Rowing is one of the best forms of exercise out there. It works your whole body and builds muscle while giving you a killer cardio workout! The best rowing machines can give you full-body fitness results with minimal impact on your joints or spine.
Which rowing machines are the best, though? It’s hard for the average person to know-especially given the incredibly wide range of options available.
In this guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know in order to shop for a rowing machine like a pro. We’ll also introduce you to our favorite models for training at home! Our recommendations are sturdy, user-friendly, and suitable for rowers at any skill level.
|Picture||Product Name||Dimensions||Resistance Type||Cost|
|Concept2||96 x 24 x 44.5 inches||Air-resistance||$$|
|Concept2 Model E Indoor Rowing Machine||96 x 24 x 20 inches||Air-resistance||$$|
|Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine||83 x 24 x 21 inches||Water-resistance||$$|
|Water Rower Club Rowing Machine||83 x 24 x 21 inches||Water-resistance||$$|
Concept2 is a manufacturer from Vermont. They produce high-quality rowing machines that are used all over the world by gyms, schools, and professional teams. This model is the company’s budget offering.
We recommend the Model D to just about everybody. It’s simply that good! We’ve used one of these for years, and while there are certainly fancier models and snazzier designs (like the water-resistance models we’ve included below), this thing gives you just as dynamic a workout and will likely last as long.
It’s the least expensive rowing machine we’ve found that offers a complete workout. Anything costing less, in our experience, either limits you to an upper body workout or has such a tight moving track that you only use a portion of your legs’ range of motion to work out.
That’s no good! The whole reason we row is to work out the entire body at once. Concept2 machines are somewhat expensive, but the model D remains the most affordable “real” rowing machine on the market.
As you’d expect from a company that manufactures their rowing machines entirely in the USA, quality control from Concept2 is superb. We’ve never heard of anyone getting a dodgy machine from the company, and they’ve got a stellar reputation for shipping complete, flawless products.
Construction is rugged and minimalist. There’s barely plastic here! It’s all metal and rubber (the grip on the handle, etc.). The Model D has a 500-pound maximum user weight, so it can handle anyone who wants to use it.
These things last forever. One of our reviewers has been using a hand-me-down Model D for over a decade, and has never run into a single issue aside from dead batteries in the computer. He’s not alone–just take a quick glance at online buyer reviews, and you’ll find shockingly few complaints about these machines. You’re also covered by a 5-year warranty.
While the Model D has been on the market for awhile, it’s still just as good as any competing machines at its price point. It’s still more rugged, ergonomic, and dynamic as the more recent competition.
It’s also been upgraded to keep it current. This one now comes with Concept2’s PM5 computer system. We think it’s stellar! Not only does it offer real-time workout tracking from the machine, but it can be connected wirelessly to your wearable devices like Garmin heart-rate monitors. This is the same computer that ships on the premium Model E, so it’s a bargain here.
It’s really enjoyable to use. As we’ve noted above, it’s roomy enough for any user to move through their full range of motion without impediments or limitations. The grip and seat are both rubberized for comfort. They clean easily without being too hard to use for long stretches. The 14” seat height is accessible for the vast majority of users, too. The footrests are adjustable, and we love that you can change the placement of the straps as well as their tightness.
Despite the fact that it offers a full rowing experience, it’s not a space hog. You can store it in halves, or stand it up on its end. The part of the machine where the seat slides back and forth detaches from the fan/belt unit at the front. It also moves around on caster wheels.
Unlike so much exercise equipment these days, the Model D is extremely easy to get set up, since there are only 8 screws involved. That also makes it pretty much effortless to take down and store when it’s not being used.
We know that this one’s fairly expensive compared to some other “rowing machines” on the market. However, we think this is the least you can pay for the real deal. Cheaper models have jerky magnetic resistance that can really mess up your joints and muscles. They often don’t work your whole range of motion, either, which defeats the purpose of rowing to begin with!
The Concept2 Model E (reviewed below) is a better rowing machine, though you’ll have to pay a sizeable chunk more to get it. However, unless having a low seat height is a problem for you, we think the Model D is more than enough rowing machine for most applications. That’s true for commercial as well as home users. Those who want the best of the best or are concerned about accessibility should go for the E. Everybody else will be perfectly happy with the D.
The Model E is essentially an upgraded version of the D we’ve just looked at. We recommend it to those who are looking for a commercial option, as well as to those who have mobility issues which make the D’s lower seat height troublesome. This one is much the same, but the build is slightly more rugged and the seat height more accessible. However, for most home users, the D is more than suitable and will cost a fair amount less.
It shares many of the same stellar attributes as the D. It’s full-size, splits in half for storage, and provides a dynamic rowing experience for users of all sizes and skill levels. It’s ruggedly-built and has a fantastic computer unit on board.
The biggest difference with the Model E is its higher seat placement. This one adds 6” for a seat height of 20” off the ground. It’s about the same height as your average chair.
That extra height makes it more comfortable to get on and off of in general. It’s also ideal for those who find it hard to get situated on a standard rowing machine such as the D above. It’s perfect for those dealing with injuries or long-term mobility issues.
There are also some upgrades under the hood that make this a slightly hardier machine for commercial use. The Model E has fully-enclosed chain housing and an upgraded chain. Most users will never notice, but these tweaks make it even more low-maintenance than the D.
