Row, row, row your boat, gently down the… wait a minute. We’re here to talk about the best rowing machines – those low-slung, muscle-building apparati that provide a stellar, near-whole-body workout.
Want an outstanding home gym but don’t have much space? A home rowing machine is just the ticket. Keep scrolling to see our top recommendations and solid buying advice.
Top 5 Home Rowing Machines of 2020
There’s a wide variety of rowing machines on the market, from those with flywheels, to models sporting air or water resistance, and more. We’ll give you the low-down on our top four picks to help you find the best rowing machine to use at home. Ready? Let’s go!
1. Best Overall: Concept2 Model D
Crowning our list, the Concept2 Model D rowing machine has everything you’re looking for. It provides a full-body, aerobic and resistance workout – and is designed to be comfortable for anyone, thanks to adjustable footrests and a low seat.
This makes for a stable setup, regardless of your leg length or height. The round handle – braced at the centre for extra durability, and swept back at ten degrees to provide a neutral grip – is easy to hold onto, even during long training sessions.
The Model D is an air rowing machine. That means it produces resistance by drawing air over a flywheel.
Though a hydraulic or magnetic rowing machine may offer a bit more adjustability, the Concept2 system works well: you can increase or decrease resistance using the integrated damper, which controls how much or little air reaches the flywheel.
Also, the design is simpler, with fewer things to go wrong.
This is not a small rowing machine – fully assembled, it’s about eight feet long and two feet wide. You’ll need a space nine by four feet to work comfortably in.
That said, the Concept2 Model D, with its nickel-plated seat and robust construction, is built like a tank – it has a 227 kg capacity – and can be taken apart for storage.
It’s also easy to assemble, and move, thanks to frontally positioned caster wheels.
At its core, the Model D is a simple, mechanical device. The included backlit PM5 performance monitor takes things to a new level – it displays speed, distance, watts and calories burned for each workout.
You can even select between five display options: force curve, all data, large print, bar chart or pacer. Whether you want hard numbers or a quick graphical representation of what’s going on, it’s all there, at-a-glance.
And the free Concept2 ErgData app (compatible with Android and iOS) lets you connect your smartphone and rower, providing extra feedback, and storing all your workouts. You can even interface an ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart heart monitor to the PM5. If you like fitness trackers, you’ll love this!
Are there any downsides?
As far as performance goes, not really. The only issues of note are the large size of the machine (though most rowers take up a fair bit of space), and the cost – this is not a budget device.
It is, however, almost universally well-reviewed, and with good reason is the choice of many gyms and pro athletes. You can’t go wrong with the Concept2 Model D.
2. Runner Up: JTX Freedom Air Rower
Coming in at a close second, the JTX Freedom Air has some fantastic features at a more modest price. Built with your comfort and health in mind, the Freedom Air features a padded seat, 6-point adjustable pedals, and a wide foot placement—that means better posture, and a safe, efficient workout.
The handle is cushioned and ergonomically angled, making it easy to grip, while reducing pressure points and arm tension.
Like the much-praised Concept2 Model D, the JJLL® R200 Home Rowing Machine is an air-rowing machine—with a twist. Not only is air drawn over the flywheel; there’s 16-step, adjustable electromagnetic resistance, too.
The result is a top rowing machine that’s smooth and fairly quiet, which is always a plus when you’re rowing at home.
The JTX Freedom Air is a touch more compact than the Model D, coming in about 7.38 feet long and 1.9 feet wide. You’ll still need a nearly nine-by-four foot space, but in a home gym, every inch counts, and the compact design is much appreciated.
The reinforced aluminium frame is strong and sturdy, and an easy-fold mechanism allows the machine to pivot into a neat, triangular shape for upright storage and transportation. The Freedom Air is rated for users up to 130 kg in weight.
An integrated computer and performance display make it simple to set and meet training targets – distance, speed, stroke, revolutions, strokes/minute, heart rate and torque/power are all tracked.
