In this review article I share my evaluations after product-testing several of the most popular rowing machines designed for home use currently on the market.
I also share my opinion on what models I consider to be the best for each of the three main rowing resistance types: water, air, & magnetic.
A total-body cardio workout at home
Exercise time spent on a rowing machine can provide you with a better full-body workout than many other pieces of cardio equipment, be they treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bikes or stepper machines.
All of the major muscle groups are activated during the course of a single (properly executed) stroke:
- upper back & lats
- core & abs
- & calves
And rowing at home provides you with all of its cardiovascular & muscular benefits at your convenience.
We”ll be going over all the important details of 6 popular home rowing machines I tracked down locally that are available online everywhere.
All of these models offer free shipping at Amazon as of this writing, which is nice since due to their weight.
I also provide information, pros & cons, etc., regarding the four different types of resistance that are built into rowing machines:
- air resistance
- water resistance
- magnetic resistance
- hydraulic resistance
Science resources included
As is my custom here on, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
The rowing machines reviewed in this article
Here are the home rowing machines I tested out & evaluated for this article, starting with my three favorites:
Best air rower & best rowing machine overall
Concept 2 Model D – 4.9⭐
*This top-rated rowing machine is the home rower of choice of dedicated fitness enthusiasts, CrossFitters, as well as pro, college, & Olympic athletes.
Best rowing machine with water resistance
Water Rower Club Ash Wood – 4.6 ⭐
*Premium hand-built wood rower is quiet, long-lasting, & attractive.
Best magnetic resistance rowing machine
Fitness Reality 4000MR – 4.8 ⭐
*Great warranty & design, comes with nice programmable workouts too.
I also tested out these rowing machines, and include my product reviews for them too if you’re interested:
Schwinn Crewmaster – 4.2 ⭐
Stamina Avari – 4.1 ⭐
Protect Your Investment
Do you need an exercise equipment mat to protect your floor from your Model D & your sweat?
A good mat also keeps floor dust or carpet fibers from getting into your equipment’s moving parts and causing problems.
I wrote a buyer’s guide — Best Treadmill Mats & Exercise Equipment Mats — that goes over what to expect from a quality exercise machine mat for both carpet & hardwood floors.
Proper Rowing Form
If you’re just starting out, please make sure you use correct form on a rowing machine.
Due to the repetitive nature of cardio machines, poor technique and bad posture can easily give you the injury blues.
I’ve written an article — A Helpful Guide To Rowing Machine Muscles — that features tutorial 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.
Best Rowing Machine Reviews
You can click their pics or their blue names to check today’s prices or owner reviews.
Owner satisfaction rating 98% 4.9⭐
Overall best home rowing machine / Best air rower
If your plan is to get a home rowing machine and then get busy with a consistent workout plan, then I encourage you to give the Concept2 Model D serious consideration.
There’s a reason there are so many Concept 2 Model D’s & E’s in professional & collegiate sports teams’ training rooms, CrossFit® Boxes, commercial gyms…and in the home gyms of athletes everywhere:
They are designed & built to deliver all the benefits of a REAL rowing machine’s full body cardio workout.
And they’re tough as nails.
If you’re serious about working out
Inexpensive rowing machines are not built to handle the heavy usage that dedicated fitness people are looking for.
Just look at how short the parts warranties are for any cheap rowing machine; most offer 90 days.
On the other hand, the Concept2 Model D is definitely up to the task if you intend to put in the effort.
They provide 2 years of protection for the parts and 5 years for the frame.
And if you are already used to working out and have at least some muscle tone, I sincerely believe you would burn through 5 or more of the $200-$400 cheap rowing machines before your Model D would need anything other than a little oil on its chain.
What I like about the Concept2
Concept2 owner satisfaction rating is excellent
This may be the highest-rated piece of fitness equipment available on Amazon or anywhere.
I found over 5,000 owner reviews from across the online universe, and a whopping 96% of them gave it 5 stars.
99% of owners gave it 4&5-star ratings, with the combined score of an excellent 4.9 stars.
THE Industry standard for decades
Concept2 Model D rowers set the industry standard of excellence in both design & durability.
This top-rated rowing machine will outlast any of the others, and deliver a smooth, high quality rowing workout.
Very easy to assemble
All it took was: insert around 8 screws, join the middle parts, and boom…done.
Concept2 rowers: Made in the USA since 1981
There is no substitute for expert experience and fine craftsmanship & design, and Concept2 has nearly 40 years’ worth.
Putting it away if need be is a simple operation.
It has wheels and it doesn’t weigh very much – just 57 lb. – so it’s easy to move somewhere.
