Qualities of a Top-Notch Rowing Machine

The best rowing machine will combine the benefits of strength training and cardio.  Rowing is considered one of the most effective ways to work the legs, abs, back, shoulders, and arms at the same time.

Most experts believe the only better workout you can get is swimming. With a rowing machine, you’ll get an intense workout that offers one of the fastest ways to lose weight and you’ll burn an impressive amount of calories. Because of the many benefits and fast results, many professional athletes choose to include rowing interval training as part of their regular workout regimen.

Currently, there are four main types of rowing machines, which are categorized based on the type of resistance they create. There are hundreds of models to choose from, which can make it difficult to sift through the many possibilities.

One of the best ways to get the inside scoop is by reading the best rowing machine reviews that have been written by consumers who have purchased top rowers.

This buying guide is designed to help you narrow down your search on your quest for the best rowing machine that will work for you and your budget.

The following top three models of rowers we reviewed were chosen based on quality, performance, durability, and how each model rated with consumers. Each model is designed for rough daily use, providing a stellar workout that can really help you to achieve your fitness goals in a shorter amount of time.

Rowing Machine Buying Guide

As we have mentioned, rowing machines come in four different styles. Each type of machine comes with its own pros and cons.

Hydraulic Piston: This type of rower uses a couple of hydraulic pistons which are attached to the rower’s arms.  As the user pulls the handles, resistance is generated by the air or fluid found inside the piston’s cylinders. The resistance level can be adjusted simply by changing the settings. 

Many users feel that this style of rower doesn’t do the best job of replicating the realistic feel of rowing out on the water.  Additionally, this type of rower tends to mainly work out the arms. This is the most affordable style of rower as well as the most common.

Magnetic Rower: A magnetic rower features resistance that’s created through the proximity of electromagnets. The level of resistance applied by the user will determine the power that’s flowing through the magnets.

Unlike a hydraulic model, this style of rower usually comes equipped with movable seats and adjustable arms, both of which make these rowers highly customizable. Magnet rowers are much larger than hydraulic models, however, they do a much better job of providing a total body workout. Rowing Machine Buying Guide Air Resistance: An air resistance rower generates resistance via the action of the user. The faster and harder the user rows, the more resistance they’ll experience.

This style works with the use of a flywheel which looks similar to fan blades. Faster rowing causes the flywheel to spin faster, causing an increase in airflow resistance. Many consumers have found this style to be very noisy, but the experience it offers is probably one of the most realistic to actual rowing, unless you have a water rower.

Water Rower: A water rower is the Cadillac of rowing machines. These rowers are very heavy, take up quite a bit of space and are the most expensive out of all the other styles available. They also do an excellent job of simulating rowing on a pond or lake for obvious reasons: the resistance is created by the paddles slicing through water that’s contained in a tank.

There are no actual oars, instead, handlebars drive the paddles found in the enclosed tank. The resistance levels are changed by removing or adding water to the tank.

This means that adjusting the resistance levels can be somewhat of a hassle when compared to other models that will instantly change resistance with just the turn of a knob. This type of rower creates minimal noise.

Rowing Machine Features

It’s difficult to generalize the best rowing machine features available considering there are four very different styles of rowers to choose from. Generally, noise level, portability, size, and the price will dominate the decision process, in addition to the feel and comfort of a rower.

Here are some things to consider that can help you to narrow down your choices:

•    Weight and length limitations: The size of the user will play a major part in determining whether a particular model is the right choice. Manufacturers usually list the max weight capacity.

Additionally, if you’re tall, you should search for a rower that’s equipped with a longer seat rail in order to accommodate your length. Taller users should steer clear of hydraulic models and magnetic rowers which will probably be too compact.

•    Your reason for rowing: Again, only water and air resistance machines provide a realistic rowing experience. You’ll want to stick to these styles if you’re in-season training. If you’re just looking for an effective total body workout, then you’ll have many models to choose from.

•    Consoles: Not every model will come equipped with an electronic console.  Consoles are a must if you want to keep a close eye on your workout progress. The console should feature an LCD display screen that’s large enough to view from the rower’s seat and should be positioned at eye level.

Typically, you won’t be able to reach the console and adjust the settings from the seat so it should automatically display the most important workout data such as time, resistance level, calories burned, and distance.

For a more challenging workout, look for models that feature simulated races, which allow you to race against your previous time or an unseen competitor.

•    Warranty: Make sure the rower you choose comes with a decent warranty. Warranty length and coverage will vary from brand to brand, but if you’re spending quite a bit of cash on a rower look for a model that comes with at least a three to five-year warranty on the frame and at least a two-year warranty on parts.

Other Important Considerations

Rowing Machine Features A rowing machine can provide the best training solution for anyone who’s looking to get in shape or for competitive rowers. The low impact nature of this type of workout means that it’s an ideal choice for people who have issues with traditional cardio machines such as elliptical machines or treadmills, either because of past injuries or weak joints.

For most rowing machine users, adjustable foot straps will be a must and will allow them to set up the machine more comfortably.