You’ll find five fitness programs – two of which are intervals – as well as two programs controlled by heart rate. JTX have included a free wireless heart rate monitor—a nice touch that adds even more value. The display is excellent, offering both numerical and graphical stats on a bright, backlit screen.
Are there any downsides? Just a few, and they’re mostly minor and infrequent. The instruction manual could be more thorough, and if you’re particularly strong, the lighter-weight aluminium frame may lift a little at one end when pulling hard on the handle.
Thus far, we’ve heard of this happening only once. There isn’t much not to like about the JTX Freedom Air—it’s a great, mid-priced rowing machine that provides excellent value for the money.
3. Best Water Rower: WaterRower Rowing Machine for Home
The aptly named WaterRower rowing machine is just that: a water rower—and it’s the best of the type on our list.
This beautiful machine features a solid wood frame, large, clear water tank, and handsome, black accents. A contoured, padded seat glides on four wheels along the length of the frame, while the foot pads feature simple, effective adjustment straps to accommodate a wide range of food sizes.
Dashing good looks aside, what makes this rower stand out is how it works. Instead of air or magnets, there’s just water, contained in the disc-shaped WaterFlyWheel.
Every stroke moves a paddle through the water – just like rowing a boat. This is a self-regulating, or perhaps, user-regulated workout: you generate the resistance.
The harder you pull, the more challenging it becomes. It’s kind of like riding a single-speed bicycle: pedal faster to go faster. Using the WaterRower feels natural and intuitive – there’s no fiddling with adjustments, no electricity is required, and it’s very quiet in operation.
The WaterRower is surprisingly compact, measuring just over 6.9 feet long and a little under 1.9 feet wide. Not exactly tiny – no rowing machine is – but almost svelte next to a Concept2 Model D.
At about 53 kg, the WaterRower is weighty, but with that heft comes strength: it’s rated to support almost 454 kilos. When not in use, it can be raised upright for easy storage, and rolled away on front-mounted wheels. Included with the WaterRower are purification tablets, which help prevent microbial growth inside the water tank.
Mounted above the tank is an S4 performance monitor, which provides a range of useful information, including time, distance, intensity, strokes per minute, heart rate and calories burned. You’ll also find intensity units, distance units, and three workout programs.
Are there any downsides to this Water Machine Rowing?
A few. The performance monitor isn’t backlit and lacks modern connectivity. Assembly could be easier, and there have been occasional quality control issues.
These quibbles aside, the WaterRower is still a great choice, and an attractive alternative to flywheel rowing machines.
4. Best Rowing Machine Under £200: JLL R200 Home Rowing Machine
Rounding out our list is the JLL R200 – it’s the best budget rowing machine available, and provides a great workout at a price that works for almost anyone.
Featuring a strong yet lightweight aluminium frame, large, pivoting footpads with velcro straps, and a padded, non-slip, cylindrical handle, the JLL R200’s no-nonsense design is functional and straightforward.
You’ll notice that the flywheel is hidden away. This is a purely magnetic rowing machine, relying not on airflow, but a powerful magnet positioned close to the wheel, which is belt-driven.
Pull back on the handle, and the wheel is spun by a flat belt. The JLL R200 provides offers ten levels of resistance, which should be plenty for most beginners. Adjustments are made using an easy-to-reach knob. With no air rushing over a vented flywheel, magnetic rowers such as the R200 are especially quiet, making them well-suited to busy households.
The JLL isn’t just the best affordable rowing machine, it’s one of the smallest, too. Fully assembled, it’s less than six feet long and under two feet wide, perfect for almost any room.
It has a maximum user capacity of 100 kg, yet weighs only 23 kg. That’s half the weight of the WaterRower. The JLL R200 folds up to a little over four feet in height, and can easily be wheeled around. If your space is limited, this rowing machine deserves strong consideration.
Conveniently positioned near the handlebar is a 3” LCD display which shows the total and current number of rows, calories burned, counts per minute and distance rowed.
Are there any downsides?
The JLL R200 is a budget-friendly rowing machine geared toward beginners and novices. It’s not without a few shortcomings—the display lacks a backlight; the handle isn’t backswept; the resistance may be too low for an especially strong rower—but for the price, it can’t be beat.
