Best Rowing Machines for 2019
Rowing machines are still considered a little niche when compared to exercise bikes or treadmills, but they’ve maintained their positions in both commercial and home gyms long enough that it’s clear that they are anything but a fad. Unlike so many other workouts out there, rowing provides an incredibly comprehensive workout that targets several muscle groups at a high level of intensity. In the same breath, it is also a low-impact workout that can be great for those in the middle of rehab/recovery.
If you’re new to rowing, here’s what you need to know:
- Set Your Own Pace: Unlike other activities/cardio machines, working out on a rowing machine really lets you exercise at your own pace. The more you lean into a stroke, the more resitance you’ll have to overcome. Certain rowers will have resistance settings, but these aren’t essential.
- Posture/Form Is Key: To make the most of a rowing workout, pay close attention to form. There are ample videos out there that break down the key steps of each stroke, and faltering from these immediately takes away part (if not all) of the benefits of your workout.
- Faster Does Not Equal Better: Unlike other cardio activities, increasing your number of strokes per minute does not correlate to a harder/more effective work out. With your resistance all being on the drive motion of a row, you can get better split times (pacing per 500m) and not necessarily be hitting as high of a stroke rate. Again focus on form, and ensure to get a good launch/pull into your stroke—that’s where you’ll see the greatest benefit(s).
Calorie Crushing Cardio
Before getting to the muscle groups being targeted by a rowing workout, be prepared to break into a good sweat during your new rowing routine. Because you’re engaging both your lower and upper body, the calorie burn from a rower is typically a bit higher than a treadmill or indoor cycle. You’ll note on most rowers that your pacing will be measured both in distance and in “Strokes Per Minute”. These will be your metrics to remember as you spend more time on your rowing machine.
Hitting (Nearly) All The Muscle Groups
Thinking of the mechanics of rowing, it’s easy to see why it is viewed as one of the more comprehensive workouts out there. An initial push-off with your legs engages your calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes, but from there you’re only half done the motion. Your deltoids, upper back, triceps, lats, and even forearm muscles are engaged in completing the pull, and through the entire process your core should remain engaged. You might be missing a few odds and ends, but as a jumping off point for muscle gain, rowing ticks a ton of boxes right out of the gates.
Choosing The Right Machine
You guessed it, there are a lot of rowing machines out there these days. Air rowers, water rowers, and basic cable resistance rowers are all options, and the price range swing is pretty dramatic. Frankly once you get down below the $300 mark, reliability and sturdiness are equally questionable, but if you’re on a budget we’ve still found options. With that in mind, here are some of our favorites on the market.
As a starter rowing machine on a budget, the Stamina X Air Rower gets the job done. Several reviewers make note of noise, and occasionally have complaints about general sturdiness, or a lack of padding in its seat, however this is pretty much par for the course if you’re capping your budget at the sub-$500 mark. Those who acknowledge that it’s a budget rower are quick to praise its overall performance for the buck. Air resistance means no settings to fiddle with, and its minimal display control will only indicate miles rowed. On the plus side it’s a foldable unit, so at least you won’t be burning too much space in your home gym.
Basically doubling your budget gets you a MUCH better machine, from one of the best known brands in the fitness equipment space. Unlike the Stamina, the RW200 uses magnetic resistance similar to what the brand uses in all of its exercise bikes and elliptical machines. It’ll be miles quieter than other units in the category, and it even comes with a year of iFit Coach membership included.
Concept 2’s Model D indoor rower is really the industry standard against which every other rower is measured. Simple design, a compact and effective backlit LCD display providing (and logging) workout data, commercial-grade construction, and adjustable damping with air resistance all make the Model D a winner with professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. The Model D folds up for easy storage, and is easy to assemble so you’ll be up and running (rowing) in no time. Considering you’re still under the $1k mark, there’s good reason that the Concept 2 is one of our top picks in ANY price range.
Water rowers quickly gained popularity after appearing on “House of Cards”, however they aren’t just some flash-in-the-pan fad. These rowers rely on water to generate artificial resistance, giving them a much more natural rowing feel than any other setup out there. Aside from feel and the overall appeal of their aesthetics—there’s no arguing these things look pretty damn cool—water rowers are also more compact than most of their competition. This specific unit comes with WaterRower’s Series IV performance monitor, complete with built in programs, data logging, and the ability to save custom programs of your own. Its dual rail seating system makes it feel much more sturdy than some of the affordable/entry level competition, and because it can be stored upright, it will only take up a 21″ x 24″ footprint when you aren’t using it.