Best Rowing Machines 2018 Reviewed

Rowing machines are a common sight in almost every gym and it’s not hard to see why. Using these machines allows you to exercise your whole body without putting too much strain on any of your joints, it gets your heart pumping and tones your muscles in a low impact movement. Anyone can use a rowing machine, regardless of whether you have ever actually rowed before, the machines are often given as exercise for injury rehabilitations.

Despite their popularity in gyms, rowing machines are often overlooked when it comes to home gyms due to the popularity of tredmills and bikes. Machines range in price, spec and quality, and cater for a wide range of rower, from beginners who are looking to workout occasionally to professionals who regularly row on the water.

Don’t let the amount of choice put you off though. We’ve brought together some of the most popular machines to narrow the field, so you can easily compare their features and their pros and cons.

1. Concept2: Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
2. Stamina: ATS Air Rower
3. Stamina: Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
4. Sunny Health & Fitness: SF-RW1205 12 Adjustable Resistance Rowing Machine
5. Sunny Health & Fitness: SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine
6. WaterRower: Natural Rowing Machine

Concept2: Model D Indoor Rowing Machine

Concept2 rowing machines are widely regarded as some of the best rowers made, and are often used by professional sportspeople in their daily workouts. The Model D is no exception: it’s well built, easy to maintain and offers a plethora of stats and workout options.

 

Specs:

  • Powered by air resistance
  • Flywheel design with 10 adjustable damper settings
  • Performance 5 Monitor (PM5) displays range of stats including speed, distance, time, calories burned, stroke rate and split. Plus preset exercises
  • Central rowing handle with nickel-plated chain
  • Adjustable footrests
  • Separates for storage with wheels on the bottom for easy moving

 

What’s good:

  • The Concept2: Model D is powered purely by air resistance, meaning the harder you pull, the more resistance the machine will offer you, giving a more satisfying, dynamic workout. This type of resistance most accurately mimics an outdoor rowing experience.
  • The adjustable damper settings on the flywheel allow you to choose the optimum amount of air to let into the machine to make your workout comfortable, much like choosing a gear on a bike.
  • The PM5 displays a comprehensive number of stats including stroke rate, split time and time/500m.
  • Extensive workout options, allowing you to customise your own time/distance settings, complete a pre-programmed session or follow preset games.
  • A USB port at the back of the PM5 allows you to plug-in and download your workout data, making it easy to track your progress.
  • The flywheel design and nickel chain are hard wearing and provide a smooth, comfortable ride, and the chain can continue for years without needing to be oiled.

 

What’s not?

  • Can be separated into two parts, but the machine is still quite bulky once it’s been folded up and so may require a bigger space for storage.

Stamina: ATS Air Rower

The Stamina Air Rower is powered by air resistance too, and is often thought to be a high quality and extremely cost effective option for anyone looking for a rowing machine. The screen and programs are basic, but the frame is sturdy and will provide a good workout.

Specs:

  • Powered by air resistance
  • Multi-functional, monitor screen displays speed, distance, time and calories burned
  • Central rowing handle with chain belt
  • Large, adjustable footplates
  • Upholstered, padded seat and angled seat rail
  • Floor protectors
  • Compact and foldable, with built-in wheels for easy transportation

 

What’s good:

  • The Stamina ATS Air Rower is easy to assemble, with most customers putting it together in around 30 minutes.
  • Like the Concept2, it’s powered by air resistance, and so gives you a more dynamic workout that adjusts to the amount of effort you put in.
  • The angled seat rail makes for an easy seat return and smooth workout.
  • Stamina have used a chain rather than fabric to connect the handle to the mechanism on the ATS Air Rower, so it’s likely to last longer than other, fabric belts.
  • The machine’s included floor protectors make skidding less likely and protect your floor while you work out.
  • The machine is highly compact and portable, and can be folded away for easy storage.

 

What’s not:

  • The ATS Air Rower doesn’t have any damper setting options, so there is no way to adjust how the resistance feels during your workout.
  • The screen and programs are fairly basic, showing a limited number of stats (not including time/500m or split), with no option to save or look at workout history and no preset exercises.
  • Anyone over 6’4” may struggle to fully extend on the ATS Air Rower.
  • Some users have found the seat uncomfortable, especially during long workouts.

Stamina: Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine

The Body Trac is also made by Stamina, but instead of air resistance it employs adjustable, hydraulic resistance. The machine is made up of two, separate arms whose resistance can be adjusted, and occupies a small footprint. It would be best described as a very basic but easy to use machine which would be great for occasional, light workouts. 

Specs:

  • Powered by hydraulic resistance
  • Two, adjustable rowing arms
  • Monitor displays time, stroke count and calories burned
  • Adjustable footplates
  • Steel frame with sliding seat
  • Folds for easy storage

 

What’s good:

  • The Body Trac is very quiet, especially in comparison with an air resistance machine.
  • Resistance is adjustable and unique to each arm.
  • It’s small, compact and easy to use, making it great for lighter, occasional workouts in smaller spaces.

