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A rowing machine aims to recreate the motion of a person rowing a boat on the water. They can provide an efficient, total body workout and are suitable for both cardiovascular and strength training.
Also known as ergometers or indoor rowers, rowing machines combine the benefits of aerobic exercise with strength building and muscle toning to provide a low impact, total body exercise.
In this article, we look at the health benefits of rowing, points to consider when choosing a rowing machine, and some of the best options available.
Evidence suggests that rowing is a beneficial workout as it recruits most of the body’s muscles. According to the American Fitness Professionals Association, the rowing stroke comprises 65–75% leg work and 25–35% upper body work.
The American Council on Exercise note that the health benefits of rowing include:
- targets multiple muscle groups, providing a total body workout
- cardiovascular and strength training
- low impact and nonweight-bearing, putting less stress on the joints
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that adults include a combination of cardio and strength training each week.
They advise people to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise that raises their heart rate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio each week. In addition, people should perform moderate-to-high intensity resistance training at least two times a week to strengthen their muscles.
Being more active also has significant health benefits, including:
- lower risk of some diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer
- lower risk of some pregnancy complications
- improved sleep
- improved cognitive ability
- lower risk of weight gain and obesity
- improved bone health
- improved mental health and overall well-being
In a 2014 study, the basic fitness and muscle strength of the 24 participants improved significantly after they used a rowing machine 3 days a week for 8 weeks.
Due to it being a low impact exercise, using a rowing machine can also be good for the rest days in a training schedule, if people still want to stay active.
Rowing machines can also be a good exercise option for people who are visually impaired. A 2015 study found that a rowing exercise program provided safe exercise for 16 participants with low vision and had a positive effect on body composition and fitness levels within 6 weeks.
Generally, people can choose from the following types of indoor rowing machines:
- Air or flywheel rowers: These rowers use a flywheel with fan blades to generate wind that provides resistance. To increase the resistance, a person simply needs to pull harder. This machine offers a similar feel to outdoor rowing.
- Hydraulic rowers: These rowers can be a good option for those with limited space or a smaller budget, but they may not provide as smooth a rowing motion as other machines. This type of rower uses tension from compressed air or fluid to provide resistance.
- Magnetic rowers: These can be the quietest and smoothest rowing machines, but they may be more expensive. These machines utilize a magnetic brake system to provide resistance. As magnetic resistance products no friction, these rowers typically make no noise.
- Water rowers: These rowers may be most suitable for those who participate in outdoor rowing, as they try to replicate the dynamics of rowing a boat on the water. They are also fairly quiet as they use water to provide resistance.
People may also wish to consider the following factors:
- Cost: People can look for well-reviewed, quality machines within their budget. Those buying their first rowing machine may want to opt for a cheaper model to try it out.
- Size: Some people may need to consider a compact or foldable machine that can fit in a small space. They can look for rowing machines that have upright storage or will divide into pieces.
- Goals: People training for outdoor rowing may prefer a water rower, as this type most closely recreates the feeling of being on the water. Anyone with set fitness goals may find that a rowing machine with programmed workouts, immersive training, or data displays helps them reach their targets.
Many rowing machines are available to buy. Below, we list five products that people can consider.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All product information is purely research-based.
The NordicTrack RW900 rowing machine comes with a rotating touch screen to provide personal fitness training classes. According to the product website, key features include:
- 22-inch high definition, smart touch screen that rotates and tilts
- a 1-year iFit family membership
- access to iFit rowing classes, as well as strength training, yoga, and mindfulness sessions
- access to classes in global locations, including lakes and rivers
- interactive personal training, where trainers can digitally adjust the resistance
- 26 resistance levels
- detailed statistics to show workout data
- folds vertically for storage
- payment plan available
Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine with LCD Monitor
Reviewers rate this Sunny Health & Fitness rower as one of the best budget rowing machines. According to the product website, key features include:
- eight resistance levels
- magnetic resistance system
- anti-slip foot pedals with adjustable straps
- durable, heavy duty steel frame
- digital display screen to show workout data
- transportation wheels and foldable
- padded, slip-free handlebar
- wide, padded seat
- floor stabilizers for extra balance
The Hydrow Rower aims to recreate the feeling of being on the water, so it may best suit people looking for a professional approach to rowing. People will need to pay an additional monthly membership to access the interactive training classes.
According to the product website, key features include:
- electromagnetic, computer-controlled drag mechanism
- webbed strap to make strokes smooth and almost silent
- cushioned and ergonomic seat design
- wheels and vertical storage position
- 22-inch touch screen display
- variety of workouts led by competitive athletes in scenic locations
- Hydrow donate money to the charity Water.org with every row
Concept2 Model D
Users rate the Concept2 Model D rowing machine highly because it is quiet, and there is the option to split it into two pieces for easy storage. According to the product website, key features include:
- performance monitor to display workout data
- Bluetooth and wireless to connect to apps and fitness monitors
- spiral damper for adjustable airflow
- flywheel design creates smooth motion and minimal noise
- low 14-inch seat height
- adjustable footrests
- caster wheels on the front foot for easy transporting
- ergonomic handle allows natural arm and hand positioning
- nickel plated chain for low maintenance
Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1060
For those looking for a compact rowing machine for a smaller space, this Stamina product may be a good choice. According to the product website, key features include:
- rowing arms with padded grip
- monitor to track data
- tablet holder
- hydraulic cylinder resistance
- ball-bearing roller system
- durable steel frame
- adjustable resistance
- large footplates with straps
- access to three online workouts with purchase
- molded seat for comfort
- rower arms fold in for vertical storage
Other options for people looking for a machine capable of providing a total body workout include cable machines, elliptical trainers, and vertical steppers.
It is also possible to work out with no or minimal equipment. People who prefer this option could use resistance bands or dumbbells, or they could avoid equipment altogether and perform body weight exercises.
An indoor rowing machine can offer people a low impact, total body workout that provides both cardio and strength training. A rowing machine may suit people looking to increase or maintain their fitness, as well as those training for outdoor rowing.
People can choose from a range of machines to suit their budget and preferences. Depending on their priorities, they can opt for additional features, such as minimal noise, a touch screen for workout classes, or the ability to fold the machine for easy storage.