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While the trusty treadmill still has a place in many homes, rowing machines offer a great alternative to getting fitter and stronger with minimal impact on your joints.
In fact, rowing is one of the best core-strengthening activities you can do, as the fluid forward and back motion works like a sit-up and engages the entire midsection of the body, including your abdominal and back muscles.
Studies also show that rowing up to five days a week can significantly lower body fat and cholesterol levels. Plus, a Harvard Health report reveals that, when compared to other cardio activities such as running, biking and using a cross trainer or elliptical machine, indoor rowing burns around 369 calories in a vigorous, 30-minute workout, making it an effective activity to stay fit and in shape.
Rowing has many other benefits too:
- It offers a full-body workout
- It’s a great cardio exercise and helps to strengthen the lungs and heart
- It targets upper body muscles such as the chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps
- It strengthens and tones the glutes, quads and calf muscles
- It improves flexibility
- It’s suitable for all fitness levels
- It’s time-efficient
- The machine allows you to control movement and pace
Rowing machines are also fast becoming a favourite among Mumsnetters with one user, GinnieHempstock saying, “We have an exercise bike and a rowing machine. Both are great, but the rowing machine is my favourite as it’s good for working all areas of your body.” Another Mumsnetter, toolonglurking, agrees, adding, “Once you get the hang of it, you'll be amazed how far you can go. Rowing is fantastic exercise!”
Whether you’re a fitness newbie or seasoned exerciser, rowing is ideal for all ages and fitness levels. However, it’s important to pick the right rowing machine, ideally one that has a comfortable seat, fitted foot plates and a smooth slide rail.
The good news is that there’s a wide variety of good-quality rowing machines available. You can choose from magnetic, water, air or hydraulic rowers. Some machines also use a combination of magnetic and air resistance to offer a challenging, dynamic workout.
When compiling our recommendations, we spent hours on the Mumsnet forums to find the rowing machines that our users really rate. We also read multiple consumer and expert reviews, as well as exercise guides and studies on rowing. We considered the type of rowing mechanism in each machine and looked at factors such as size and style, ease of use, value for money and overall quality, which was a top priority. Poor-quality rowing machines can have a negative impact on rowing technique, making it harder to row, which raises the risk of injury.
With all this in mind, we’ve found the very best rowing machines out there to help you revolutionise your workouts from the comfort of your own living room.
1. Best overall rowing machine: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower with PM5 Monitor
Price: £860 | Buy now from Amazon
“You can't go wrong with a Concept2 rower, but they aren't cheap.” (Rated by Mumsnet user Emmathedilemma)
“The Concept2 is an excellent machine and splits in two - very easy for storage if necessary. We love ours.” (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user BuggerOffAndGoodDayToYou)
Concept2 is a name that’s synonymous with rowing and for good reason. The brand has its roots firmly in the sport of rowing, dating back to 1976 when the founders began making quality oars that Olympic rowers continue to use to this day.
Concept2’s indoor rowing machines are just as impressive, having won accolades as the best rowing machines in the world. The Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower has also received high praise among Mumsnetters on our forums.
This air resistance rowing machine offers a smooth feel with every stroke and is quieter than some of the other air rowers out there (although still noisier than a water rower would be), plus it has adjustable footrests and ergonomic handles.
But what truly sets it apart is the Performance Monitor 5 which offers reliable data to take your rowing sessions to the next level. The backlit monitor displays everything from distance, speed and pace to calories burned and watts used for each workout.
We also like that you can access preset workouts and save your favourites or connect to a wide range of wireless devices including the brand’s own app, ErgData, to accurately track your progress by uploading your results to a logbook on your smartphone.
