11 Top-Rated Rowing Machines to Add to Your Home Gym ASAP
The AskMen editorial team thoroughly researches & reviews the best gear, services and staples for life. AskMen may get paid if you click a link in this article and buy a product or service.
Product photos from retailer sites.
When you think of intense, sweat-inducing machine workouts a few immediately come to mind: running on the treadmill, training on the elliptical, maybe spinning on the exercise bike. But you’re forgetting one – rowing.
RELATED: Why Rowing Is the Workout You Should Be Doing at Home
Rowing is an intense workout and full-body scorcher. It’s not about just gripping and ripping back on the handle. When you row you engage your entire body, using 84 percent of your muscles with each stroke, explains Lisa Niren, ACE, trainer at City Row in New York City. “I look at each stroke on the machine as essentially a jump squat and a deadlift, because it mimics the action of both,” she says. “Plus, there is no other machine or piece of equipment in the gym that provides a more efficient or beneficial use of one’s time. Rowing is a one-stop-shop for fitness – strength, cardio, and endurance all rolled into one.”
So you light up most of your body while rowing but which muscle groups are doing the work? About 60 percent of the work comes from your legs in the initial drive, Niren explains. This includes the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. The rest is split between the core and the upper body, pulling in the handle to finish off the movement.
There are four distinct types of indoor rowers including:
- Air-Based (also known as cylinder machines) rower
- Hydraulic rower
- Magnetic resistance rower
- Water rower
Niren noted that many consider a hydraulic rowing machine to be out of date now. While the movement mechanics are no different than other machines, a smart or connected rowing machine featuring a screen and technology integration could be considered its own category of rowing machine as well.
Best Rowing Machines
Well Rounded Option
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5
If you’re looking for reliability, look no further. With this commercial-grade, air-resistance Concept2 rower, you can monitor your rowing workout on the backlit display (which also has the ability to wirelessly track your heart rate) and stay motivated by connecting this piece of fitness equipment to a number of compatible fitness apps. Once you’re done, simply lift up the side opposite the flywheel and wheel it away for easy storage.
Promising review: “I have owned the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine for two years. It is the best piece of workout equipment I have ever owned. It is well built. Collapses for easy storage. Provides 10 levels of resistance guaranteed to provide a spirited workout regardless of age or physical condition. This is a best-in-class product … and well worth the investment.” – Doug Testing
$945 at Amazon.com
Interactive Trainer-Led Workouts
NordicTrack RW900 Rower W / 1-Year iFit Membership
Fans of Peloton and Mirror will love the NordicTrack RW900 rower. This smart rower comes complete with a one-year membership to Nordic Track’s iFit program, which includes an extensive library of workouts and access to live studio classes and trainer sessions. The 26 levels of resistance can be controlled by your trainer or you can select manual air resistance. Meanwhile, the quick-adjust foot pedals allow you to create a custom fit that’s comfortable for your build. In terms of its function within your home, this piece of fitness equipment is quiet when in use (you can sync up your Bluetooth headphones if you don’t want to disturb others with workout instructions) and can be folded up when your workout is complete.
Promising review: “It actually feels more sturdy than any rower I’ve used in a gym! It’s also extremely smooth and quiet while rowing. The large screen really makes the workout videos feel very immersive. It’s easy to imagine you’re actually rowing down a river in Africa! The nicest feature for me is how it folds into such a compact footprint… We also got a free year of the fitness program subscription which was around a $400 dollar value and it’s so good that we’ll definitely continue that after the year is up. If you are on the fence about getting a rower like we were then look no further… You won’t regret it! – Scott Moyer
$1,599 at NordicTrack.com
Create Your Own Resistance
Stamina ATS Air Rower
Track your speed, distance, time, and calories burned on this air resistance rowing machine. The harder you row, the more resistance you’ll feel. The padded seat and large footplates make it perfect for different body types, and it has built-in wheels and a folding frame for easy storage in the home or home gym.
Promising review: “First of all, easy to assemble. It is not as heavy as I thought it would be, yet extremely sturdy. Once assembled, it can be easily moved. The only noise it makes is the air flowing through the wheel when you pull the handles, and it’s not very loud. It is a perfect machine for an in-home workout, and I don’t see why anyone would need more of a workout than you can get from this rower.” – Page B.
$299 at Amazon.com
WaterRower Rowing Machine
This rower uses a water tank as resistance to better replicate the in-the-water rowing experience. The monitor allows you to track your rowing machine workout including stroke rate, speed distance, and time. This model is easy on the eyes, too. Hand-crafted from ash wood with a stained honey oak finish, it won’t cramp your style if it’s left out for all eyes to see.
