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Best Rowers

The best rowing machines on the market cover a wide range of needs, deliver ample features, and come to us in a number of different price categories, but before we can get to what really gets considered a ‘best rower’ we have to look at all of the benefits, features, and functions found in the rowing machine category as a whole. After all, we have favorite rowers that are under $600, and we have favorite rowers that are over $1,500. These rowers obviously aren’t created equal, but there are a number of details and features that make a rowing machine one of the best versus one of the worst in its respective category.

Woman using a rowing machine

This can equally be said once we narrow things down by resistance types as well. Some will have a preference for the soft sloshing sound of a water rower, which is a type that comes with a premium sticker price. Others will prefer the feel and feedback that only an air rower can deliver. Depending on your skill level and overall physical health, sometimes the variable resistance available from magnetic resistance rowers (or air rowers that have magnetic resistance added) can be the right choice to make, especially if you need to start at a lighter and/or slower pace. That leaves the matter of hydraulic resistance—a category with machines that are incredibly compact and dirt cheap. The feel of hydraulic resistance isn’t the greatest, and because of their pricing these are not the most reliable machines, making them ones that we only ever recommend for those on a shoestring budget and living in very compact quarters.

Best Rowing Machines By Price Range and Type

One of the key jumping off points in the rowing category is deciding how much money you are comfortable spending on your new piece of equipment. If you’re looking at rowers compared to other fitness equipment categories you’re in luck; rowing machines overall will cost less than an ‘equivalent spec’ treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical. That said, there’s still quite a broad range to choose from, so here’s a look at what to consider with each price point.

Once you’ve isolated the price bracket you feel most comfortable in, the next question becomes what type of rower is best suited to your needs. As we’ve noted above, there are perks and downfalls to each type of rowing machine, so here is some quick intel on what to expect from each type of rowing machine that’s currently on the market.

Rowing Machines Under $300

When looking at this VERY entry-level category of rowing machines, there’s a bit more in the way of functionality and features than there used to be, however the best advice we can give is not to expect the moon. In this price range, equipment is basic, features are scant, and reliability can definitely be spotty. As you cut costs, you inherently cut durability—as is the case with any sort of manufactured goods.

These machines are nothing like the feature-rich offerings at the top of the price scale, but they also aren’t completely devoid of functionality either. Just about every budget machine out there has a folding frame, which trades sturdiness for storage practicality. You’ll note in our observations below about the Sunny Health rowing machine in particular, the way these affordable folding frames are designed, in many cases you’re looking at a recipe for failure if you’re anywhere close to the machine’s 250-lb max weight capacity.

With magnetic resistance, generally some sort of digital display is necessary, and though they are very basic it’s nice to see that users can get some simple workout metrics out of their sub-$300 rowing machines. You’ll see things like stroke rate, distance covered, and elapsed time, but don’t expect any heart rate monitoring or built-in programming with these units.

See Our Best Rowing Machines Under $300 Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Includes Training App Adjustable Resistance Affordable Air Resistance
Fitness Reality 1000 rowing machine
Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Bluetooth Magnetic Rowing Machine
Sunny-Health-Fitness-SF-RW5515-Magnetic-Rowing-Machine-Rower
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine
EFITMENT Aero Air Fan Rowing Machine Rower
EFITMENT Aero Air Fan Rowing Machine

67%

Magnetic

250 Lbs.

Yes

16

66%

Magnetic

250 Lbs

Yes

8

60%

Air

245 Lbs

Yes

0

Rowing Machines Under $600

Now that we’ve come up the price scale by $300, we’re getting some improvements both in quality and features. We’ve found the only decent water rower in this price bracket, the bargain-standard air rower, as well as a magnetic resistance rower from a legacy name in home fitness. All told, it’s a good pool to pull from, but the sub-$600 category is still brimming with awful entrants from no-name brands that we cannot support when there are things like our top three available for the same dollar.

