Can rowing bring about a healthier you? Many personal trainers answer a resounding “yes.” Rowing machines help work out different muscle groups while also building cardiovascular fitness. But what's the best rowing machine of all?
It depends — you can spend a lot or a little, but you should look for a rowing machine aligned to your goals. Are you building strength or looking to expand fitness for a marathon or long bike race?
An essential item of any program, most trainers say, is to mix it up. Don't focus on one activity. Surprise your muscles, teach them to be adaptive, and you might find greater returns than you ever envisioned. A rowing machine can help.
What Is a Rowing Machine?
As this article in GQ Magazine points out, everyone relates to a treadmill or a stationary bike. We all walk, many of us run, and some of us ride a bike. But few have ever taken the oars.
From the first time on the rowing machine, you’ll have questions. Is it all about speed, as GQ wonders?, The real benefit lies in the “power” of each stroke, a trainer interviewed by the magazine says. Focus on getting the most behind each stroke and use wattage as your primary measure of improvement.
Rowing machines are easy to operate – or so it may seem. You'll see two types – one with external arms, that replicate the feel of working the oars, and one with a bar that you pull with each stroke.
Both are proven approaches. But according to experts interviewed by Men’s Journal, proper technique can make the difference between a good workout or a lost one.
Pay attention to these little details, and you’ll be seeing results in no time. Here’s a more detailed list of what to do when you're in the hot seat. Or, if you prefer, watch this video:
How We Reviewed Rowers
Our project to identify the best rowing machine relies heavily on the individual sites of major manufacturers. That list includes companies such as Sunny Health & Fitness, XTERRA Fitness, Concept2, and Merax. On those sites, we focused on specifications with an eye toward identifying key differentiators.
We also took a look at general interest magazines and examined their impressions of what makes the best rowing machine. Among the sites we consulted were Health.com, Men’sJournal.com, and Prevention.com.
To top of it off, we studied what real reviewers had to say via their feedback on Amazon. All of this feedback helped shape our list.
Selecting the Best Rowing Machine
Your best rowing machine may not be my best rowing machine. But it will definitely include one of the three main approaches to resistance and movement.
So in building our list, we focused on providing a taste of everything – machines with hydraulic, water, or magnetic resistance and machines with external arms or more the more traditional “pull-to-your-chest” approach.
Down the river we go.
- DIGITAL MONITOR - The large LCD console displays time, count, calories, total count, scan. The convenient scan mode displays your progress to assist you in tracking all your fitness goals
- EXTRA LONG SLIDE RAIL - At 48 inches in slide rail length and 44 inches in inseam length, the SF-RW5515 can accommodate rowers of nearly any size.
- ADJUSTABLE MAGNETIC RESISTANCE - With a simple twist, you can increase or decrease the 8 levels of magnetic resistance, so your workout can remain challenging and effective throughout your fitness journey.
- TRANSPORTATION WHEELS - Built in transportation wheels for easy portability. Simply tilt and roll out for use or away for storage, no need for heavy lifting or muscle strain. Folded Dimensions: 37L X 19W X 53. 5H inches
- NON-SLIP FOOT PEDALS - Textured non-slip foot pedals will ensure safe footing during the most demanding and vigorous workouts! Foot straps keep your feet saddled in so you can focus on the workout without feeling unbalanced
Sunny Health & Fitness of California markets probably the most extensive variety of rowing machines. The company's line of rowers includes magnetic, water, and full-motion rowing machines for legs between 38 and 45 inches and weights up between 220 and 350 pounds.
A Sunny model that's worth a look in your search for the best rowing machine is the RW-5515. It's a magnetic rower that provides eight adjustable levels of tension. It's big and bulky at 60 pounds but has wheels to move it around your home or apartment.
One reviewer who gave the machine a 5-star rating refers to it as the “bee's knees” of home exercise equipment.
Far less pleased was a 1-star reviewer who wrote that the handle on her machine broke about four months into her ownership. She has struggled to get the company to replace it.
Sunny offers affordable rowers as well, such as the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Resistance Rowing Machine.
The maximum user weight on this device is 220 pounds. It offers 12 adjustable levels and weighs just 23 pounds. Though streamlined, the rower still includes an LCD digital monitor to track your progress.
