I’m a Sports’ Physiologist and Physical Education teacher and have been rowing for a club for many years. I started this website after a friend of mine asked me which was the best rowing machine for him to buy for his home gym. My immediate response was to say the Concept 2, as this is still the one used by nearly all rowing clubs and also at the world indoor rowing championships. However, his response prompted me into doing more research and testing of different machines and the results are on these pages.
Why choose a rowing machine?
There are many forms of exercise that will get you fit, so why choose an indoor rowing machine? I answer this question in more detail in this post, but in a nutshell, rowing is the most efficient and effective training on the planet. It is a unique form of exercise as it both increases the volume of the heart at the same time as thickening the heart walls. Couple that with the fact that you are simultaneously building muscle and working on no-impact cardio, you can see how you can save time and gym membership money by investing in a home rowing machine.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking this machine gives you only an upper-body workout. Rowers are more advanced cardiovascular machines.”
So which indoor rower is the best?
This is a hard question to answer as there are several factors do do with a persons living situation that change the answer completely. I have given this a lot of thought and broken down these issues into a three categories which seem to be main influencers in peoples choices. They are price, storage and noise. There are also a few sub-factors that get talked about a lot and these are fitness goals (weight loss, cardio, strength), size & weight (of the person training) and build quality (warrenty & service).
My personal favorite is the Concept2 Model D. This is the type we have at our rowing club and it comes closest to the real action of being in a scull on the river and that the monitor surpasses anything else on the market by a long way. It is self-calibrating, which means that it corrects itself against the machine’s true resistance. This can vary with air humidity or altitude! This is why there is a big online Concept2 rowing community, which hold races on the internet. How cool is that!
That being said, if you are not into all that and just want a high quality and beautiful looking machine, then one of Waterrowers range would be the way to go. It is virtually silent, has a very smooth action and can be easily stored just by standing it up on its end against the wall.
Other top rowing machines include the Lifecore Fitness R100 , which is a rower usually found in a gym. It is a very solidly built air/magnetic resistance rower with a big monitor. It performs well and allows you to control everything from the computer including the sixteen levels of resistance and the various training programs. The lifecore rower comes with a heart rate monitor.
The last one I have chosen in the beat rowing machines category is the Velocity Fitness Magnetic Rower. For starters its a few hundred dollars cheaper that the other two, but is built very well and will last a long time. As the name suggests, the resistance is generated using a magnetic system, which makes it feel different to the other rowers as there is no change in the impedance during the stroke. This is irritating to a rower like myself, who is used to being on the water, but as pure fitness machine (as we all know nothing compares to rowing for that) it is a great choice, especially at that price.
On this page, I have attempted to give a summary of the best rowing machines categorized by a variety of criteria. Each of the machines here has its own page with a more extensive review.
Before we get into the reviews, however, I think it is important for you to understand the four basic types of rowing machine available on the market today.
There is not a single rowing machine on the market that can 100% mimic the action of a scull (racing boat with two oars per oarsman) on the water. There are a couple of huge contraptions with outriggers and complex pulley systems that come close, but these are the exception rather that the rule and you would have trouble fitting them in your living room!
In any case, not all home rowing machines types are made in precisely the same way. This is particularly the case in regards to the type of resistance the machine uses to give you a workout. The four main types are:
Air – This is where there is a big drum at the front of the rower with effectively a fan inside. You can adjust the resistance by opening or closing a baffle, that generates a vacuum inside the drum. Air resistance rowers, particularly the Concept 2 models, are preferred by club rowers because they come extremely close to producing the same resistance experience you would get from actually rowing on the water. The advantages are that they it is easy to change the resistance, it blows air around, which is quite pleasant when you are all hot from training and they do not require any power to operate. The main disadvantage is that they are noisy compared to other systems.
Magnetic – An electromagnet applies resistance to a steel flywheel. This is controlled by the computer and requires AC power. The main plus here is that they are very quiet and the resistance can be varied according to the program set by the computer. However,If you are looking for a truly authentic rowing experience, they don’t feel much like being on the water due to the unnatural change in impedance during the recovery and weird dynamic on the drive. Also, you need to plug the machine into the wall socket.
Water – This might seem obvious, but having real water incorporated into the design of exercise machines is not necessarily easy. Patented by Waterrower, this system has a group of blades spinning in a tank of water. Resistance increases when you pull harder and the base level is adjusted by varying the amount of water in the tank. The big downside with this one is that it is not simple to change the base resistance as you have to change the water level in the tank to do so. This means that if you are a big strong bloke with a small wife, you will be hard pressed to find a common resistance level. On the plus side, with a water resistance rower is that you get the sound and look of water which, if you want an aesthetically pleasing machine, is nice.
