- A rowing machine allows you to reap the benefits of a high-cardio, low-impact, muscle-strengthening, and calorie-burning sport from the comfort of your home.
- There are typically four variations of rowing machine: Water resistance, air resistance, magnetic resistance, and hydraulic resistance, each of which offers their own benefits and drawbacks.
- We've tested a variety of the top rowers available to find the best in each category (along with a budget pick) to help you decide which are suitable for your fitness goals and lifestyle.
- Our top pick, the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine, features durable construction, comfortable design, and a smooth-running air resistance flywheel.
Rowing machines offer a full-body workout capable of burning hundreds of calories in the span of just 30 minutes. It's a low-impact, high-cardio exercise that's suitable for everyone from high school and college competitors to retirees in their 60s, 70s, or 80s. As long as you know how to properly row, it can be a highly beneficial workout for almost anyone.
With more people adjusting to working out at home, row machines are more popular now than ever and have become an incredibly vital addition to a home gym. The versatile workout it delivers not only serves as a quality complement to someone's pre-existing workout routine but it can also stand on its own as a prime source of weekly exercise. If you don't like running on a treadmill, a rower is the next best thing — and to some, it's even better.
But not all rowers are created equal. Not only are there a variety of resistance types and rower sizes but there are others designed to be easily stowed as well as a newer crop of smart rowers outfit with their own touchscreen and selection of on-demand classes.
To find the best of what's around, we tested a number of machines that span the growing lot of what's available. Our goal was to find those that delivered a serious cardio workout while proving to be a valuable addition to any home gym setup — and we came away with a strong list of favorites. At the end of this guide, we also included input on how to shop for a rower, as well as a rundown of our testing methodology.
Here are the best rowing machines:
- Best rowing machine overall: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
- Best budget rowing machine: Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
- Best connected rowing machine: Hydrow Rowing Machine
- Best connected water resistance rowing machine: The Ergatta Rower
- Best dual resistance rowing machine: NordicTrack RW900
- Best water resistance rowing machine: WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine
- Best magnetic resistance rowing machine: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine
Updated on 10/27/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the sections on how to shop for a rower and how we tested each machine, checked the availability of each recommended product, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
The Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine brings the gym to your home with its sturdy build, smooth gliding action, comfortable design, and superb quality.
The Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine features solid aluminum front legs, steel rear legs, a flywheel with air resistance, and a maximum user weight capacity of 500 pounds, making it our top pick.
Essential for executing powerful and uninterrupted strokes, the Model D 's flywheel has a damper for adjusting its air resistance, granting you complete control of the resistance yourself. The harder and faster you row, the more wind the flywheel generates and the more drag you'll feel.
With an air resistance rowing machine, you'd expect a bit of noise, however, the Model D runs fairly quiet. Although not completely silent, it's quiet enough for rowers to listen to music or watch television at a normal volume during workouts.
The easy-to-read performance monitor (PM5) tracks stroke rate, calories expended, distance, pace, and watts. It has several built-in programmable workouts and games to motivate you during a workout. The rower' also quick and easy to assemble and disassemble, and can be taken apart and rolled for storage.
Although the Model D isn't inexpensive, it's a worthwhile investment in your health and comes with limited five- and two-year warranties.
Pros: Smooth gliding operation, ease of assembly, large size to accommodate tall people
Cons: Pricey and requires a bit of space (9 feet by 4 feet) but worth itThe best budget rowing machine
At a very reasonable price, the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine offers a versatile workout with its independently moving arms and smooth hydraulic resistance for continuous rowing action.
The Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine is small but mighty — and an excellent value at $120. Although it's compact and quiet, this hydraulic resistance rowing machine provides a big workout with a smooth-gliding padded seat and separate arms for a full-body workout.
What makes the BodyTrac Glider so special is its versatility in arm movements. Unlike many models where you pull a single handle attached to a chain or cord, this erg has two arms that allow for a full range of motion and mimic real boat-rowing movements.
This means you can row forward or backward, move your arms in circular directions, pull the handles close together for a conventional stroke, or hold the grips apart to exercise different arm, shoulder, and upper back muscles. Because the arms operate independently of each other, you're able to focus a workout on each arm individually.
Sturdy with a steel frame and aluminum center beam, the BodyTrac Glider supports up to 250 pounds. It assembles easily and folds up for storage, as well. The single hydraulic piston/cylinder is located under the unit for convenient adjustment with a manual control dial.
The machine is able to maintain a variety of consistent levels of resistance for roughly 30 minutes of hard rowing. As with most hydraulic rowers, fluid in the hydraulic piston heats up, which decreases resistance. When this happens, you'll need to pause and increase the resistance setting. Always make sure you turn the control dial itself and not the heated piston/cylinder. Another downside to hydraulic resistance models is the chance of the piston leaking oil.
The BodyTrac Glider also has a simple and easy-to-use monitor, which features more functions than you'd expect on a machine this affordable.
