Rowing Machine Buyers Guide

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This rowing machine buyers guide will help you make the right buying decision.  Rowing machines are quite popular; however, they are often overlooked due to the mass attraction of exercise bikes, treadmills, and elliptical trainers. They offer an excellent low-impact total body workout (including the abs).

Knowing what to look for when shopping for a rowing machine will help you make the best choice.  If you think you know all about rowing machines, check out our top 3 rowing machine recommendations.

Rowing Machine Benefits

As previously mentioned many people are more familiar with treadmills, elliptical, and exercise bikes. The health and other benefits for those items are also reasonably well known.

The rowing machine offers many benefits that people are not aware of such as:

  • Muscle Toning & Building: Calves, Legs, Back, Shoulders, Arms, and Abs
  • Exercise with Low Impact
  • Great Cardiovascular Exercise
  • Total Body Workout
  • Good for Reducing Body Fat
  • Typically Minor Maintenance
  • Affordable and Comparable in Price to Other Fitness Equipment

The Price of Rowing Machines

Decide how much you want to invest in a rowing machine before browsing. Knowing you’re your budget or price range beforehand can reduce your shopping and deciding time in half.

Rowing machines range in price from $150 to over $2,000. As with other types of equipment, the price will vary depending on the style, type, and quality. The more you invest, the better features and quality your can typically expect.

What is the price range for a quality rowing machine?

  • $500 to $800 should provide you with a quality machine.
  • $900 to $2,000 will typically provide you a top-notch rowing machine with a myriad of features.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to spend $2,000 to get a rowing machine that meets your needs. There are plenty on the market that will provide you with what you need for less.

Rowing Machine Resistance Systems

Essentially rowing machines can be found with 4 different types of resistance systems:

  1. Air
  2. Hydraulic (Piston)
  3. Magnetic
  4. Water

Having an understanding of each of the four will help in your buying decision. Each has its pros and cons. Some people prefer one to the other. It really boils down to personal goals, choices, needs, and preferences.

Air Resistance

Rowing machines with this type of system get their resistance from air created by the flywheel and rowing motion.

The Pros

  • Great for off-season use
  • Resistance is generated and controlled by your pace
  • The long main rail makes it ideal for taller people

The Cons

  • It can be a bit noisy
  • The main rail is longer, making folding and storage a bit challenging

Hydraulic (Piston) Resistance

The hydraulic or piston rowing machines’ resistance is manually adjusted by either levers or clamps.

The Pros

  • A bit more compact than other rowers and stores somewhat easily
  • Costs less

The Cons

  • Generally, more of a budget rowing machine
  • Doesn’t do a great job simulating a natural rowing feel which is typically smooth and fluid
  • The accuracy of the rowing motion is less accurate than other rowers

Magnetic Resistance

Rowers with this type of system use a magnetic braking to generate the resistance. You might also find some rowers that offer a combination or hybrid that employs both magnetic and air resistance.

The Pros

  • Adjustable resistance levels for customized routines
  • Much smoother than the hydraulic (piston) rowers
  • Quiet; minimal noise

The Cons

  • Not storage friendly; the main rail is longer, making folding and storage a bit challenging

Water Resistance

Water rowers offer what is considered to be the most natural rowing experience. The resistance is created by paddles within a water-filled tank.

The Pros

  • Very smooth and natural rowing
  • Sound of water instead of air or other unnatural sounds
  • Resistance and intensity increased by your pace
  • Adjustable resistance for a more customized workout
  • Much smoother than the hydraulic (piston) rowers

The Cons

  • Considered to be the second noisiest to the air resistance systems
  • Requires quite a bit of space
  • Extremely heavy and not suitable for storage or moving

Available Space & Placement

As just discussed, the various types of rowers require different types of space. Some are suitable for storage while others cannot be easily moved or stored. The model you choose will depend largely on:

  • Your height (long legs)
  • Space availability
  • Goals and fitness needs

Before buying a rower make sure you have adequate space for it. Rowing machines will vary in dimensions, however to give you an idea here are two examples:

  • 95 x 25 x 14 inches
  • 48 x 33 x 28 inches

Control Console & Extra Features

The console features and programs for rowing machines are seldom as elaborate or sophisticated as treadmills, elliptical, and exercises bikes.

However, there are rowers available with customizable programs, features, and readings such as:

  • Speed (Pace)
  • Watts
  • Bar Charts
  • Distance
  • Calories Burned
  • Stroke Count (Goal or Cumulative)
  • Time (Goal or Elapsed)
  • Ergonomic Handles
  • Transport Wheels
  • Comfortable Seat

Rowing machine features will vary by manufacturer, type, and price. Carefully decide whether a certain feature is really important and beneficial before opting for a model with it. Generally, your investment will increase with added features; however, if you do your homework you can find the ideal package at your ideal price.


You always want to check the warranty for any product you invest in. The same holds true with rowing machines.

A manufacturer’s warranty can provide you with assurance and a reasonable indication of the rowing machine’s quality. Generally the better the warranty, the better quality rowing machine.

Here is a suggestion:

Invest in a rowing machine that provides a minimum warranty of 1 year on frame, parts, and labor

More expensive or better quality rowing machines will often provide warranties that cover the core parts of the rower for 2 or more years.

Customer Reviews

Rowing machine customer reviews can often help you make the final choice when you have narrowed down your selection to 2 or 3 desired rowers. Look for

  • Common positives such as its seat design, handles, footpads, quietness, better rowing experience, and smooth feel of rowing.
  • Common negatives such as difficult assembly, annoying noises, and structural defects.
  • Manufacturer’s warranty fulfilment and great customer service.

Rowing machines with 70 to 80% positive reviews are a much better bet than those with only 30 to 50% positive reviews. Also, try to seek out products that have more than a half dozen reviews.

You Are Now Ready to Row!

Now that you’ve completed this rowing machine buyers guide, you’re ready to start shopping for your new rowing machine.

Best wishes on your purchase, fitness, and health. And, happy rowing!  See which rowing machines we think are the best in our top 3 rowing machines section.

About Andy

Andy writes for a number of health related sites but has always been fascinated by alternative medicine and home remedies. His deep interests in nature and the body's innate ability to heal itself (given the right condition) have lead him to a pivotal time in his life - and so, Holistic Home Fitness was born. While it's relatively new at the moment, Andy wants to build this site into a huge reference site for a more holistic approach to health and fitness.