The Best Rowing Machines

By Carlen Oliveira

January 22, 2021

Rowing machines are one of the only exercise equipment systems that can give you a full-body workout. With each row that you push off with your legs, pull with your arms and stabilize with your core, you can engage all of your core muscle groups with each and every stroke. These machines are a great way to stay active, tone your muscles, work on your cardio — all at the same time.

When buying a rowing machine, it’s important to consider a few things. Do you have a lot of space for the machine? If not, maybe a foldable rower will suit you best. How loud can the machine be? If you live in an apartment, keep an eye out for quieter machines like magnetic rowers. Think about how much tech you want your machine to be equipped with and determine if the machine will be able to support your height and weight.

It's also important to know how many times a week you could possibly use it? It’s recommended that for the machine to really be worth its purchase and to give you the best fitness results, you should be using the machine around 3-4 times a week. If you foresee yourself using it that much, the next step is to find a style of machine that fits not only your budget, but your lifestyle as well.

We'll outline each style of rowers and what unique advantages they offer as well as highlight a variety of some of the best rowing machines to help guide you to a style that works best for you. Let's get started!

1. Editor's Pick: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine

ProsCons
  • Transportation wheels, foldable
  • Extra-long slide rail and wide seat
  • Non-slip handlebar and foot pedals
  • No warranty in Canada
  • Assembly required

Key Specs

Digital Monitor: Yes
Max User Weight: 250 lbs.
Resistance Levels8
Slide Rail Length: 121.9 cm
Slide Rail Inseam: 111.7 cm
Tension System: Magnetic
Item Weight:59 lbs.

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The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 magnetic rowing machine is perfect for at home workouts. It's a quiet machine that won't disturb your neighbours or family members. With its foldable base and transportation wheels, eight levels of adjustable resistance, a digital monitor, a stroke counter and calories burned, as well as a fully padded seat and large anti-slip foot pedals, this affordable rowing machine is perfect for the whole family.

2. Best Splurge Buy: Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Bluetooth Magnetic Rower

ProsCons
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Compatible for tall people
  • Versatile; option for extra exercises
  • Faulty display screen

Key Specs

Digital Monitor: Yes
Max User Weight: 250 lbs.
Resistance Levels14
Slide Rail Length: 39"
Slide Rail Inseam: N/A
Tension System: Magnetic
Item Weight:28.8 kg

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If you're the kind of person who loves extra features, this is a great rower. Outfitted with 14 levels of resistance, a large cushioned seat, LCD display screen, an extra wide grip handlebar and adjustable foot pedals, this machine is great for people of all sizes ranging from 4”9’ to 6”6’. It also holds a max weight of 250 lbs. Additionally, it comes with its own app that allows you to track your workouts through Bluetooth connectivity, and even has extra stabilizing front footpads to allow for additional exercises.

3. Best Water Rower: Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine

ProsCons
  • Non-slip handle and foot rest
  • Easy transportation and storage
  • Assembly required
  • May leak if overfilled
  • No warranty

Key Specs

Digital Monitor: Yes
Max User Weight: 136 kg.
Resistance Levels14
Slide Rail Length: 106 cm
Slide Rail Inseam: 96.5 cm
Tension System: Water
Item Weight: 92 lbs.

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Water rowers are great for people looking to recreate the feeling of gliding on water and even gives you a taste of the relaxing sound that accompanies rowing on water. The Obsidian Surge 500 gives rowers a smooth and steady workout with 16 fan blades to maximize resistance in the water tank. Its molded padded seat and high-density non-marking rubber wheels are perfect for easy transportation and can be stored upright when in use.

4. Best Hydraulic: Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine

ProsCons
  • Foldable
  • Molded ergonomic seat
  • Textured foot plates and strap
  • Assembly required
  • Large footbed; may be difficult for people with small feet

Key Specs

Digital Monitor: Yes
Max User Weight: 250 lbs.
Resistance LevelsN/A
Slide Rail Length: 46"
Slide Rail Inseam: N/A
Tension System: Hydraulic
Item Weight: 17.7 kg

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While offering the same physical results and general concept as the machines listed above, the Stamina Body Trac Glider gives users a unique experience by letting users row from the side of the machine, as opposed to the traditional front-rower models. Picture it as if you were holding on to two traditional boat oars. Made from an ultra-smooth ball-bearing rolling system and adjustable cylinder resistance, this compact machine has a one-year warranty and can be easily folded up and stored out of sight.