If you’re new to indoor rowing, tight on space, or just want to test the waters without breaking the bank, the bestselling JLL R200 might be right for you.
Rowing Machine Buying Guide: All You Need to Know to Row
A rowing machine is one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment you can buy. We’ve recommended four excellent rowers above, but if you’re still on the fence about which one is right for you, read on.
Rowing Machine Benefits
Of all the home gym equipment available, why a rowing machine? The reasons are many – here are some of the best.
Weight loss. From the office desk to the car seat, from the chair or couch at home, most people lead sedentary lives. Over time, inactivity, an abundance of calories and a slowing metabolism can change your body composition.
Using a rowing machine is a great way to counteract unwanted weight gain, providing the benefits of both cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
An (almost) whole-body workout. Rowing machines work up to 85 percent of your muscles – your lower back, hamstrings, calves, glutes, upper back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, chest and forearms are all activated when you row. Few, if any, other routines stimulate so many muscle groups simultaneously.
Eyes on the prize. Integrated monitors help you track your speed, power, calories burned, number of rows, heart rate and more. These statistics can help you stay on track, and reach new fitness goals.
Low-impact, high-reward. Rowing is a great way to burn calories, build muscle and improve endurance—and it’s low-impact. Unlike traditional cardio or strength training, rowing is a non-weight bearing exercise.
That means it’s easier on your joints, and can be a great option for anyone that struggles with running or weight lifting.
As easy or difficult as you want. Most rowing machines allow you to regulate resistance, making them ideal for anyone, regardless of their current fitness levels. Increasing resistance is as easy as twisting a dial (or, in the case of the WaterRower, pulling harder).
How to Choose the Right Rowing Machine
Ergonomics and Weight Capacity
If you’re of average proportions, there’s not much to worry about—most rowing machines should fit you well.
However, if you’re especially tall, long-limbed, heavy, or have large feet, we’d suggest opting for a larger rowing machine with a comfy handle, padded seat and higher weight capacity.
If you crank up the tunes when you work out, then this part may not matter much. But if you prefer the sound of silence, share a space with other people, or like to follow the dialogue of your favourite television series while rowing toward a new personal best, it’s worth considering.
Air rowers generate the most noise. It’s simply the nature of how they operate, rapidly moving air over a flywheel.
Water rowers sit somewhere in the middle of the noise spectrum – the thick, polycarbonate water tank muffles a lot of sound, making this type of rowing machine relatively quiet in operation.
Magnetic rowers are the quietest, producing very little sound. Magnetic resistance is increased or decreased by moving a magnet closer to or farther from the flywheel.
Because the frictionless resistance comes only from magnetic eddy currents – not air moving over a wheel or water being pushed against – the noise produced is insignificant.
As a general rule, air and water rowers provide a more challenging workout. That’s because the harder your row, the more resistance is generated.
Conversely, the resistance of a magnetic rowing machine is limited by the strength of its magnets – not a problem for most people, but if you’re already quite strong, or feel you’ve plateaued on a magnetic rower, you might consider a different type.
Of note is that magnetic rowing machines feel smooth even at lower resistance levels, while air or water rowers require a little more “oomph” to keep things flowing.
This is self-explanatory. Ensure that your home gym, bedroom, living room, garage, or wherever you plan to row is large enough. Rowing machines can require up to nine by four feet of usable space.
Also think about storage – some rowers fold away or split apart, while others must be stored upright. Measure twice, buy once.
If the latest, greatest, most expensive rowing machines are out of your reach, have no fear – you can get an excellent rower for under two hundred pounds, and upgrade later. There’s something out there for almost everyone, no matter their budget.
Brand Reputation and User Reviews
Our recommendations for the best rowing machines are based on product quality and performance, brand reputation and user satisfaction.
We’ve put together a concise list that spans most budgets and needs – but don’t just take our word for it; see what others have to say, too. We’re confident you’ll find the perfect indoor rower to help take your fitness to the next level!