If you’re looking for a terrific all-around full-body workout, then indoor rowing machines are an excellent choice. In this article we compare the different types of rowing machines and present our findings of the best rowing machine for different budgets based on our own experience and research. We tested the top rowing machine types with five fitness enthusiasts and performed a head-to-head challenge between our top two picks.
Best Rowing Machine Overall: Concept Model D
We found the Concept Model D to be the best rowing machine on the market. This air resistant rowing machine is simple to use, provides an incredible workout, and burns a lot of calories. It’s also a great option when looking at the best rowing machine for tall persons or a short person as there is the option to purchase an extended rail.
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The Best Rowing Machine Reviews
|Model||Our Picks||User Weight||Price|
|Concept2 Model D||Best Overall||500 Lb||$$$|
|Merax Water Rowing Machine||Best Value For Money||350 Lb||$$|
|Stamina Precision Rower||Best Budget Rower||250 Lb||$|
|Stamina 1050 Body Trac Glider||Best Rowing Machines Under 300 $||250 Lb||$|
|Stamina Air Rower||Best Rowing Machines Under 500 $||250 Lb||$$|
|Kettler Coach 2 Rower||Best Rowing Machines Under 1000 $||285 Lb||$$$|
Advantages of Using a Rowing Machine
I have the Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine which I have been working out on for over five years. I have found rowing to be truly one of the best exercise equipment to improve your overall health.
Rowing regularly will benefit you in so many ways, but to name a few, rowing machines provide:
- A total body workout, exercising multiple muscle groups in your body.
- It’s a fun and engaging exercise. You’re less likely to suffer from “fatigue” (i.e. boredom) as you may on a treadmill or other piece of cardio equipment.
- It’ll help you to lose fat and gain muscles (combines both cardio and resistance), which is a great combination when it comes to exercise equipment.
Here are some more rowing machine’s benefits.
- Rowing machines burn a lot of calories – Did you know that a 50-minute rowing session can burn nearly 1,200 calories? That’s twice as many calories burned that you’d get from a spin class.
- Rowing machines give an all-body workout – When using a rowing machine, you’ll workout your entire body: lats, upper back, deltoids, triceps, calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, obliques, pecs, and biceps. When I’m working on my rower, I can feel all these different muscles groups engage.
- Elevates heart rate – When you’re getting a good rowing machine workout, your heart rate will be elevated — and that’s certainly a good thing. It’s no different than ‘rowing machine type exercises’ in the gym, as you’re effectively doing a leg press, deadlift, and a row with every single rep of the machine.
What are the Different Types of Rowing Machines
When comparing different types of rowing machines, resistance type is the first consideration. Rowing machine resistance accomplishes two things:
- The more machine resistance you have, obviously, the more intense the workout will be.
- With more resistance, you get a more realistic “experience” of actually rowing across the water.
Let’s quickly go over the four most common resistance types of rowing machines:
Different Types of Rowing Machines
These are the most popular types of a rowing machine, and probably the ones you’ve seen at your local gym. It’s also the resistant type found on the Concept2 Model D rowing machines.
When you pull the handle toward you, the spinning flywheel is activated into motion, which is where the machine draws its force from. So the harder you pull on that handle, the greater the resistance becomes.
The best thing about an air resistance rowing machine is that you are in control of your own workout. If you want an intense rowing machine workout, then pull that handle as hard as you can. If you’re looking to take it a little lighter, then ease up a bit.
Whether you’re an intermediate or advanced rower, air resistant flywheel rowing machines are a great choice.
A water rowing machine is designed of course to mimic the actual motion of rowing through water. Hydraulic rowing machines are recommended for more intermediate to advanced rowers. They can be on the difficult end of the intensity spectrum.
The harder you pull the handle, the harder the resistance. There’s the audible feature to these models as well. When you pull the handle, water rowers makes a wave-like motion like you are rowing over water.
These types of rowing machines are generally reserved for those without a lot of rowing experience. They are on the smaller (easier to store) and cheaper side, though they still provide a great workout.