- Built to last
- Can quickly and easily adjust resistance
- Separates into two for easy storage
- Includes castor wheels to make it mobile
- Some say the seat is too hard
- The machine is quite bulky
- The air resistance makes it a little noisy
- Resistance: Air rowing machine
- Size: 244cm x 61cm x 36cm
- Max user weight: 226kg
- Folding: Yes, can split in two
2. Best budget rowing machine: Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5639 Full Motion Rowing Machine
Price: £159.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“I always think a rowing machine gives you the most bang for your buck.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user Spodge)
Want to test whether you’ll enjoy rowing and reap the rewards from this type of workout? Then the Sunny Health & Fitness Full Motion Rowing Machine is a good choice.
This sturdy steel hydraulic rower has two full-motion arms that work like oars to simulate a rowing action without the need for a flywheel, while the wide seat and non-slip grip handlebars provide additional comfort as you move.
The anti-slip footrests have adjustable foot straps to fit a large variety of foot sizes and, although it’s lightweight and compact in design, this rower offers plenty of leg stretch with enough room behind you as you pull.
Be aware that the simple display unit only shows time, calories burned and total rowing count, which isn’t ideal if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of your workout. And if you want to store your machine away, bear in mind that it doesn’t fully fold, although it’s incredibly easy to move around and its arms do lay flat.
- Easy to use
- Simple to assemble
- Changing resistance isn’t seamless
- Can slide a little on the floor
- Only suited to beginners
- Resistance: Hydraulic rowing machine
- Size: 132.6cm x 72.9cm x 30cm
- Max user weight: 160kg
- Folding: No - only the arms lay flat
3. Best innovative rowing machine: Topiom Rowing Machine
Price: £637.49 | Buy now from Amazon
“We wanted a rowing machine to be in the living room and to be able to watch TV easily without disturbing others. So we got a water rower, which we’re happy with, but limits the data sharing you can do compared with the Concept2." (Rated by Mumsnet user Phox)
It’s clear that style and comfort are top priorities for the manufacturers of the Topiom Rowing Machine. Not only could it pass as a piece of high-end furniture in your living room, it also comes with a comfortable 3D ergonomic seat, which is ideal for longer workouts. The aluminium rails are corrosion-resistant to provide a consistently smooth rowing experience every time.
Unlike air rowers which use air flow as momentum to drive the machine, this water rower has a water tank with internal paddles that spin as you row. As such, the machine relies solely on your own strength to work as your speed is dependent on the level you can maintain throughout the session. This provides a more efficient workout.
Another great feature is the LCD screen which displays key metrics such as total strokes, distance, total time and calories burned. Plus, this rower is compatible with both the FitShow and KinoMap apps, which offer excellent structured workouts.
However, its top selling point is that it’s incredibly quiet and simple to use. Although it can’t fold for easy storage, it has transport wheels and can stand against a wall or behind a door once your workout is finished.
- Sleek and stylish
- Has an adjustable angle
- Energy-efficient – no need to plug into the mains
- Offers a quieter, more tranquil sound than an air rowing machine
- Includes transport wheels
- Can take a while to assemble
- Requires a little more upkeep than an air rower
- Doesn’t fold
- Arrives in two separate pieces which are delivered separately
- Resistance: Water rowing machine
- Size: 210cm x 56cm x 51cm
- Max user weight: 180kg
- Folding: No
4. Best compact rowing machine: ProForm R 750 Rowing Machine
Price: £799 | Buy now from John Lewis & Partners
Didn’t think you had the space to keep a rowing machine at home? Well, it’s possible with the ProForm R 750 Rowing Machine thanks to its lightweight, foldable frame and sleek design.
Fitted with magnetic resistance that auto-adjusts between 24 levels, the flywheel allows you to experience a smooth, steady rowing stroke with minimal jarring as it doesn’t have fans with air pumping through it. Fewer gears and moving parts also mean noise levels are kept to a minimum, which is ideal if you want to sneak in a workout during your child’s naptime.
This rower comes with 20 preset programmes so there’s no risk of boredom sneaking in midway through your workout. If that’s not enough, the ProForm R 750 is also compatible with iFit, a virtual personal training programme which offers live coaching sessions and workouts from beautiful locations all around the world.
