Best Budget Rowing Machine Reviews

Are you looking to buy a rowing machine but can’t afford one of the better quality models?

In this review article I share my product testing & evaluation of six inexpensive rowing machines, all priced under $350.

These are all popular models available online and in select sporting goods stores.

 

If you later decide you’d rather invest in a well-built rower, in this article here I tested & reviewed six of the best rowing machines for home use available here in 2020.

Either way, adding a rowing machine to your home is a great way to get a full-body low-impact workout anytime it’s convenient for you.

Below are the models featured in this article…

 

Best inexpensive rowing machines

1. Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Magnetic Rowing Machine

2. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine

3. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine

4. Stamina 35-1215 Orbital Rowing Machine

5. Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399

6. ProForm 440R Rower

 

 

test tubes red - heydayDo icon

Science resources included

As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.

 

 

Protect Your Investment

Do you need an exercise equipment mat to protect your floor from your home rowing machine?

A good mat also keeps floor dust or carpet fibers from getting into your equipment’s moving parts and causing problems.

If you’re interested, I wrote a buyer’s guide & article on the better equipment mats available for both carpet & hardwood floors you can read here in a separate tab.

 

Reality Check

Just a quick mini-lecture 😜 before I discuss my rowing machine recon & research info.

Remember that all of the models in this article are cheap for a reason: they’re made with cheap materials & cheap manufacturing methods.

And their short warranties are short for a reason: the companies know full well that their cheap rowing machines won’t last as long as the top-quality models.

Also, these inexpensive rowing machines are not built for athletes or hardcore fitness types, because they’re not up to the task of regular hard use.

They’re better suited for light use by exercise beginners or people who aren’t very strong.

 

New to rowing machine workouts?

If you’re interested in improving your rowing form, I’ve written an article here on heydayDo that features instructional videos with tips on proper form and on avoiding common rowing mistakes.

It also shows you the different muscle groups that are activated during each part of the rowing stroke.

You can click here to read it.

 

rowing machine blue - heydayDo icon

 

Rowing Machine Reviews

Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Rowing Machine Review

Fitness Reality 1000 - heydayDo image copy

Owner satisfaction rating 89% 4.5⭐, 600+ online reviews

A new model introduced in 2019, the Fitness Reality 1000 Plus is made by Paradigm Health & Wellness, who is also the parent company for a few other exercise equipment brands: Exerpeutic, Ironman, & ProGear.

Here in 2020, the 1000 Plus is the highest-rated (in terms of owner satisfaction) rowing machine selling for under 300 bucks.

 

What I like about the Fitness Reality 1000 Plus

It’s very quiet –  making it ideal for apartments or where noise is an issue

14 levels of magnetic resistance – to me, the resistance range felt appropriate for most beginners

Very easy assembly – I think anyone could build it in 30 mins.

MyCloud Fitness app included – Bluetooth connectivity for workout programming & stat tracking

Wide user height range: 4′ 9″ – 6′ 6″

Seat, handlebars, & foot rests all comfortable 

Folds up somewhat for storage

Free shipping on Amazon (nice, since it weighs 64 lb.)

 

Possible issues for some people:

  • Short warranty on parts (typical, as mentioned earlier)
  • The pedals rotate/swivel, which is unnatural compared to real rowing or a top-quality machine
  • A couple of owners had trouble syncing up to the MyCloud Fitness app
  • I think the additional non-rowing exercises it offers are useless
  • A couple of owners questioned the accuracy of the workout stats (this is typical of electronics used in cheap exercise equipment)

 

Fitness Reality 1000 Plus Technical Specifications

  • Resistance type: Magnetic
  • Max user weight capacity: 250 lb.
  • Dimensions: 88”L x 22”W x 22”H
  • Folded dimensions: 40”L x 22”W x 54”H
  • 1000 Plus weight: 64 lb.
  • Nylon pull strap
  • Basic LCD monitor with time, strokes, calories, fitness app has more
  • Warranty: 1 year frame, 90 days parts

See reviews & current price on Amazon

 

rowing machine green - heydayDo icon

 

Sunny Magnetic Rowing Machine Review

Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine - heydayDo image copy

Owner satisfaction rating 82% 4.3⭐, 2,500+ online reviews

An inexpensive magnetic rowing machine, this Sunny SF RW5515 is full-sized yet easy to fold & move around for storing.