A piston resistant rower has two hydraulic pistons attached to each pole. This design is intended to make the user achieve a balanced upper-body workout. Both Stamina rowing machines that we recommend use piston resistance.
Magnetic types of rowing machines use a magnetic braking system to create rowing resistance. The levels can be adjusted using the mechanical sliders or by adjusting the levels on the digital console controls.
The difference between magnetic types of rowing machines vs water or air rowing machines is the variation in resistance. Once you have set the level of magnetic resistance on magnetic rowing machines it doesn’t change with the speed in which you row.
One of the major advantages of magnetic rowers is how quiet they are to operate (they are almost silent). They are also smaller than other types and require little maintenance. The Hydrow is one of the best magnetic resistance rowing machines on the market and it is easy to see why once you test drive one.
Things to Consider
- Space- Some rowers are much bulkier than others. Be sure to check the size specs of whichever unit you’re considering. The Concept2 Model D rowing machines, for example, measures about 8’0” x 2’0” x 2’4” and weighs around 57 pounds.
- Skill level- As mentioned above, different types of rowers are built for different types of advanced skills. Don’t buy an advanced rower if you’re not ready, as you’ll only become frustrated that you aren’t able to effectively use the machine. On the other hand, if your skill level is pretty good, don’t buy a beginner’s rower, as the workout will be too easy for you. Be sure to check out our rowing machine reviews, as well as the customer reviews on Amazon.
- Price- Everyone wants to find a rower in their budget. Luckily, there is a pretty wide budget gap in today’s rowers, ranging from $100 to nearly $1,000.
A Quick Word About Mats
If you’re going to buy a 50+ kg rowing machines, you’ll want to consider investing in a good mat to protect your equipment and your floor. Take a look at this great review of the 7 Best Interlocking Foam Mats.
The Concept2 Model D Rowing Machine is our pick as the runaway best-in-class rowing machine available today. The Model D is beloved by fitness buffs and professional rowers. You’re likely to find it in nearly every hometown gym across America.
Amazon reviewers seem to agree, as this machine has an average rating of 4.9 stars out of 5 and more than 4500 customer reviews (when you factor in reviews of the previous model).
The Concept2 Model D rowing machine immediately stands out with its build quality and versatility. What’s nice about this machine is the even rowing and smooth sliding seat motion. It allows your upper and lower body to efficiently work their muscles at the same time.
Our testers commented on just how natural the whole rowing motion feels. Next, the adjustable footrests: we found that they accommodate any variety of different shape shoes or sizes, and are quite comfortable to slip into.
What about the handle? Well, it’s ergonomically designed to deliver a firm, secure grip throughout your exercise routine.
My hands get particularly sweaty when I workout, and I had no issues with grip. As for storing the Model D, the unit features a quick-release, no tools required frame lock, making it quite easy to separate into two separate pieces for storage or transport.
I personally store mine in my basement closet when I need to move it for when we have guests over.
The durable caster wheels on the bottom of the unit make it convenient for traveling.
Model D has a 500-pound capacity and comes with a 5-year warranty on the frame.
I could list the pros of this machine all day, but we’ll stick with the top ones here.
- Model D is extremely well-made.
- It has an aluminium monorail frame that’s capped with high-grade stainless steel. This design and materials ensure the smooth, gliding motion that makes this unit famous.
- The flywheel design also provides a smooth motion while lowering noise during your rowing machine workout; the rower is quiet when in use, best for watching a game or TV show while you’re working out.
- Another nice touch is the spiral damper which allows adjustment of the airflow to the flywheel, helping to easily find the right setting for any session.
- The Model D ships with a “performance monitor” screen that’s bolted to the machine; the monitor provides easy to see, accurate data during every second of your time spent rowing.
- And then there’s the seat: a 14 inch low profile seated rowing machine that’s both extremely comfortable and quite stable while exercising, and which our testers singled out as one of their favorite design features on the machine.