Plus, the LCD console has a built-in mount for tablets or phones should you wish to stream your favourite podcast or series, and we like that the angle can be adjusted to suit your height and preference.
When it comes to tracking your workout, the console has basic, but useful functions including resistance levels, calories burned, time, strokes per minute and distance plus an interval button to ramp up your workout.
- Compact and lightweight
- Has multi-position adjustable handlebars
- Good value for money
- Easily folds in half - it’s the best folding rowing machine we’ve found
- Comfortable, ergonomic seat
- Cushioned handlebars
- Fabric strap rather than chain makes it even quieter
- Speakers are clear with good sound
- iFit Live subscription fee isn’t included
- Low max weight capacity
- Velcro foot straps aren’t as adjustable as buckle straps
- Resistance: Magnetic rowing machine
- Size: 116cm x 55cm x 218cm
- Max user weight: 160kg
- Folding: Yes
5. Best value rowing machine: Domyos Essential 120 Rowing Machine
Price: £249.99 | Buy now from Decathlon
The Domyos Essential 120 Rowing Machine is by far the best value for money in terms of quality, storage benefits and ease of use, making it ideal for beginners who are just looking for a simple, yet effective workout.
We like the rower’s straightforward assembly as it can be set-up in 30 minutes by two people. Although it’s not the most feature-packed machine, it has everything you need for a comfortable ride and offers five resistance levels, with level five promising a challenging workout.
While rowing, the large LCD console measures your stroke rate per minute and the total number of strokes, plus distance covered, calories burned, total workout time and 500 metre split estimates. It also has a handy phone stand which extends large enough to accommodate an iPad.
In addition to this rower, manufacturers suggest purchasing the Domyos Gym Floor Mat to ensure the machine stays put while protecting your floors and reducing overall noise levels.
- Good value for money
- Quick, simple fold and unfold with locking system
- Easy to use
- Includes a comprehensive assembly video available on Decathlon
- More suitable for beginners - not ideal for experienced rowers
- Can be noisy
- Max user weight is low
- Doesn’t have preset workouts
- Resistance: Magnetic rowing machine
- Size: 184cm x 65cm x 51,5cm
- Max user weight: 130kg
- Folding: Yes
6. Best quiet rowing machine: Gearstone Foldable Rowing Machine
Price: £343.24 | Buy now from Amazon
Rowing machines aren’t usually the quietest pieces of home gym equipment, but the Gearstone Foldable Rowing Machine is the exception thanks to new technology that enables the magnetic resistance flywheel to operate silently.
The fabric strap and ergonomic handles allow you to perform a few standing upper-body moves such as bicep curls and overhead tricep extensions, and the machine has eight resistance levels, which is more than enough for a solid workout.
After folding, this 10kg machine only needs 0.25 square metres of floor space, plus it can be moved easily, making it a great choice for smaller homes.
The clear LCD screen displays time, calories burned, the number of strokes you can do and total number of strokes at the end of your workout. The power also turns off automatically when there’s no movement for four minutes. The only downside to this rower is that it only accommodates a maximum weight of 120kg, so it’s not ideal for heavier or taller people.
- Sturdy frame
- Silent magnetic flywheel
- Easy to fold and store
- Anti-skid foot pedals
- Noticeable difference between resistance levels
- Can’t see all metrics at once on the screen
- Seat can rattle if not assembled properly
- Not compatible with apps or virtual workouts
- Resistance: Magnetic rowing machine
- Size: 191.5cm x 48.1cm x 58.4cm
- Max user weight: 120kg
- Folding: Yes
7. Best magnetic resistance rowing machine: NordicTrack RW700
Price: £1,199 | Buy now from Amazon
Another popular brand among fitness enthusiasts, NordicTrack knows a thing or two about producing good-quality home workout equipment, and their RW700 rower is another star player.