Its warranty isn’t great, so I wouldn’t recommend it for any intense workout program.

Ideally it’s for cardio & light muscle toning exercise.

 

Besides being portable, it’s quiet and has over two thousand satisfied owner reviews of 4&5 stars online.

If you’re on a budget and need an affordable home rowing machine, the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 is worth considering.

It won’t last forever like the Concept2 Model D, but it is several hundred dollars cheaper.

And it’s a quieter & more compact rowing machine too.

 

What I like about the Sunny SF RW5515

Quiet like other magnetic rowers

Multiple levels of resistance via easy-to reach knob

Easy to fold and move around on its wheels

Shipping free on Amazon

 

Possible issues for some people:

  • Warranty is short – 90 days on parts
  • A few owner reports of foot pedals & straps breaking
  • Some users had their nylon pull strap break prematurely

 

Sunny SF RW5515 Technical Specifications

  • Resistance type: Magnetic
  • Max user weight capacity: 250 lb.
  • Dimensions: 82”L x 19”W x 23”H
  • Folded dimensions: 37”L x 19”W x 54”H
  • SF RW5515 weight: 59 lb.
  • Nylon pull strap
  • Basic LCD monitor with time, strokes, calories
  • Warranty: 1 year frame, 90 days parts

See reviews & current price on Amazon

 

 

Cheap rowing machine - heydayDo image

 

 

Stamina Body Trac Glider Review

Stamina Body Trac Glider - heydayDo image copy

Owner satisfaction rating 75% 4.1⭐, 2,900+ online reviews

The Body Trac Glider is a very inexpensive rowing machine that doesn’t take up much space, and is portable enough to pick up and park out of the way if you need to.

It’s also quiet enough to work out with in an apartment, thanks to its hydraulic resistance.

These positive features are also its weaknesses, and so it won’t be an ideal rower for everyone.

 

Hydraulic resistance and a lightweight frame mean this Body Trac rowing machine won’t cut it if you intend to put in serious workout time.

It’s better suited for cardio & muscle toning workouts of low intensity & duration (any longer than 30 minutes or so and the hydraulic resistance will stop working until it cools off).

 

The Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 is a best-selling home rowing machine with a few thousand satisfied owners.

It’s worth considering if you’re looking for an inexpensive, quiet, and compact rowing machine that can give you a convenient low impact workout.

 

What I like about the Body Trac Glider

It’s (really) inexpensive – Currently priced under $150

Decent reviews – Body Trac Glider reviews are generally positive, and nearly 3,000 owners have weighed in

Not much noise – It’s pretty quiet. Quiet enough for a thin-walled apartment, and obviously quieter than an air rower

Compact – The Body Trac Glider has a footprint of 52” x 32”

Portable rowing machine – While it doesn’t fold up completely, its footprint for storage can be reduced to 24”W x 46”L and it can be stood upright

Easy to adjust – Resistance level is easily adjusted using a dial that’s on the hydraulic cylinder

Decent monitor –It runs on batteries that shows basic workout stats for you: time, strokes, calories

Shipping free on Amazon

 

Possible issues for some people:

* It’s really cheap – Like I just mentioned up in the What I like section, it’s inexpensive… so parts will break down sooner than the top rowing machines will.

 

Put another way: roughly 7 Body Trac Gliders = 1 Concept2 Model D in terms of money spent.

If you’re really fitness-serious and row several times a week, I bet you’d wear out all 7 of these Body Trac Gliders long before the Concept2 Model D had even a little hiccup.

 

* The warranty isn’t great. As I often say here on heydayDo – a short warranty for a fitness machine is a big caution sign 🚧 for me.

And so, “90 days for parts” tells me what Stamina thinks of what this Body Trac rowing machine’s chances for survival are with heavy use…(hint: not real good).

