The Best Rowing Machines 2017 – Top Picks & Reviews

rowing machineRowing is a full-body workout that enhances your cardiovascular system, develops flexibility, and tones muscles. But, that’s not the best part. The indoor rower is replacing many types of traditional exercise equipment, such as treadmills, spin bikes, elliptical machines, and stair climbers. Rowing puts minimal strain on your joints so it is an exercise that is safe and effective.

Not only that, rowing is the perfect exercise for busy people. Your time is valuable and the rower helps you make the most out of the limited amount of time you have to exercise. That’s why buying a rowing machine is one of the best ways to invest in your fitness.

However, if you don’t choose the best rowing machine for your needs, you will lose out on many of these benefits. And, with so many products competing for your attention, things can get a little overwhelming. Fortunately, this buying guide will take you through everything you need to take the guesswork out of the equation.


Our Top 5 Rowing Machine Picks

MODELPRODUCT DIMENSIONS
USER WEIGHT CAPACITY
USER RATINGPRICE
Concept2 Model D
Concept2 Model D
96 L x 24 W x 14 (Seat Height) inches
500 pounds
4.9/5
$$$$
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Water Natural Rower Ash S4
Water Natural Rower Ash S4
83 x 24 x 21 inches
1000 pounds
4.7/5
$$$$$
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Avari Stamina
Avari Stamina
44 x 30 x 11 inches
275 pounds
4.3/5
$$$
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Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515
82 x 19 x 23 inches
250 pounds
4.2/5
$
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Stamina Air Rower
Stamina Air Rower
77 x 18 x 22 inches
250 pounds
4.2/5
$$
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Eliminating unsuitable products right off the bat is the quickest way to sort through the sea of options out there and find what’s right for you. But, without a logical basis for elimination, you will have a hard time separating the good from the bad. To help you do this confidently, we put together a section explaining all the important details to keep in mind. However, before we get to that section let me introduce you to the best rowing machines of 2017.

#1 Concept2 Model D – Our Top Pick

Concept2 Model DPreferred by competitive rowers and home-fitness enthusiasts alike, the Concept2 Model D is the top rowing machine world-wide. Having established a clear lead in performance monitoring features, build quality, and reputation, the Model D is currently the best rowing machine on the market.

Although this is an air-resistance machine, this model negates the two most common problems with air-resistance machines. Firstly, this model has adjustable resistance. This feature is common in magnetic-resistance machines, but air-resistance machines rarely offer adjustable resistance. Secondly, air-resistance machines are notoriously noisy. However, the Model D’s design dampens the noise to a bare minimum.

Perhaps, the most attractive feature of this machine is its performance monitoring system. The Performance Monitoring 5, or PM5 system accurately tracks your performance metrics for every session. The PM5 system also pairs with compatible heart rate monitors to give you real-time feedback on your cardiovascular exertion. Plus, you can connect the PM5 system to your computer with a USB cable to use the RowPro software to run rowing simulations, compete with other Model D users, and compare your performance and progress with other serious rowers.

So, buying this machine gives you access to a community of rowers who can contribute informational and motivational resources needed for your development. However, the Concept2 Model D comes at a premium price, and you have to purchase the RowPro software and USB cable separately.

Considering the features and the price tag, this is not an entry-level machine. Built to last a lifetime, the Model D is the perfect fitness platform for those who are in love with rowing. If that’s not you, and you’re just testing the water, a budget model will suit your needs better.

Pros

  • Adjustable air-resistance setting
  • Accurate performance metrics monitoring
  • Access to worldwide rowing community through RowPro software
  • Quieter than other air-resistance machines
  • Easy to assemble and fold
  • Excellent design and build quality
  • Good purchase protection

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • RowPro software not included

#2 Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 – Best For The Money

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515Usually, people who are new to rowing are not open to buying a $1000 rowing machine. Instead, they choose to buy a low-cost rowing machine to see whether rowing is for them or not. Although I approve of their prudence, a lot of things can go wrong when buying a low-cost rowing machine.

But, the good news is that there are high-quality products even in the low-cost segment and the SF-RW5515 is the best of them. So, what makes this product the best rowing machine for the money? To start with, Sunny Health & Fitness has designed and built this machine remarkably well for a budget friendly option. All the parts are well-made and they fit together perfectly and easily. Once assembled, the rowing motion is smooth and uniform.

Since this is a magnetic-resistance rowing machine, you can set the resistance to match your fitness level. And, this machine is extremely quiet. When you’re not using the machine, you can fold it to conserve space.

However, this machine’s performance monitoring station is very basic and its accuracy is debatable. All low-cost rowing machines have this shortcoming. It’s not a flaw unique to the SF-RW5515. Overall, I think this is a great entry-level rowing machine.

Pros

  • Very affordable price
  • Good design and build quality
  • Variable resistance setting
  • Extremely quiet
  • Foldable body for storage

Cons

  • Poor performance monitoring system

#3 Water Natural Rower Ash S4 – Best Water Rowing Machine

Water Natural Rower Ash S4So, far we’ve covered air-resistance rowing machines and magnetic-resistance rowing machines. The third type of rowing machine, and perhaps the one that comes closest to the real-life experience of rowing, is the water rowing machine. And, among such rowing machines, the Water Natural Rower Ash with the S4 Monitor is the most sought after product.

One of the most frequently asked question regarding this rower is whether it has variable resistance. The answer is yes and no. No, because there’s no dial or switch that allows you to set the resistance. However, you can change the resistance by changing the water level and varying the number of rows per minute.

Since you have no direct control over resistance, it may take some time to get a feel for changing resistance indirectly. Although beginners tend to not like the lack of direct control, experienced users don’t mind it. In fact, some of them love it because it comes close to rowing in real-life. So, depending on your experience with rowing and personal preferences, this may or may not be a deal breaker.

Apart from this, the remaining features of this rower are top notch. It’s hardwood body is strong, durable, and beautiful. And, the rowing mechanism produces very little noise because water and the wooden body act as natural vibration absorbers. The S4 performance monitor is accurate and functional. The monitor also syncs with compatible heart rate monitors to manage your workout intensity.

All the other parts, such as the mono-rail, seat, pulley, recoil cord, handle, water tank, and paddles are well engineered and constructed. But, this is an expensive machine. Considering the cost and resistance mechanism, this rowing machine is best suited for serious rowers – it comes very close to our top pick – the Concept2 Model D.

Pros

  • Comes closest to natural rowing experience
  • High quality and beautiful design and build
  • Accurate and functional performance monitoring system
  • Good purchase protection

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • No variable settings

#4 Stamina Air Rower – Very Compact

Stamina Air RowerRowing machines hog a lot of space. Large machines, such as the Concept2 Model D, can take up as much as 8 feet. Not everyone has that kind of space at their disposal. That’s where the compact Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 comes in.

Measuring 6.5 feet long and 1.5 feet wide, this is one of the most compact rowing machines available. At the same time, its design optimizes the rail length so that people as tall as 6′ 3″ can use this machine properly. And, when you’re not using the machine, you can stow the monorail to
minimize the footprint.

However, the compactness comes with a few of trade-offs. First, since this is an air resistance machine, it is noisy. Secondly, there’s no variable resistance setting. So, the only way you can change the resistance is by changing intensity. Thirdly, the on-board performance monitoring system is very basic.

Despite these shortcoming, this is a high-quality, well-designed, and well-built product that offers you the benefits of rowing under tight spatial restrictions. Not only that, this machine is reasonably priced.

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Very compact body
  • Long monorail
  • Good construction and design

Cons

  • No variable resistance setting
  • Noisier than magnetic and water resistance machines
  • Only basic performance monitoring

#5 Avari Stamina – Another Great Pick

Avari StaminaThe list price for the Avari Stamina puts it out of many people’s budgets. But, when this rowing machine is on sale, the price goes down by as much as 50 percent. At the discounted price, this is a great pick.

This magnetic resistance rowing machine has an excellent performance monitoring system. The on-board computer offers 12 workout programs. This includes 6 cardio programs, 4 custom user programs, 1 manual program, and 1 heart rate program. Also, the arrows on the handle let you change the resistance and workout duration on the fly. The product comes with a chest strap that lets you monitor your heart rate.

Since the machine’s resistance is generated by powerful magnets and not friction, the rowing machine produces very little noise. However, such machines provide the same resistance throughout the stroke. This type of resistance profile doesn’t match the natural experience one gets from a fluid resistance machine.

Design and build quality wise, there are no flaws on this machine. It’s aluminum rowing beam is long, sturdy, and durable. The seat and rowing handle are padded well and the housing is robust. The folding mechanism is simple and quick. Given all these factors, this is an excellent machine for anyone looking for a top quality magnetic resistance rowing machine.

Pros

  • 12 workout programs
  • Produces very little noise
  • Good build quality and design
  • Foldable for storage
  • Accurate and functional performance monitoring

Cons

  • Expensive when not on sale
  • Resistance feels less natural

Factors To Consider When Buying a Rowing Machine

The ability to assess your needs accurately and evaluate the degree to which a product addresses those needs is the key to making an informed purchase. So, in this part of the article, we’ll discuss all the factors relevant to identifying the best rowing machine for your needs. These factors include the advantages and disadvantages of rowing machines, as well as types, features, price, and the top brands. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started.

What are the advantages of buying a rowing machine? Why should I get one?

Rowing is a non-load bearing full body aerobic workout. That’s a lot of jargon, so let me elaborate. Rowing is a non-load bearing exercise because the rowing machine bears your weight. As a result, there’s little to no stress on your joints. This makes rowing ideal for people who are overweight or injured.

Next, the rowing motion engages almost all your important muscle groups. So, you can train your entire body with just one exercise. Also, the exercise is aerobic in nature. This means that rowing helps in weight loss and strengthens your cardiovascular system. In addition to this, rowing improves your flexibility and can tone muscles.

For all the reasons above, rowing is one of the best physical activities you can do to improve your health. Especially when you have a limited amount of time per day for exercise. However, rowing also has a few disadvantages.

What are the disadvantages that I should be aware of?

The main disadvantage of rowing is that you need time to develop the proper movement, form, and rhythm. If you’ve never used a rowing machine, you will feel a little awkward. But, if you take the time to master the proper technique and tempo, the rowing action becomes second nature.

Another point to consider is that rowing machines take up a lot of space. Before you buy a rowing machine, you should identify a suitable location to place the machine. You should also understand that a rowing machine has multiple points of failure, such as the seat, rowing beam, recoil cord, resistance mechanism, and foot rest. Cheap brands that cut corners to reduce cost and increase profit margin are particularly prone to premature failure.

Now, although rowing will tone your muscles, it does not help with hypertrophy. In other words, rowing will not increase the size of your muscles beyond a certain point. Once you hit the plateau, rowing will begin toning your muscles instead of growing them. After weighing the advantages against the disadvantages, if you feel you will benefit from a rowing machine, the next major decision is selecting the type of rowing machine.

Which type of rowing machine is ideal for me?

We can classify rowing machines on the market into three categories based on the resistance mechanism. The three types are air-resistance, water-resistance, and magnetic-resistance. Each type has its pros and cons.

  • Air-Resistance: Rowing machines of this category create resistance using a fan. When you pull the cord, the fan rotates. The air around the fan opposes the rotation, creating resistance. Some machines allow you to set the resistance by changing the amount of air entering the fan. However, this feature is available only in high-end machines of this kind.
  • Water-Resistance: This type of rowing machine works the same way as the air-resistance machine. However, instead of using air to provide the opposing force, it’s water that creates resistance. As a result, these machines are not as loud as air-resistance machines. Also, water-resistance type rowers feel the closest to the real deal. But, they are pretty expensive.
  • Magnetic-Resistance: Here, the opposing force that creates resistance comes from powerful magnets. Due to the magnetic system, these machines produce very little noise. Such machines also give better control over the resistance. However, the resistance doesn’t feel as natural as the resistance in the other two types.

If you’re having difficulty deciding which type of machine to go for, let your budget guide you. Water-resistance rowing machines are expensive. If you’re on a conservative budget, disregard this category. Instead, go for a magnetic-resistance type machine. However, if you’re willing to tolerate more noise, you can buy an air-resistance type machine for its natural feel.

Are there any other tips that I’ll find helpful?

Yes, I would like to share five of the most important things to keep in mind. First, don’t fall for the economic advantage offered by off-brand products. Always go for an established brand that has a solid reputation. Rowing machines have multiple points of failure. So, you should go for a high-quality brand. Don’t worry, you will find high-quality brands even within low-cost price ranges.

Next, decide the location for your rowing machine while it is in use and not in use. Measure the dimensions. This way, when you shop for rowing machines, you can instantly eliminate machines that are too large for the designated area.

Also, think about the performance parameters you want to measure. By deciding the metrics to measure progress in advance, you can check whether the on-board performance monitoring device is good enough or not.

Another important step is to measure your inseam. The inseam is the inside length of your legs. The rowing machine’s monorail should be long enough to accommodate your inseam length. The upper body length is irrelevant.

Lastly, think practically about the noise level. For example, if you exercise early morning or late at night, you’re better off using a water-resistance machine or a magnetic-resistance machine. Noise level is an important consideration when choosing a rowing machine.

Now, the cost is a special consideration. If you’re new to rowing, a budget of $200 to $300 is good enough for a good quality entry-level rowing machine. But, if you need all the bells and whistles, then the price can go well beyond $1000. So, take your experience and enthusiasm into consideration before setting the budget.

Great, a rowing machine will be really useful! What are my options?

BodyCraft and Concept2 are the two major brands in this space. But, they cater to high-end buyers. For economical models, look at brands such as Stamina and Sunny Health and Fitness. Of course, there are a lot more brands out there and you can explore your options as much as you like. Alternatively, you can pick a product from our list of the best rowing machines of 2017.


Conclusion

You have chosen to take control over your health and physique. That’s a bold step. And, a rowing machine will serve you well in your journey. Whether you pick high-end models or budget-friendly ones, what matters is whether you made the right choice.

In our list of the best rowing machines of 2017, at the high-end, we have the Concept2 Model D and the Water Natural rowers. Both machines are at the top of their respective categories. However, the Model D is slightly better because it lets you use the RowPro software to interact with and participate in a huge online community.

However, if you’re just getting into rowing and you’re looking for a model without all the frills, you can check out the economical models that Stamina and Sunny Health and Fitness offer. These machines offer everything you need to get started. And, you can always upgrade to a higher model if you choose to take up rowing as a lifetime fitness activity.

People who have not invested time and effort in learning about buying a rowing machine will most likely buy a machine only to realize that it wasn’t the right one for them. Fortunately, that’s not you.

At this point, you know more about buying a rowing machine than most people out there. All that remains is applying what you learned and selecting the right product with confidence. I hope you find the product of your choice with ease and begin your fitness journey soon.