You just separate it into two pieces and off you roll.
Advanced performance monitor
The Concept2 Model D console comes with multiple features galore, like competitions, online connecting to CrossFit® WODs & other workout challenge groups, etc.
The monitor provides exportable data that has stat graphs, your workout history, & more.
It can connect to a bunch of different popular fitness apps too.
All this, and….it’s easy to program & use.
Bluetooth heart monitoring
The Concept2 has a heart rate monitor that works via Bluetooth.
And it’s actually accurate, unlike the heart rate monitors found on the majority of imported fitness equipment.
A couple of thoughtful ergonomic design choices are the size-adjustable footrest and the small angle built into the rowing handle.
Given the amount of strokes we log when rowing, anything that puts body parts in a stress-less position throughout the rowing motion is a real good idea.
Very high weight capacity
One indication of how sturdy the Concept2 rower is: its max user weight is 500 lb.
The fan that supplies you with the air resistance is kindly designed to blow it your way while you’re working out.
Feels good when you get all steamed up after awhile…
Free shipping on Amazon
Possible issues for some people:
- It’s not a cheap rower
- It’s not a compact rowing machine – it’s 8 feet long
- It’s not quiet, due to the air fan’s resistance
Concept2 Model D technical specifications
- Resistance type: Air
- Max user weight: 500 lb.
- Dimensions: 96”L x 24”W x 45”H
- Separated for storage dimensions: 33”L x 25”W x 54”H
- Steel slide rail & frame
- Multiple function performance monitor
- Exportable data capability and fitness app compatibility
- Heart rate monitor works via Bluetooth
- Concept2 Model D weight: 57 lb.
- Warranty: 5 years frame, 2 years parts
Owner satisfaction rating 88% 4.6⭐
The best water rowing machine
The WaterRower is one of the top-rated home rowing machines out there, and it’s the best water rower by far.
Premium quality construction, it is hand-built out of Ash wood and hand-finished with Danish oil & urethane.
It even used to be a TV star: it was the rowing machine featured on the Netflix show, House of Cards.
The wooden rowing machine frame helps absorb any mechanical noise.
A pleasant experience
So what you hear most is your paddles ‘pulling’ water in the tank located down near the end of the WaterRower.
All this makes this water rowing machine workout very aesthetically pleasing.
The WaterRower Club rower is an attractive display piece in your home and when you’re done, you can stand it up along a wall and call it art.
What I like about the WaterRower
Hand-built with quality in the USA with longevity firmly in mind, made by a very good company that backs up their product.
The WaterRower Club’s wood design choice keeps it very quiet and looks beautiful too.
And if you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll like that WaterRower gets their wood from sustainably-managed forests.
Assembly is easy
It’s easier than I expected for some reason, and the instructions are real clear.
(What a nice surprise, compared to dealing with the owner’s manual & required assembly for a couple of those cheap imported rowing machines).
I’m guesstimating it’ll take 30 minutes or less for most people.
Just like you’re on a lake
Unsurprisingly, the WaterRower rowing stroke has the same natural motion & feel of rowing on the water, with the same sequence of legs & upper body work.
This is what all rowing machines want to feel like (but most don’t of course).
Very good monitor
The WaterRower Club model’s workout console is called the S4 performance monitor, and it is easy to see and easy to use.
It is also much more advanced than what you’ll find on most other rowing machines.
It has multiple ways to store and program your own workout programs, and it accurately keeps track of several data points generated during your rowing sessions.
This also includes an advanced set of heart rate stats too.
By the way, all of the WaterRower’s performance monitor data is exportable to your computer or elsewhere online.
Solid owner protection provided by WaterRower, offering plenty of time for you to find out if anything’s not built to their high standard: 5 years for the frame, 3 years for the parts.
Training DVD included
The WaterRower ships with an at-home rowing machine training DVD, owner’s manual, a siphoning pump, water purification tablets, and an Allen wrench.
Assembly vids available
On WaterRower’s website, they have assembly videos if you’d like to lean on those instead of reading through the manual’s instructions.
Connect to rowing workout apps
There are free software downloads to connect you to other rowers and training programs: NetAthlon, WeRow, & Coxswain.
And if you’d like to take your workout tracking to the next level, there’s a software called SmartRow you can install.
This will integrate with the SmartRow app on your iOS & Android devices.
Add-ons & upgrades
There are a variety of accessories & upgrades you can buy to embellish your WaterRower experience: wooden stands & arms for your laptop, tablet, & phone, mats, cover, etc.
Shipping is currently free on Amazon
Possible issues for some people:
- Price may be out of reach
- It’s long; you’ll need a footprint of 8’ x 3’ or so
- It’s pretty low to the ground, when bought as-is**
This probably won’t bother most people I’m sure.
