Concept2 is one of the best manufacturers in rowing machines, and the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine lives up to its name. This machine earned top ratings from multiple fitness sites, including FitnessStep1, Fitness Equipment Reviews, and TopFitness Magazine.
Around 93% of almost 2,000 Amazon shoppers rated this model five out of five stars. A wide variety of rowers — as short as 5-foot-0, as tall as 6-foot-8, novice, expert, suffering from arthritic knees, as old as 75-years-old — love this machine's solid aluminum front legs, steel rear legs, a flywheel with air resistance, and maximum user weight capacity of 500 pounds.
Essential for executing powerful and uninterrupted strokes, the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine’s flywheel has a damper for adjusting air resistance. Nonetheless, you ultimately control 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 but not so with the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine. Although it's not 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 our workout. Quick and easy to assemble and disassemble, this large erg can be taken apart and rolled for storage.
Finally, although the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine isn’t inexpensive, satisfied shoppers say 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 it
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 smoothly gliding padded seat and “free” or separate arms for a full-body workout.
What makes the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine 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.
You can row forward or backward, move your arms in circular directions, pull the handles close together for a conventional stroke, and hold the grips apart to exercise different arm, shoulder, and upper back muscles. Because the arms operate independently of each other, you can keep not use one arm in order to concentrate on the other arm.
Sturdy with a steel frame and aluminum center beam, the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine supports up to 250 pounds. It assembles easily and folds up for storage. The single hydraulic piston/cylinder is located under the unit for convenient adjustment with a manual control dial.
The Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine maintains several different, consistent levels of resistance for almost 30 minutes of hard rowing. As with most hydraulic rowers, nonetheless, fluid in the hydraulic piston heats up, which decreases resistance. When this happens, you’ll need to pause and increase the resistance setting. Be careful: Turn the control dial itself, not the heated piston/cylinder. Another downside to hydraulic resistance models is the chance of the piston leaking oil.
Another nice feature of the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine is its simple and easy-to-use monitor, which features more functions than you'd expect on a machine this affordable. It was named “Best Budget Rowing Machine” by Home Rower, listed among the top two rowing machines on Fitness Equipment Reviews, and rated an average of 4/5 stars by almost 2,400 Amazon reviewers.
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)
For an indoor rowing machine, the WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine comes closest to recreating the sensation of actual outdoor rowing as its flywheel pushes through water in a heavy-duty tank. Many reviewers love the soft and soothing swooshing sounds of water while rowing.
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. Simple physics: The more water there is, the heavier the drag against the flywheel is, and the harder your workout is.
Maintenance is easy: Fill the tank using the included siphon pump and drop a chlorine tablet into the tank every six months — no need to empty it, even before storing. In fact, although this machine doesn’t fold up, it’s easy to store upright and the weight of the water stabilizes the erg in an upright position.
It's very attractive, too, so you may want to put the Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine’s gorgeous appearance of a solidly constructed ash-wood frame with honey-oak stain on display. Several Amazon reviewers commented that it looks less like exercise equipment and more like artwork or furniture. This machine even appeared on the hit TV series “House of Cards."
You can assemble the frame without any tools, and the instructions come on a 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. For such a pricey the rowing machine, though, reviewers expected more functions. What they do like are the three-year parts/five-year frame warranties as well as the erg’s durability.
Lots of people love the Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine — around 77% of more 253 Amazon reviewers gave it five out of five stars. Garage Gym Builder named it one of the top five water-resistance models, and Fitness Equipment Reviews listed it within the top 10 best rowing machines.
Pros: Gorgeous appearance, meditative whooshing sounds, and simulation of open-water rowing sensations
Cons: Expensive, monitor is fine but limited
The reasonably priced Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) 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. One Amazon reviewer suggests using levels five or six for cardio-building long rowing sessions and level seven for endurance and sprints. This erg tops out at level eight with the greatest resistance. Some reviewers aren’t sure about the pull cord’s durability.
Able to support up to 250 pounds, the Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine has a 48-inch-long rail along which the padded seat rolls smoothly and quietly. Although a few Amazon reviewers believe this machine might be too short for people over 6-foot-2, several taller users prefer this erg and can straighten their legs in order to maintain proper form.
The Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine folds up and has built-in wheels for easy moving and storing. Easy to assemble and relatively compact, it takes up minimal space when folded up and little square footage when open.
This machine was named the top-rated magnetic resistance rowing machine on TopTenTheBest and HomeGymr. The Strategist rated it one of the top two magnetic resistance machines. Out of more than 1,000 Amazon customers, it earned 4.1 stars out of five stars.
Pros: Economical with eight levels of resistance, easy to fold and store
Cons: Only okay cord quality, rail might be too short for tall people
Solid construction and German engineering make Kettler a well-known brand in fitness, play, and outdoor equipment, and the Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine does the brand proud.
Made of steel, the powder-coated frame supports up to 285 pounds and lasts for years. A generously cushioned seat with sealed ball bearings rolls smoothly along the steel track. Two industrial-strength hydraulic pistons create 50 levels of resistance, making it suitable for beginners and advanced rowers.
FitnessVerve rated the Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine as one of the top hydraulic resistance rowing machines and noted that larger, long-stroke hydraulic pistons/cylinders provide consistent resistance for each pull or drive. Home Rower liked that the Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine dual handles recreated the feel of rowing with oars.
The LCD monitor tracks time, distance, calories burned, strokes, frequency, and pulse rate, while an included infrared earlobe clip sensor measures your pulse rate. TopFitnessMagazine pointed out that this “may be the cheapest rowing machine that you’ll find anywhere that will measure your pulse.”
Rowing Reviews notes that you can monitor your cardio wellness from grades one to six using the monitor’s 60-second recovery program after exercise.
Although compact, the Kettler Favorit Rowing Machine doesn’t fold up. Another inconvenience noted by Amazon shoppers is that the assembly directions and display are in German. Still, around 71% of Amazon reviewers rated it four or five stars out of five stars and liked that it's “robust,” “solid,” and “very well built."
If your wallet allows you to spend a bit more, the Kettler Kadett Rowing Machine is the next level up machine by the same company that’s also highly rated on different rowing and fitness sites.
Pros: Sturdy with large dual pistons and 50 adjustable resistance levels
Cons: Doesn’t fold up and instructions/display in German
Before you start to row, row, row your boat, check out British Rowing’s page for step-by-step instructions and photos of how to execute the drive and recovery phases properly.
This video provides a clear demonstration of setup, posture, and correct technique by Olympic champion Alex Gregory.
So to get the most out of your workouts and avoid injury, remember: For the drive, first legs, then body, and finally arms. For the recovery, first arms, then body, and finally legs. Keep your back flat and untwisted. Don’t hunch forward or bend backward, but pivot from the hip.
Finally, don’t think of this exercise as a race. Focus on your form, not on how fast you can row.