I’ll come clean. Aside from earning my rowing merit badge at Boy Scout summer camp when I was thirteen, I have very little real-life rowing experience. Most of my rowing has been on machines: in athletic clubs and at home. You see, I’m a fitness junkie: I skate, bike, run, swim, walk, and when there is no chance in heck I’m going outside, I row.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay you from getting a total-body workout on a rower whenever the spirit moves you. My wife has been known to watch Game of Thrones while rowing gently down the (video) stream.
The Four Types of Rowers
There are four main types of rowers. In alphabetical order of their reverse spelling, they are:
- Hydraulic – These rowing machines are easy to store when you’re done using them. You can adjust the resistance, and the hydraulic pistons are quite quiet. These are the least expensive.
- Magnetic – A magnetic braking system causes the resistance, which creates an adjustable and smooth experience. Magnetic rowers are low maintenance and heavy duty.
- Water – Water rowing machines are your most expensive option, but they are also the closest to actually rowing in water. That said, be sure to go pee before working out with these.
- Air – You typically find air rowers in health clubs. They make the most noise. The more intensity you row with, the more resistance you will get.
Space, Budget, and Uses
Do you live in an overpriced New York City closet? Or a $100K mansion in Michigan? If you have very little space, you’ll want to find a machine that will fit in your puny apartment. Otherwise, you might consider buying your rowers by the dozen.
There are pretty good rowers out there for around $100, but the best ones are about $1,000. Are you ready to commit to a big investment? If you have never used a rowing machine in your life and just read The Boys in the Boat and want to get in on the rowing craze, then I recommend getting something cheap to see if you are really going to use it. After all, 83% of all rowers have been sitting in people’s closets unused for at least a year.
Also, if multiple people will be using your rowing machine, you’ll want to be sure that it is easy to adjust the positioning and tension. Not everyone is as buff as you, okay?
What Are Some Dope Features that Rowers Have?
The main factors that you should consider when looking at rowing machines are how loud they are, size, cost, and portability. A portable rower is invaluable when you want to sneak in a quick workout during intermission at the opera. Here are some other features you might want:
- Display – You don’t get a neat electronic display with all rowing machines. For instance, there are hydraulic rowing machines that don’t have anything. You just have to guess at what you’re doing. If you want to monitor your progress, you gotta have an LCD display that tells you your speed, distance rowed, elapsed time, and more.
- Weight and Length Limitations – Nothing is worse than buying a rowing machine to shed that extra hundred pounds you’re carrying around only to find out your model won’t support your girth.
- Warranties – If you’re shelling out upwards of a thousand bucks for a rowing machine, you want to make sure your butt is covered if it breaks on you within the first few years.
- Durability – The manufacturer and materials used will tell you a lot about how durable the rower is. All of the machines we list have excellent durability.
- Assembly – Most rowing machines will arrive at your door in at least a couple pieces. If you aren’t Bob Vila, make sure you get an easy-to-assemble unit.
Now that you are a seasoned pro when it comes to buying rowing machines, here are my top 10 best rowers:
- Adjustable footrests, fourteen-inch seat height, ergonomic handle, and nickel-plated chain
- Five-year warranty on the frame
- Performance Monitor 5 gives accurate, comparable data for each row
You know in the hit pop song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” when they mention that “life is but a dream”? They’re not getting all nihilist on us. They’re referring to how amazing the Concept2 Model D is. It is used by elite Olympic-level athletes and can handle heavy training on a daily basis. Users like the Model D because you can put it together in about ten minutes, it stores easily, and it works well for people of all experience and skill levels.
- Built-in wheels allow you to take your rower out to dinner
- Monitor displays time, speed, calories burned, and distance
- Three-year warranty on frame, 90-day warranty on parts
As the name suggests, the Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 uses dynamic air resistance to give you a workout. The rowing beam is made of steel, which gives it added weight and durability. There is a weight limit of 250 pounds, which you can maybe push to 275, but be careful big-boned brethren! This takes up less space than the Model D and is much more affordable. You can also put it together in about half an hour, though it may be a two-person job.