One positive review highlighted how easy it was to assemble and found the seat very comfortable.
A 2-star reviewer noted that the machine might be right for individuals who are new to rowing. Interestingly, as a word of caution, she writes that the device gets extremely hot after about 10 minutes.
- Low impact workout that engages all major muscle groups; work legs, core and arms with a smooth, high calorie-burning motion.
- Track your progress with real-time reliable data; the Performance Monitor 5 (included) self-calibrates for comparable results; connect wirelessly to heart rate belts and apps (not included).
- Designed to fit most users: 14-inch seat height, adjustable footrests and ergonomic handle.
- Separates easily into two pieces for storage; caster wheels make it mobile; easy to assemble with only eight screws.
- Space recommended for use is 9 x 4 feet; 500-pound user capacity; 5-year frame warranty included.
If you’re in the market for a rowing machine a little further up the value curve, consider the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine. This rower is commonly found in gyms but is also priced for the home, giving it excellent best rowing machine potential.
One of the big pluses of the Concept2 is the LCD monitor. The device comes with pre-programmed workouts, as well as games, that can make exercise less monotonous. The machine also connects with fitness apps.
The Concept2 weighs 57 pounds, so make sure you’ve got the space for this. Don’t worry, though – like other machines, the Concept2 folds up for storage.
One reviewer, a former marathoner, writes that the Concept2 may well have saved his life since he can no longer run and has as fallen out of shape.
An unhappy reviewer gave the machine just 1-star after struggling to get it to connect to Bluetooth.
One important note: A good sign. The company clearly monitors feedback it gets on sites such as Amazon and frequently leaves messages offering to resolve problems. That’s a commitment worth noting.
- Impellers active motion through the water tank creates the similar peaceful sounds to actually rowing on the water
- Large 5. 5" Lcd console features an easy height and angle adjustment for the perfect viewing angle
- 6 resistance levels - determined by the amount of water used in the tank (check water level guide on tank for resistance level)
- Raised seat Height (13. 5" High) gets You on and off the rower with ease
- Large contoured Seat maximizes comfort and performance
Many rowers use water to provide resistance.
One that merits attention is the XTERRA Fitness ERG600W Water Rower. This machine provides six levels of resistance.
Most noteworthy: It also includes a display screen that’s bigger than most — a 5.5-inch diagonal LCD that’s adjustable to the height you need it. The machine challenges you with pre-programmed workouts.
It's heavier than any of the rowers on our list at 82 pounds. But it still folds up for storage when needed.
A 5-star reviewer praised the machine for its sturdy build and also commented on the calming effect of the sound of the water.
One interesting observation we found: The lowest rating for the XTERRA machine was three stars. Several of those reviewers commented on the lower quality of the foot pedals.
- 【Various Workout Equipment-8 Levels of Resistance 】Switch up the intensity of your rowing workout with the convenient 8 levels of adjustable resistance tension knob. With a simple twist, you can increase or decrease resistance so your rower workout can remain challenging and effective throughout your rowing fitness journey.
- 【 Extra Padding & Rotary Design-Fully Padded Seat&Multi-angle Rotary Footplates 】A sliding, extra padded and upholstered seat to support your bottom and back, ensure proper blood flow in the glutes for prolonged and vigorous rowing workouts. Large strapping footplates that are suitable for users of different sizes provide optimal comfort and support on this indoor rowing machine.
- 【Track Your Workout-Large LCD Display 】With convenient LCD monitor that displays your Time, Count, Calories, Total Count, you will be able to track your progress and modify your current routine appropriately and keep you further motivated and aim for improvement.
- 【Comfortable and Silence-15 Degree Angled Seat Rail& Built-in Megnetic Flywheel】The 15 degree angled seat rail makes your seat return smooth and efficient so that you can get the most out of your rowing session. Built-in megnetic flywheel minimizes noise while maximizing a smooth feel during exercise process on this air rowing machine.