Pros: Low price, independent arms for a full range of movement, and ease of assembly and folding
Cons: Resistance declines as piston heats up during long rowing sessions; short warranty (90 days for parts/one year for frame)The best connected rowing machine
The Hydrow Rowing Machine aims to be the Peloton of at-home rowers with an immersive content experience that delivers a complete, full-body workout.
Connected fitness equipment continues to grow in popularity — and for good reason. Not only does it provide an interactive method for keeping fit but the classes and streamed content itself serve as powerful motivation to push on. In the rowing space, one of the best to deliver the kind of connected content fans of NordicTrack and Peloton have come to love is Hydrow and its aptly named rower, the Hydrow Rowing Machine.
Built with an aluminum and steel frame on a flat, anthracite polymer body, the Hydrow is a durable and sturdy rower. Attached to the front of the machine is an HD touchscreen where you're able to access its library of interactive workouts. These workouts include everything from on-demand routines, open swim-style free rows, whole body-specific workouts, and live classes.
The machine also comes with the ability to read your heart rate via an included monitor and features a whisper-quiet electromagnetic resistance. Hydrow does well to not only provide classes that highly motivate you to finish a row but it also creates a competitive environment where you can see how you rank with other global users or anyone else using your machine.
With a sticker price of $2,245 and a recurring monthly fee of $38 for access to the classes, it's certainly not cheap — but few connected fitness machines of this caliber ever are. It's worth the investment. -- Rick Stella
Pros: Extensive library of motivating classes and rowing events, delivers a full-body workout, features quiet, electromagnetic resistance
The Ergatta Connected Rower combines the rush of video game racing with the fitness benefits of a full-body exercise to deliver one of the most interactive rowing machines available.
Like similar smart fitness equipment from brands such as Peloton or NordicTrack, the Ergatta Connected Rower utilizes a giant on-board screen to display its on-demand workouts and exercises. But unlike its aforementioned peers, the workouts aren't led by an instructor belting out the next movement or exercise but are instead comprised of a series of video game-inspired routines that prove just as motivating as those high-energy classes.
What this means is that the Connected Rower pits you against the machine for its goal-based plans and interval workouts, while also allowing you to compete against other Ergatta users in simulated races. Regardless of the event, the software delivers an addictive experience that drives you to want to continuously do better. Fitness trackers found a way to gamify daily fitness and the Connected Rower follows the same path.
The physical rower is an aesthetic wonder, too. Made of Cherry wood and featuring a traditional water rowing mechanism, Ergatta clearly intended for the rower to be more than just a means for getting fit — it wanted the rower to also pleasing both in terms of look and feel. The water rowers soothing swoosh of water adds to an already enjoyable experience, as well.
Perhaps its one downside is the fact the rower's not cheap. But since few interactive workout machines like are, this isn't entirely surprising. After an initial $2,199 price tag for the machine (and a $199 shipping cost), there's a recurring $27 fee for access to the library of on-demand classes (which is also par for the smart workout machine course).
In all, the Ergatta Connected Rower delivers a full-body workout disguised as an interactive gaming experience — and it's one of the most enjoyable we've tested. -- Rick Stella
Pros: Motivating video game-inspired workout platform, beautiful design, features a folding design for easy stowing
NordicTrack's RW900 combines the stimulation of instructor-led courses with the versatility of both air and digital resistance to offer one of the best at-home rowing experiences.
Though NordicTrack may be more well known for its stationary bikes and treadmills, the company's offered high-quality row machines for quite some time — and its RW900 is the brand's crown jewel. Featuring a 22-inch HD touchscreen display, a library of interactive workout classes led by real trainers, and a fold-up design, this rower is worth every bit of its $1,699 price tag.
What makes the rower particularly impressive is its dual resistance. So, while rowing away during a class, an instructor has the ability to digitally adjust the resistance based on how they want you to row. But if it's either too much or you want to kick your workout up a few notches, there's the ability to manually adjust the air resistance. An easy-to-use air control is located on the wheel which allows for quick adjustments, even between strokes.
Like any workout machine with a massive touchscreen attached to it, the RW900 shines with what it offers in terms of workouts via its iFit interactive platform. Be it in studio routines from its roster of iFit trainers or more calming sessions in real locations around the world, the options are incredibly versatile. There are even yoga and cross-training courses to mix things up a bit.
The rower also offers stat tracking which tells you how long you row each week along with calories burned and row wattage and allows for up to four different users on the same iFit profile. All new purchases also come with a free year of iFit (which is typically $468 per year or $39 per month), so you won't have to worry about a monthly recurring charge for access to the library of content for at least the first year.
Pros: Interactive workouts, easily folds up, utilizes a dual resistance design
Cons: Expensive, iFit membership costs $39 per month (after the first free year)The best water resistance rowing machine
The elegant WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine uses water resistance to make you feel like you're truly sculling on the open water.
For an indoor rowing machine, the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine comes closest to recreating the sensation of actual outdoor rowing as it features a flywheel that pushes through water in a heavy-duty tank. It even delivers soft and soothing swooshing sounds of water while rowing, too.