Things get a bit better once we get into the sub-$600 rowing machine category, as we start to see more adjustable resistance, better consoles, and even the addition of workout programs on occasion. That said, it’s also a category where these things are sometimes traded off to keep prices low. For example the Stamina X Air Rower is a bit more sturdy in construction than the ProForm offering, but in trade you don’t get adjustable resistance on the Stamina X. If you’re looking for more bells and whistles you’re going to have to look to a higher price bracket.

As we’ve noted a couple of times, the Xterra water rower that we’ve listed is the real winner in this price bracket. You get quite a bit of machine for an affordable price. The only place where the Xterra falls short when compared to other rowers is the fact that you have to adjust its water level in order to adjust its resistance. With more expensive water rowers, a mechanism is built into the tank to make these adjustments on the fly.

See Our Best Rowing Machines Under $600 Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Affordable Water Resistance Build Quality Winner Adjustable Resistance
xterra ERG600W Water Rower
Xterra ERG600W Water Rower
stamina-x-rower
Stamina X Air Rower
ProForm 440R Rower

87%

Water

300 Lbs

Yes

6

85%

Air

250 Lbs

Yes

0

65%

Magnetic

250 Lbs

Yes

8

Rowing Machines From $600 Onward

We’ve analyzed price brackets above the $600 mark as well, but we tend to believe that once you’re above the $600 mark you start getting into much more reputable and longer lasting machines from brands with a fair bit more pedigree and history in the fitness space. As you creep towards $1000 we start seeing water rowers in the category, as well as ‘industry standard’ models like the Concept2 Model D and Model E. Get above $1,000 or $1,500 and you start getting into commercial grade equipment—things with much longer warranties and packed with all of the bells and whistles you could ever want in a rowing machine.

See Our Best Rowing Machines Under $1000 Here

See Our Best Rowing Machines Under $1500 Here

See Our Best Rowing Machines Over $1500 Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Industry Standard Variable Water Resistance Interactive Training
Concept2 Model D Rower
Concept2 Model D
First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower
First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR
NordicTrack RW500 Rower
NordicTrack RW500

95%

Air

500 Lbs

Yes

10

90%

Water

300 Lbs

Yes

0

80%

Air

250 Lbs

Yes

26

Air Resistance Rowing Machines

Man using a Concept2 Air Rower

Air rowers are popular for both commercial gyms and for home use. They aren’t the most expensive rowing machines available, but they’re preferred by trainees of various skill levels including competitive athletes. These fitness machines create a satisfying on-the-water sensation, but cost less and are easier to maintain than water rowing machines. People also love that they deliver a cooling breeze with every stroke. Their resistance systems are fan-like flywheels. When the rower handlebar is pulled, it makes the fan blades spin and resist the surrounding air.

Resistance on air rowers adjusts naturally to fit every trainee. It is tied to user effort. The more powerfully a trainee rows, the more air is displaced. Some air rowers also have dampers to adjust the airflow. A possible drawback of an air rower is the fan’s sound. Combination air and magnetic rowing machines such as the Sole SR500 augment air resistance with magnetic resistance for a quieter ride.

See Our Best Air Resistance Rowing Machines Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Train Like A Professional Commercial Grade Great For Taller Rowers
Concept2 Model D Rower
Concept2 Model D Rower
Concept2 Model E Rower
Concept 2 Model E Rower
BodyCraft VR500 Rower
BodyCraft VR500 Rower

95%

Air

500 Lbs

Yes

10

92%

Air

500 Lbs

Yes

10

83%

Air

350 Lbs

Yes

32

Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machines

Woman using a Horizon Oxford 6 Magnetic Rower

If you are looking for a near-silent indoor rowing experience, a magnetic rowing machine is your best bet. As well being suitable for most households due to their quiet operation, magnetic indoor rowers will also work for every budget. You can now find magnetic rowing machines in nearly every price range. A big difference in price is seen when you bump up from a residential model to a more durable commercial-grade rowing machine. In general, magnetic rowing machines are distinguished by their friction-free resistance. Their design operates almost silently, which many users prefer over the gentle splashing of water rowers or the humming of air rowers

The resistance on magnetic rowers is preset from light to heavier levels. It can be controlled manually by a dial or electronically via the machine’s console. In some cases, it can be adjusted by special control buttons on the rowing handlebar. On a cheap rowing machine a rider might choose from five resistance levels. On a better model they might choose from 20 resistance levels.