 

* Hydraulic piston leak – Several Body Trac Glider owners report the hydraulic fluid leaking after awhile (usually outside of warranty). Current price for a replacement piston from Stamina is around 25 bucks.

Tip: maybe get a treadmill mat or exercise bike mat like this to keep your carpet or floor unstained.

 

* Hydraulic failure – Another related problem the Body Trac has is the inconsistency of the resistance due to the changing temperature of the hydraulic piston.

This also happens to some other cardio machines with hydraulics like other rowers, steppers, etc.

After the Stamina Body Trac Glider has been in use for several minutes, the pistons heat up to a point where the resistance goes away.

Conversely, if the temperature of the unit is too cold when you’re starting out, the resistance will be too high for a normal workout until the machine (and its hydraulic fluid) warm up.

 

* Slippery – Some users had trouble with their feet slipping off the footrests. A couple creative owners added additional velcro straps to put an end to that.

 

* Uncomfortable seat – The seat on the Body Trac rowing machine is kind of hard and wasn’t comfortable for me, though I don’t have a ton of cushion back there anyway.

 

* Console malfunctioning – Some owners had issues with their Body Trac monitor functioning properly.

 

* No wheels to roll it away.

 

Body Trac Glider Technical Specifications

  • Resistance type: Hydraulic piston
  • Max user weight: 250 lb.
  • Steel frame
  • Aluminum slide rail
  • Dimensions: 58”L x 43”W x 18”H
  • Stamina Body Trac Glider weight: 39 lb.
  • Warranty: 1y frame, 90 days parts

See reviews & current price on Amazon

 

rowing machine orange icon

 

Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399

Stamina ATS Air Rower - heydayDo image copy

Owner satisfaction rating 72% 3.8⭐, 1,300+ online reviews

The Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 is an inexpensive folding & portable air rower, and is one of the better-selling home rowing machines online.

This is likely due to the fact(s) that

  • it’s a pretty cheap** rowing machine
  • it’s a cheap rowing machine offering air resistance.

As I discuss in a bit, air resistance is superior to both magnetic and hydraulic resistance, as far as your workout quality goes.

(** – tho’ I did see they just bumped up the price by 50 bucks recently, putting it over $300)

 

Air & water rowers vs. magnetic & hydraulic rowers

By the way, magnetic & hydraulic rowers are what’s often found down in the budget rowing machine section, because they

  1. are cheaper to make than a durable air or water rower, but also
  2. do not deliver the same level of muscle group activation that a good air rower or water rowing machine does.

So to have a cheap rowing machine come along like the Stamina Air Rower is an enticing & inexpensive alternative that a few thousand people have already chosen.

But how does this Stamina rower really stack up?

 

The Stamina Air Rower vs the Concept2 Model D

Well….the Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 can’t hang with the Concept2 air rowers.

That’s no revelation to anybody I’m sure – it costs 600 bucks less and has a weaker warranty than the one provided for the Model D.

That tells me that this Stamina rower:

  • won’t last as long as a top-rated rowing machine
  • is not intended for the heavy usage, high-intensity workouts that most people who use the Concept2 Model D go for.

 

The Stamina ATS is a better fit for someone new to exercise or someone looking for light to moderate cardio & muscle toning workouts.

 

Air rowers provide a better workout than magnetic rowers

The Stamina Air Rower should* deliver a better workout because the resistance throughout the entire motion is closer to the resistance found in a water rower and a high quality air rower like the Concept2.

 

*Theoretically, this Stamina rower will deliver a better workout than a hydraulic or magnetic rowing machine will…as long as the user realizes that it is up to them to increase the intensity of the resistance by rowing harder.

There is no adjustment knob on the Stamina Air Rower: you varying your effort is the adjustment knob, so to speak. 

 

If you work harder/faster on an air rower, your workout will get incrementally more intense as your fan pulls in more air and increases the resistance you’re up against.

This is not possible on a hydraulic or magnetic rowing machine because on those machines your resistance is fixed at a setting you choose and it stays even throughout.

