Shoppers’ Guide to Rowing Machines

Rowing machines are a great choice for burning calories, toning of your heart and a great form of exercise which affects every major muscle group(how to use rowing machine for strength). There are however, many brands and products from which you can choose from.

If you do decide to purchase a rowing machine for yourself, there are many considerations you have to keep in mind, such as which rowing machine is the best fit for your body or for your targets, which machine will easily fit in your workout room and the most important factor, which rowing machine will best fit your budget.

This guide should surely help you decide and come up with a solution by comparing the options that you have when deciding to buy a rowing machine. This guide will make you get better informed regarding:

  • What main types of rowing machines there are
  • The sizes of the rowing machines
  • Evaluation of the rowing machines, part by part


Main types of rowing machines

The rowing machines helps to provide an ideal excercise regime and a work out for your overall body through resistance that helps to train your body. The four main types of resistance are: water, air, magnetic and hydraulic. Each of these types has its advantages and its disadvantages.

Also check: using a rowing machine to lose weight

Water rowing machines

The Water rowing machines are very basic and they support the realistic and practical rowing techniques.

A water rowing machine is equipped with paddles that revolve in a tank of water and as the user pulls the rower’s handle, the paddles will turn. This helps in creating resistance through the mass and the drag of the water that is moving and every indiviual stroke creates a splash that is quite audible.

The resistance can also be increased naturally if the user makes an effort, which is why many rowing machines, such as those by WaterRower and HCI Fitness do not contain any sort of tension knobs or any resistance buttons.

Many users like to have numbers and prefer to use on that has a precise resistance level, then First Degree Fitness has water rowers that have digital resistance control. However with any brand of water rower,  the potential resistance can be altered by changing the volume of the water that is  there in the tank.

When it comes to durability, the water rowing machines are known for it. With a resistance system that is indestructible,they are also equipped with really high in quality components. Moreover, these machines are also pretty low when it comes to maintenance.

The main disadvantage remains their selling price that is quite expensive and that is over $1,000. WaterRowers have the option of being available to be rented by the week for at a very economical price. Many competitive rowers argue that machines that are equipped with the option of water resistance provide the next best thing provides the best training on a river. However, the air resistance rowing machines have recently become extremely popular with the serious rowers as well.

  • Pros: Durability
  • Cons: Expensive


Air Rowing Machines

Air rowing machines have fans that seem like fly wheels. These models use blades that look like a fan to brake a flywheel and to create resistance. These machines are also quite strong and durable.

The most popular rowing machine globally  is the Concept2 Model D, which can really last your whole life and still, is cheaper than the water rowers. Similar to the water rowers, the air rowers respond when the user is making an effort. The more the flywheel spins, the greater will be the resistance that it is able to create. Many of the air rowers keep a manual control, that allows you to be able to adjust a vent to make adjustments to the resistance easily.

When deciding to buy yourself an air rower, you should think about whether you want the breeze while you are rowing. The fly wheel doubles as a work out fan on some of the models, and on others it  may be a fully encased design.

The biggest drawback of selecting an air rower is the noise that is created by the fan or the fly wheel. Due to this factor many people like to use the option of hybrid rowing machines that only uses the air resistance at very low levels. When it comes to higher levels,  the quiet magnetic resistance is there.

  • Pros: Relatively cheaper and lasts long
  • Cons: Noisy


Magnetic Rowing Machines

The Magnetic rowing machines have a great feature of being extemely  quiet but that is provided that they are constructed well. These models are able to have a control on the resistance with electromagnets that engages a mechanical brake which provides the quietest possible way for braking a flywheel.

The braking resistance is adjustable on the magnetic rowers and is also divided between distinct levels from Level 1 all the way to Level 20. These levels have the option of being able to be adjusted manually and in fact some of the  magnetic rowers also are equipped with having automated resistance control as well.

One of the examples can be the Kettler Coach E. Moreover, it features 12 programs that are preset plus the rowing machine has the option to adjust the resistance depending on the heart rate of the user.

One of the negative points of magnetic rowing machines their resistance that is constant and it does not alter even with pulling the handle harder.

  • Pros: Quiet
  • Cons: The resistance does not change


Hydraulic Rowing Machines

The most affordable rowing machines are the Hydraulic rowing machines. These are quite simple machines where the rowers have just a couple of hydraulic pistons that are attached on the handles and with a resistance that is adjustable, and it has a dial on each piston. The best part about these hydraulic machines is that they are quite small in their size ad have a quiet operation as well as having a low price.

The rowing machine having a small size, does not however imply that the tall people would be uncomfortable in the machine. In fact, most of the space can be saved by the resistance system; as hydraulic cylinders do not take up much space as compared to a water tank or a fan fly wheel or even a magnetic fly wheel.

A disadvantage that these rowers have is the design of the stroke. It helps to exercise the whole body, but unfortunetely it fails to provide the feeling of actual or real rowing. One of the other disadvantge or negative point about this is the quality of the machine.

Many users of hydraulic rowing machines have commented on their reviews about the cylinders being prone to overheating and leaking. These units are also likely to use a fabric cord instead of a metal chain for pulling. The BodyTrac Glider by Stamina is one of the more reliable hydraulic rowers.

  • Pros: Small size, economical price
  • Cons: Overheating


The sizes of the rowing machines

The next important factor you must consider is the size of the rowing machine. You need to find the size that is ideal to be placed at your workout space or where ever you would want to place it.

The size should also be comfortable enough for you to use it, considering your weight and height. You would need to consider a such a machine where you legs would easily fit and it should be able to take the capacity of your weight as well.

