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Exercise equipment buying guide

Rowing machine buying guide

By Jade Harding

Article 4 of 6

Our expert rowing machine buying guide reveals the health benefits of rowing machines, how to row correctly and our pick of popular rowing machines. 

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Indoor rowing machines can help you work almost all your muscle groups without having to go anywhere near a river or lake. But make sure you’re not spending more than you need to when investing in this versatile piece of equipment.

Whether you’re new to rowing or you’re a more seasoned rower looking for some out-of-water training, our research shows you don’t need to spend a fortune to get your hands on a model that will give you a great workout.

Below, we explain the benefits of using a rowing machine and reveal essential features and popular models.

If you're looking for a gentler workout, why not try a spot of yoga? Here’s everything you need to know on how to set up a home yoga studio.

In this article:

How to buy the best rowing machine for home use

When choosing your indoor rowing machine you’ll need to consider how much you’re willing to spend, the amount of space you have at home and which features are important to you.

First, decide on your budget. Cheaper machines can be a solid choice, but they can be noisy and typically don't use the realistic water-based resistance mechanism that higher-end models do (see Popular types of rowing machine). Spend more and you’ll typically get a longer-lasting machine with more resistance levels and smoother strokes.

Space is an important factor to consider when picking your rowing machine. They’re pretty bulky machines and you’ll need enough room at the back for your elbows, as well ensuring the fan doesn’t blow directly onto a wall.  

Our expert advice focuses on machines suitable for home use, so not all our recommendations will have the same features you might find on machines at the gym. Don’t worry, though, we’ve still found plenty of impressive models that will get those muscles working.   

Rowing machine benefits 

The rowing machine is one of the only pieces of exercise equipment that can help you exercise nearly every muscle group at the same time, giving you both an upper and lower body workout.

The major muscles in your shoulders, back, arms, legs, bottom and core all have to work together.

Other benefits include:

  • Low impact cardio – great for people with existing joint problems.
  • Weight loss – rowing burns around 600 to 1,000 calories an hour.
  • Increased strength and muscle tone – rowing works around 85% of your muscles.
  • Improve your posture – you have to sit upright to pull correctly.
  • Increased stamina – you can do either high intensity or long, steady workouts.  

Exercise bikes also offer a low impact workout - here's our exercise bike buying guide.

How much should you expect to pay for a rowing machine 

How much you’re willing to spend will dictate the type of rowing machine you’ll buy and the features you’ll be able to get.

Cheap rowing machines

You can get own-brand rowing machines, such as some from the Argos 'Opti' range, for less than £100. Check user reviews before you buy a budget rowing machine though – in some cases you might find the quality isn't great.  

If you are a rowing beginner it might be wise to spend a little less on a basic model to make sure you really enjoy it first. 

Mid-range rowing machines

Most mid-range rowing machines, costing between £100 and £750, will use either air or magnetic rather than the more high-tech water resistance (see Popular types of rowing machine). 

You'll get a few more features than on sub-£100 models, such as a selection of resistance options and pre-set programmes, but you typically won't get the durable, solid build or high-spec monitors and tracking capabilities available with high-end rowing machines.  

Some lower-priced machines also have shorter seat rails (the rails that the seat moves back and forward on as you row), so double check the measurements will allow your legs to straighten fully if you’re tall.

High-end rowing machines

If money isn’t an issue, you could easily pay £750 or more for a rowing machine.

For this price you’ll be able to get a sturdy machine that’s quiet, offers varying levels of resistance and a monitor that will track your workouts and display every exercise metric you can think of.

One of the most expensive rowing machines we’ve come across is the TechnoGym Skillrow (available direct from TechnoGym) which will set you back more than £3,000.

For this you’ll get both air and magnetic resistance so you can switch up training techniques. It also has a huge monitor that connects to an app on your phone, allows you to race against friends, take part in online coaching and set up individual user accounts to record your workouts and remember your preferences - great if you’re sharing the machine.

How much space do you need for a rowing machine? 

Rowing machines are one of the most space-consuming pieces of exercise equipment, measuring around 2.5m x 0.6m (8ft x 2ft), so you’ll need a good-sized space to work out in. 

Make sure you factor in room surrounding the machine for your arms and elbows, as well as room either side of the fan so it’s not blowing directly against the wall.

If you don’t have a dedicated gym area at home and need to store your rowing machine away between uses, you’ll need to make sure you have the space to move it around.

Some rowers will fold up for easier storage. Failing this, a rowing machine doesn't take up much space vertically when in use, so you may be able to prop it upright to fit it in a full-sized cupboard.

Where to buy a rowing machine 

Both generalist retailers and dedicated rowing shops offer a wide range of machines.

To make sure you're buying a rowing machine that's well built and safe to use, only shop with trusted sellers online or in-store.

Ideally, you'd try out a rowing machine in-store before buying, but if this isn’t possible, find out as much information about the machine as possible before investing.

For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty equipment, see our online shopping advice.

Popular shops that sell rowing machines include:

Discover the best online shops and websites to buy from, based on thousands of shoppers' experiences. 