5. Best for Small Spaces: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine

ProsCons
  • Non-slip pedal and handlebar
  • LCD monitor
  • Meant for 10-minute bursts
  • Piston can overheat

Key Specs

Digital Monitor: Yes
Max User Weight: 250 lbs.
Resistance Levels12
Slide Rail Length: 73 cm
Slide Rail Inseam: 94 cm
Tension System: Hydraulic
Item Weight: 100 kg

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This rowing machine keeps things nice and simple. If you can’t be bothered by all the fancy bells and whistles of more expensive machines, this straightforward rowing machine is small and compact, and won’t take up a lot of your space. A hydraulic cylinder controls 12 levels of adjustable resistance, with a comfortable yet smooth running seat and adjustable, pivoting foot pedals is the perfect beginner or basic rowing machine.

6. Best Foldable: NordicTrack RW Rower

ProsCons
  • LCD monitor
  • iFit 1-year membership
  • Must be unplugged to turn off
  • Code need from NordicTrack to access iFit

Key Specs

Digital Monitor: Yes
Max User Weight: N/A
Resistance LevelsN/A
Slide Rail Length: N/A
Slide Rail Inseam: N/A
Tension System: Magnetic
Item Weight: 50 kg

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NordicTrack’s RW rower gives you all the durability and gadgets you could hope for in a rowing machine. When your workout is finished, simply fold up your machine for compact storage. Not only is this machine designed for comfort with soft ergonomic handles and pivoting pedals, but users can also access interactive personal training videos with an iFit trial membership that gives you studio workouts in the comfort of your own home.

4 Types of Rowing Machines

In addition to features and price, also keep in mind that there are different types of rowing machines. Narrowing down your options by sticking with the type of machine that you think would be best for you can make shopping for the right one a lot easier.

Air Rowers

This style of rower has been around since the 1980’s and is one of the most popular models for indoor rowing machines. Resistance is created when an internal flywheel — connected by a chain to a rowing handle — is pulled and rotates the flywheel, creating airflow over the wheel. The faster you row, the faster it will spin, creating more resistance. Often used by serious rowers for out of season training, this model closely replicates the feeling of rowing on water.

Advantages

  • Wide range of models
  • Smooth action
  • Mechanism gets little wear and tear over use

Disadvantages

  • Tend to be noisy, not ideal for indoor use

Water Rowers

This newer type of rower incorporates the use of small paddles that spin in a tank of water when handles are pulled. Similar to the air rowers, a chain is attached to handles as well as water flywheels, and rotates when pulled. This style has been said to give the most accurate feeling of rowing because of the constant resistance felt with the drag of the paddles in the tank of water. Water rowers have a reputation of being the most elegant style of rowing machines due to their unique wooden frames.

Advantages

  • Quiet, ideal for homeowners
  • Smooth, constant resistance in stroke
  • People enjoy “whoosh” sound created when used
  • Very little maintenance - change water bowl occasionally

Disadvantages

  • Larger than other styles
  • More expensive than other models

Magnetic Rowers

Magnetic rowers are one of the most popular styles for in-home use due to their quiet and compact structure. These machines allow you to change the level of resistance by using a mechanical slide or digitally through the attached console. This style has a smooth rowing action, and many magnetic models are also foldable, making it a great option for those with limited workout space.

Advantages

  • Almost silent machine
  • Wide range of resistance levels
  • Smaller builds than air or water models
  • Little maintenance required

Disadvantages

  • Doesn’t simulate rowing on the water

Hydraulic Rowers

The fourth and final type of rowing machine is not the most popular style on the market but also won’t cost you an arm and a leg. This machine uses pistons that are attached to handles and when pulled, move air or fluid inside of a cylinder. The level of resistance can be changed similar to magnetic rowers, controlled by moving a mechanical slide. This machine is good for those with smaller budgets and don’t have a lot of room to spare, as many versions of this model are also foldable.

Advantages

  • Low costs
  • Small, foldable
  • Quieter than air and flywheel machines

Disadvantages

  • Don’t have smooth rowing action
  • Resistance levels change when oil is heated
  • Require regular maintenance

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