Hydraulic –These machines are usually the smallest and the cheapest and have outriggers giving an arc shaped action similar to the oars on a boat. These machines do not simulate a rowing action on the water at all well despite the sweeping action of the oars due to the hydraulic not changing its resistance at all throughout the stroke at all making it feel very mechanical. On the plus side, they are small and cheap.
All of these systems have their pros and cons. I have reviewed a number of rowing machines in this blog and have tried to be as clear as possible to help you choose the best home rowing machine for your home gym.
There are four parts to the rowing action. The catch is where you are at the forward most part of the stroke and ‘catch’ the water in the oar blades. In a scull, at the moment of the catch, there is little resistance as the boat is moving. The drive is the period of pushing with your legs and pulling with your arms and back. The resistance increases during this phase and drops off again just before the finish, which is where you pull the blades out of the water. The recovery is the motion of moving forward for the next catch.
This may seem like a small point, but a comfortable seat is vital. Most of the seats on the machines on the market today are quite firm and there is little to tell between them for comfort. One good investment is a seat cushion. This will ease any discomfort particularly when you are still a beginner.
Many of the machines on the market have badly situated footrests, which can lead to an awkward rowing action and knee pain. I have not experienced any problems with both the Concept 2 and the Waterrower, both of which I have trained on extensively. You need to make sure that the footrests are big enough for your feet. I have size thirteens and some rowers are a bit of a squeeze! You must also make sure that they have heel rests that can lift away from the plate that you push against. This is important for when you are at the front of the recovery, where your heels will naturally lift from the plate.
These vary enormously from machine to machine. Again, it depends what you’re looking for, but I would want one that gives me the most accurate and consistent readout of my workout as possible. When it comes to meters rowed or calories burned, most are just plain wrong! The most accurate on the market is the Concept2’s PM3 or PM4. Both are used in competitions as they can compensate for the change in resistance that occurs with changes in air conditions.
Best Rowing Machine Options
While you will still need to check out rowing machine reviews and do some comparison shopping before making your final choice, these are some of the top choices for best rowing machine organized into a few categories.
For Saving Space and Money:
Pros: Lightweight, Inexpensive
Cons: You get what you pay for. The hydraulic design does not allow for realistic rowing movements. The machine does not allow for leg pushes and therefore will not give you a true full body workout; it mostly works out your arms and upper body.
For Getting a Great Workout at Home: WaterRower Review
Pros: Excellent design. Easy to use. The WaterRower offers water resistance with a full range of movement that will work out your entire body. This machine will look great in your home and even makes a stress relieving, realistic water sound with each stroke.
Cons: More expensive than some discount models.
For the competitive people: Concept2 Model D Review
Pros: This rower is used by many professional indoor rowing competitions because of its close similarity to real rowing. It is the best air resistance rower you can find for home use and one of the most popular on the market.
Cons: If you want the realistic appeal of using water resistance, this might not be for you. The price can also be a deterrent if you are shopping on a budget.
The Best Rowing Machine for Home
Ultimately, the decision as to which of the top rated rowing machines is best for you is a personal one. However, there are several factors that you should take into consideration before you even start shopping for a specific model. Ask yourself these important questions to help you speed up your search and make choosing the best rower easier.
- What are my personal fitness goals? Are you a beginner looking to get in shape? If so, a basic rower with a simple design will be all you need. For more experienced fitness enthusiasts, an advanced rower with additional design features would be ideal. Before you start shopping, think about whether you just want to get in shape or you have a loftier goal, like competitive rowing.
- Where will I use the rower? If you live in a small apartment, storage space is probably a big concern. On the other hand, if you have a dedicated fitness room or home gym set up, you do not need to consider the space that a rower takes up. Some rowers are specifically designed to be space saving and can either fold up or be stored vertically when not in use.
- What is my budget for home fitness equipment? Buying an ergometer for your home is an investment in your personal fitness. While some of the best indoor rowing machines can be rather pricey, they really are not comparatively more expensive than many other exercise machines. Still, deciding what your personal budget is before you start shopping will help you narrow down your options quickly.
And Finally…. Make you own Rowing Machine!
This is totally cool! I guess if you have time and can’t afford a Lifecore R100, then this has to be for you. I found it fun anyway!!