Whether you’re looking to add a piece of equipment to your home gym or are in search of a single machine that will provide a full-body workout without taking up too much space, a rower is a solid choice. Rowing has long been favored by people looking for a full-body workout that’s cardio-heavy yet low impact. This means that you’re not putting large amounts of stress on your joints, giving you less of a chance of sustaining an injury. This makes rowing a safe and effective workout for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities. 

When it comes to purchasing a rowing machine, there are a lot of factors to consider. Air resistance or magnetic resistance? Water resistance or hydraulic resistance? Hi-tech features or just the basics? Built-in workouts or flying, er, rowing solo? Fear not, dear reader, we are here to answer all of your rowing-related questions and steer you in the right direction. 

So what exactly is a rowing machine?

Simply put, a rowing machine mimics the effects of rowing on the water. This is achieved by using different types of resistance. 

When it comes to rower resistance, there are four types to consider: air, magnetic, water, and hydraulic. While each type of rower exercises the same muscle groups, there are a few major differences to consider before making a purchase. 

Air resistance rowing machines

With an air resistance rower, the machine uses a flywheel to generate air resistance as you pull your body. So the harder and faster you pull, the harder the resistance or “drag” becomes. This creates a workout that mimics the sensation of rowing on the open water. Air rowers are favored by Olympians and professional athletes alike. So if you’re looking to go pro or at least train like one, an air rower is your best bet. 

Magnetic resistance rowing machines

With a magnetic rower, the user sets the desired resistance by moving a magnet closer or further away from the flywheel. Air resistance rowers tend to be louder than magnetic resistance rowers, so if you live with others or find yourself easily distracted, a magnetic resistance rower may be a better fit. 

Water resistance rowing machines

Water rowing machines use water resistance to create what some say is the smoothest stroke. These rowers are typically made of wood and feature a large water tank at the front of the machine. There are no resistance settings on water rowers, meaning that in order to feel more resistance, you have to row faster. The level of water in the tank is controlled by the user and represents the weight of the boat and its captain. If you want a heavier boat, you add more water to the tank. If you want a lighter boat, you add less water to the tank. Across the board, water rowers have the most basic type of monitors. No live workout classes or Olympic champion instructors to keep you motivated here. But perhaps you’re more of a meditative type who prefers the lapping of the water to lull you into a methodical rowing trance. If that’s you, go the water route.

Hydraulic resistance rowing machines

The hydraulic resistance rowing machine is the most basic of rowers. Hydraulic rowers get their name from the very system that makes them run: a hydraulic cylinder. These machines rely on a cylinder filled with oil or air that a piston runs through. Resistance is created when the piston, which has an attachment connecting it to the arms of the rowers, moves in and out of the cylinder as you row. The great thing about hydraulic rowers is that they’re usually on the cheaper end of the spectrum. They also tend to be smaller machines, typically weighing no more than 60 pounds with a length of no more than 5 feet. 

If you’re a bigger person, a hydraulic rower won’t allow you to fully extend. However, hydraulic rowers offer more flexibility when it comes to the arms of the machine. So if giving your arms range of motion is important to you, a hydraulic machine may be your best bet. 

What type of monitor do I need?

The type of monitor you’ll need depends on the type of workout you want. Do you want to be rolling on the virtual river with a community of athletes? Or are you more of a lone rower who prefers a solitary session sans technology? 

The monitors on magnetic rowers typically offer more options than those on air rowers. Similarly to a treadmill or an elliptical, you can choose from a variety of preset workouts. This is a great feature for anyone who doesn’t want to think too hard about their workout. 

Regardless of the type of machine you chose, even the most basic monitor will include preset HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts that will have you engaging not only the muscles in your arms but in your legs, back, and core too. 

Can you get in shape just by rowing?

Rowing uses almost every muscle in your body and can seriously kick up your heart rate, meaning you’ll get a total body workout every time you hop on the rowing machine. Row for 30 minutes a day and you’ll definitely start to see changes in your body with areas looking more toned and firm.

A rowing workout targets your arms, legs, back, and core. It’s an all-in-one type of workout machine that can integrate into any fitness routine. Just consult YouTube first to make sure you’ve got the proper form if you’re a newbie — your workout won’t do much for you if you aren’t doing it correctly.

But which rowing machine is the best?

As with any major equipment purchasing decision, there are several factors to take into consideration. Lucky for you, there are tons of rowing machines out there at a variety of price points and sizes. We’ve done most of the work for you (you can thank us later), so we can get you off the computer and onto your rower in no time. So whether you’re just starting out or looking to take your workout up a notch, we’ve compiled this list of the top rowers on the market based on both user and expert reviews. 

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Image: NordicTrack

The Good

Quiet • Smooth • Includes a one-year iFit membership • 26 resistance levels • Google Maps integration • Bluetooth audio

The Bad

Some users have said that the customer service is unreliable

The Bottom Line

This is a top-performing rower for anyone who loves taking classes and is looking to kick their workout into high gear.

NordicTrack RW600 Rowing Machine

NordicTrack provides a high-quality rower that utilizes air and magnetic resistance and offers tons of added features.

  • Resistance Type:
    Magnetic and air
  • Assembled Dimensions:
    86.5″ L x 22.0″ W x 42.8″ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    90 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    250 lbs
As a well-known exercise brand, NordicTrack really delivers with the RW600 rowing machine. The monitor is a 10-inch tablet preset with 30 workout apps. With 26 resistance levels, two large speakers, on-demand rowing workouts, and live interactive workouts where your resistance is controlled by your trainer, the NordicTrack RW600 gives you the feel of being in a workout class while in the comfort of your home.