Personally speaking, I’ve used Model D as my at-home rowing machine for more than five years now. I’ve never had a single issue with it and it’s the best indoor rowing machine I’ve ever used.
More than that, it’s an absolute joy to use. Typically, I use Model D about three times per week, for around 45 minutes per session. I find it to be a challenging workout, and our testers agreed.
I’m in pretty good shape, yet I’ve always felt challenged using it – there are enough resistance levels to please everyone here, even beginners, so don’t be intimidated if this is your first machine.
Just as important, I’ve also never gotten bored using this rower – which is a big thing when you’re talking about a piece of fitness equipment, since boredom is often a problem that leads to people stop exercising.
I always feel engaged and excited about my next rowing machine workout.
As I mentioned, the first thing you’ll notice about the Model D is how impressively well-built it is; you can tell right out of the box that this machine was designed to last you for years.
The build quality is second to none. A lot of people get startled at the $900 price tag – including me when I was first shopping for a machine – but if it lasts you 5-10 years, then it starts to become an investment of sorts.
Because once you start using it, you’ll see how durable and comfortable it is.
I mentioned the “personal monitor” before – it displays all kinds of detailed information for how your workout is going.
The monitor has a nice resolution (160 x 160 pixels) so you can clearly see your progress, and best of all, it stores your workout history on a USB card that you can then upload onto MyFitnessPal, which is a pretty killer feature.
Our testers specifically pointed out this feature as a great way to build and maintain momentum while exercising; keeping track of your goals and progress is vital to sustaining the motivation needed to stay fit, so we definitely recommend utilizing this feature.
Comfort and Ease of Use
Next, the Model D is known for its ease of use, and it does not disappoint. You can adjust the cord resistance to whichever level you feel comfortable, and the machine will provide the necessary amount of friction to work nearly every muscle in the body.
Another thing to mention is the seat – a part of the machine this is often overlooked – because the seated rowing machine is shaped to enhance your comfort as you sit on the machine, and is perfectly positioned so that you can watch TV if you like during your workouts.
With this rowing machine, you can expect to lose up to 1,000 calories per hour, depending on your fitness level, age, gender, and a couple of other factors.
So it’s a fun rowing machine workout that you can do in the comfort of your own home – while watching TV – while burning a ton of calories and working nearly every muscle in your body.
- There were some consumers on Amazon who reported this unit taking up more space within their home than expected, so be sure you measured out your space where you plan on putting it before you actually buy it.
- Other customers also expressed a desire for better instructions for assembling the product, and we tend to agree. While it wasn’t difficult per set to assemble, it was a bit of a chore, and it would have been much easier with more detailed, clearer instructions on how to use a rowing machine.
- And of course, depending on your budget, $1100 could simply make this unit too expensive.
If the Concept2 Model D rowing machines have any competition on the market as the standout rowing machine, it surely comes from the Merax Water Rowing Machine.
Having a specially designed flywheel situated within an enclosed water tank, I find the Merax Water Rowing Machine provides an instinctive and realistic workout session for me every time.
The use of water inside the tank for the resistance pressure delivers an authentic “on the water” rowing experience during my workout.
I like the performance monitor with its ability to track the intensity level, stroke rate, and other statistics throughout my exercise session. The Merax Water Rowing Machine gives me accurate feedback on my heart rate, stroke rate, workout intensity, duration, and distance rowed.
With the monitor I receive an accurate reading of my heart rate and other statistics throughout my workout even when there is a lot of forceful movement that can cause other monitors to provide less than accurate feedback.
Likewise, with the ability to track my zone and stroke rate I can precisely control the effectiveness of my exercise session every time.
A really cool feature too is the competitive race mode where you can get on an intense rowing competition!
Having a heavy-duty steel frame construction, the Merax Water Rowing Machine can handle my lengthy and rugged workouts.
The compact foot print of the Merax Water Rowing Machine is another bonus. With built-in wheels it allow for easy rolling in/out of your room and convenient storage.
The Merax Water Rowing Machine Dimensions are 78” x 20” x 25.5” and a slide rail length of 43.3 inches.