- Eight levels of adjustable resistance
- LCD console that displays total count, count, scan, calories burned, and time
- Non-slip grip handlebars and fully padded seat
Manufacturers like to make a big deal about having padded seats, but the fact of the matter is that your butt will get used to any seat. And, if it doesn’t for some reason, you can always buy a better seat at a reasonable price. Anyway, the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 is nice to your butt. Users report enjoying not having to put on a sports bar to use it, it’s incredibly quiet, it’ll get your rear in shape, and the customer service is great.
- The rhythm will soothe your wife back to sleep when you get up way too early to use it
- Adjustable foot straps that you should definitely not use barefooted (don’t ask how I know)
- Stated user weight limit of 220, but my 250-pound frame used it just fine
The SF-RW1205 was my first rowing machine that I purchased for home use. It showed me that I can really become a rowing junky. It is also my bargain basement pick. I strongly recommend it for beginners, and once it has become clear that you’re going to stick to rowing and have outgrown this, get the Model D or Stamina 1399. It will give you a heavy full-body workout. I didn’t like that the resistance seemed to get easier as the hydraulic piston got hotter from the friction of my rowing.
- Double hydraulic piston resistance, like what Nadine uses in Twin Peaks
- One-button console that shows calories burned, time, speed, miles rowed, row count, and distance
- 90-day warranty on parts, 5-year warranty for frame
Amazon offers expert assembly for all of their rowing machines for about $125. They basically find a local expert to make sure your unit is safely put together, and they even guarantee it. But honestly, unless you have some serious physical limitations, you don’t need this service. You can do it yourself. The manufacturer even provides you with the tools you need. The 1215 works great, but you need to be careful that you are getting even resistance from the hydraulic pistons.
- Folds into a two-foot space for easy storage
- 90-day parts warranty and 1-year frame warranty
- Made with steel frame and aluminum center beam
Stamina has the most rowers on our list. They manufacture excellent stationary bikes, ellipticals, and AeroPilates machines as well. The Body Track Glider 1050 is their most affordable option. This will give you the exercise you need, but users have had issues with their feet slipping out of the straps.
- Monitor displays strokes, distance, speed, and more
- Thick padded seat and pivoting foot plates
- Deluxe ball bearing roller system
For the most part, users love the 1205 for its comfortable and smooth design, easy storage under a bed, and the informative monitor that stops when you stop. Cons of this product are that the resistance may be too much for some and it does not store well vertically.
- 20” seat height
- Requires a nine-feet by four-feet area
- Able to accommodate people who weigh up to 500 pounds (good for you for working out!)
Anything you buy from Concept2 is going to be of the highest quality and will likely become a family heirloom. The main difference between the Model E and the Model D is the seat height. If you need something with a higher seat, then it may be worth the extra $200+ to get the Model E.
- Water flywheel that replicates the actual feel of rowing in water
- Tracks stroke rate, workout intensity, heart rate, and more
- Weighs 117 pounds, so you can’t really bring it with you on vacation
Do you remember in the first season of House of Cards when Claire notices Frank is getting flabby and buys him a rower? Well, this is the rower. Users do not report having the same issue of the handle flying off that Frank had, but it does take a little work to assemble the WaterRower.
- Twelve adjustable resistance levels
- LCD display for your calories, time, total count, and current count
- Non-slip grip handlebars, large anti-slip pedals, and full, thick-padded seat
When rowing, form is everything. You will not get a good workout and could hurt yourself if you have bad form. Basically, you should be using a fluid motion where you push with your legs at the same time you are pulling with your arms. Also, be sure to shake your head back and forth vigorously at an uneven rhythm.
What do you think of the reviews I made? Do you have reviews you would like to share? Comment below!