The size of the machine and the workout space

The size of a typical rowing machine is about two feet wide and six feet to seven feet long – 72″ to 84″. These rowing machiens can also be compact for storage, that can be done by folding the long beam in an upright position and then rolling it away on its attached wheels. The process is very easy and also quite convenient.

One of the most popular rower is the Concept-2 Model-D, which is one of the largest at 8 feet 96″ long, and may also be split in into two sections as well as stored in a vertical manner.

The WaterRower Natural is around 7 feet long, and this has the ability to be stored in an upright position also. The small rowing machine are able to save a lot of space as they use small sized hydraulic cylinders and not the big sized fly wheels. Moreover, there are quite a lot of other options in compact models that are being offered by Stamina Products.

Leg Room

Majority of the rowing machines are able to hold people even with long inseams, even in the small and the compact rowing machines. The Concept2 Model D is by far one of the best option that is available for tall people according to the user reviews and it can easily suit up to a 38 inches inseam.

Weight Capacity 

Rowing machines are generally strong and sturdy and even the cheapest and the low cost rowing machines that are offered by Stamina have about the capacity of 250 lbs weight limit and according to the users reviews, it is even safe for 300 pounds as well. The lowest weight capacity is on the NordicTrack RW-200, that can only hold about 200lbs.

WaterRowers have the most weight capacities which is quite impressive as they are able to hold up to 1000 pounds and even more.

Machine Height 

Machines like the WaterRower Natural are really close to the ground and their seat heights are around 12 inches. Some of the other rowing machines may be raised on the legs, about 20 inches similar to the chairs that are used in the office  like the Bodycraft VR500.

Some of the other brands are able to provide both of the options however those units that have legs cost more due of the extra usage of material.

No particular design is ideal or the best fit for everyone. The raised version of the rowing machines may be preferred for workout rooms that are commercially used as it allows anyone who is using the club to be able to use and get on the seat comfortably and easily, and the user doesn’t have to feel unsually low when they are surrounded by others who are using other work out machiens like treadmills etc.

On the other hand, there may be some competitive rowers who would rather prefer to be low to the ground. Majority of the fitness centers usually have low-to-the-ground lines of rowers for group rowing classes.


Evaluate a Rowing Machine Part-by-Part

Apart from the main features which customers look for when purchasing rowing machines, such as the resistance or the size and capacity of the machine etc, there are many other factors that people look when buying a rowing machine.

Data Monitor

Some of the rowing machines are equipped with data monitors. These monitors show different types of data. The cheapest rowing machines tend to provide only certain information, such as time, distance, calories burned and total strokes. Machines that cost more obviously provide a lot more in feedback which includes the heart rate information as well.

  • The best data monitors are backlit that provides the ability to read even in low light
  • Many monitors may require a cord in order to function
  • Some of the monitors use batteries, which provide flexibility since the machine could be kept anywhere

Wireless Heart Rate Monitors

If you get an accurate pulse reading, this can really help you to exercise much more efficiently. All of the best rowing machines are equipped with accurate wireless heart rate monitors and they usually require the use of chest straps that are sold separately.

  • Pulse readings that are non wireless are provided on all price points on rowing machines and some of the customers however consider them to be inaccurate.

Workout Programs

There are built-in workout programes in many of the rowing machines that helps to make it easy to exercise if the user has some specific goals in mind, especially when it comes to the stroke count, calories burned, elapsed time etc. Some brands that  features the built-in programming are BodyCraft, Concept2, NordicTrack and WaterRower.

  • There is little workout guidance from majority of the cheap rowing machines
  • NordicTrack RW200 has 20 preset workouts which is quite impressive

Comfortable Seating

Many of the rowing machines have comfortable and contoured seats that are also well cushioned while some of the others are not. It is up to the user to decide how important is the seating and the comfort factor for themselves.

Rowing Chain

metal chains are used by some of the most durable rowing machines and they use in their handlebar setups. A less expessive other option or alternative can be the nylon cord, which does not really need to much in maintenance, however it can easily snap with friction, and this can really become a problem.

  • There is not much in maintenance that is required for a chain. For example, rowing chain, such as the a Concept2 could be oiled 50 hours of use for basic maintenance.


The warranty for rowing machine is broken down in three parts:

  1. the frame,
  2. the parts
  3. the labor

When it comes to coverage for parts, it is almost always short for commercial rowing machines, however these usually are quite long lasting especially in the home gyms.

The frames of the Rowing machine do not break easily either. The consideration that is the most important  is the parts warranty. Having to Replace parts such as the monitors or cords and hydraulic pistons could prove to be quite costly and expensive.

Most of the times, when it comes to warranties that is for the mid level priced rowing machines is able to provide the best deal for the customers. Cheaper hydraulic rowing machines generally have poor and unimpressive warranties. A parts warranty that is for 3 years is typical and also pretty good for a good and a high quality residential rower.

WaterRowers are also equipped with a three-year parts warranty. Concept2 machines are quite durable when it comes to air rowers and provide the user with a three-year parts warranty. The most popular however is the magnetic rowing machine, the Kettler Coach E, and it has a warranty that is for 3 year as well.



To sum it up, the above list should be quite helpful in choosing and to help you to decide which rowing machine should work for you. This should be able to choose your priorities and what is important for your, whether it is resistance or the price or you are bound by space.

There are many factors mentioned above which you must consider before deciding to buy a machine for yourself. This guide should help you to make the right decision!