Promising review: “If you want a great rower this is the one. We researched hundreds of reviews before we purchased this one. It was easy to put together. No missing parts. Good quality materials. The swishing sound and feel make you believe you’re rowing on your favorite lake. It’s easy to store to get it out of the way when not in use. Comes with a great video to help you learn good form. Total body workout. Glides like silk. Excellent purchase.” – Lisa Brooks
$1,160 at Amazon.com
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
This budget rowing machine from Sunny has an extra-long slide rail, so you adjust it to accommodate a wide range of heights. Featuring eight levels of magnetic adjustable resistance, users can cater the tension to their needs with a simple twist of the knob. The LCD console displays everything you need to monitor your rowing machine workout: time, count, scan, and calories.
Promising review: “I always like the fan-powered ones at the gym, but price and noise kept me from getting one for home. This is well made and easy to assemble. It has very simple features, few bells, and whistles. That is my preference. But I can get a good workout while watching TV or listening to music for 1/4 the price. The action is very smooth, like pro equipment. I fold out of the way easily, too. I’m happy with my purchase.” – John L.
$199.20 at Amazon.com
Titan Fitness Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machine
While you might think a rowing machine requires a lot of space, or even a dedicated home gym, many models can actually be folded up and tucked away when not in use. Case in point, this magnetic resistance option from Titan Fitness. In addition to featuring eight different adjustable resistance settings, and a dynamic LCD screen that tracks your progress, it can easily fold and stand up when you’re finished, so your apartment doesn’t look like a home gym.
Promising review: “This is a really good rower. Especially, for the price. The tension is just as good as the $1500.00 magnetic rower I use at the gym. The rower is very smooth and really sturdy.” – Jeremy D.
$264.99 at TitanFitness.com
Outdoor Rowing Experience
Merax Water Rowing Machine
Not only does this model mimic the outdoor rowing experience through its water-powered resistance, you even get the atmospheric splashing sounds of water as you row. The rower’s system includes options for rowing races and competitions, and you can view duration, strokes, calories, distance, and heart rate on the screen.
Promising review: “This is a great machine! The movement is smooth, and it’s heavy enough to feel really stable. I like the water aspect, although if you are sharing the rower with anyone you have to adjust the water level. It’s not as easy as turning a knob. I’m really happy with it though, and love the fact that you can easily move it and set it upright to store.” – Patricia M.
$589.99 at Amazon.com
Other Workout Options
Fitness Reality 1,000 Plus Bluetooth Magnetic Rower
You don’t have to spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment to get a great rowing machine. This reasonably-priced, highly-rated rower has 14 levels of magnetic tension resistance so your workout can grow with you. You can also use the MyCloudFitness app to track your workout data forever as well as a 30-day free trial of studio-based professional training to get you on the right track to succeed. On top of all of that, the unit is designed for more exercises including curls, upright rows, bent rows, shrugs, and triceps presses, among others.
Promising review: “We purchased this rowing machine and I absolutely love it. I don’t hate exercising anymore. It works great, has different tensions, and is as quiet as you can expect it to be. The digital readout shows strokes, meters, calories burned, and time spent. Assembly was very quick and easy. I use it about five times a week, and I still enjoy it after several months of use. Highly recommended.” – L. Lazarus
$325 at Amazon.com
Perfect to Hide Away
Schwinn Crewmaster 100660 Rowing Machine
Ideally, you want to purchase a rower that has all the bells and whistles you need for your workout. However, some people don’t have space to leave a massive cardio machine in the middle of the room. Luckily, Schwinn combined the best of both worlds here, creating a rower that not only has a large LCD screen that tracks all of your important information and includes 10 levels of magnetic resistance, but features an easy-to-fold design so it can be hidden away when not in use.
Promising review: “Great machine for the price. Very sturdy, does not move when rowing. I have a few thousand rows on it now, using as cardio every other day between my regular workouts. Doesn’t have all the fancy gizmos of higher-priced ones , but I just want a timed workout while listening to music, and watching rowing videos. Tracks rows, time, distance, and speed which is great for me. No problems in three months, and already needing smaller waist pants. Little beer belly disappearing too.” – Clyde
$499.99 at Amazon.com
HouseFit Water Rower
This water rower has a 330-pound weight limit so even if you’re an Olympic rower, you’ll work up a sweat. It’s solidly built and has six different levels of water resistance so you can move from novice to expert at your own pace. But the biggest benefit might just be its smooth, seamless functioning, care of the solid steel slide rail and magnetic resistance.
Promising review: “This water rower has been a fantastic substitute for cardio! It’s easy to use, feels like the rowers at OTF and all at a reasonable price! In addition, it is easy to move and stores up on its end, so it takes up very little garage space. We have had it set up for about 3 weeks, and I’ve rowed over 50,000 meters with no complaints! GREAT PURCHASE!!” –Sara
$499.99 at Amazon.com
Heavy Duty Design
This complex rower has variable resistance settings, allowing for endless variety in workouts, adjustable foot straps for extra gripping, an LCD screen that lets you track your progress, a foldable design, and most important of all: heavy-duty construction made from steel and aluminum. Because you might have children, roommates, or pets who aren’t too careful with your stuff and you want this piece of exercise equipment to last.