Yes, it’s pricey, but this rowing machine has 26 silent magnetic resistance levels, plus 10 adjustable air resistance levels, which is more than many other rowing machines on the market. The combination of air and magnetic resistance also offers a unique and dynamic workout that best matches an outdoor rowing experience.
The NordicTrack RW700 has dual speakers for clear surround sound and an innovative adjustable console with an incredibly large LCD screen, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in your workout.
But the standout feature of this rowing machine is, of course, the smart HD touch screen with on-demand iFit workouts, live personal training sessions and fun global virtual sessions, plus the metrics you need to take note of including total calories burned, training time, strokes and distance.
We also like the oversized pivoting pedals for easy movement as you row as well as the ergonomic gliding seat and unique SpaceSaver design that enables the rower to fold into itself for easy and compact upright storage. NordicTrack have clearly thought of everything with this machine.
- Has both air and magnetic resistance for a unique workout
- Mimics the outdoors
- Includes a 30-day iFit family membership
- Wide variety of resistance levels
- Large, clear LCD touch screen
- Easy to fold and store
- Fiddly to put together
- Quite heavy to move
- Resistance: Magnetic and air rowing machine
- Size: 221cm x 56cm x 120cm
- Max user weight: 115kg
- Folding: Yes
8. Best rowing machine for a full-body workout: JLL R200 Luxury Home Rowing Machine
Price: £239.99 | Buy now from Amazon
“We have an exercise bike and a rowing machine. Both are great, but the rowing machine is my favourite and is good for working all areas of your body.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user GinnieHempstock)
“My view is that for all-round cardio and full-body work, a rowing machine is hard to beat.” (Rated by Mumsnet user IrkedEssex)
Most rowing machines provide a full-body workout, but the JLL R200 Luxury Home Rowing Machine offers a particularly effective one thanks to the foam padded, non-slip handlebars and wider belt drive that’s designed to support your arms with a fuller range of motion as you row.
The smooth gliding mechanism of the seat gives your legs and arms a fuller range of motion as you pull back, plus the seat itself is fitted with extra wheels underneath to provide a seamless movement.
The console on this rowing machine isn’t particularly fancy, but it has six key data features including total strokes, calories burned, strokes per minute, kilometres covered, stroke count and time, plus 10 levels of magnetic resistance. The machine is also surprisingly compact when folded up and is easy enough for one person to lift and store, however it only supports a maximum user weight of 100kg.
- Foam padded seat and handle
- Wide foot seats
- Easy to use monitor
- Woven strap with Velcro fastener offers more stability for feet
- Built-in transport wheels for easy storage
- Has a low maximum user weight
- May not be suited for people over 6ft
- Lower resistance settings may be too easy for some
- Very basic console
- Resistance: Magnetic rowing machine
- Size: 180cm x 52cm x 49cm
- Max user weight: 100kg
- Folding: Yes
Is it safe to row every day?
Because rowing is a low-impact activity that isn’t jarring on the muscles and joints, it’s safe to practise daily. However, how hard and how much you row very much depends on your base strength and fitness level. It’s always a good idea to listen to your body and start off slowly to allow yourself the time to build up stamina.
Rowing at a low to moderate intensity can be practised daily, provided you row with good form and technique which means engaging both your legs and arms, avoiding slouching over the handlebars, etc. You may want to practise high intensity rowing every other day to allow both your upper and lower body to recover between sessions.
What muscles does a rowing machine work?
According to Live Science, rowing is a full-body workout that recruits around 86% of all the major muscle groups with every stroke. You’ll feel this straight away after rowing for just five minutes.
A single session on a rowing machine will target your glutes, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps as well as your entire core region including your upper and lower abdominals and back muscles. Every push and pull motion works the arms, biceps, triceps, chest and shoulders too.
What type of rowing machine is best?
Most rowing machines provide a good amount of resistance for your full-body workout, but the model you choose depends on your lifestyle (such as where you live), your budget and personal preferences.