See Our Best Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machines Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Interactive Training Champ Loaded With Features Great Build Quality
Hydrow Rowing Machine
Hydrow Rower
horizon oxford 6 rower
Horizon Oxford 6 Rower
Kettler Coach M Rower
Kettler Coach E Rower

94%

Magnetic

375 Lbs

Optional

300

86%

Magnets

350 Lbs

Yes

20

80%

Magnets

285 Lbs

Yes

25—500 Watts

Hydraulic Resistance Rowing Machines

Also known as piston rowers, hydraulic rowing machines are the cheapest indoor rowers available. As well as being priced low, they are usually portable, run quietly, and require little space. You can also find hydraulic rowers that offer a wide range of resistance to support all skill levels. But this all comes at a price. Hydraulic rowers are not as durable as other rowers. It really comes down to whether you are willing to make some sacrifices for the sake of your home gym space and budget.

Hydraulic rowers use fluid or air for resistance. With a hydraulic rower, it’s all about the movement of force. They generally have one or two pistons (cylinders filled with hydraulic fluid or air) that engage when the rider pulls back. The hydraulic cylinders are usually attached to the handlebars of the rower. Resistance on each piston is altered with a dial or via grooves on the arms. You can then work against this force. Some hydraulic rowing machines have sliding seats to support full-body aerobic workouts, like the Avari Easy Glide Rower. Other hydraulic rowers are designed only for upper-body exercise and lack sliding seats. These are quite small machines yet can still be used by tall trainees (for example, the Stamina 1205 Precision Rower is only 48” long).

See Our Best Hydraulic Resistance Rowing Machines Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Trusted Name Most Resistance Levels Compact Pick
Stamina BodyTrac Glider
Stamina BodyTrac Glider
Kettler Favorit Rower
Kettler Favorit Rower
stamina-1333-rower
Stamina 1333 Rower

78%

Hydraulic

250 Lbs

Yes

12

55%

Hydraulic

285 Lbs

No

50

55%

Hydraulic

250 Lbs

Yes

12

Water Resistance Rowing Machines

Man using a WaterRower rowing machine

Looking for a true rowing experience? As you would expect, out of the four main types of rowing machines, water rowers are the best at reproducing a realistic on-water rowing sensation. Their stroke cycles hold true to the dynamics of real paddling and each stroke is punctuated with a satisfying splash. With the sights and sounds of water, many users report this as a zen-like rowing experience. Water rowers have sliding seats for full-body cardiovascular workouts as opposed to some cheaper hydraulic rowing machines with stationary seats. Water rowing machines tend to feature high-quality components and can last a lifetime.

On water rowing machines, the water resistance naturally rises and falls. The more intensely the user rows, the higher the resistance. Much like an air rower, the resistance is user-controlled in the sense that the faster you row, the more difficult the resistance will be. On water rowers, there’s usually also a dial on the machine which you can adjust to alter the resistance. These dials allow you to manually adjust the resistance mid-row, adding more challenge, or easing down the workout. When you alter the resistance, you are either adding water to the tank or taking water out of the tank. This adjusts the amount of water you have to work against, in turn, altering the resistance. It can take quite a few strokes to fill some water tanks—so be sure to compare how slow the response time is for each model when comparing machines.

See Our Best Water Resistance Rowing Machines Here

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

WaterRower Classic Rower
WaterRower Classic Rower
First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower
First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower
xterra ERG600W Water Rower
Xterra ERG600W Water Rower

88%

Water

700 Lbs

Yes

N/a

90%

Water

300 Lbs

Yes

N/a

87%

Water

300 Lbs

Yes

6