 

What I like about the Stamina Air Rower

  • It’s inexpensive
  • Can deliver a good workout thanks to its air resistance
  • Easy to assemble
  • Easy to fold and easy to move around on its wheels
  • Shipping free on Amazon

 

Possible issues for some people:

  • Being an air rower, it will make more noise than a magnetic rowing machine
  • Short 90 day warranty on Stamina Air Rower’s parts
  • Some owners have reported their nylon strap breaking
  • Some users complained about monitors not working after awhile
  • The part about the monitor that I didn’t like was that it didn’t track basic rowing stats like strokes or strokes/minute
  • A few owners found the monitor’s stats were inaccurate after comparing them up against a legit fitness app**

** – Tip: Most (all?) inexpensive cardio machines have inaccurate monitors, making the numbers they tell you useless. I suggest getting a Fitbit or a Lintelek if your heart rate & workout stats are important to you.

 

Stamina Air Rower Technical Specifications

  • Resistance type: Air
  • Max user weight: 250 lb.
  • Steel slide rail & frame
  • Dimensions: 77”L x 18”W x 22”H
  • Folded dimensions: 48”H x 18”W x 22”L
  • Stamina ATS Air Rower 1399 weight: 54 lb.
  • Warranty: 3 years frame, 90 days parts

See reviews & current price on Amazon

 

rowing machine red - heydayDo icon

 

Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine Review

Stamina 35-1215 Orbital Rowing Machine - heydayDo image copy

Owner satisfaction rating 69% 3.8⭐, 400+ online reviews

Here’s another inexpensive, compact rowing machine from Stamina that uses hydraulics for its resistance. This 1215 Orbital Rower costs about twice as much as its little sibling I reviewed earlier, the Stamina Body Trac Glider.

As far as I can guess, the main reasons for this are:

  • 5 year frame warranty on this Stamina 1215 vs. 1 year on the Body Trac Glider’s frame
  • 2 hydraulic pistons for resistance vs. 1 on the Body Trac Glider
  • The additional ability to increase resistance by tilting the machine up

Like other hydraulic rowing machines, it’s quiet and compact.

And also like other hydraulic machines, the Stamina 1215 isn’t designed for a heavy-duty workout program.

This machine would be a good choice for someone on a budget who has a limited bit of space, and who intends to only use it for light cardio workouts.

 

What I like about the Stamina 1215 Orbital

Compact rowing machine – It’s compact, quiet, and relatively lightweight compared to other rowers

Two resistance variations – Resistance can be increased two ways – via the hydraulics or by raising the angle of the rail you slide on

5 year warranty on frame

Shipping free on Amazon

 

Possible issues for some people:

* Short warranty on parts – 90 days, and there are plastic parts (the seat rollers in particular) that will wear out under regular use

* The Stamina 1215 won’t be the best choice for tall or short people.

It felt too small for me (I’m 6’2”), and also its long handlebars won’t provide a natural rowing machine for short people

* Some users report broken plastic parts, namely the rollers under the seat and the handles on the rower’s handlebars

* The independent motion of the arms doesn’t add to the workout, and it actually makes it difficult to really get going on it

(Though since it’s not a heavy-duty machine, you probably wouldn’t want to go all-out on it anyway…the 1215 Orbital Rower is not a tough cookie)

* Some users had issues with their monitor not functioning properly or accurately

 

Stamina Orbital 1215 Technical Specifications

  • Resistance type: Hydraulic
  • Max user weight: 250 lb.
  • Dimensions: 48”L x 33”W x 28”H
  • Folded dimensions: 48” x 33” x 10”
  • Magnetic resistance
  • Slide rail: aluminum
  • LCD workout monitor with all of the basic tracking stats
  • Stamina 1215 Orbital Rowing Machine weight: 52 lb.

See reviews & current price on Amazon

 

rowing machine purple - heydayDo icon

 

Proform 440r Rower Review

ProForm 440r Rowing Machine - heydayDo image copy

 

Owner satisfaction rating 65% 3.5⭐, 250+ online reviews

This last model in my article has design choices that bugged me & too many unhappy owners (almost 1 out of every 4) for me to recommend it to you.

