Rowing Machine Buying Guide

Just like rowing a boat on the water, using a stationary rowing machine (sometimes known as an 'erg'; short for ergometer) can help to build and tone muscles, strengthen cardiovascular endurance and capacity, and increase stamina. We've created this guide, inform and to give an overview of the different types of rowing machine currently available on the market. We hope it will help you make a more informed decision and will also help ensure you choose the best rowing machine that suites your requirements.

Do Rowing Machines Provide a Full Body Workout?

Rowing machines engage all the muscles of the body and is often cited as the most effective full body cardio training movement. With little pressure on the joints, rowers work the legs, hips and glutes with each stroke. They use upper body muscles, strengthening the back, shoulders and arms. The trunk and core are also engaged in the exercise as the rower performs each stroke.

rowing machine buying guide

Are Rowing Machines Suitable for Everyone?

Rowing machines provide the perfect training solution for competitive rowing clubs, especially in countries like the UK where the weather often prohibits training on water. The fact that demand for indoor rowing machines originated from competitive rowers, has meant that manufacturers have had to drive rowing technology forward to ensure that indoor rowing machines replicate the experience of rowing on the water.

The low impact nature of rowing means that it can be an ideal cardio exercise for people who have issues with traditional cardio machines like treadmills, either because of weak joints, being overweight or recovering from injury.

rowing machine buying guide

For the majority of rowing machine users, the adjustable foot straps allow them to set up the rowing machine to give them the most comfortable position, but users who are particularly tall may encounter some difficulty. Firstly, rowing machines which are very low to the ground can be difficult for taller individuals to sit down on. To tackle this, some manufacturers offer raised versions of their machines, like the WaterRower HiRise M1 Machine.

Users who have a longer than average leg length might also struggle on a standard size machine which is why manufacturers also offer machines which feature an extended rail.

What Brands should I look out for?

The leading brands of rowing machine on the market today are Concept2 and WaterRower, who both manufacture high quality machines but employ very different technologies and mechanisms.

Can a rowing machine be stored away when I'm not using it?

rowing machine buying guideAn influential factor when buying both home and commercial rowing machines is storage. The majority of commercial machines that are sold will hold their place on the cardio area floor permanently, so if this is the intention for a rower then storage may not be a key consideration. However, there has been an increasing trend of group rowing classes in the United States which has been adopted by a handful of facilities in the UK. In this instance a gym or studio might want machines which can be brought into a studio for classes and stored away when not in use. This said, this feature is more commonly an influencing factor for home rowing machine buyers. In most cases a rowing machine can be easily stored away in the corner of a room when not required.

Some machines like the WaterRower A1 Home and Kettler Coach M can be balanced upright on their base, whereas on others like the the Concept2, the rail can be detached from the flywheel in order to save space.

Are there different types of Rowing Machine?

There are three main types of resistance mechanisms used on rowing machines; air, magnetic and water. Each of these has different characteristics and performs slightly differently to the others.

Air Resistance Rowing Machines

Fan resistance, sometimes known as air resistance is created by a flywheel which houses a fan with large blades (driven by the chain or belt) which create wind resistance as they rotate. The level of resistance is determined by the exertion on the flywheel, more force results in more resistance, however some models do allow adjustments to the flywheel that have an impact on level of resistance.

Magnetic Resistance Rowing Machines

Magnetic resistance operates quite similarly to the flywheel on most upright and recumbent exercise bikes. It involves a magnets being placed close to the spinning flywheel to create drag. The amount of drag and therefore the resistance can sometimes be controlled by a lever or electronic system which moves the magnets closer or further away from the flywheel.

rowing machine buying guide

Water Resistance Rowing Machines

Water resistance is fundamentally the most realistic, as the drag is created by forcing the rotating blades of the flywheel to move through a tank of water. A physicist will tell you that due to the 'rule of cubes', water resistance (like fan resistance) is increased or decreased by the rower exerting more force during the stroke. WaterRower tanks are positioned horizontally, but some other manufacturers' tanks are not. This means that at the beginning/end of a stroke water in an upright or sloped tank is slowed for a moment, creating lag which can disrupt the user's rhythm.

So which type is best? That depends on what factors are most important to you, the top end models within each category are all great machines and compete with the others across areas. However, if you're looking for a quiet machine that makes little noise, a magnetic rower is probably your best option. That said, the sound of the blades cutting through real water is often cited as one of the benefits of a water resistance machine, being both realistic and even therapeutic.

If the feeling and dynamics of the rowing motion are important in your decision making, a fan or water rowing machine is likely to provide the most appropriate choice.

Indoor Rowing Technology: Computers & Monitors

rowing machine buying guideAs with all fitness equipment over the past few years, the technology incorporated into rowing machines has advanced quickly. All rowing machines will come with a monitor or computer which measures time, distance and speed. Some of the more advanced computers now feature heart rate monitor integration and can communicate with the latest heart rate monitors.

Concept2 monitors allow you to track your progress and view your performance data during a ride in a variety of different ways. You can view a pace boat comparison, a force curve, bar chart or raw data. The Concept2 PM4 monitor offers heart rate connectivity and also allows built in machine to machine racing, so you can set up technology to support wireless racing between up to eight machines with no computers or extra equipment needed.

Home, Commercial or Refurbished Rowing Machine?

The main differences between home and commercial rowing machines is the build quality and warranty. Commercial rowing machines consist of designs and materials which are built to withstand extensive gym use, whereas home rowing machines are generally only built to be used a maximum of once per day.

If price is a major driver in deciding what rowing machine you buy and you don't want to settle for an entry level machine, a refurbished commercial rowing machine is an option. If reconditioned correctly, refurbished models are just as good as the ones you will see in your local gym.

rowing machine buying guide

If you choose to go down this route, make sure you ask about what has been done to the rowing machine during the refurbishment. There is a big difference between a pre-owned and refurbished machine; some companies forget this!

At Origin Fitness, if we advertise a machine as refurbished we guarantee it has been worked on by our team of engineers in some way. It may have had new parts fitted, to make sure all functions and movements are in working order. The machine frame and body will be repaired or painted if there was any rust, scrapes, scratches or chips present at the time of inspection. Any plastic guards or covers are repaired or replaced if broken, and the machine will be cleaned to a reasonable standard.