Air resistance rowing machine: While air rowers can be noisy, they’re the most popular choice for most commercial gyms as they pack a pretty powerful punch when it comes to resistance and therefore workload. Air rowers generate resistance through air flowing in and around the internal flywheel.
The faster and harder you pull, the more resistance you’ll feel. Pretty simple. Air rowers offer a smooth push/pull motion and generally offer a wide range of resistance levels. They’re also good value for money as the air offers little wear and tear on the mechanism.
Water rowing machine
As the name suggests, water rowers utilise water resistance through a circular shaped drum (or paddles) at the end of the machine in place of the flywheel. The paddles are connected to a chain and handles so, when you pull back, the paddles revolve in the water which creates a drag. Many users agree that this rower best simulates the feeling of rowing on water and has a tranquil sound even though you’re working up a sweat.
Water rowers are often quieter than air rowers and offer an even smoother push/pull motion - a big plus if you live in a flat or house with close neighbours, or you’re keen on working out in your living room while the family watches TV.
They’re also energy-efficient as there’s no need to plug the machine into the mains. While they do look stylish, water rowing machines tend to be more expensive than other types of rowing machines thanks to the sleek wood materials and high-quality components used. Because the water also needs changing occasionally, water rowers do require a bit of maintenance.
Magnetic rowing machine
These models use magnets that move past each other and work like brakes as they move closer or further away from the flywheel to generate the resistance you need while rowing. Resistance levels are either adjusted manually with sliders or digitally through the centre console.
Like water rowers, these machines are also a little quieter than air rowers and more compact too. Many models can be folded and stored away which is convenient if you don’t have the space for your rower to sit in your living room or stand upright against the wall.
One thing to note with magnetic rowers is that they’re not responsive and won’t suddenly increase (or decrease) in resistance the harder or softer you pull and row. Rather, the resistance is set based on the level you choose when you start. Magnetic rowers are durable and don’t require much maintenance.
Hydraulic rowing machine
These are smaller, cheaper models than conventional rowing machines, however they still offer a decent full-body workout, which makes them an appealing choice if you’re integrating a rowing machine into an already-established home gym.
Hydraulic rowers, also called piston rowers, have pistons attached to the handlebars that you push and pull (in an upwards and downwards motion) to generate resistance. In other words, you’re effectively pulling against fluid or air that sits inside the cylinders within the piston.
The downside to these rowers is that they don’t offer the same smooth, fluid motion as some of the other conventional rowing machines but they are quieter than air rowers and easier to move and store thanks to their compact size.
How do I choose the best rowing machine?
When choosing a rowing machine for your at-home fitness regime, the most important question to ask yourself is: ‘What do I want to get out of my rowing experience?’
Are you looking for a simple machine that allows you to just row without all the bells and whistles such as online challenges or virtual communities? Or are you looking for a responsive, interactive machine that accurately depicts all your workout data in real, live time?
You’ll also need to consider if this will be your only piece of workout equipment at home (in which case, it has big shoes to fill) or are you using your rower as part of a circuit routine along with your cross trainer and/or treadmill?
Here are a few other important factors to consider:
The resistance mechanism
As mentioned above, there are four different types of rowing machine, all with different resistance mechanisms. These include water rowers, magnetic rowers, air rowers and hydraulic or piston rowers. The type you choose will depend on your budget (air and water rowers tend to be pricier than magnetic and hydraulic rowers) as well as the type of resistance you’re looking for.
With air rowers like the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower, as you row harder the resistance goes up automatically. Many air rowers also come with damper settings which is a lever on the side that allows more air into the flywheel. The more air there is, the harder the resistance will feel as it increases the drag on the flywheel.
With water rowers, the resistance stays even unless you manually add or remove water from the tank. How hard you pull also makes no difference when it comes to the resistance on a magnetic or hydraulic rower as the resistance is preset before you start using the resistance settings.
Design and comfort
When considering which rowing machine to purchase, you’ll want to look at the handlebars, foot plates and seat and ask yourself questions like: Are the handlebars plastic or made with a softer textured grip?
