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First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 Review

Quick Take

The Vortex VX-3 is a top tier offering from the brand, and one that manages to outrank their main competitor WaterRower in terms of specs and features. The vertically mounted water tank on the VX-3 plays a pivotal role in giving the machine a more compact overall footprint. Designed with fitness clubs at front of mind, this rower is worthy of considering for home use if you’re looking a machine designed to last you a lifetime. Using a patented twin tank system, this machine delivers 20 levels of resistance variability, which is significantly more than any other water rower on the market at the moment. The brand touts themselves as being one of the only water rowers on the market with consistent resistance through 100% of its stroke motion, though from past experience that’s a difficult detail to really tangibly notice when swapping between this unit and a high spec offering from WaterRower.  That said, read on for more details about what sets the Vortex VX-3 apart from the pack.





Our Review

The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 is a compact commercial rowing machine with water resistance. It is the top rowing machine in the commercial Vortex Series, which also has the Vortex VX-1 and VX-2. The VX-3’s sleek welded steel frame can accommodate most riders up to 6′ 6″ tall, and its resistance system can satisfy all skill levels.

A unique feature of water rowers by First Degree Fitness is their preset variable resistance. The Vortex VX-3 lets riders choose from 20 levels of resistance, and the range is suitable for all fitness levels. Other brands of water rowers on our review website do not use preset levels; instead, their machines naturally adapt to a rider’s force. Which system is better? It’s a matter of personal taste. The presets used by First Degree Fitness can help riders easily understand their progress, plus they support interval training programs with automatic adjustments.

The VX-3 rowing machine has a low maintenance water tank that scores beautifully on form and function. The tank is extremely unlikely to break; it’s crafted from the same strong polycarbonate that’s used for bulletproof police shields. It’s tinted blue not only to create an on-the-lake ambiance, but also to shield out green light that would contribute to algae growth. The water can also be treated with chlorine tablets.

Vortex rowing machines have computer monitors that show time, speed, distance, stroke rate, calories per hour, watts and level. The screen also shows a pacer. Riders can choose from quick start, manual programs and interval training. Quick start includes the option of repeating any of six previous workouts.

Is this the best rowing machine for your workout center? Here are positives and negatives to consider.


  • Good Looking: The Vortex VX-3 looks modern and high quality. Its steel frame can blend with any fitness center’s collection and is attractive enough to keep out at home.
  • Small Size: The Vortex’s frame is about 75” long. Most other commercial rowing machines are a foot or two longer.
  • Resistance: The Vortex VX-3 indoor rower uses water resistance to simulate the physics of rowing a boat. It is outfitted with a “water flywheel” that consists of two paddles in an enclosed tank of water. The water flywheel provides smooth resistance and the gentle sound of splashing water. Riders can choose from 20 levels of resistance. The force can be controlled automatically by six preset programs, including three for interval training.
  • Low Impact: Rowing machines are gentle on joints. Even so, full-body rowing machines recruit all major muscle groups. A high quality rowing machine like the Vortex provides an especially smooth ride and avoids jarring the body.
  • Data: 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. Data can be saved to a USB port.
  • Heart Rate Monitor: The Vortex VX-3 has a wireless heart rate receiver.
  • Workout Programs: There are preset options for six workout routines. The monitor also saves six workout sessions for comparison and to offer “quick starts.”
  • Long-Lasting: This rower has a durable welded steel frame and other high quality components. It has a good warranty, as described below.
  • Easy to Move: The Vortex has concealed wheels that make the machine easy to move.
  • Very High Capacity: The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 has a maximum user weight capacity of 450 pounds .
  • Good Warranty: The Vortex VX-3 is backed by a 10-year warranty on the frame and a three-year warranty on the water tank. The other parts are under warranty for two years. We’d like to see a longer parts warranty for the price, but this isn’t bad.


  • Price: Prices aren’t advertised on the First Degree Fitness website, but these machines cost more than most other water rowers. The expense could be justified by the preset resistance feature, which just isn’t available elsewhere.

Our Conclusion

The First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 offers a rare blend of small size, water resistance and preset challenge levels. It is relatively expensive but is bound to be popular and long-lasting in home gyms and commercial fitness centers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the maximum weight capacity of the First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3?
A: The Vortex VX-3 rower can hold up to 330 lbs.
Q: How large is the First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3?
A: The Vortex VX-3 rowing machine is 75.20” L x 32.28” W x 33.66” H.
Q: Does the First Degree Fitness Vortex VX-3 rower fold?
A: The Vortex VX-3 does not fold but can be stored upright.

Rating: 83%

Resistance Type


Resistance Level


Dimensions (inches)

75.20" L x 32.28" W x 33.66" H



Maximum User Weight Capacity

330 lbs

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