors within the same price range, often surpassing models that sell at twice the price.
Sturdy and reliable
The stroke feels uninterrupted and the machine seems to be fixed in place regardless of how aggressively you try to pull the handle. With a weight of only 54 pounds, this is impressive in its own right.
Each stroke feels exactly the same, unless you change your drive intensity, or overcompensate with the upper body. The damper mechanism varies the degree of resistance, depending on your pull, momentum, and speed. It is perfect for a total body workout, but maybe less so for professional training where you need those nuances.
Ironically though, the Stamina ATS feels much more natural than those fixed resistance adjustments provided by the Concept2. I might be new to rowing, but it feels very satisfying and responsive to your level of exertion.
Storage and convenience
With its size and weight, the Stamina doesn’t even need the foldable storage option. Surprisingly however, it is included as well.
Compact and convenient, it is easy to store, clean, maintain and assemble.
The seat however, looks very fragile and relatively loosely attached, though aside from the apparently higher noise it produces compared to what I learned to expect after the Concept2, it performs just as well.
Unlike some rowers where the rail is flat at zero degrees, the Stamina leverages gravity to make your workout much more satisfying – here, the rail is slightly angled, so it glides back smoothly. It also means that you’ll have to work your legs not only for a show, but actually train them. This touch, though barely noticeable, can make a huge difference on the long run, toning your glutes and calves even more.
You won’t have to worry about leg space too, since the rail is oversized and ideal for tall people. Range of motion is the most important thing when using a rowing machine, and I guess Stamina decided not to make any compromises there. Smart move!
Decent performance tracker
The performance tracker is all you’ll need for collecting data of each workout, in terms of distance, speed, time, and calories burned. It is physically small, so good luck if you have bad eyesight like I do. Otherwise, it is decent enough and accurate.
Few row machine models within this price range offer a performance monitor, and it usually disappoints. Not here.
Stamina ATS air rower dimensions:
- Length when assembled: 77”
- Width when assembled: 18”
- Height when assembled: 22”
- Weight: 54 pounds
Stamina ATS air rower features:
- Comfortable seat
- Quality rail and smooth gliding mechanism
- Reasonably low noise
- Comfortable handle
- Angled rail for better results
- Rowing stroke feels surprisingly natural considering the price range
- Self-adjustable resistance
- Comfortable for lengthy sessions
- Weight endurance up to 250 pounds
- Folds in half
- Decent and accurate performance monitor
- Super affordable
- 5 year warranty on the frame
- 90 days warranty on all moving parts
If you want to start rowing, lose weight, tone your body and improve your overall fitness, look no further. The Stamina ATS air rower feels like a premium quality piece of equipment, and a very reliable machine. If you don’t like the idea of spending a fortune on a rowing machine, the Stamina can provide a superb rowing experience at a much, much lower price. It really looks great, provides a surprisingly realistic stroke feel, and seems durable enough to last a decade plus. Not a professional grade rower, but the closest you can get there with a sub-$500 price.
There are also many reviews available on Amazon, from verified customers, and reading some of them might provide more information, so you can be more confident about your decision. Either way, I do hope this review was helpful.
More details about the Stamina ATS air rower on Amazon:
First Degree Fitness Newport AR Rower Review
At a slightly lower price, the First Degree Fitness Newport sits very close to some of the best rowing machines out there. It comes with a solid metal frame construction, and fluid resistance technology offering a unique feature of adjustable water resistance.
The tank is made out of a very tough polycarbonate shell, housing a triple-bladed stainless steel paddle. It provides smooth and consistent resistance, mimicking that of outdoor water rowing.
The handle is ergonomically designed in order to offer a better grip position, as is the seat, which is comfortable enough for completing lengthy sessions. The belt is durable and produces minimum sound, and together with the tank and rail they make a very smooth and quiet rowing experience.
When it comes to weight it is sturdy enough to endure up to 300 pounds, weighting 68 itself. A performance monitor is also included, measuring time, distance, split, strokes per minute, calories burned, interval training and optional heart rate.
First Degree Fitness Newport AR Water Rower
A refreshing design change compared to the wooden-frame water rower, the First degree Fitness Newport looks dashing. The nicely enclosed tank is perfectly matched with the strong red frame, and the black color of the rail and seat. All in all, it looks like a commercial model and a premium grade rower.
Performance wise, it excels in so many respects. While it cannot outshine the Concept2, this is perhaps one of the best water rowers available on the market. The rail provides a smooth glide, and the belt complements it with an equally smooth and frictionless pull.
If water is your preferred type of resistance, this is the most affordable machine rower offering premium-grade rowing experience.