Key rowing machine features and essential specifications 

  • Manual or electric – most rowing machines are manual and their displays run on a battery, but do double check. If it needs to be plugged in you’ll need space to work out near a plug socket.
  • Display monitor – nearly every rowing machine will show basic information such as time, distance, strokes, calories and rpm. But spending more will get you personalised options such as average intensity and split time.
  • Workout tracker – some smart rowing machines will connect to an app on your phone so you can record and track your fitness journey.  
  • Interactive coaching – to help with your rowing technique.
  • Pre-programmed workouts – the console will mimic different types of rowing to give variety or work on specific areas.
  • Foldable – great if you plan to put to keep your machine stowed away when you’re not using it.
  • Weight capacity – you used to have to pay a fortune for a high weight capacity rowing machine but now there are plenty of options for heavier users. Cheaper machines are likely to have a lower weight capacity.
  • Comfortable seat – check the seat is big enough for you to sit on comfortably. It should also be grooved or designed to conform with the shape of your body with plenty of cushioning.
  • Seat rail – if you’re over 6ft tall, make sure the seat rail is long enough otherwise you won’t be able to complete a full stroke.
  • Wheels – will help if you plan to regularly move your machine
  • Pedals – some will be fixed, while others will swivel to release pressure off your ankles
  • Handles – should feel fairly thick in your hands, with a foam grip.

Popular types of rowing machine 

Rowing machines use one (or occasionally more than one) of five difference resistance types. 

Hydraulic rowing machines

Hydraulic rowing machines get their tension from the air or fluid that's compressed in a piston which can be adjusted. 

The fixed handles of these machines only allow you to pull in a straight line, whereas most machines have handles attached to a wire that let you more naturally replicate the movement of moving oars into and out of the water. 

Pros

  • Great exercise for your upper body
  • Can be used as part of a multi-gym
  • Cheap and compact

Cons

  • Restricted movement limits the muscles you can work on
  • Focused more on building strength rather than offering a cardiovascular workout

Corded rowing machines 

Corded rowing machines get their resistance from elastic bands with varying tensions. The levels of resistance will depend on the machine. 

Pros

  • Tend to be cheaper than air, magnetic or water rowers
  • Can be used as part of a multi-gym
  • Great for beginners

Cons

  • Resistance won’t increase the harder or faster you pull, which can limit muscle gain

Magnetic resistance rowing machines

Magnetic resistance operates by moving a magnet closer or farther from a metal flywheel. The closer it is, the greater the resistance (you change the settings to increase or decrease resistance).

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Smooth strokes
  • Quieter than air resistance

Cons

  • Can be slightly heavier
  • Some need to be plugged in
  • Resistance won’t increase the harder or faster you pull, which can limit muscle gain

Air resistance rowing machines

Air rowing machines use the flywheel to generate resistance as you pull back. The resistance will become greater, the harder and faster you pull.

Pros

  • Replicates the experience of rowing on water more closely than magnetic resistance
  • Fairly lightweight
  • The console can be extremely accurate because it monitors the exact drag being given to the flywheel

Cons

  • Can be noisy
  • Variable resistance depending on rowing speed means they may be better suited to focused rowing sessions than a gentle row in front of the TV

Water resistance rowing machines

Water rowing machines are designed to emulate a boat moving through the water. The resistance is created through the water dragging through the tank.

Pros

  • Very realistic workout
  • Extremely quiet
  • Resistance increases the faster and harder you row

Cons

  • Typically very expensive

The WaterRower is the original water rowing machine. It's fairly pricey but you get a realistic stroke, it looks great and you can digitally record and store all your workout information. 

You can buy the WaterRower natural rowing machine at John Lewis, or see the entire range at the WaterRower website

Three popular rowing machine models 

We don't currently test rowing machines but Argos, V-fit and Concept2 are some of the most searched-for retailers for rowing machines at the time of writing. Below is a selection of different types and styles from those picks.

1. Argos Opti Hydraulic Rowing Machine

  • Price: £89.99
  • Type: Hydraulic resistance
  • Foldable? No
  • Size: Height 25cm, Length 138cm, Width 59cm

 

This budget hydraulic rowing machine from Argos comes with five resistance level settings and has pivoting foot pedals that should help ease tension on your ankles.

The basic console shows calories, stroke counter, distance, scan and time, and the machine is compact enough for those with limited space.

Opti offers other rowing machines, including a slightly pricier magnetic model.

2. V Fit Tornado Air rowing machine

  • Price: Around £390
  • Available from: Amazon
  • Type: Air resistance
  • Foldable? Yes
  • Size: Height 74cm, Length 212cm, Width 44cm

 

The foldable V Fit Tornado Air Power rower uses air resistance. This means the harder and faster you pull, the greater the resistance – great for those looking for a more intense workout and to build muscle.

The monitor feeds back basic information and the pedals pivot to help ease pressure on the ankles.

It's mid-range in terms of price, but don't expect lots of fancy features, and you might get a bit of noise off the flywheel.

3. Concept 2 Model D rowing machine

  • Price: £860
  • Available from: Currently out of stock at most retailers; you can join the waiting list on the Concept 2 website
  • Type: Air resistance
  • Foldable? Yes
  • Size: Height 113cm, Length 244cm, Width 61cm
 

Concept2 created the original rowing machine in 1981 and has now made one of the bestselling rowing machines; the Model D.

Used in gyms and homes, this foldable, air rower is built to handle intense, regular workouts and also comes with quite a few pre-programmed workouts and games.

You can even connect it to your smartphone so you can record and track your fitness journey.

Concept2 also sells Model E, which has all the features of Model D but allows for additional user height, as well as the Dynamic rowing machine designed to meet the training needs of a competitive rower.

How to use a rowing machine 

Rowing machines are great for working out but only if you use them correctly. Rowing with poor form will not only give you worse results, but can also cause injuries.

Stay safe and improve the effectiveness of your workouts with these rowing tips.

 

If space is too tight for a rowing machine, or you simply prefer walking or running to rowing, take a look at our treadmill buying guide

How we selected prices and retailers

Retailers and gym equipment chosen based on popular UK search terms and availability. Prices correct as of 17 April 2020 and obtained from manufacturer's own website where possible; otherwise, obtained from third-party retailers listed on Google Shopping.

When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission. This supports our not-for-profit mission to empower consumers and in no way affects our recommendations. Find out more.
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