(I’ve had to manage pain from a L4/L5 herniated disc for 20+ years. Certain simple moves to the floor can require a bit of “creative thinking” whenever nerve pain is lurking around, for those of us with low-back injuries.)
**But in any event, WaterRower does sell an add-on product called the Hi-Rise – it’s basically two wooden stands you attach to the frame of your rowing machine.
They’ll raise it 8”, which would actually make a big difference for some of us.
WaterRower technical specifications
- Resistance type: Water
- Max user weight: 750 lb.
- Dimensions: 82”L x 22”W x 20”H
- Folded dimensions: (It doesn’t fold; it stands upright at 6′ 10″ H)
- WaterRower weight: 67 lb. without water, 104 lb. with
- Warranty: 5 years frame, 3 years parts
Owner satisfaction rating 87% 4.5⭐
The Best Magnetic Rowing Machine
A fairly new and formidable competitor to the former top home rower with magnetic resistance, the Stamina Avari.
For a few years, the Stamina Avari (reviewed later in this article) had generally been considered the best magnetic rowing machine available, despite its flaws & weak warranty.
Its owner satisfaction ratings were never nearly as good as Concept2’s or WaterRower’s, but the Stamina Avari simply didn’t have any magnetic resistance competition.
Until recently that is.
First — Schwinn retooled, revamped, & renamed their lone rower, now known as the Crewmaster (also reviewed here).
It has fewer dissatisfied customers than the Stamina Avari, and about the same percentage that love it.
And now here’s Fitness Reality’s entry into the mid-priced market
The Fitness Reality 4000MR is a model that was introduced in 2019.
In the ensuing years since then, the owner reviews that have trickled in have been overwhelmingly positive – it boasts a 94% owner satisfaction rating at this time.
And so far it has no glaring problems and no 1&2-star dissatisfied owners, unlike the Stamina Avari with nearly 1 in 5 owners unhappy with their purchase.
Plus the Fitness Reality 4000MR has other superior qualities to it – including an excellent warranty – that warrant me giving it the #1 spot for magnetic resistance rowing machines, in my mind anyway.
A good warranty says a lot about what the company thinks of their product. Come to think of it, a bad warranty does the same.
Fitness Reality’s warranty protection for their 4000MR is:
- 5 years for the frame
- 3 years for most parts
- 2 years for the electronics & the wearable parts
By contrast, the Stamina Avari warranty is 3 years for the frame, 3 months for parts.
In my opinion, 90 days isn’t a very long time to stand by the pieces you built into your exercise equipment I just paid around 700 bucks for.
Assembly is easy enough
I didn’t build this one myself, but several owners have commented on their assembly process going smoothly, thanks to very clear instructions & thoughtful parts packaging.
A couple of people who both said they were not mechanically inclined at all each assembled theirs in 90 minutes or so.
A smooth, quiet, & more natural rowing stroke
The 4000MR has arms that operate like a boat’s oars, in that they work independently from each other.
This makes for a more natural, wider range of motion compared to the fixed position handle on most rowing machines, and adds to the comfort equation.
As I mention later, magnetic resistance is the quietest type of rowing machine resistance, and the sliding along the rail is smooth & quiet as well, thanks to the design choice to use ball bearings in the seat rollers.
Raised height of seat
Many rowing machines are set quite low to the ground, and climbing aboard can create a challenge for some of us with mobility issues or low-back pain.
The 4000MR’s seat is mounted several inches higher than most rowers, and is in the neighborhood of 21″-23″ off the ground.
That’s a thoughtful design that’ll be a big help to a number of people.
The seat felt comfortable to me too; it’s not hard like some, and has a little “cush-ness” to it.
Console is programmable, easy to use & easy to see
The screen is plenty big enough to clearly read the info, and it is backlit so it can be used in dim lighting.
It’s angle can be adjusted to suit any user’s line of sight.
It comes with several (10 I think) pre-programmed workouts, and you can also program up to 5 of your own.
The controls on the monitor are simple to use, and it displays all of the usual workout stats you’d expect.
Foot pedals & straps
This might not seem like much I admit.
But I like the fact that the 4000MR has foot pedals that are big enough for my shoe size (11.5, 4E wide).
That foot size isn’t even that big, but some mid-priced & cheap pieces of exercise equipment use pedals & footrests that are just too small to deal with.
Also, the 4000MR’s straps have enough adjustability in them to get a comfortable, snug fit.
A few other little things:
- Wheels for rolling – nice, since it weighs over 100 lb.