Promising review: “Really pleased with this purchase! Took me about 1.5 hours to assemble by myself-straightforward directions. Everything is labeled, and the tools are provided. This thing is silent, so it’s a good choice if you want to do workouts while watching TV. It is also quite sturdy. I’ve used both air rowers and water rowers, and this magnetic rower provides a similar workout. Overall I’m very impressed!” – Kells
$433.30 at Amazon.com
RELATED: Best Cardio Machines for Your Home
How to Buy an Indoor Rowing Machine
If you’re considering getting a home rowing machine think about the following questions before making your purchase:
1. Is noise a factor? Are you living in an apartment building where the sound can affect others? How much noise does your machine make?
2. What is the surface made of that the rower will rest on? Hardwood? Do you need to make sure it won’t slip around or scratch your floor? Can you put a mat under it to reduce vibration?
3. Does it fit? How tall are you? How big are your feet? Do you fit on it comfortably?
5. Is space an issue? How large is the machine when set up? Will it fit without issue? Do you have space to row comfortably on it with proper form?
6. How much are you looking to spend? How often do you plan to use the indoor rower? Is it worth the investment?
7. What type of home rowing machine are you looking for? Does it simulate the feeling of actual rowing on water or does it feel different? How smooth are the strokes? Does the resistance feel comfortable?
8. How much maintenance is needed? Is there a warranty on it? Will you have to set it up yourself? And if so, is the set-up easy?)
RELATED: Get Shredded With These Monster Rowing Workouts
Understanding the Rowing Machine Display
Each indoor rower provides different stats, but in general, this is the feedback provided on the display.
- Strokes per minute (aka “SPM” or Stroke Rate): This is your speedometer. The stroke rate is the number of strokes you can complete in one minute. A higher rowing stroke rate does not necessarily mean you are more powerful, have more intensity, or are at a better fitness level. But remember, rowing is about power not speed.
- Split time: Split time is a measure of the pace you are rowing per 500 meters. This measure is affected by speed and power. Generally, the split time is an indication of pace, or the amount of power you can expend per rowing stroke. The lower you drive the number, the more powerful your stroke and the quicker you will cover 500 meters. If you were on water, imagine that as your split time goes down, your boat goes faster. So if that number stays up, you are lagging behind. The key to decreasing your split time is to recruit as much power from your legs as possible.
- Watts: Some indoor rowers have a measure called watts, which is the amount of power you expend in a single stroke. The higher the wattage, the more power behind each stroke. More power behind each stroke means the lower your split time, typically. Although the measure of watts isn’t as important as split time and strokes per minute, it can be a good way to gauge split time and power.
- Total meters traveled: On all indoor rowers, you get a measure of total meters rowed while on the machine in that session.
- Meters: The measure of how far you have been rowing or how much farther you have to row.
- Total time: How long you have been on the machine.
- Time: How long you have been actively rowing. Or if you are rowing for time, how long you have left to row.
- Calories: This is not the number of calories your body is burning. The calories on a rower refer to the total energy calories expended on the machine, which can be thought of as the force you are exerting on the rower.
- Timer button: This button can be set in 30-second increments. You can track how many meters you can row in that given amount of time. Try to travel more meters or cover more distance in each interval while keeping your strokes per minute consistent.
- Distance button: Set distance goals by 50-meter increments in order to see how long it takes you to cover that distance. Try to complete the same distance in less time as you get better at these intervals.
RELATED: Best Cardio Exercises for Men
How to Row With Proper Form
- Catch: This is the starting position for your row and the position you will return to for each pull. Start with your arms fully extended. With your feet in the stirrups, bend your knees so that your shins are at a near-90-degree angle to the floor. Tilt your hips forward and grab the rower’s handles. Keep your back flat.
- Drive: Begin your first pull by pushing hard away from the rower with your legs, driving through your feet. Keeping a flat back and a tight core, continue pulling with your arms straight until your legs are straight. Then lean your torso back slightly and begin pulling with your arms.
- Finish: Maintaining that straight back and your legs straight, pull the handles into your sternum, just below your chest. Try not to flare your elbows but keep them tucked to your sides.
- Recovery: Reverse the movement. Release your arms back to a straight position and tilt your hips forward. When your arms are straight and have passed your knees, start to bend your knees and return to the catch position. Keep your back flat throughout.
Note: Rowers do put you close to the ground, so anyone with lower back issues may experience discomfort because of the flexion and extension angles you create with your body while you stroke. Not only that but prolonged rowing (we’re talking hours of training) does have the potential to result in low back pain because of bad posture, especially due to fatigue. Be aware and let your instructor or doctor know if you’re experiencing any issues.
You Might Also Dig:
AskMen may get paid if you click a link in this article and buy a product or service. To find out more, please read our complete