In addition to controlling resistance through your strokes — the harder and faster you row, the greater drag the flywheel encounters — you can increase resistance by adding water to the tank. In essence, the more water there is, the heavier the drag on the flywheel, and the harder your workout.
Maintenance of the machine is easy, too. Just fill the tank using the included siphon pump and drop in a chlorine tablet every six months. There's no need to empty the tank, even before storing it. Although the machine doesn't fold up, it's easy to store upright and the weight of the water stabilizes the erg in an upright position.
You can assemble the frame without any tools, and the instructions come on an included DVD. Because wood expands and contracts due to environmental conditions, you may need to tighten the bolts every once in a while.
With a comfortable, stable seat that rolls smoothly along dual rails, you'll experience an excellent workout where you can keep track of distance, time, and calories burned as displayed on the S4 monitor. The rower comes with a three-year warranty on its parts, as well as a five-year warranty on the frame.
Pros: Gorgeous appearance, meditative whooshing sounds, and simulation of open-water rowing sensations
Cons: Expensive, included monitor is fine but limitedThe best magnetic resistance rowing machine
Quiet, smooth, and stable, the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine provides varying magnetic resistance levels for a wide range of workouts.
The reasonably priced Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine offers quite a few convenient features: a comfortable, cushioned seat; anti-grip handles; an LCD monitor that tracks stroke counts, time, and calories burned; and eight levels of knob-adjusted magnetic resistance for various intensities.
Level two is good for warming up before progressing to levels three and four for a more vigorous workout. Levels five and higher are more intense, perfect for long cardio-building rowing sessions. Level seven is for endurance and all-out sprints while level eight offers the greatest resistance (and hardest workout).
Able to support up to 250 pounds, the Sunny's Magnetic Rowing Machine has a 48-inch-long rail in which the padded seat rolls smoothly and quietly. The rower is able to easily fold up for convenient storage and even has built-in wheels. It's easy to assemble and relatively compact, taking up minimal space when folded up and very little square footage when open.
Pros: Economical with eight levels of resistance, easy to fold and store
Cons: Only okay cord quality, rail might be too short for tall peopleHow to row with good form
To get the most out of your workouts and avoid injury, remember that proper rowing form consists of an initial drive phase followed by a recovery phase. Here's how to execute it:
- For the drive, start first with your legs and once those are extended and your back is vertical, use your arms to pull the handle into your body. Your finished position should be your legs fully extended, the rower's handle pulled into your body with your wrists in line with your forearms. From here, you'll move onto recovery.
- The first step of recovery is to straighten your arms and pivot your body from your hips, making sure to avoid hunching forward or bending backward. This fluid motion will then have your legs flexing in until your shins are completely vertical.
Finally, don't think of this exercise as a race. Focus on perfecting your form, not on how fast you can row.How to shop for a rowing machine
With many different kinds of rowing machines out there, it's important to examine each model to choose one that best fits your needs and keeps you motivated and injury-free. You'll want to consider features like:
- Resistance: Different types of resistance include magnetic (electromagnets slow the erg's metal flywheel), air (wind from the spinning flywheel creates drag), hydraulic (resistance is created by hydraulic fluid in a piston or two connected to the erg's handles), and water (the flywheel pushes against water in a tank).
- Size: The machine should be large enough for you to straighten your legs and maintain proper rowing form, yet small enough to fit into your workout space.
- Maximum user weight capacity: Models vary in how much they support but many accommodate 220 to 265 pounds or more.
- Foldability: Some machines (usually magnetic and hydraulic resistance) fold up for easy storage, while others (often air and water resistance) don't.
- Monitor: A monitor or computer tracks information like distance, duration, speed, and/or calories burned while rowing.
- Seat: It should be contoured and large enough to keep your backside comfortable while allowing you to maintain proper form.
How we test row machines
Each rower featured in this guide went through a testing process to gauge how well it performed across these four categories: Ease of use, experience, reliability, and value. Here's how each category specifically factored into which rowers ultimately made this guide.
Ease of use: Row machines have a naturally low learning curve — the general idea is to just sit down and row. But we know there's more to it than that. Ease of use also refers to the process of setting up the machine set up in your home, how easy it is to get started, whether there's a companion app, and if that learning curve (however steep) dramatically impacts the following category: your experience.
Experience: Working out for fun may seem like an oxymoron but it is important to at least somewhat enjoy the sweat your breaking. Since a row machine delivers a full-body workout, you want one that won't feel like some sort of grueling game of tug of war. Ideally, a proper row machine offers smooth operation, an engaging platform (whether that means it offers digital feedback or is just fluid to use), and is comfortable to use.
Reliability: If the row machine you invest in doesn't last longer than a few months, you'll likely be cursing whatever inclination you had to want to buy it. Put plainly, at-home workout machines aren't cheap and the one you ultimately end up spending a large chunk of money on should work, and work often.
Value: Value is a mixture of the categories that came before it, as well as some attention to its actual sticker price — but this doesn't mean that more expensive models should be ignored. It's better to spend more money once on a machine that's reliable, easy to use, and delivers a fun workout than to struggle with a different cumbersome budget model every few months.