- Phone tray
- Folds down a little, to approx. 4’L x 2’W x 5’H
- Console runs on electricity (vs. the usual battery-powered)
Possible issues for some people:
- It weighs 116 lb., which might seem a bit heavy to some
- Magnetic resistance doesn’t replicate real rowing resistance
- Therefore it’s not suitable for the hardcore athlete
Fitness Reality 4000MR technical specifications
- Resistance type: Magnetic
- Max user weight: 300 lb.
- User height range: 5′ – 6′ 5″
- Dimensions: 72”L x 25”W x 51”H
- Folded dimensions: 45″L x 25″W x 51″H
- 4000MR weight: 116 lb.
- Warranty: 5 years frame, 3 years parts, 2 years electronics & wearable parts
Owner satisfaction rating 88% 4.5⭐
An affordable magnetic rowing machine
This Schwinn rower is a decent mid-priced magnetic rowing machine with a very good warranty behind it.
It’s quiet like other magnetic rowers, and has a sturdy, stable feel, thanks to the frame & rail being made of steel.
It’s monitor is large and easy to see & use, but it lacks programming capability.
The Schwinn Crewmaster rowing machine does have 10 resistance levels that you adjust manually.
Limitations of magnetic resistance
It has the same, unchanging resistance ‘feel’ during the entire drive portion of the stroke, just like other magnetic rowing machines.
This means the Schwinn Crewmaster rower doesn’t match up to real water rowing or an air resistance flywheel like Concept2’s Model D.
As a result, the Crewmaster is better suited for light intensity rowing machine workouts by casual users, versus any hardcore HIIT or similarly athletic routines performed by stronger fitness types.
What I like about the Schwinn Crewmaster
Very good warranty – for an affordably-priced rowing machine
Easy to see & use console – large LCD monitor that’s height adjustable
Ergonomic – footrests, seat, & handle are all ergonomically A-OK
Very quiet – like a good magnetic rowing machine’s supposed to be
Consistent action – smooth motion throughout stroke
Sturdy feel – Stable & sturdy, no wobble or vibrating
Multiple resistance – 10 resistance levels, adjusted manually
Rolls – Has a set of wheels for rolling
Shipping free on Amazon
Possible issues for some people:
* The Schwinn rower is a full-sized model at nearly 8′ long
* The monitor is not programmable nor does it have any built-in training programs
* The warranty is real good, no doubt about it.
However, it is important to be aware that their marketing literature says (on Amazon & elsewhere, at least as of today) “10-year frame, 3-year parts and 1-year labor”, but the fine print I read in the Schwinn Crewmaster actual warranty says “Wear Parts – 6 months“
* The Schwinn Crewmaster rower advertises it is enabled for heart rate monitoring, but you have to separately buy a Polar® brand non-coded chest strap to be able to use that function (they’re around $80 right now)
Schwinn Crewmaster technical specifications
- Resistance type: Magnetic
- Nylon transmission cable
- Steel slide rail
- Max user weight: 300 lb.
- Dimensions: 93″L x 21″W x 32″H
- Folded dimensions: 51”L x 21”W x 61”H
- Schwinn Crewmaster weight: 75 lb.
- Warranty: 10y frame, 3y mechanical & electronic parts, 6 mos. “wear” parts, 1y labor
Owner satisfaction rating 78% 4.2⭐
An OK magnetic rowing machine
This Avari rowing machine from Stamina Fitness has many features and is in the upper-mid price range of rowers.
Note: Stamina recently hiked it up to over $750, without making any improvements to it.
It offers better resistance than cheaper magnetic rowers, and the build feels pretty sturdy to me.
The 3-year warranty on the frame validates that feeling somewhat.
The workout monitor offers several preset programs, plus you can store your own.
It also comes with a wireless heart monitor and with a program that’ll guide you for heart rate targets in your workout.
It’s very quiet, folds down to a decent size, and can be wheeled somewhere fairly easily.
Owner satisfaction is pretty good at 74%, but it has fallen somewhat in the past couple of years.
The short warranty on parts is a negative for me, since I’m big on warranties.
What I like about the Stamina Avari
Easy to assemble
Solid – Aluminum frame feels solid, and the frame has a nice warranty with it too
Adjust on the fly – Electronic adjustable resistance can be done while working out, so no need to stop
Good resistance – The Stamina Avari has a better resistance profile than other magnetic rowing machines I’ve tried
Multiple programs – A dozen training programs to choose from in the monitor. You can create your own and save them as well
Chest strap heart monitor – Has a remote heart monitoring program with an included chest strap. Other rowers with heart monitoring make you buy your own chest strap (they’re $35-$85)
Easy storage – Easy to fold and pretty easy to roll around on its wheels
Shipping free on Amazon
Possible issues for some people:
* It has a nylon transmission/pull strap and I’m a little leery of those. But…the nylon strap on this Avari rowing machine is a little bigger/thicker than others I’ve seen.