- Resistance -I enjoyed the ability to set the Merax Water Rowing Machine to the resistance I desired by simply adding to or removing water from the tank. This gave me time to adjust to the machine and learn the unique movements required without pushing myself to the limit with the highest resistance when first using a machine. As I became more accustomed to the Merax Water Rowing Machine, I gradually increased the amount of water in the tank. This not only allowed the muscles and ligaments of my body time to adjust but eventually enabled me to achieve my current goal of peak performance.
- Comfort – Another thing I really like about the Merax Water Rowing Machine is the comfortable padded seating. I have used other seated row machines where the seat was quite uncomfortable especially during intense workouts. The seated row machine is well designed to allow free movement with no restraint, yet padded enough to prevent any discomfort throughout long workout sessions.
- Authentic Sound – The best thing about a water rower vs an air rower is how it mimics the sound of being on the water. In addition its not too loud for those who like to enjoy music while doing a workout.
- Price – the Merax Water Rowing Machine is easily one of the best rowing machines under 500 dollars that you will find on the market! This is incredible value for money if you ask me.
- Compact and easy to store. It can be stored upright when not in use.
- Unique inclined water tank ensures more powerful resistance compared to other water rowing machines that are in a flat position.
- Minimal assembly required – Instructions are quick and easy to follow.
The main disadvantage of water rowers over different types of rowing machines is that they do not fold. To store them they can be tipped upright but they don’t get more compact than that.
Concept2 Model D vs Merax Water Rowing Machine
I like the Merax Water Rowing Machine for its durability and precision. Over the years I have had the opportunity to use and test many different rowing machines which left me with an unshakeable preference for one particular machine.
It was a close decision, yet for me, the Concept 2 Model D is a rowing machine that is slightly better in a few areas than the Merax Water Rowing Machine. Honestly, I find the two rowing machines to be nearly equal in features and advantages.
However, there are certain characteristics that I find are a little better with the Concept 2 rowing machine.
One of the features that cause me to slightly prefer the Concept 2 rower is the actual design and functionality of the rowing mechanism.
Concept 2 uses an actual chain for the torque and pull against the flywheel while the Merax Water Rowing Machine uses a strap to move the mechanism when rowing.
A Tough Choice
While Concept 2 does make more noise when rowing, for me it is a more secure experience I feel during my workouts.
I find the louder sound made by Concept 2 actually gives me something to gauge how intensely I am pushing myself with each stroke. I like having this audible feedback especially during the most intense portion of my workout.
Since I spend a lot of time exercising on the machine, the better sound feedback feature is moderately important to me for feeling like I am getting the most out of my workouts.
Though not as much the feeling of actually rowing on the water like the Merax Water Rowing Machine, I guess you could say I slightly prefer the strength and durability of the Concept 2 over that of the Merax Water Rowing Machine.
Concept 2 has an overall design I like a little better than the Merax Water Rowing Machine. Concept 2 is minutely tilted forward giving me the feel of real rowing experience. Having a slightly forward-leaning position while exercising provides a more intense workout for my legs than the Merax Water Rowing Machine.
I find this provides a more realistic rowing experience while strengthening my legs more efficiently at the same time.
The one thing that could be a deal breaker for the Concept 2 is the cost. The Concept2 Model D is a lot more expensive than the Merax Water Rowing Machine which would put it out of some people’s price range.
Best Rowing Machines Under 300 Dollars
The Stamina Precision Rower is another terrific option when considering the different types of rowing machines on the market. It is our best budget rowing machine in the competition for the best rowing machines under 300 dollars. It’s not an air-resistant rower but it still does the job.
The Precision Rower has some nice features working in its favor: a smooth hydraulic cylinder action, with adjustable tension control, and a deluxe ball-bearing system are a few that check the boxes off the bat.
The Precision Rower also has a multifunction fitness monitor that allows easy viewing and tracking of speed, distance, stroke count, and more during your workout time.