It’s easy to move though not-so-easy to assemble.

It also offers an upper-body workout if you want to treat it as a low-pulley station. (I don’t think much of this option.)

 

Unfortunately it’s not one of the best rowing machines under $300.

There are durability issues and a short-term parts warranty to consider with this one.

It may be best suited for someone who only performs light workouts, and serious rowers & fitness enthusiasts should look elsewhere.

 

What I like about the ProForm 440R

ProForm 440r - heydayDo image

It’s inexpensive

Portable – It’s easy to fold, it has wheels, and is easy to move around

It’s quiet too – thanks to its magnetic resistance

Monitor’s OK – The computer monitor is a decent size and tells you the basics about your workout: strokes, strokes/minute, distance, calories, time

Multiple resistance – 8 levels of resistance via an easy-to-reach adjustment knob

Shipping free on Amazon

More than a rower? – It has the ability to be used like a low pulley station at a gym. The makers of the ProForm 440r say it has “expanded strength training design for (an) upper-body workout”.

Umm, okay. But the range of motion with the pulley station was a bit limited to me. Plus I’m already concerned about wearing out the transmission cord prematurely just from rowing (see below).

 

Possible issues for some people:

* The ProForm 440r rower does not provide sufficient resistance for some owners

* The cord feels like, to me anyway, a bungee type of cord.

I wonder how long it would last for a person committed to a regular workout program. It seems like it would be prone to stretching or splitting if someone was a daily rower

* A short 90-day warranty on parts ought to make a buyer think twice, more so since owners who’ve experienced parts breaking out of warranty report that replacement parts are expensive

* It moved a little during the drive part of my strokes. It might be unstable for anyone as big or bigger than I am (6’2″, 190) if they were going to try and take the intensity up a notch

* A lot more difficult to assemble than a number of other rowing machines, including the world #1 Concept2 Model D

* Some ProForm 440r rower reviews complain about units being shipped either with missing or defective parts

* Some of the owners who dealt with customer service trying to get replacement parts for their broken units were told there are 6-week backorder/delay times

* A few new ProForm 440r owners had the transmission cord either snap in two or stop retracting soon after purchase

 

ProForm 440r Technical Specifications

    • Resistance type: Magnetic
    • Max user weight: 250 lb.
    • Nylon (or equivalent) transmission cord
    • Aluminum slide rail
    • Dimensions: 77”L x 21”W x 38”H
    • Folded dimensions: 30”L x 21”W x 44”H
    • ProForm 440r weight: 71 lb.
    • Warranty: 5y frame, 90 days parts, 90 days labor

See reviews & current price on Amazon

 

 

 

dumbbell green - heydayDo icon

Wrapping up

I hope that this article sharing my product evaluations for these inexpensive rowing machines is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.

greg

July 2020

 

« Home Fitness Equipment page


Share on pinterest
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on print

About Me

heydayDo author Greg Simon
Hi I’m Greg Simon. Fitness training & nutrition researching since 1982. Surfer. Organic food & wine grower. Guitarist & music producer. Congenital heart disease survivor (so far).

Legal Information

heydayDo.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

About heydayDo

heydayDo is my “fitness after 50” website that’s about embracing the physically active lifestyle as we get older.
 
It’s an information-sharing, personal opinion blog of mine.
 
(So if you’re looking for medical advice, hit up your doctor or health professional for that. I’m just shootin’ the breeze here…) 
 
heydayDo began as a daily journal I kept as I recovered from the latest of many heart operations I’ve had to deal with since birth. 
 
I have a deep interest in learning about nutrition & fitness, and applying it to improve my quality of life.
 
I believe this knowledge can help me be the healthiest & strongest version of me as I can, even in the face of inborn heart disease.
heydayDo author Greg Simon at 60 (Jan 2020) original

The 60-year-old version of me, January 2020

So when I get curious about something, I’ll dig into whatever sports science & medical facts there are on the topic to learn what’s real & what’s hype.
 
Here on heydayDo I share what I’ve learned from my fitness, health, & nutrition research with whoever drops by.