But unless you’re a Boston undergrad or a Winklevoss twin, your likelihood of joining a crew league is slimmer than… well, again, a Winklevoss twin. And while the gym may have a rower or two, they’re likely older than a Winklevoss twin and relegated to a corner beneath a TV or industrial fan. That’s why an indoor rowing machine is a wise investment — at least as good as a Harvard education.
The best rowing machine for your home needs to fit your space and your budget. Here’s how to find one, as well as our picks for the best home rowing machines for less than $500 — and a few worth the extra money.
How to Buy a Home Rowing Machine
When choosing a rowing machine for your home, the primary considerations are typically space and budget. Budget rowing machines (under $500) are generally smaller and lighter than more expensive rowing machines, though this may make them prone to wobbling when you’re really going at it.
“Entry-level machines aren’t built as sturdily as more expensive machines,” says Justin Mastine-Frost, editor-in-chief of Fitrated.com. “Once you’re up to a good pace, additional movement in the machine structure can be apparent.”
More expensive rowing machines will be heavier — so sturdier, but also bigger and likelier to take up more real estate. Top-of-the-line machines are priced at a premium because of high-quality construction — many also feature programs that better track your workout.
“A budget piece of equipment will be able to tell you a limited amount of data — your distance, time, and speed,” says Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer and health expert for Maple Holistics in Farmingdale, New Jersey. “But a more expensive rowing machine can monitor your heart rate, include racing games, and use a calorie counter to measure your progress.”
Rowing machines also vary in how they provide resistance — some even simulate the real thing with water-based technology. Also keep in mind size (yours) and how a machine fits, including its range of motion. Make sure to try out a few models at an equipment retailer before ordering online.
Best Inexpensive Rowing Machines
Inexpensive rowing machines are typically smaller and lighter, making them convenient for storage but potentially wobbly during intense exercise.
The SF-RW5515 offers eight levels of resistance via magnetic tension, an LCD monitor for time, row count, and calories burned, and wheels for rolling it into a closet for storage. It cuts a figure of 82″ x 19″ x 23″ when in use and folds up to a more compact 37″ x 19″ x 53.5″ for storage. Bigger folks, take note: The SF-RW5515’s weight limit is 250 lbs.
The 1405 uses an “air transfer system,” or ATS, for wind resistance, which allows for dynamic control of your workout: pull harder for more resistance, ease off for less. An LCD provides speed, distance, time, and calories burned. In use, it occupies a space of 78″ x 31.5″ x 20″. It also folds up, has wheels for quick storage, and can seat up to 250 lbs. of rower.
A rowing machine that costs less than $100 may not represent a long-term investment, but it can certainly serve as a starter rower or change-of-pace workout for the noncommittal home-gym completist. Dimensions are 54″ x 20″ x 23″, and the unit weighs just about 20 lbs.; max user weight is 220 lbs. It provides 12 levels of hydraulic cylinder resistance as well as an LCD monitor for time, count, and calories burned.
Best Mid-Range Rowing Machines
With rowers in the $500 range, expect higher-quality builds and a few more features, usually in the monitors’ stat-tracking abilities.
This magnetic resistance rower features five resistance levels via a jerk-and-slack free belt that is purportedly quieter than other machines, making it a good choice for late-night and/or apartment exercising. Its solid-steel frame is 90″ x 18.5″ x 23″, folding up to 34″ x 19″ x 64″ for storage. The multi-screen LCD console displays distance, calories burned, time, strokes, and strokes per minute. It has a 300-lb. user limit.
This rowing machine uses a version of magnetic resistance with electronic control for adjusting tension either manually or via programmed presets. It also comes with a heart rate monitor and tracks time, count, strokes per minute, distance, calories, watts, and pulse via the large LCD. It’s 20″ x 25″ x 81″, weighs 75 lbs., and folds up with wheels for moving into storage.
The Favorit uses hydraulic pistons adjustable to any one of 50 levels per oar (the machine has fixed handles as opposed to the more usual single handlebar) for a wide range of resistance. The LCD displays time, distance, calories burned, count, and strokes per minute, and can be supplemented with a heart rate monitor for pulse. It has a footprint of 52″ x 32″ x 10″, weighs 44 lbs., and can accommodate users up to 285 lbs.
Best High-End Rowing Machines
More expensive rowing machines typically last longer thanks to sturdy construction and heftier materials.
The gold standard for home rowing machines, the gym-quality Model D provides 10 levels of resistance via a flywheel. It also connects to heart rate monitors and apps via Bluetooth or USB for tracking progress (time, distance, intervals, etc.), playing games, and competing against schlubs in Europe or Asia. It can accommodate a 500-lb. user or someone 6′ 4″ (taller with an optional monorail extension), and occupies a space of 96″ x 24″ x 14″, but requires storage space of at least 25″ x 33″ x 54″.
If aesthetics are your thing when buying exercise equipment, the wood-y WaterRower is likely going to be your next rowing machine. The company’s signature WaterFlywheel simulates the natural resistance and sounds of water, making for a smoother and more authentic rowing experience. The rower is 83.5″ x 22″ x 20″ and doesn’t fold up, but can be stored upright.
Similar in most ways to the Concept2 Model D above, the more expensive Model E boasts a few upgrades, namely: a higher seat (20″ to the D’s 14″), heavier build (65 lbs. to the D’s 57 lbs.), a fully enclosed chain housing, and a bit more gloss. The workout you’ll get with the Model E is the same as that of the Model D, but for bragging rights, the Model E is the way to go.