What about the seat? Well, it’s a thick padded seated rowing machine that our testers found to be quite comfortable and sturdy, while I found the pivoting footplates to be both versatile and comfortable during my workout.
The Stamina 1205 weighs 47 Kgs and has a 5-year warranty on the frame and a 90-day warranty on parts.
- The Precision Rower runs on a precision ball-bearing system – our testers found this to have smooth motion and a dependably stable workout nearly every time.
- Foam-covered grips and adjustable hydraulic cylinders really did make for a comfortable and realistic rowing motion – our testers felt like they were really going through a real “rowing” action, which makes for an enjoyable experience.
- The multifunction fitness monitor keeps accurate track of your distance, time, speed, count of stroke and calories burned. This allows users to set attainable goals for their routine and keep track of their progress, crucial in being able to maintain the motivation necessary to become physically fit.
- This machine is well-constructed. The heavy-duty aluminium beam and silver steel frame deliver a secure and dependable foundation for intense training. And the whisper-quiet pistons provide a silent session every time, which is always a plus.
- Best of all, it really does provide an excellent workout, and even though I’m in pretty good shape, I was breathing hard after my first 30 minutes were up. The build quality of this machine really stands out as well — not as good as the Concept2, mind you — but solid, stable, and it stays in place when you’re moving on it.
- A very quiet rower; you can watch TV at normal volume while using it no problem.
- Another great feature is the seat on this machine — you can get in a full session and never feel any discomfort, which is a huge selling point.
- Offers many different adjustment levels in power, from beginner to expert.
- Now, will you get as smooth a workout as you would on the Concept2 model? No, probably not — but that’s the nearly $700 difference right there.
- There were reports by some Amazon consumers of difficulty when using these types of rowing machines.
- Some buyers said that the rower takes up a little extra space inside their home.
- While not a “con” per se, this Stamina rower machine – and the unit directly below – are piston-resistant rowing machines, which are perfectly fine but don’t’ quite provide the same experience as an air-resistant model.
- Not the best choice for very tall and heavy users.
I personally used this rower for about three weeks during my testing period and came away extremely impressed. First off, you simply cannot beat the value proposition here — looking for the best rowing machine under 300 dollars – this rower is a pretty great deal, and makes for a great option for those shoppers in this price range.
The Stamina 1050 is our choice for those in the market for a rowing machine under $150. It’s an excellent bang for your buck and can get the job done. The Body Trac Glider is one of the best-selling rowing machines on the market.
The Body Trac Glider is similar to the Precision Rower in that it’s a piston-resistant rowing machine, with the added option of adjustable gas-shock resistance which our testers noted provided an even and smooth workout.
Being on the inexpensive side, it has durable heavy-duty steel frame construction making it long-lasting.
The Precision Rower also comes with an attached monitor that keeps track of a variety of details including the time, stroke counts, and calories burned during your workout in a rowing machine. This rower isn’t on the larger side, so it’s simple to fold for easy storage or transport.
It measures 46 inches long x 23.5 inches wide and weighs 39 kgs. The Precision Rower comes with a one-year warranty on the frame of the unit, and a 90-day warranty on parts.
- The multifunction fitness monitor makes it simple to know how far to push your workouts, which is a great feature.
- Displaying the sum in a rotating fashion for six seconds each, this unit tracks time, total machines stroke count, stroke count during your exercise routine and calories burned during your current row machine workouts, to name a few.
- Other things I like about the Precision Rower is the contoured padded seat, heavy-duty frame, and 250-pound capability.
- My sister owns this machine, so I’ve got great use out of it when I go over to her house. She’s not into fitness quite as much as I am, so she didn’t see the need to spend a ton of money on the Concept2, and the Precision Rower suits her needs quite nicely.
- This unit really does everything you’d expect it to when it comes to a rowing machine.
- It’s extremely easy to use a rowing machine and is suitable for beginner or intermediate users.
- Another important “pro” with the Precision Rower is the seat — this rowing machine’s seat is incredibly comfortable. When you’re going to be sitting on a rowing machine for 30-45 minutes per session, this becomes awfully important.