Do the foot plates have secure fastening straps and are they sitting lower than the handlebars or more level? Foot plates that sit lower than the handlebars allow you to bend over a little more when bending your knees.
Next, does the seat have additional padding and is it wide or narrow? The type of machine will also play a role in your overall comfort and ease of use. For example, air and water rowers accommodate a range of different heights but are particularly comfortable for taller people, whereas hydraulic machines are lightweight and more compact, making them a better choice for smaller, shorter people.
Even though they’re not the cheapest piece of home gym equipment out there, the good news is that most indoor rowing machines are robust and built to last long-term. The wood base on a water rower ensures it’s sturdy and stable, whereas other models are made of metal with stainless steel parts. Although lightweight and compact, hydraulic rowers are also made of solid, durable steel that can be used multiple times without a problem.
As with any piece of home gym equipment, the more features the machine has, the heftier the price tag. If you’re keen to just row and track basic metrics such as exercise time, distance and calories burned, then a standard display screen is what you’re after. Some of the latest models such as the Concept2 have large LCD touch screens with wireless connectivity and features like surround sound speakers so you can fully immerse yourself in the activity while tracking your progress online. There’s also the option to join rowing communities and participate in online challenges through various rowing apps.
Size, storage and portability
While water rowers are often stylish enough to blend in with your living room décor, they often come as one solid unit and don’t fold, which makes them heavier and trickier to move versus other types of rowing machines such as magnetic or air rowers. However, it’s worth noting that most rowing machines, regardless of the type you choose, can be stored upright against a wall or in a corner.
Hydraulic rowers have been specifically designed to fit into smaller spaces and work well in flats or apartments. This is because of their lighter build and smaller dimensions. Make sure to check whether your rowing machine has transport wheels, which will make moving the machine a much easier task.
Value for money
If you want your rowing workouts to feel like the real deal, then it’s worth investing in a quality machine that’ll last for years. Some of the high-end rowing machines on the market are designed to mimic the real feel of water, giving you workouts that are both fun and challenging. Choosing a more budget-friendly option may mean more maintenance of the machine, less features and a slightly uncomfortable ride (think hard plastic seat versus a wider, padded seat).
Do I need a rowing machine mat?
If you’re planning on using your rowing machine on a tiled or hard wooden floor, a protector mat (the price of which ranges from £5 to £50) is advised to reduce unnecessary noise, shaking or shifting. It also helps to protect your floor from marks or scratches. However, there’s no need to use a mat if your machine is on a carpet or rug unless you want additional stability.
What is the best rowing machine?
It’s rare to find a lightweight, foldable rowing machine that’s also stable and durable, but the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower is all that and more. While it’s not cheap, it’s certainly a good investment as it’s been designed to last decades and deliver a smooth, consistent row every time you train. As such, it’s the best rowing machine on the market right now.
The PM5 performance monitor is concise, easy to use and navigate, and geared towards the ultimate virtual rowing experience. The flywheel is also very responsive to the effort you put in, offering a dynamic workout that best simulates rowing outdoors.
While the air resistance may make this machine a little noisy, you can’t fault its ergonomic design and features such as the adjustable footrests, non-slip handles and wide, comfortable seat.
How we chose our recommendations
Because we know that there’s nothing like a real recommendation from a real person (especially when it comes to exercise equipment), we first headed to the Mumsnet forums to find out which rowing machines discerning Mumsnet users had bought for themselves.
We then did extensive research across the wider web, looking at which rowing machines had won accolades or been featured in ‘best buy’ lists across websites and print media, and what customer reviews said about them, specifically relating to value for money, durability, ease of use and overall design.
Having collated all that information, we picked the best rowing machines we thought would make the best buys in several interest categories. We also took the various resistance mechanisms into account when compiling our list as this has a direct impact on the effectiveness of the workout and overall enjoyment of the machine.
Why you should trust us
We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.
Main image credit: NordicTrack