Adjustable water resistance
Branding their adjustable level of resistance and calling it fluid resistance technology is definitely a smart move. It got me intrigued the first time I heard about it, and I honestly thought it has to do with an organic self-adjustable level of resistance. The drag however, is consistent, providing a natural feel.
The feature allows you to manually adjust the level of drag, which is definitely a rare thing with water rowers. The tank can house from 9 up to 17 liters of water, and you’ll need purification capsules in order to maintain the clarity. I’ve read several reviews where people were adding bleach, no more than once per year. It’s better to ask the retailer though.
Satisfying stroke move
The machine itself is rather sturdy and doesn’t produce a sound no matter how aggressively you begin the stroke. It is constructed from aluminum, which makes it heavy and nicely balanced.
The Fitness Newport makes minimal noise, which is definitely a huge plus when compared to other models. The rail and seat provide a very smooth glide, and the tank and belt allow for a frictionless drive and recovery.
The handle is ergonomically designed, which is to say curved at an angle, in order to prevent wrist injuries, greatly alleviating the stress from your hands. The rail offers more than enough leg space, and therefore a satisfying range of motion regardless of your height.
The feet platforms are of decent quality, and you can adjust the level of tightness.
I’m a fan of the wooden frame water rower, but this is a very refreshing edition. It looks heavy, sturdy, yet sleek and elegant. The red and black contrast gives you an impression of a commercial water rower, and I found myself captivated by it.
First Degree Fitness Newport Dimensions:
- 9 inches in width
- 8 inches in length
- 1 inches in height
- Weight is 68 pounds
- Weight capacity is 300 pounds
I forgot to ask about the warranty though, and online browsing took me nowhere. You’ll have to call the retailer and ask for yourself, since it may vary from one outlet to another.
The performance monitor seems to be accurate (I’ve read many customer reviews prior to testing it myself), and it provides tons of data. I like that you can track split time and strokes per minute, and especially surprised to see the interval training feature – not something you’ll find in other brands or models.
Storage and placement
With an upside down storage option, you won’t even have to empty the tank. The Newport is convenient, designed to occupy a very small footprint.
Placing the rower for a workout, however, requires a mat. Without it, it can easily slide one millimeter at a time, possibly damaging your floor. If you have a slight OCD itch like I do, it will definitely drive you mad. So get something to put underneath – preferably a mat.
First Degree Fitness Newport Features:
- Sturdy aluminum frame
- Comfortable seat
- Premium quality rail for a smooth gliding experience
- Polycarbonate shell
- Triple-bladed stainless steel plate
- 9 to 17 liters or water resistance
- Manually adjustable water resistance
- Ergonomic handle
- Frictionless stroke movement
- High-quality belt
- Accurate and feature rich performance monitor
- Warranty included (call the retailer for more info)
If you want to train with a water rower, and get a natural and smooth rowing experience, this is something that I’ll definitely recommend. Sturdy and quiet, the Newport is one of the best machine rowers you’ll ever find. It is comfortable, convenient, and feature rich, with a price that is definitely a bargain.
More details about the First Degree Fitness Newport AR Rower on Amazon:
Stamina Avari Rower review
If you need a quiet and smooth rower, the magnetic Stamina Avari is one of the best models available. Programmable and convenient, it features a reliable magnetic damper, as well as ergonomic design with much attention to detail.
The rail provides a smooth glide for a satisfying stroke movement, being slightly angled in order to increase the resistance during the drive, by demanding more from your calves and glutes.
The Stamina Avari is sturdy and heavy, with a maximum weight capacity of 275 pounds. By far, it doesn’t have a single competitor when it comes to noise. Or lack of it thereof.
You’ll get a performance monitor with an LCD backlit display, featuring 12 workout programs as well. It can track time, distance, split, calories burned, strokes per minute and much more. The affordable price makes the purchase a no-brainer, but make sure to read our Stamina Avari review, where we take this baby for a spin.
Stamina Avari Programmable magnetic exercise rower review
When it comes to different rowing machine resistance types, I believe you should compare each model within its own group. To that end, the Stamina Avari is one of the best machine rowers available. Comparing it against the Concept2 and the WaterRower is something I’d advise against, since they provide a different type of resistance, on top of coming from a completely different price range.
The Stamina Avari, though it doesn’t provide a realistic stroke simulation (no magnetic rower ever does), can still give you a satisfying workout session. The reprogrammable level of resistance can be easily manipulated, effectively changing your workout intensity, as well as the feel of your entire session.