Storage Needs

A big factor  for some consumers when searching for the best rowing machine is the lack of storage space. Most models that are sold are fixed, which means they’ll hold their place permanently. Foldable models are out there, but unfortunately, they’re rare.

Flywheel Design

The shape and size of the flywheel determines the level of air resistance that’s generated for air rower models. The design can also affect how loud or quiet a machine is, so you’ll want to choose carefully.

Magnetic rowers need to be heavy enough to offer a smooth rowing motion throughout the duration of your workout. Some types of lower priced rowers that use magnetic resistance can provide inadequate levels of resistance and may feel jerky if the flywheel is too light.

Seats and Rails

The seat and rail assembly of rowing machines can also play an important role in the position and feel for the user. Ensuring you have enough rail length is crucial for comfort because it will allow you to fully extend during each stroke, which means you’ll get maximum range.

The rail angle ensures that the foot plate and seat position is comfortable for the user. The shape and size of the seat pad can also have a big impact on your comfort as you row, but ultimately, an uncomfortable rower seat isn’t a big deal breaker for most users, especially considering you can purchase a thin cushion to use during a workout.

Handle Types

Most handles that you’ll find on rowing machines are round, but there are a few teardrop styles out there that have become popular. This kind of handle style is a good option for arthritis sufferers who have trouble holding onto traditional rowing handles because the handles can be loosely gripped.

Handlebar systems can be driven by straps, cables, or chains. Chain systems are considered more durable, however, they do require more maintenance and are considered noisier than belt or cable systems that are found on most models.


If you’re someone who’s interested in closely tracking your workout performance, you may want to search for models that offer data export for apps such as MyFitnessPal

If you need more workout guidance, higher priced models come equipped with built-in workout programs that can offer a more challenging workout for seasoned rowers.


If you’re new to working out or rowing in general, you may not want to initially drop several hundreds of dollars on your first machine. However, if you’re serious about getting into shape or training for an upcoming rowing competition, then you can expect to spend more.

Rowers go through plenty of wear and tear, which can be hard on the machines over time. While pricing isn’t the only determining factor you should consider when shopping for a new rower, it will definitely reflect a model’s overall quality.

There are several models to choose from when you’re looking for the best rowing machine, but obviously, if you need a rower with more features, a larger variety of resistance levels, and a rower that’s very durable, you’ll want to steer clear of basic, lower priced models. Keep in mind that the cost of a rower can range anywhere from $200 up to $2000.

Final Thoughts on Rowing Machines

This buying guide was designed to give you the basics regarding rowing machine styles and feature options. We’ve also taken the time to review some of the best rowing machine models on the market, based on consumer feedback.

Each of these models has a reputation for quality, durability, and power. We hope this guide and the rowing machine reviews will help you choose a rowing machine that can give you the type of killer workout you need and the type of results you’re looking for.


Quick Summary


Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine:

This model is very budget-friendly and offers eight tough resistance levels that are designed for both beginners and seasoned rowers. The foldable design also makes this a great machine for those who are tight on space in the home. Read More

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5:

The Model D rowing machine offers more workout variety utilizing air resistance, which makes this rowing machine an effective tool that can get you competition ready or help you shed those unwanted pounds. Eight feet in length and built solid, if your home is short on space this rowing machine may not be the best buy. Read More

WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine:

Water rowing machines are one of the most expensive, yet popular options around. This rower is built out of solid ash wood and features an elegant, modern design that will complement any room. This is a higher priced model, so we recommend it only to consumers who are serious about their workouts and fitness goals. Read More


Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine

A budget-friendly, solid rowing machine.

  • Very affordable
  • Built-in transportation wheels 

Concept 2 Model D Rowing Machine

Extremely high-quality, long lasting indoor rowing machine.

  • Offers a full-body workout
  • Fitted with PM5 performance indicator system

WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine

The Rolls-Royce of all things rowing.

  • Hand-crafted and built with a water flywheel
  • Easy to store

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine Review

The Sunny Health and Fitness SFRW5515 magnetic rower features eight resistance levels and a foldable design that makes it a great choice if you live in an apartment or if you’re short on space. It also features a basic LCD display screen that will help you to keep track of your workout progress. While it doesn’t come with many frills, it does offer a solid, challenging workout and all for a reasonable price.


Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Review

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing MachineThe Concept 2 Model D indoor rowing machine has got it all. Utilizing air resistance, the user will have total control over how easy or difficult their workout is based on how fast and hard they row. The impressive control panel allows you to keep a closer eye on your workout stats and the contoured seated and rubber molded hand grips allow you to get in an intense workout in total comfort.

WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine Review

WaterRower Natural Rowing MachineThe WaterRower Natural rowing machine utilizes water resistance for an incredibly realistic rowing experience. Aside from the beautiful look of the rower, users will enjoy customizing their workouts and tracking their progress. Because this model is basically silent running, the rower can be used any time of the day or night, which is a huge plus for consumers who enjoy early morning or late night workouts. If you’re looking for a reliable, solidly built rower that users water resistance and provides challenging workouts, your search stops here.