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Image: Hydrow

The Good

Large monitor • 500 pre-programmed workouts • WiFi and Bluetooth compatibility • Once you’ve completed 60 workouts, Hydrow will make a donation in your name to Water.org

The Bad

Upright storage kit sold separately • Expensive • Membership not included

The Bottom Line

While this rower will definitely set you back a stroke or two, the quality of the machine and the inclusive community make it worth the splurge.

Hydrow rower

Serious athletes who love switching up their routine and being part of a community will love the Hydrow.

  • Resistance Type:
    Magnetic
  • Assembled Dimensions:
    86″ L x 25″ W x 47″ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    145 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    350 lbs
Described as the “Peloton of rowers,” Hydrow is a great choice for the serious rower. It offers a comprehensive list of features including computer-controlled resistance, ergonomically designed seating for a smooth and comfortable workout, as well as a variety of stunning visuals and realistic sound effects to help give you that “on the water” feeling. New live workouts are added daily to help keep your routine fresh and exciting. The 22-inch HD rotating screen and front-facing speakers make for the most comfortable and immersive workout experience. 

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Image: stamina

The Good

Lightweight • Quiet • Stores easily • Affordable

The Bad

No memory capacity • No screen for workout classes

The Bottom Line

A great option for beginners or anyone looking to up their cardio without shelling out an arm and a leg.

Stamina magnetic rowing machine 1110

This magnetic rower is great for small spaces and small budgets alike.

  • Assembled Dimensions:
    60’’ L x 22’’ W x 27’’ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    45 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    250 lbs
  • Resistance Type:
    Magnetic
As a budget option, the simple yet effective Stamina magnetic rower is hard to beat. It offers eight levels of magnetic resistance (determined by how hard you row), a small workout monitor that tracks total strokes, strokes per minute, total distance, workout time, distance, and calories, and built-in wheels for easy portability and storage. The downside is that the display won’t track your progress, so you’ll have to do that on your own.

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Image: xterra

The Good

Lightweight frame • Smooth stroke • Feels like being on the water • Easy to store

The Bad

When the water tank is full it’s heavy and difficult to move • No Bluetooth compatibility • A bit pricey

The Bottom Line

This machine will have you feeling like you’re actually outside rowing.

XTERRA ERG650W water rowing machine

This is a sleek and durable rower for anyone looking to recreate that “on the water” sensation.

  • Resistance Type:
    Water
  • Assembled Dimensions:
    79.5″ L x 20.7” W x 33.9″ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    76 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    350 lbs
The XTERRA ERG650W water rower comes with an easy to fill water tank for a realistic rowing experience. This machine offers six levels of resistance and a modest-sized LCD screen that displays total time, total strokes, strokes per minute, distance, calories, pulse, drag force, and watts. Some of the preset workouts include quick start and a variety of race options like 2000M, 5000M, 10000M, 30:00, and 500M/1:00 rest. To make up for the basic monitor, the ERG650W comes with a tablet holder so you can stream while you row.

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Image: sunny health & fitness

The Good

Eight levels of resistance • Extra-long adjustable slide rail • Foldable

The Bad

Reviewers reported the calorie counter being off • The handlebar isn’t as wide as some users would like

The Bottom Line

Overall, this rower gets the job done and is durable without putting too much of a dent in your wallet.

Sunny Health & Fitness magnetic rowing machine

This mid-range rower combines great features with a good price.

  • Resistance Type:
    Magnetic
  • Assembled Dimensions:
    78″ L x 19.1″ W x 23.2″ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    60.9 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    250 lbs
For a relatively low price, the Sunny Health & Fitness magnetic rowing machine has plenty of features including eight levels of adjustable magnetic resistance. Its LCD panel displays time, count, calories, total count, and scan. The rower has an extra-long 48-inch slide rail to accommodate rowers of nearly any height.  

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Image: circuit fitness

The Good

Quiet • Foldable • Adjustable length suitable for short and tall people • Moves smoothly

The Bad

No off button for display • Seat is hard and can get uncomfortable

The Bottom Line

The Circuit Fitness rower is a powerful machine that can accommodate a wide range of users.

Circuit Fitness foldable magnetic rowing machine

This extra-long rowing machine has plenty of room to stretch your legs.

  • Resistance Type:
    Magnetic
  • Assembled Dimensions:
    91″ L x 20.5″ W x 31.5″ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    90 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    300 lbs
The Circuit Fitness rower is pretty long, but its foldable design cuts that length almost in half for easier storage. The rowing machine’s LCD tracks speed, distance, time, calories burned, strokes per minute, date, and ambient temperature. An 11-pound flywheel offers eight levels of resistance.

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Image: sunny health & fitness

The Good

Good for short people • More shoulder mobility • Compact

The Bad

Resistance wasn’t enough for some reviewers • Foot straps are a bit loose for some people

The Bottom Line

Get an extra shoulder workout you won’t find with most other rowing machines.

Sunny Health & Fitness full motion rowing machine

With a straightforward and compact design, this rower takes up minimal space.

  • Resistance Type:
    Hydraulic
  • Assembled Dimensions:
    52.2″ L x 28.7″ W x 11.8″ H
  • Assembled Weight:
    35.8 lbs
  • Maximum User Capacity:
    350 lbs
Sunny Health & Fitness skipped all the bells and whistles with this full motion rower. Rather than a single handlebar that you pull back toward you, this features two handles on either side that you pull in a motion more similar to rowing a pair of oars. This provides more range of motion for your shoulders. The rower has 12 levels of resistance and the LCD monitor displays scan, time, count, calorie, and total count.