 

What’s not:

  • The Body Trac is a very basic machine and is unlikely to be suitable for anyone who practises rowing professionally or who needs a heavy workout.
  • Some users have experienced problems with the resistance of the Body Trac, reporting that it can become too easy to row after about 15 minutes of use.
  • It can be difficult to actually change the resistance of the Body Trac machine, especially when it comes to getting the correct balance across both levers.
  • Like the Stamina Air Rower, the Body Trac’s monitor screen is very basic, offering only a limited amount of stats, no workout history and no preset exercise programs.
  • Anyone over 6’4” may struggle to fully extend on the Stamina Body Trac.
  • The seat can be uncomfortable and feet may slip out.

Sunny Health & Fitness: SF-RW1205 12 Adjustable Resistance Rowing Machine

Another Sunny Health & Fitness machine, the SF-RW5515 is powered by magnetic resistance. Like the previous Sunny Health machine, it has one central rowing handle and a range of adjustable resistance levels, making it ideal for all levels.

Specs:

  • Powered by magnetic resistance
  • 8 resistance levels
  • Monitor display which shows time, stroke count (both per workout and across all workouts) and calories burned
  • Central rowing handle with nylon strap
  • Adjustable footplates

 

What’s good:

  • The magnetic resistance strikes a good balance, offering users a smooth, realistic and challenging workout while keeping noise down.
  • The SF-RW5515’s adjustable resistance levels give good room for growth, and mean the machine is suitable for beginners or experts. It’s also easy to adjust the level – you just have to turn a knob.
  • The machine is very comfortable, with a padded seat, large footbeds and non-slip handle.
  • Accommodates tall rowers, allowing full stretch for anyone up to 6’7”.

 

What’s not:

  • Rowers who are used to using air resistance models may find the magnetic resistance odd as it remains constant throughout the workout, rather than adjusting to the effort being put in.
  • Fairly basic monitor with no option to record distance rowed and no preset exercises. Some users also find the monitor’s text difficult to read.
  • If the machine isn’t packed away, it takes up quite a lot of space.

Sunny Health & Fitness: SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine

Another Sunny Health & Fitness machine, the SF-RW5515 is powered by magnetic resistance. Like the previous Sunny Health machine, it has one central rowing handle and a range of adjustable resistance levels, making it ideal for all levels.

Specs:

  • Powered by magnetic resistance
  • 8 resistance levels
  • Monitor display which shows time, stroke count (both per workout and across all workouts) and calories burned
  • Central rowing handle with nylon strap
  • Adjustable footplates

 

What’s good:

  • The magnetic resistance strikes a good balance, offering users a smooth, realistic and challenging workout while keeping noise down.
  • The SF-RW5515’s adjustable resistance levels give good room for growth, and mean the machine is suitable for beginners or experts. It’s also easy to adjust the level – you just have to turn a knob.
  • The machine is very comfortable, with a padded seat, large footbeds and non-slip handle.
  • Accommodates tall rowers, allowing full stretch for anyone up to 6’7”.

 

What’s not:

  • Rowers who are used to using air resistance models may find the magnetic resistance odd as it remains constant throughout the workout, rather than adjusting to the effort being put in.
  • Fairly basic monitor with no option to record distance rowed and no preset exercises. Some users also find the monitor’s text difficult to read.
  • If the machine isn’t packed away, it takes up quite a lot of space.

WaterRower: Natural Rowing Machine

The WaterRower Natural is made entirely from hardwood, making its appearance vastly different from the other rowers we’ve looked at; if you’re looking for a rower that looks good, this is the best by far. It’s powered by water too, but doesn’t sacrifice electronic features to achieve its natural finish.

Specs:

  • Powered by water resistance
  • Monitor displays workout intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, zone bar, duration, and distance.
  • Compatible with PC/laptop for additional features
  • Handcrafted from solid ash and honey oak
  • Central rowing handle
  • Compatible with heart rate monitor
  • Adjustable footplates
  • Can be stored upright

 

What’s good:

  • The water flywheel that powers the WaterRower Natural creates resistance in a similar way to air powered machines, meaning that it will adapt with you depending on how much power you put in.
  • The wooden makeup means this is probably one of the best looking machines available, and it will last too – there are no moving parts which will ever need lubricating or replacing.
  • The machine provides a smooth, stable and quiet ride, with the wood absorbing a lot of vibration and the water providing a gentle ‘whoosh’.
  • The option to plug your machine into a PC/laptop using the monitor provides a host of additional options. For example, you can track your boat on the larger screen, race a computer generated boat or even a past version of yourself. Plus, it allows you to store your workout data and can help you plan future sessions.
  • The seat is very comfortable, even for long workouts.

 

What’s not:

  • Those who are used to rowing on the water, or even air resistance rowers, may need some time to get used to the ride of the WaterRower Natural.
  • The monitor’s position makes it a litt difficult to reach.
  • The footplates are quite basic and may not be comfortable for tall people.