- 【Durability&Portability-Folding Frame& Built-in Wheels】Equipped with built-in wheels and a foldable frame, this rowing machine for home aims at easy transport and storage. Merax rowing machine assembled dimensions: 73 L x 16 W x 21 H inches; Folded: 26 L x 16 W x 49 H inches; Weight Capacity: 264 lbs. Slide rail length: 43.3 inch
If water resistance isn’t for you, then consider a magnetic exercise rower. We liked the Merax Magnetic Exercise Rower Adjustable Resistance Rowing Machine. It could well be the best rowing machine for you.
The Merax machine offers eight resistance settings, which are easily adjusted using a tension knob. It will support rowers who way up to 260 pounds. A feature we like was the ability to angle the foot pedals during exercise, which makes it much easier to find that sweet spot.
Like the others on this list, the Merax rower folds up for storage and includes wheels for relocation.
The most positive reviewers cite the machine as being exceptionally quiet and easy to assemble.
Less-enthused reviewers found the motion of the machine less than ideal, describing it as “herky-jerky.” They also felt the plastic used to make the machine was not of the highest quality.
- 𝗦𝗢𝗟𝗜𝗗 𝗦𝗧𝗘𝗘𝗟 𝗙𝗥𝗔𝗠𝗘: Heavy duty steel construction holds a max weight capacity of 350 lbs. The large padded seat slides smoothly across the 38 inch slide rail length as your push your legs back for indoor rowing exercises, making this rowing machine the perfect addition to your home gym.
- 𝗙𝗨𝗟𝗟 𝗠𝗢𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡 𝗥𝗢𝗪𝗜𝗡𝗚: Unlike traditional rowers, this EFITMENT rowing exercise machine is designed for full range of arm extensions. This mimics authentic rowing movements providing you with a genuine rowing experience. Slip resistant, comfortable handles provide additional control for your rowing exercise.
- 𝟭𝟮 𝗟𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗟𝗦 𝗢𝗙 𝗥𝗘𝗦𝗜𝗦𝗧𝗔𝗡𝗖𝗘: 12 levels of hydraulic cylinder resistance create a versatile home rowing workout. Choose your resistant level and hold onto the slip resistant handle bars for full arm rotations. Engage muscles in your arms, shoulders and back with the cardio rowing machine built for tough workouts.
- 𝗗𝗜𝗚𝗜𝗧𝗔𝗟 𝗠𝗢𝗡𝗜𝗧𝗢𝗥: Place your tablet or mobile device on the tablet bracket and follow along your favorite rowing videos. Crush your fitness goals while you track them on the meter displaying time, count, calories burned, total count and RPM.
- 𝗘𝗥𝗚𝗢𝗡𝗢𝗠𝗜𝗖 𝗙𝗘𝗔𝗧𝗨𝗥𝗘𝗦: The large, anti slip foot pedals come with Velcro adjustable straps that form to your foot and give you the confidence to engage those legs muscles while rowing. The padded comfortable seat effortlessly glides across the slide rail and supports you for longer rides.
If not water or magnetic resistance, then maybe a hydraulic rower meets your definition of the best rowing machine. We felt the EFITMENT RW032 Total Motion Rowing machine was worth a look.
The EFITMENT couples a compact size (weighing only about 28 pounds) with full-arm extensions to give you the same experience you could be having on the water. You will get your choice of 12 resistance levels.
Interestingly, it's highly durable as well, supporting rowers up to 350 pounds on its solid steel frame. It also includes a cell/tablet holder, so you can binge on your latest Netflix passion while melting away the pounds. And you can watch your progress on the attached LCD screen.
A customer who gave a 5-star rating liked that the machine was easy to put together and was happy that it did not put too much stress on his joints.
A reviewer who gave just 1 star found that the machine cylinder overheated quickly.
- Unique, full-range-of-motion rowing mimics being on the water
- Multi-function electronic monitor to keep you motivated
- Comfortable molded seat
- Adjustable, hydraulic cylinder resistance for a smooth rowing stroke
- Foldable arms for compact storage
If replicating the rowing motion is vital to you, consider the model we found from Stamina Products Inc. The company's machines come with the external arms for movement.
The model we put in the running for the best rowing machine is the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050. It weighs just under 40 pounds and folds up when needed.