The front legs are made from steel, just like the back ones. On the model D above, we’ve noted that the front legs are made from aluminum. There shouldn’t be much difference in practice, but if you’re buying for a team or for a commercial operation it’s worth spending a little more for the E.
Finally, the Model E has a nicer finish overall. The D is matte, but the E is a powder-coated gloss.
Even the smoothest fan-resistance rowing machine isn’t going to be quite as smooth as water-resistance models such as the ones we’ve included below. The difference will be negligible to most people, but if you’re a passionate rower who wants the best of the best for both looks and smoothness, go for a Water Rower.
It’s more expensive than the Model D for what’s practically the same machine. You get the upgrades we’ve noted above, but the workout will be the same and there’s nothing extra on the computer.
This Water Rower model is the least expensive water-resistance model we recommend. It’s elegant, ergonomic, and a joy to use. Why buy this rather than one of the Concept2 models? Aesthetics are a big reason. If you’ll be leaving you rowing machine set up in your living space, this one’s a lot nicer to look at every day. It also offers the additional smoothness of water resistance. We think it’s the best water-resistance rowing machine for most buyers. However, if you want something for commercial use or simply prefer a more contemporary finish, the Club model below will be a better buy.
This Water Rower model costs roughly the same amount as the Natural model above, but suits a different sort of user. If you’re looking for something to use commercially or for a team, this one’s finish will hold up much better over time. It’s also a nice alternative for folks who aren’t fans of the light-colored, natural wood on the model we’ve just looked at. Apart from fit and finish, though, the two are the same. They provide the same excellent smoothness and workout dynamic.
Which of these rowing machines should you actually buy?
If you’re on a budget, the Concept2 Model D is the obvious choice. It’s the cheapest model we recommend by a sizeable chunk, but still provides the same workout quality as the more expensive Model E.
If you’re looking for the best of the best in a fan-resistance rowing machine, go for the Concept2 Model E. It’s the best choice in terms of durability and accessibility.
The decision is much the same if you’re choosing between our water-resistance recommendations. We recommend these to folks with injuries to whom smoothness is absolutely paramount, and to those who simply want the smoothest, sleekest setup possible. The Natural model is our recommendation to most people, since it provides the same workout experience as the premium Club version. The Club version is the better choice for folks who are looking for a commercial model or want the most durable fit and finish possible.
Skip The Cheap Options
You’ll notice that our recommendations start at around $800 and get more expensive from there. There are certainly less expensive options available, but we suggest avoiding them for several reasons. They fall apart, for a start. They’re cheaply-made and don’t hide it well. Many don’t work your whole body, either. They can also cause more problems than they’re worth, since magnetic resistance impedes the smooth flow you need to row properly. There are many, many reasons why you should just plan to invest more in a proper rowing machine that will give you a well-rounded, dynamic workout.
Choose Between Fan And Water Rowers
We think magnetic-resistance rowing machines are garbage. Having established that, there are two main types of machine to consider: fan-resistance and water-resistance. They’re actually fairly similar. Both connect a fan to a chain/belt assembly. When you pull the handle, the chain turns the fan. With a normal fan model, the resistance is provided simply by air. With a water-resistance unit, the fan is underwater, and you pull against that.
Both types of machine are very smooth and provide a dynamic range of resistance. You can get a great workout using either, and neither of these designs have the durability problems or jerkiness of magnetic setups.
What are the differences?
Fan models are less expensive, for one thing.They’re usually $200+ cheaper than equivalent water-resistance models. They’re also easier to deal with, since they’re lighter and don’t involve a tank of water. We recommend them to most people.
Water models are the smoothest, though. The difference isn’t vast, but if you row every day you’ll appreciate it. They’re expensive but are as good as it gets in terms of the overall experience. Just be aware that they cost a premium and can be more difficult to store/put away.
Decide On Your Budget
The rowing machines we currently recommend cost anywhere from $800 to $1200+ depending on current prices, color options and so forth. You should think about how much it’s reasonable for you to spend on your new rowing machine before you start considering any specific models. If you’re a casual home user, you can probably get everything you need from a machine under $1000. Even our budget pick performs phenomenally and offers as much of a challenge as most folks need. If you’re a committed, daily rower, especially someone recovering from an injury, you might consider spending a few hundred dollars more for a water rower. These machines do tend to cost $100-$200 more than fan models of comparable quality, but they’re the smoothest and most aesthetically pleasing machines on the market.
Depending on where you’ll use your new rowing machine, looks may or may not be important. If you have a dedicated gym space in your house or garage, don’t worry too much about looks. However, if you’re planning to set up your rowing machine in your main living space, it’s a good idea to go for something that matches or at least works pretty well with your decor. Water towers tend to be the best in the aesthetics department, since they have wood finishing and a classier overall look. However, the sparse black or grey finishing on a high-end fan model can also look good with contemporary furnishings. Just think about where your machine will be set up and what surroundings it’ll need to work with.
We hope we’ve answered all your questions regarding rowing machines for home and commercial use. You can learn more about any of the models you’ve seen here by clicking on the links in our reviews. You can also visit our homepage, where you’ll find lots more buying guides as well as other useful advice and suggestions for rocking workouts at home and at the gym!