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First Degree Fitness E520 Evolution Review

Quick Take

The First Degree Fitness E520 Evolution is yet another very high spec rower from the brand, and one designed for commercial use (though it’s still welcome as an in-home unit). It delivers more resistance variability than any of its competition, thanks to its larger upright water tank. One of its biggest selling features other than its overall design and construction is the fact that its resistance adjustment is controlled digitally. Unlike other adjustable water rowers that rely on a manual control knob, the E520 Evolution actually has resistance control switches built into both its console and its handles, allowing users to switch gears on the fly rather than taking a pause from their workouts to tweak their settings. Aside from the very steep sticker price on this unit, and its slightly dated console function, the E520 Evolution is an easy unit to recommend.


Commercial Strength
Variable Water Resistance



Our Review

The First Degree Fitness E520 Evolution is a metal-framed commercial rowing machine using variable water resistance. It is the top rowing machine in the Evolution Series, which also has the smaller E316. Water rowers by First Degree Fitness provide preset resistance levels. The E520 lets riders choose from 20 settings, and the range is advertised as the widest in the industry. The computer has very limited built-in functions, but it has USB connectivity for data tracking and more engaging workout options. One example is using a First Degree Fitness app to virtually race against other rowers.


Rowing machines from this brand are especially quiet and low maintenance. For one thing, they have belt drives instead of chains. (Chains are louder and need to be oiled regularly.) Another low maintenance factor is the water resistance system. The E520’s polycarbonate tank is virtually indestructible, and it’s tinted blue to help prevent algae growth. This model is available with optional lumbar support if needed.


Really the biggest hangup we have here is its sticker price. There are so many great rowers available for less than $2,000, it takes a very specific set of needs/demands to justify spending on a unit like this one, whose manufacturer suggested retail price is $2,700.



  • Commercial Strength: The E520 Evolution is designed to withstand intense daily training. It’s sold with a competitive commercial warranty.
  • Water Resistance: Many trainees prefer water resistance above all other types for indoor crew training. First Degree Fitness rowing machines have water flywheels with preset resistance levels. With the E520 Evolution, riders can choose from an especially wide range of force with 20 increments. The tank is placed to the side of the rider for convenient access to the resistance control.
  • Data and Entertainment: The Interactive Performance Monitor displays a helpful pacing tool. It also shows elapsed time, speed, distance, stroke rate, calories per hour, watts and resistance level. It can show heart rate if used with a compatible chest strap. Six workouts are saved for comparison and quick starts. For more advanced technology, the rowing machine can be connected to a personal computer via its USB port. This not only lets trainees export their data, but also lets the machine interact with First Degree Fitness workout apps, a racing app, and entertainment apps.
  • Heart Rate Monitor: The E520 has a wireless heart rate receiver that’s compatible with standard chest straps.
  • Comfortable Seating: The seat height of 20″ is like that of an office chair. Many riders find that it’s more comfortable than the lower height of more traditional rowers. The seat is available with lumbar support.
  • Smaller Footprint: The Evolution rower’s frame is small for a water rower, measuring 75″ long and 25″ wide.
  • Easy to Move:  This model has concealed wheels that make the machine easy to move.
  • Very High Capacity: The maximum user weight capacity is 450 pounds.
  • Good Warranty: The E520 Evolution Fluid Rower is backed by a 10-year warranty on the frame and a three-year warranty on the water tank and seals. The monitor and wear parts are under warranty for two years.


  • Price: Selling for nearly $3,000, this is among the more expensive rowing machines on the market.

Our Conclusion

The First Degree Fitness E520 Evolution is a dependable water rower with preset levels for any trainee. It has simple programming, yet it can be used with modern workout apps. The E520 could be an excellent value for a commercial gym or high-energy family.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How large is the First Degree Fitness E520 Evolution rower?
A: The E520 Evolution rower is 75.2" L x 32.2" W x 40" H.
Q: What is the maximum weight capacity on the E520 Evolution rower?
A: The E520 Evolution rower can hold up to 330 lbs.
Q: How many resistance levels does the First Degree Fitness E520 Evolution rower have?
A: The E520 Evolution rowing machine has 20 levels of resistance.

Rating: 85%

Resistance Type


Resistance Level




Dimensions (inches)

75.2" L x 32.2" W x 40" H

Maximum User Weight Capacity

330 lbs

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