- The monitor on this machine is also a nice touch, helping you to keep track of your progress by tracking things like calories lost, overall time, resistance setting, and the number of rowing strokes.
- What’s nice about the monitor is that it updates on its own, every six seconds. This feature allows you to be constantly aware of your progress and how you’re doing.
A few buyers complaint of a minor squeaking sound coming from the Precision Rower when first using the device. A few owners reported the need for better workout instructions for beginners on how to use a rowing machine. While a few Amazon users wrote that they felt it wasn’t quite challenging enough for them.
Best Rowing Machines Under 500 Dollars
Read the full review earlier in this article! The Merax Water Rowing Machine is our top pick when it comes to the best rowing machines under 500 dollars.
The Stamina Air Rower is another great option when considering the best rowing machines under 500 dollars. This unit offers smooth and silent operation with an eddy current drive system consisting of a 16.5-pound flywheel.
The heavy-duty solid steel frame of these types of rowing machines delivers a secure and durable construction with a 300 pound capacity for any routine, while the three-screen LCD console provides continuous information on distance covered, session time, number of strokes, strokes per minute, workout feedback, and burning of calories during your rowing machines routine.
This unit has a 5-year warranty on the frame, a 2-year warranty on parts, and a 1-year warranty on labor. The RW1000 folds for easy storage and weighs 55 kgs.
The RW 1000 includes foam-padded handgrips and pivoting footplates which provide versatility and comfort for long sessions on the machine.
Some consumers expressed trouble changing the battery for the LCD display for the device. Also, some owners stated they had minor difficulty folding the unit for storage or transport.
Best Rowing Machine Under 1000 Dollars
The Kettler Coach 2 is another great option when considering different types of rowing machines. This was voted the best rowing machine under 1000 dollars. This magnetic rower has two hydraulic cylinders which create a smooth and dependable operation with consistent resistance during your workout.
The built-in training computer supplies continuous information on time, number of strokes, speed, distance covered, and more. The computer can be programmed for desired distance and stroke speed with visual and audio signalling to alert the user during workout time.
The ear lobe clip provides accurate and continuous monitoring of your heart rate during a workout.
The ergonomically designed seat allows you to remain focused on your workout without discomfort while exercising. The Coach 2 weighs 55 kgs and has a manufacturer’s warranty provided.
The circular rowing design of the Coach 2 provides an even workout during use. The rowing handles offer a maximum 45-degree tilt to achieve the right fit for any user.
The smooth-operating seat rollers ensure a trouble-free performance throughout your routine.
The anti-slip floor protectors prevent movement or sliding when you use the device on hard floor surfaces, which is a good safety precaution.
The pivoting footplates with heavy-duty straps ensure a secure workout routine without interruption. Our testers think this is one of the most impressive features of the machine.
The heavy-duty steel framework of this unit has a 285-pound capacity. It will provide years of dependable service during intense workouts.
There have been a few consumer complaints expressing difficulty assembling the device alone without help. There were also owners who reported minor problems learning to use the training feature on the built-in computer.
Final Word on Different Types of Rowing Machines
For the best rowing machine under 300 dollars we recommend the Stamina 1050 Rowing Machine or Stamina Precision Rower. Both excellent choices when considering different types of rowing machines on a budget.
The Merax Water Rowing Machine gets our nod as the ‘best value for money’ when looking at different types of rowing machines. When looking for the best rowing machine under 500 dollars the Merax Water Rowing Machine is second to none. If you’re not a fan of a water rower then the Stamina Air Rower Rowing Machine is an excellent option in the air rowing machine category.
When considering all the different types of rowing machines the Concept2 Model D rowing machine came out on top. Its ease of use, sleek design, unmatched performance, and admiration amongst fitness enthusiasts make it the runaway winner and the best rowing machine under 1000 dollars.
If you’re thinking that a rowing machine is not the right cardio machine for your home gym, read my full comparison article on the different types of cardio machines and who they are best suited for.
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Product Images Sourced From Amazon.com