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First Degree Fitness Rowers

First Degree Fitness (FDF) was founded in 2000 and quickly became a global player in the fitness space. This company is focused exclusively on rowing machines and upper-body ergometers, and all of its fitness machines use water resistance. Their patented water tanks have between four and 20 preset resistance settings. First Degree Fitness has various lineups to serve home gyms, light commercial gyms, commercial fitness centers, and even physio/rehab facilities.

First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower

Rating: 90%

Top First Degree Fitness Rowing Machines

Model

Rating

Resistance Type

Weight Capacity

Folding

Resistance Levels

Pricing

Reviews

First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower
First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower
First Degree Fitness Viking 2 AR Rower
First Degree Fitness Viking 2 AR Rower
First Degree Fitness Viking Pro
First Degree Fitness Viking Pro Rower

90%

Water

300 Lbs

Yes

N/a

90%

Water

330 Lbs

Yes

N/a

88%

Water

330 Lbs

Yes

4

First Degree Fitness Rowing Machines

First Degree Fitness offers a wide selection of rowing machines and upper-body trainers, including Vortex Fluid Rowers, Evolution Fluid Rowers, the Horizontal Series Rowers, and Evolution Upper Body Ergometers. Altogether there are about two dozen options and the differences among models are sometimes subtle.

 

Generally speaking the Vortex and Evolution Fluid Rower series feature traditional water rowing machines for club use. They have 16 to 20 preset resistance levels. Most units in the the Horizontal Series are for home or light commercial use, although there are also commercial options available. These rowing machines are especially easy to store. They have four powerful resistance levels each. The Horizontal Series is the only collection from FDF with wooden-framed options, designed to compete directly with WaterRower. The Evolution Upper Body Ergometers are designed for everything from home use to industrial use. Some have removable chairs to allow wheelchair access. One hybrid model in this collection can be used for the lower body or upper body.

 

The Great:

  • Compact Size: Many of the FDF machines can be folded or require little space when in use. The E720 Cycle XT, for instance, is a two-in-one machine (a bike and a rower) with a footprint of 48” x 37”. All of the Horizontal Series rowers are designed for vertical storage.
  • Water Resistance: Water resistance is a top choice for low-impact aerobic exercise, and First Degree Fitness lets people choose from different resistance levels. With other brands the resistance level responds to the user’s effort.
  • Upper Body Training: The rowing machines of course train the whole body. With traditional rowing machines though, the legs are actually the focus. The upper body ergometers from First Degree Fitness help train the upper body. Their pedals can be used in two directions and at different heights to isolate different muscle groups.
  • Data and Entertainment: First Degree Fitness uses several different monitors. Their most advanced computer has heart rate monitoring and preset programs. Many of their rowers have USB ports for free app integration too. One of the top apps connects trainees for virtual racing.
  • Wooden Frames Available: This is one of few brands offering wooden frames.
  • High Capacity: A typical maximum capacity for this brand is 330 pounds.
  • Good Warranties: A typical First Degree Fitness warranty covers the frame for five or ten years, the water tank for three years, and mechanical parts for two years. Wear parts are covered for one year.

 

The Not-So-Great:

  • Customer Service: First Degree Fitness customer service is not readily available by phone.
  • Overpriced: Sometimes the prices for FDF rowers seem too high. We’d like to see more expensive components on some of the Horizontal Series rowers in particular. A leading brand to see for comparison is WaterRower.
  • Maintenance Required: First Degree Fitness uses the phrase “virtually maintenance free” a lot. Still, their cheaper water rowers use bungee cords instead of chain drives, and these need to be tightened for consistency. For the home models and commercial equipment alike it’s recommended that the belts be checked monthly.

 

OUR CONCLUSION

First Degree Fitness has cornered the market on durable upper body ergometers, and it reaches the physical therapy crowd with its specially certified medical collection. For traditional water rowers though, this brand has some strong competition from WaterRower in the residential and commercial markets.

1. First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower

The Newport Challenge AR rower is another older model in the brand’s catalog, albeit a well reviewed unit that is still available for purchase via third party sellers like Amazon. Similar to the current Neptune and Pacific models, it features a simpler single rail design paired with the brand’s adjustable resistance system. Coming in around the $900 mark, the Newport challenge is a simple, comfortable rower with a good warranty and solid overall construction. Its only downfall for some will be its lack of built-in training programs, as well as less than stellar customer service, according to some.

Read the Full First Degree Fitness Newport Challenge AR Rower Review

Pros

Adjustable Fluid Resistance
Easy Storage
Affordable for Category

Cons

Slow Response
Bungee

2. First Degree Fitness Viking 2 AR Rower

The Viking 2 AR rower is one of a handful of high-spec offerings from one of the two biggest names in water rowing machine manufacturing. While it’s a slightly older model—going back to when not all FDF rowing machines had adjustable resistance (AR in the product name)—it’s built to the same spec as many current offerings from the brand. At just shy of $1,600 it’s not an entry-level buy, but rather a sturdy piece of equipment that has overall longevity in mind. Most who use a water rower will say that once they’ve gotten used to their equipment they will seldom adjust their resistance settings, making the adjustable resistance more of a consideration for those who have multiple users in the household of different levels of strength or capability.

Read the Full First Degree Fitness Viking 2 AR Rower Review

Pros

Water Resistance
Easy Storage
Higher Seat

Cons

Slow Response
Bungee

3. First Degree Fitness Viking Pro Rower

The Viking Pro indoor rower is a hardier version of the now discontinued Apollo PRO. It combines a hardwood frame, water drive, and steel rails to mirror a smooth and realistic on-the-water experience. Its water tank with Min/Max dial provides up to 4.5 gallons of gently splashing resistance, enough to train anyone from the beginner to the competitive rower. The Viking Pro’s American ash frame is reinforced with pressure-treated laminate to help it withstand commercial use. Data is shown on the unobtrusive monitor, with interval training and basic preset workouts supported. At 84” by 22”, the Viking Pro is a medium sized water rower. It can be stored upright.

Read the Full First Degree Fitness Viking Pro Rower Review

Pros

Well Made
Variable Water Resistance
Data & Workout Apps

Cons

Belt Drive