The frame seems to be durable and sturdy, which you’ll especially appreciate. Moreover, the extruded aluminum rail, combined with the seat provide for a very smooth glide, which is perhaps the only noise producing moving part of the entire rower. I understand that magnetic resistance deals with a low number of decibels, but the lack of noise is quite surprising, especially after getting used to both air and water rowers.
If you are looking for something that pleases the eye, the Stamina Avari, though not a real head turner, would suffice. It looks quite expensive and compact, which easily translates into durable and performance efficient.
The design process, however, concerned itself with aesthetics more than anything else. While the end user experience is satisfying, there are some minor glitches that might have been better designed.
The seat, for one, is something many users complain about. And it makes sense. While the form itself is not a problem for someone who used to cycle or row in the past, it is a literal pain in the back for rowing beginners who also happen to be total and complete fitness newbies. I didn’t have any issues whatsoever, but if your bottom is not used to a saddle or a plastic seat, you might feel a bit of discomfort.
This is poor product design logic, since many people who would like to buy the Avari are more or less amateur rowers, who are not by any stretch accustomed to long seating sessions.
The machine is foldable, which makes it easy to store, and the wheels will allow for smooth maneuvering regardless of your size and built.
Excellent performance monitor for the buck
Featuring 12 different programs, the performance monitor is a pleasant surprise within this price range. It will measure split, strokes per minute, time, and distance, on top of reading calories burned as well.
For the metric system however, you’ll have to unmount the monitor and flip a switch on the back. But this is not the only problem. Namely, the number of calories burned, from what I can tell, seems to be flawed at best. Don’t rely on it if you are strict about your caloric measures.
Otherwise, the performance monitor is super convenient and quite useful. The LCD backlit display will help tremendously considering the placement of the monitor (which is somewhat below the strap).
Smooth and consistent glide
The rail provides for a smooth stroke movement, and when you factor in the movable feet pedals, you can definitely enjoy the most adjustable stroke. I personally don’t like the handle height, and believe it will be somewhat unnatural in regards to the actual stroke geometry if you are a short fella.
The fact that the rail is long enough to provide sufficient range of motion for even a tall person like myself, combined with the pivoting pedals, gives one of the most satisfying glide movements across different row machine models.
The slightly angled position of the rail is going to work your legs even more, but nothing to worry about.
Two things I’m not happy with
While many people might be worried about the quality of the belt, I was pleasantly surprised. It is nylon, sure, but at least an inch wide and quite heavy duty.
The foot straps, on the other hand, are Velcro. Give them enough time, and I suspect that they will eventually get loose.
Another thing I’m worried about is the handle. While non-issue for veterans and experienced rowers, the straight bar might cause some problems with rowing newbies. Slanted means less stress on the wrists, and straight… well, you get the point – though this depends heavily on your wrist flexibility and endurance.
Stamina Avari rower features:
- Extruded aluminum rail
- Reliable magnetic damper
- Easily adjustable resistance
- Feature-rich performance monitor with backlit display
- 12 different training porgrams
- Smooth and noise-free glide
- Pivoting feet platforms
- Foldable for easy storage
- Sturdy and durable
- Weight capacity up to 275 pounds
- 81 inches in length
- 20 inches in width
- 5 inches in height
Conclusion for the Stamina Avari Exercise Rower
Overall, this is an excellent machine rower. It is perhaps the best magnetic rower considering the price, and definitely as smooth and quiet as they come. The price, considering what you get, is really affordable, and you can count on the Avari to provide reliable performance for at least 5-10 years depending on usage and maintenance – maybe even more.
More details about the Stamina Avari Rower on Amazon:
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine Review
Probably the best water rowing machine on the market, the WaterRower Natural is a bird of another feather. Its unique and unprecedented design commands attention, and its performance is unmatched.
Constructed in solid ash wood, stained honey oak, with Danish oil finish, the frame is absorbing most of the noise and vibration during rowing. Parallel to providing for the elegant and dashing exterior, the handcrafted wooden frame helps performance as well.
The patented flywheel mechanism has been specifically designed to emulate the dynamics of natural rowing, with a self-regulating resistance system that provides a smooth and quiet workout.
Equipped with a premium quality performance monitor, the data you’ll get is super accurate. Tracking time, distance, strokes per minute, intensity and heart rate the S4 performance monitor offers numerable programming windows as well.
WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor
The WaterRower Natural is my favorite Santa-I’ve-been-a-good-boy, top of the list rowing machine. And it’s easy to see why.
The name befits it well, describing, accurately, the most natural rowing experience I’ve ever tried on an indoor rower. While it doesn’t offer artificial and adjustable resistance (suitable for augmented professional training), it resembles the actual rowing stroke. Same as on water, the resistance increases parallel to your energy output – the faster your row, the more difficult it becomes.