This product has been reviewed more than 2,400 times. A 5-star reviewer noted that the mimicking of real rowing made a massive difference for him.
On the flip side, a 1-star reviewer expressed frustration about the shock absorber breaking repeatedly.
- [800 LBS WEIGHT CAPACITY]: 800 lbs weight capacity with unique triangular support structure that gives this bench incredible strength. Strong powder coated tubular steel frame construction. User height up to 6'4"
- [UPGRADED WIDER BACKREST/SEAT]:Upgraded 2019 foam backrest with 2" wider (12" W x 33.5" L) for better back support while exercising. Upgraded 2019 larger seat (15.3" W x 14.5" L) with 2" wider on the back width
- [12 POSITION ADJUSTABLE BACKREST]: Smooth 12 position adjustable backrest by utilizing 2 position front leg adjustment. Backrest adjusts to -20 degree decline to +80 degree incline angles. Flat position height: 17.5". Backrest thickness: 1.75"
- [DETACHABLE LEG HOLD-DOWN]: Detachable 3 position adjustable leg hold down bar for additional stability during workouts. Extended leg stabilizers prevent movement or rocking during workouts. Transportation wheels included for easy relocation
- [FOLDABLE]: Can be folded for storage. Folded size: 51" L x 23.5" w x 9" H. Set up Dimensions: 59" L x 23.5" W x 48.5" H. 1 Year limited warranty
We’d be remiss in our search for the best rowing machine if we didn’t mention one that offers multi-purpose exercise capabilities.
The Fitness Reality 1000 can be configured to support weight training. The machine offers a variety of exercises to build your forearms and upper arms, your shoulders, legs and thighs and other parts of the body.
The Fitness Reality 1000 Plus is Bluetooth enabled and comes with a custom app designed to track your progress. It also offers a nicely sized 3.5-inch LCD screen. Choose from 14 levels of resistance in your exercise regimen.
A delighted customer writes that the machine was easy to put together and felt that it offered excellent value.
A less enthused customer found the magnetic resistance did not provide an intense enough workout.
- 2 independent hydraulic cylinders for tension resistance. 3 hydraulic resistance levels can be independently adjusted on the left and right handle bars. 180 degree range of rowing motion
- 3 adjustable rowing positions accommodate different user heights. Slide rail length/inseam: 37" - 43". large 1.8" thick cushioned seat (12.3" x 9") and multi-exercise backrest (26.5" x 12.5")
- 3 adjustable incline rowing angles. LCD display indicates Scan, time, rep count, calories burned, and total rep count. Foam covered handle bars provides a comfortable grip while rowing
- Large pivoting textured anti-slip foot pedals with adjustable straps keep your feet in place while exercising. User height range of 4'9" to 6'1". chrome slide rail for smooth rowing
- Over 10 additional workout exercises including rows, curls, shoulder presses, pull downs, ab workouts, bent over rows, pec flies and more. Can be folded for storage. 220 lbs weight capacity
Another multi-purpose option for consideration as the best rowing machine is the ProGear 750.
In addition to typical rowing, you can use this machine for shoulder presses and pulldowns as well as ways to work your abdominal and pectoral muscles.
The ProGear 750 offers a 37-inch to 43-inch slide rail. You'll track your metrics using an LCD display. As you get stronger, you can challenge yourself with three resistance settings. The seat is 1.8-inches thick, and you'll also appreciate the backrest when conducting other exercises.
One very positive reviewer praises the machine’s versatility and flexibility.
A less pleased reviewer found it difficult to change positions.
The Best Rowing Machine
Rowing machines offer excellent opportunities for cross-training at an affordable price. And rowers typically won’t take up too much space in your home. So which one is best?
Based on the specs and reviews we’ve read, it’s going to depend on where you are on your exercise journey.
Are you just looking to stay in shape, and tone your muscles? Or are you training for a big event — a long bike ride or a marathon?
Given the breadth of choices available, we think the everyday user should consider one of the models from Sunny Fitness & Health. They’re inexpensive and offer different options for workouts.
If you’re more gung-ho, then the crowd has spoken. We say: Invest the extra money and choose the Concept2 model.
Let us know which of these rowing machines floats your boat in the comments below. Happy rowing!