* Short warranty on parts. This will crop up a with many other home rowing machines you come across too.
I just don’t like a manufacturer charging “X” hundreds of dollars (in this Stamina Avari case, over $750), and then offering to stand by the parts in their rowing machine for only 90 days.
* A few owners have reported defective out-of-the-box or early malfunctioning of the computer monitor
* The seat isn’t real comfortable for my butt – I think 30 minutes on it several times a week wouldn’t be nice without adding a cushion of some sort
* My guess is these velcro straps on the footrests won’t last real long
Stamina Avari technical specifications
- Resistance type: Magnetic
- Max user weight capacity: 275 lb.
- Aluminum slide rail
- Dimensions: 81”L x 20”W x 25”H
- Folded dimensions: 36”L x 20”W x 23”H
- Stamina Avari weight: 75 lb.
- Warranty: 3y frame, 90 days parts
Rowing Machine Resistance Types
As previously mentioned, there are four types of resistance found in rowing machines:
Air Rowers & Water Rowing Machines
Air rowers & water rower machines provide a smoother, more natural motion than hydraulic or magnetic rowing machines.
Air rowers and water rowing machines also deliver a superior workout, because they will naturally provide more resistance as you stroke harder.
You will not see professional or collegiate athletes – nor serious workout people – using a hydraulic or magnetic rowing machine to train on.
Air rowers, and in particular Concept2’s Model D & Model E, are overwhelmingly the preferred rowing machine of choice for women & men dedicated to their fitness.
Air rowers make more noise than all other rowing machines, since you’re driving a giant fan that’s pulling in air as you stroke.
Water rowers are very quiet. The only noises you’ll hear are the sound of your paddles against the water in the rowing machine’s tank, and a little of your seat moving on the slide rail.
Magnetic Rowing Machines
Magnetic rowing machines are very quiet since there’s no air or water being pulled.
They provide resistance with a braking system that uses magnets against the flywheel.
As you adjust the resistance the magnet moves closer or further away from the flywheel.
The workout quality is not as good as with an air rower or water rowing machine.
This has to do with the way magnetic resistance works during the entire rowing motion.
Not as tough as the best rowing machines
The best magnetic rowing machines are also inferior to top-rated air & water rowers when it comes to durability.
A quick look at most magnetic rowing machines’ warranty – typically offering only 90 days of protection on parts – will tell you that.
The Fitness Reality 4000MR (2 years) and Schwinn (6 months) reviewed here are exceptions.
On the other hand, I have seen many Concept2 rowers in commercial gyms that were still in action after more than a decade of being used morning, noon, & night by thousands of people.
Hydraulic Rowing Machines
The final type of rower resistance there is uses hydraulic pistons.
It is an inexpensive design decision by the manufacturer, so you’ll see many of the cheap rowing machines (those under $300) use hydraulic resistance.
The hydraulic pistons are attached to arms that you row with, and the fluid inside them resists your effort like those things you see attached to screen doors to keep them from slamming.
Or like a shock absorber that prevents your car body from bouncing off the ground or onto your tires every time you go over a bump or a hole.
Hydraulic rowers have design flaws
Hydraulics being inexpensive is nice, but because they’re cheap know that they’re not going to last anywhere near as long as a well-built air or water rower.
Also – this design with its mechanical arms causes the natural rowing motion to be lost.
So your arms are moving and your legs are moving, but you’re not using your muscles in the same way as you would be if you were using a belt-driven air, water, or magnetic rowing machine. Or a row boat.
Another problem with hydraulic fluid is that if it’s too cold, the resistance will be unnaturally too stiff.
And when it gets too hot you lose all resistance entirely.
You can overheat it simply by working out with some effort for 20-30 minutes.
And until it cools down some, it won’t be usable.
Since they’re not built tough and can’t go for long cardio sessions, hydraulic rowing machines are better suited for beginning exercisers and people who aren’t real fit or physically strong.
OK, time to
sail away row away into the sunset here.
I hope my home rowing machine product recon & research was helpful to you, and that my rowing machine buyer’s guide information was useful too.
A home rower is a great & convenient way to take advantage of the benefits a rowing machine workout provides.
(I didn’t go into detail about it here, but a HIIT workout plan on a rowing machine can really deliver fitness results, in just a few minutes a day too.)
I wish you well on your fitness journey.