The company, as I did my research, is among the very first to patent this flywheel model, and a pioneer in designing a water-based resistance ergometer.
The design is so unprecedented that it’s been put on display at the Design Museum of London – the only piece of sports equipment that managed to get there. It earned numerous awards, and I’d say it again – it’s easy to see why.
I love the finish, the natural look, the color of the wood and the captivating contrast with all of the black elements, as well as the transparent water tank.
Before trying the WaterRower I was under the impression that the wooden construction was for show only. In my mind, I expected to witness a less balanced and more wobbly experience. Wood, after all, is inferior to steel and metal, right?
Wrong! The ash wood and stained honey oak are carefully selected, with a more important purpose than aesthetics only. They absorb both noise and vibration, making the stroke movement completely uninterrupted. The glide is smooth, frictionless, and noise-free.
The only noise you’ll hear is that of the water tank, but the sound, if I have to use a single word in order to describe it, is soothing.
The feet pedals are perfectly angled. They keep your feet in place with quality straps and nicely placed heel support. Both of them are adjustable. The rail is long enough to allow for extended range of motion, and the glide is super smooth.
When it comes to the seat and handle, they are both very comfortable, but I’d like the grip to be somewhat angled. Anyway, it has more than sufficient padding, so the pull shouldn’t affect your wrists in a negative way.
The eight ball-bearing mounted rolls, made of anti-abrasion polyurethane ensure a perfectly smooth, and super balanced glide.
The WaterRower Natural is super convenient
A super sturdy and durable machine, the WaterRower Natural can endure up to 1000 pounds of weight. It doesn’t vibrate, skid or slide and you won’t have to lubricate any moving parts whatsoever.
Unlike other brands and models where you definitely have to use a mat, the WaterRower comes with small legs attached and fixed underneath, that prevent the machine from skidding or sliding as you row.
The belt is extra durable and doesn’t require additional maintenance. Regardless of how aggressively you pull the handle (and I obviously want to try this with any machine rowing model), it perfectly distributes the force.
Storage is not a problem per say, since the machine can flip vertically and occupy a very small footprint. Besides, I’d love to put it on display anyway. If however, you are determined on storing it elsewhere, the attached wheels would make transporting the rower super easy. The water, of course, remains in the tank.
Advanced performance monitor
Marketing within its price range, the WaterRower Natural has to have a serious competitive edge in performance tracking as well. The S4 monitor, it seems, is a successful attempt.
It shows you all the necessary stats, and has a side placement for an unobstructed view. The numbers use an elegant and tall font, which is in perfect sync with the rest of the product design. It is, of course, easy to see from the far end of the rail.
User friendly, the S4 monitor has more than you’ll ever need when it comes to performance tracking.
You can connect it to your computer, or access the We-Row software which is free of charge. You’ll be able to compete against other WaterRower users, or set up your own private workout. Since some of the other WaterRower models are used in commercial clubs, you’ll have a rich database of competitors in order to test your metal.
The software also offers to store your data, for easy view and progress tracking.
WaterRower Natural features and specs:
- Constructed from solid ash wood, and stained honey oak
- Finished with Danish oil
- The wooden construction absorbs vibration and noise
- The perfect natural rowing simulation
- Patented flywheel water resistance
- Self-adjustable resistance
- Elegant and timeless award-winning design
- Vertical storage
- Transport wheels
- Comfortable 8-ball-bearing-wheels seat for a smooth glide
- Nicely padded handle
- Extra-long rail
- No need to lubricate moving parts
- Super durable belt
- S4 performance monitor with advanced features
- We-row software for competing against others and creating your personal workouts
- Compatible with a heart rate monitor strap
- 84 inches in length
- 21 inches in height
- 22 inches in width
- Wight – 117 pounds (with water)
- Weight capacity – up to 1000 pounds
- 1 year warranty on both frame and components
- Upgradable warranty to 5 years on the frame and 3 years on components with registration
If you have the money to spare, and like to experience a natural rowing stroke, I would strongly recommend the WaterRower Natural. It is everything a rowing enthusiast could ask for. The design of this model is stunning and decorative, and the built quality unmatched. Handcrafted to perfection, and built to last, the WaterRower will definitely endure the test of time. Combined with the S4 monitor and the We-Row software, this is a perfect indoor training rower.
Compared to the Concept2, it provides a more realistic simulation of the stroke, a noise-free experience, and much more attention to detail. The price is somewhat higher, but completely justified by the design alone.
If I had to choose a single model from the list, this is definitely my pick.
More details about the WaterRower Natural on Amazon: