A rowing machine is a machine that simulates the action of watercraft rowing. They are full-body workouts that increase both your strength and endurance.
Many rowing machines are integrated with modern technology to track data including calories, distance, and heart rate. Keep reading to learn about the top rowing machines researched by our expert fitness team.
1. Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
This rowing machine tracks your progress with real-time reliable data and connects wirelessly to heart rate belts and apps. It’s 14-inch height seat, adjustable footrests, and ergonomic handle is designed to fit almost anyone.
The technology and user compatibility of this rower is why it’s earned a spot as our #1 rank.
2. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205
Made with 12 levels of resistance and a smooth hydraulic resistance system, this machine will be a quiet and easy ride. It has a digital monitor for your time, count, count total, calories, and scan function.
The pivoting foot pedals, foam handlebars, and cushioned seat of these rowers makes it a comfortable workout.
3. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine
This rowing machine mimics being in the water with its full-range-of-motion capability. Its hydraulic cylinder makes it a smooth ride, and its steel frame makes it very durable.
4. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine
This rower fits anyone with its 48-inch slide rail length, and it’s equipped with adjustable magnetic resistance, so you can easily put the resistance where you need it.
Saving you strain and work, it’s designed with transportation wheels to easily carry it where you need to.
5. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
If building strength is what you’re looking for, this is the rowing machine for you. It’s drum magnetic control system allows optimum friction needed to build strength.
Your lower back muscles are kept stress free with the design of it’s molded padded seat.
6. NordicTrack RW Rower
The NordicTrack rowing machine is attached with a 22 inches HD SMART Touch Screen display to keep your rigorous workouts entertaining. It’s 26 coach controlled resistance levels mimic real-life water resistance and lets you get coached from the comfort of your home from elite personal trainers all around the world.
You can workout quietly with its built-in silent magnetic resistance and inertia enhanced flywheel.
7. Hydrow Live Outdoor Reality At Home Connected Rowing Machine
To make rowing more realistic, this rowing machine comes with live classes and over 400 pre-recorded river and studio rowing sessions. These classes include rowers training for the U.S. National Rowing Team.
8. WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine
The uniquness of this handcrafted, water flywheel rowing machine replicates the feel of real rowing. The flywheel is enclosed in a water tank to give you a smooth, quiet, and self-regulated resistance.
The black walnut makeup absorbs sound and vibration.
9. Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine
This rowing machine is sturdy as it’s constructed with a steel frame capable of holding weight up to 250 pounds. It has a manual adjustable hydraulic resistance with a manual control knob to place the resistance at your liking.
10. Sunny Health & Fitness Squat Assist Row-N-Rider Rowing Machine
For a full-body workout, this is the rower to get. Its build allows you to not only row, but it allows you to squat to engage your legs and glutes. The seat is adjustable for a deep squat depth.
How We Ranked
Rowing machines are meant to mimic the feel of real-life rowing which is what the rowers on our list do. The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine sits at number 3 precisely because it’s full-range-of-motion and hydraulic cylinder is as if you’re actually in the water. Hydrow Connected Rower makes your row more realistic coming with pre-recorded river and studio rowing sessions.
Aside from the realistic experience, you want your rower to bring you, you want your workouts to be comfortable. Rowing exercises are already intense enough, and the last thing you need is equipment that’s going to injure yourself or hurt your lower back because of the discomfort of the seating and construction. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower’s molded padded seat is carved perfectly to keep your lower back stress-free.
You want to be sure to keep track of your workouts too which is why rowers integrated with the technology that track your workout data is imperative. Many of the rowers we have listed allow you to monitor many variables including heart rate, calories burned, workout time, and distance.
Since rowing machines are supposed to build you strength and endurance, you want the workout to be smooth and allow you to change resistances like the Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW1205. For a challenging workout, you’ll need to be able to increase the resistance.
A rowing machine increases your anaerobic and aerobic capacity. Aerobic activity is an activity that requires oxygen, whereas, anaerobic activity doesn’t require oxygen. For example, jogging and swimming are aerobic but sprinting and weightlifting is anaerobic. According to research, rowing is the combination of both.
Three separate studies analyzed the percentage of both anaerobic and aerobic activity during a 2,000- meter row. In one study, 16 competitive rowers anaerobic activity accounted for about 12% of all activity during a 2,000-meter race (1). In another study, 8 competitive male rowers showed that rowing was 88% aerobic and 12% anaerobic (2). Also, a published study concluded that rowing was 77% aerobic and 23% anaerobic after analyzing 16 male rowers during a 2,000-meter row (3).
From the compiled research, it’s safe to say that a 2,000-meter row is mainly aerobic with up to a quarter being anaerobic.
Ovid published an article examining the effects rowing had on physiology and performance when rowing at a mix of low intensity and mixed intensity. 18 rowers did a 12-week program at 100%, 70%, and 30% of lactate threshold. The results concluded that both low-intensity exercise and high-intensity exercise on a rower had the same effects on increasing VO2 peak.
Whether you exercise with a rowing machine at moderate intensity or high intensity, your VO2 will increase about the same. VO2 is important because it’s what supports your tissues with oxygen to get through tough endurance activities, and a high V02 increases your calorie expenditure (4).
A rowing machine is effective for weight loss. There are many types of physical activities you can do to lose weight, but rowing is one of the most effective exercises at burning calories.
Harvard’s Health Publishing has research proving this after looking at how many calories people of three different weights burned. Rowing was ranked amongst the highest gym activities especially if the rowing was vigorous. For a 185 pound person, you can burn almost 400 calories from rowing vigorously for just 30 minutes (5).
Furthermore, a study published in 2015 displayed rowing to improve the body composition of people with visual impairment. 24 subjects had their laboratory data, body composition, physical fitness, Cobb’s angle, and fall index checked before and after 6 weeks of training 5 days a week on a rowing machine. The study concluded that fat mass and body fat percentage decreased significantly after the 6-week training protocol (6).
A rowing machine is a full-body workout. Rowing engages your upper body, core, and legs. The American Fitness Professionals Association claims rowing is 65-75 percent upper bodywork and 25 to 35 percent leg work (7).
Full-body workouts target multiple muscles simultaneously so burn more calories than workouts that isolate muscle groups. Full-body workouts are also compound movements which build more muscle than isolation movements do.
Aside from the increased rate of calories burned and more muscle mass, full-body workouts save you time. You only need one workout to workout your entire body as opposed to several days for a split training routine.
A rowing machine is a quality strength and conditioning workout. 12 people with a spinal cord injury participated in 42.5 minutes of rowing 5 days a week for 6 weeks, and it reported that rowing improves body composition and upper body strength (8).
Some workouts focus on building strength while others focus on endurance. When you go on a run, you’re focusing on building endurance, and when you lift weights you’re focusing on building strength. However, when you’re rowing, you’re simultaneously improving your strength and endurance.
Of course, you can do other strength and condition workouts such as circuit training with weights, but rowing machines are low impact and are healthier for your joints. That means you can do them more often than circuit training without the risk of overtraining.
A rowing machine is low impact. Most exercises are high impact and create a lot of stress on your muscles and joints. Since rowing requires no running, jumping, or weightlifting, it’s easy on your joints and prevents injury.
The lower impact an exercise is, the more often you can do it. A study published in 2014 found that rowing is efficient for improving muscular imbalance and strengthening muscles. Every joint torque, including the elbow, shoulder, lumbar, and knee were improved by 30% after 24 subjects performed rowing exercises for 3 days a week over 8 weeks (9).
High impact exercises such as running or plyometrics increase the stress placed on your joints. Low impact activities are also great for older people and those suffering from surgery or pulled muscles since like swimming, they’re easier on your joints.
A rowing machine prevents DOMS. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common condition athletes and physically active individuals face. It’s when your muscles feel sore 24-72 hours after strenuous activity (10).
Since rowing machines are low impact, they don’t place the same stress levels weightlifting places on your muscles, therefore, prevent DOMS.
However, a study did show that aerobic exercise can help with the recovery of DOMS, therefore, you can use your rowing machine at a light intensity to help you recover (11).
A mild level of muscle soreness is normal for all physical activity, especially from an intense rowing workout. However, if you’re too sore or the soreness lasts for more than a couple of days that could be a result of overtraining or fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is musculoskeletal pain that can cause fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues that are often a result of repetitive stress on joints.
A rowing machine improves your posture. Bad posture not only makes you shorter then what you are, it causes joint pain and can later develop into more serious problems.
The reason bad posture affects your height is because when you have a curvature in the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine you can lose up to a couple inches in height. Correcting your posture is the only solution to increase your height in modern society.
Studies show exercise is an effective way to improve posture (12). Rowing is also a resistance training workout, and resistance training is an excellent modality for improving bad posture.
A rowing machine allows your workouts to be quicker. Since rowing machines can be a high-intensity workout, they can be shorter and still be an effective workout.
HIIT training workouts are shorter than standard workouts, but studies have proven them to be effective at improving aerobic performance, anaerobic performance, and body composition (13). Evidence is showing it to be more effective for your heart rate variability than longer bursts of moderate-intensity exercise (14).
A rowing machine can be used by people of any fitness level. Considering many rowing machines allow you to control the resistance, they can be used by beginners or advanced fitness levels.
Of course, a beginner would need to start on a lower intensity, go at a slower pace, and cut the duration of the workout shorter. While an individual with an advanced fitness level needs to row at a higher intensity, at a faster pace, and for a longer duration.
For beginners, a rowing machine is also low impact, so you won’t risk injuries to your joints even though you’re just getting started with your fitness journey. In contrast, an advanced athlete can do interval training with a heavy resistance for a quality strength and conditioning workout.
A rowing machine may cause injuries to your hand and wrist. Rowing requires a firm grip which can cause blisters to develop on your hands. Also, overusing hands is the most common cause of wrist injuries in rowers. A common condition rowers get when they start training intensively in the cold is extensor tenosynovitis which brings about swelling and pain in the wrist.
Training in warm climates and wearing long sleeves and fleece covers over the hand will protect them.
A rowing machine may cause muscular imbalances. Many physical activities create muscular imbalances because the activity focuses too much on one muscle group and not enough on the other. For your body to function adequately, you need to work agonist and antagonist muscle groups the same.
Your agonist muscles are the muscles that are responsible for the movement of an activity while antagonist muscles are the opposing muscles. For example, during a bicep curl, the biceps are the agonist muscle, and the triceps are the antagonist muscle. If you were to work one muscle out too much without exercising the other, you would create a muscular imbalance in your body that will affect your entire kinetic chain.
Kinetic chain is just a fancy term used to describe human movement, and you must balance the load of each muscle group of a workout program for your body to move and function properly.
A 2001 study published by the Sportlyzer Academy found patterns of asymmetry in the erector spinae muscles of rowers (15).
A rowing machine can hurt your lower back. Often the cause of lower back pain is because of weak abdominal muscles. Weak abdominal muscles cause you to overcompensate your lower spine during an aggressive activity like rowing.
To prevent hurting your lower back during rowing, strengthen your abdominal muscles by complementing rowing with core exercises (16).
Additionally, rowing requires a good range of motion from your hips. Without flexibility in your hips, you’ll tilt your pelvis back more which will place more load on your lower back. For this reason, you must incorporate a quality stretch program for your lower body if you want to prevent lower back pain while engaging in rowing.
Furthermore, an intense rowing exercise can cause you to use bad form due to fatigue. If you’re rowing with a heavy resistance, you could blow out your lower back if your form isn’t correct.
A rowing machine could give you shoulder impingement. Rowers have to raise their arms in overhead motion which places strain on the shoulders. This is typically a result of overusing the arm muscles and can be stopped by cutting back on how often you row (17).
A rowing machine can cause rib stress fractures. Repetitive load lifting of strokes causes rib stress fractures. Strengthening your core and upper back and limiting long training sessions will prevent this (18).
A rowing machine could cause knee pain. Since rowing requires leg strength as part of the movement, rowers can develop conditions such as patellofemoral pain and iliotibial band friction syndrome (19). Patellofemoral pain is pain around the patella or knee cap. Iliotibial band friction syndrome is pain that stems in the knee region of the lateral femoral condyle.
Anti-inflammatory medicine and lower body stretching exercises can prevent and lessen knee pain.
Rowing machines are low-impact, so they don’t place much stress on your joints which means you can do them more often than other physical activity. Depending on the intensity and duration of your workout, it’s safe to use rowing machines every day.
At a moderate intensity, 30 minutes a day is good, and at a high intensity, you won’t need any more than 15 minutes a day. If you’re going to do longer durations than that, then it’s best to take a few days off between sessions to let your muscles recover.
Although rowing is a low impact activity, it’s a full-body workout and can be very challenging on your upper body and legs, especially if you use a high resistance with the adjustable resistance many rowing machines allow you to have control of.
A few of the side effects mentioned above such as shoulder impingement, muscular imbalances, and lower back inuries are all mainly a result of overtraining (20).
Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine? Yes, rowing is a full-body strength and conditioning workout, so it helps you lose belly fat. Rowing burns more calories than many gym activities including a stationary bike, calisthenics, weightlifting, and circuit training for 30 minutes.
A rowing machine is also both a strength and aerobic activity, so it will build you muscle. Muscle increases your metabolic rate which is the amount of calories you burn at rest, therefore, the more muscle you have, the more muscle you burn (21).
How long should you workout on a rowing machine? It depends on how high the intensity is. If you’re training at a high intensity, you won’t need to use your rowing machine for any longer than 15 minutes. If you’re training at a moderate intensity, you can use it for 30 minutes.
Rowing at a rigorous intensity can burn close to 400 calories (22).
How many days a week should you use a rowing machine? Since rowing is a low impact activity, you can use it every day, but if you’re training rigorously it’s best to take a few days off to avoid injury.
How does a rowing machine differ from a treadmill? A treadmill only works your lower body while a rowing machine works your entire body. Rowing machines build strength more than treadmills.
Can you lose weight on a rowing machine? Yes, rowing burns calories, so it helps you lose weight. It can be an intense strength and conditioning workout, so it burns more calories than a lot of activities.
In research published above, it burns more calories than weightlifting, calisthenics, and circuit training (23).
Is a rowing machine bad for the back and knees? Since rowing machines engage your quadriceps and hamstrings, they could create muscular imbalances that cause knee pain if you’re training one leg muscle more than the other.
To prevent muscular imbalances from developing to cause knee pain, make sure you train both your quadriceps and hamstring muscles equally.
Is a rowing machine bad for the hips? Rowing is a low impact activity and with your feet placed firmly on the footpad, your hips have little impact. However, if your hips aren’t flexible you risk injuring your lower back.
Add a lower body stretching program to your routine to help prevent lower back injuries.
How long should a beginner row on a rowing machine? A good start for a beginner would be rowing at a moderate intensity for 15 minutes a day. Many rowing machines allow you to adjust the resistance at which you row so make sure the resistance is low as well.
Is using a rowing machine everyday good for you? Using a rowing machine is good for you to use every day because it’s a low impact activity and is good for your muscles, bones, joints, and cardiovascular health. If you combine rowing every day with an adequate diet, you’ll lose weight as well.
Which muscles does a rowing machine work? Because a rowing machine requires the engagement of both your upper and lower body, it’s a full-body workout. It works your back, quadriceps, hamstrings, cores, biceps, and forearm muscles.
Which is better: a treadmill or rowing machine? It depends on what your goal is. For a full-body workout, a rowing machine is better since a treadmill only works your lower body. Also, rowing machines are a strength and conditioning workout, whereas treadmills are only endurance workouts.
How long should I use a rowing machine for? You can use a rowing machine for as long as you’d like, but using it for 90 minutes a day will help you lose weight and get lean. Assuming you use your rowing machine for 90 minutes, you’ll want your intensity to be low to moderate. If you want to increase the intensity of your rowing workout, you’ll want your workout duration to be shorter.
Is rowing on a rowing machine better than running? Rowing is better for building strength and muscle since it requires resistance to pull, however, they’re both great for cardio.
Does a rowing machine make your shoulders big? Perhaps, because rowing machines do engage your shoulders during the pull movement which could make your shoulders bigger.
Is a rowing machine bad for your back? A rowing machine can be bad for your back if you’re using improper form. It’s especially important to make sure you’re using proper form as you start to fatigue because a loss in form is common as our bodies get tired.
Is a rowing machine good for your back? A rowing machine can be good for you back since it works your back muscles the most considering it’s a pull movement.
What is a good cheap rowing machine? All of the rowing machines we have ranked are the cheapest high-quality rowers you’ll be able to find.
How long should you use a rowing machine to lose weight? If you row on a rowing machine for 90 minutes per day, you’ll burn around 1,000 calories a session. Doing this can lead to 2-4 pounds of weight loss a week depending on where your fitness level is at now.
Will rowing on a rowing machine make me bulky? No, a rowing machine is a strength and conditioning workout that will make you stronger and increase your endurance, but it’s not meant to make you bulky.
What is a good rowing speed on a rowing machine? It depends on your rowing fitness level, but a good rowing speed is 24-30 strokes per minute.
Is rowing on a rowing machine enough exercise? That will depend on your goals and on how often and how long you use it. You can use a rowing machine every day, and it can be enough exercise to lose weight.
Is 20 minutes of rowing enough on a rowing machine? If you’re doing a high-intensity workout, then 20 minutes of rowing is plenty, however, if the intensity is lower, you’ll likely want to go longer than 20 minutes unless you’re at a beginner fitness level.
What’s a good 2k rowing time on a rowing machine? 6 minutes is an elite time for rowing 2,000 meters with the current record being 5:35.8.
What’s the best inexpensive rowing machine? All of the rowing machines we have mentioned are amongst the best inexpensive rowing machines. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205, Sunny Health and Fitness Squat Assist, and Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine are the least expensive on the list.
What’s the best rowing machine in 2020? The best rowing machine in 2020 is our number 1 ranked Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine. This rowing machine is comfortable and connects wireless to heart rate belts and apps, so you can keep track of your progress and have a smooth, comfortable row.
What’s the best rowing machine on a budget? The best rowing machine on a budget will be anyone that made our top 10 ranking list above. These are the highest quality rowing machines on the market and can be bought at the best prices.
If pricing is an issue though, Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205, Sunny Health and Fitness Squat Assist, and Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine are the cheapest on our list and can all be bought for under $200.
What’s the best folding rowing machine? The best rowing machine for folding is the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine because it has foldable arms making it easy to store.
What’s the best water rowing machine? None of the rowing machines we ranked are for the water, however, many of them replicate the feeling of rowing in water. WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine’s flywheel simulates the feeling of rowing, and the Hydrow Connected Rower has online simulations that make the experience more realistic. Also, NordicTrack RW Rower has 26 coach controlled resistance levels that replicate real life, and Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine’s full range-of-motion mimics real-life rowing.
What’s the best type of rowing machine? It depends on what you’re looking for. Our overall number one ranked rowing machine is the Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine.
If you’re looking for a real-life water rowing experience, you’ll want to opt for either the WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine, Hydrow Live Rowing Machine, the NordicTrack RW Rower, or Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050. These all replicate the feeling of a water rower.
For comfort, we recommend the Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower since it’s built with a molded seat pad comfort and lower back support.
What are some benefits of a rowing machine? A rowing machine increases your strength and conditioning. Since rowing machines are low impact, they’re also easier on your joints than other activities and can still be done at a high intensity.
Does a rowing machine make your legs bigger? Yes, rowing machines are a full-body workout and 25-35 percent of the muscles worked are in your legs.
What is a good cheap rowing machine? All of the rowing machines on the list are excellent rowing machines priced at the best price on Amazon with the cheapest being Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205, Sunny Health and Fitness Squat Assist, and Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine.
Is a rowing machine or swimming better? Rowing machines are better than swimming for building strength, but overall it depends on what your goal is. They’re both excellent low-impact aerobic exercises that are healthy for your joints and bones.
Should I lean back when using a rowing machine? You should maintain uprightness with a firm core, and drive your legs back until they’re straight. After that, you’ll lean your torso back slightly.
What resistance should you row at on a rowing machine? Every rowing machine varies, but in general, you should row between a 4.5 and 6 on resistance, but it also depends on your fitness level. Of course, a beginner should row with a lower resistance and an advanced rower should row at a higher resistance.
Rowing machines are machines used to mimic the feel of real-life rowing to improve your strength and conditioning. They’re full-body workouts and are low impact making them suited for all fitness levels.
Since rowing machines can cause you to use bad form from fatigue, lower back injuries are common. To avoid back injuries, strengthen your core and increase your hip flexibility.
For Fitbug’s #1 recommended rowing machine, click here.