1. Hydraulic Resistance
Typically, hydraulic resistance rowing machines are the most affordable models on the market. They use pistons to generate resistance and are generally known for being some of the quietest models, especially compare to air resistance machines. Another distinction to hydraulic rowing machines is the side-by-side setup of the “oars” (upright or curved handle bars) versus the common single handle in front. The only downside to using hydraulics in rowing machines is that with regular, or heavy usage, they tend to wear down faster than other types of resistance mechanisms. If you want a more upper body intensive workout, than look for a hydraulic type rowing machine.
2. Air Resistance
The general design of air resistance rowing machines is similar to that of magnetic resistance rowers, with the exception that instead of using magnetic brakes to adjust the resistance, there are notches in the flywheel (this allows a base level of resistance to be set but not fixed). The biggest downfall to air resistance rowing machines is that they tend to be the most noisy, which can be less than desirable for some users. If you are looking to get a machine that will be useable by the inexperienced and veteran rower alike (and one that can easily keep up with any pace and still provide a good workout), and don’t mind the mechanical noise of a flywheel being rotated, then an air resistance rowing machine would be ideal to look for.
3. Magnetic Resistance
In comparison to air and hydraulic resistance based machines, magnetic rowing machines are much quieter in terms of operation. Similar to other types of resistance rowers, they are designed with a sliding bench and front facing pulley that is attached to a flywheel. Unlike other types of resistance (air, water, hydraulic), they use magnetic brakes along the flywheel to determine the resistance level, and do not adjust to different amounts of applied force (in other words once set, it will only give that much resistance, regardless of how hard you pull). If you want a machine that is similar to the ones most often used in gyms, which are fairly quiet and allow you to easily chat, watch programs, or listen to music while using, then look for a rowing machine with magnetic resistance.
4. Water Resistance
Water resistance rowing machines are the only style of machine that comes closest to fully simulating the act of rowing. The basic design for water rowing machines is to use a compartment filled with water (or a solution with the same density as water), inside of which a wheel with blades (think of a water wheel on a steam boat) is used in place of a flywheel or hydraulics. The handlebar for pulling is located in front and as it is pulled, the user gets the same sensation of pulling an oar through water. Machines that use this method of resistance are nothing shy of professional or commercial quality, which means that they can be costly, but tend to have the longest known durability of any type of rowing machine. If you plan to be using a rowing machine for years to come, consider investing into a water resistance rowing machine.
1. Folding or Fixed: Will it fit?
Whether it is putting together a home gym, adding something to the bedroom to help keep up your fitness, or trying to stock a small gym, planning and measuring are vital. In an effort to help make the most of people’s space, some companies offer models that fold down for storage when not in use. Concept2, Stamina, and LifeSpan Fitness are three companies that have top selling rowing machines, each of which also make models that are both fixed or folding. If you are limited on space, or want to be able to easy adjust how your space is being used, consider a folding model if you are not able to dedicate the space to a fixed frame machine.
2. Weight Capacity
The second most important feature to look for is weight capacity. Standard machines tend to have a 275-300 lbs weight limit. However, there are several models and brands, especially those that tend to make very lightweight/compact machines, that have much lower weight limits (often between 175-250 lbs). If weight is a concern, or if multiple people will be using it, be sure to check that the model you purchase can support at least as much weight as needed.
3. Seat Height
Most rowing machines are designed to accommodate users within an average height range (roughly 5’4” to 6’6”). However sometimes the angle, or position of the feet rest can make a machine uncomfortable for users above, or below, average heights. Some models sit quite low to the ground, while other are 20 inches or more off the ground, which can make it cumbersome or uneasy to sit on/get up from. The key is to use a machine that is either very adjustable, or is rated for persons of your height range. Stamina’s Air Rower 1399 is one that forums mention as good for shorter people, while Concept2’s Model D is touted as being suited to both short and tall. Look for similar models that either mention a specific suggested height range, or that come recommended for short/tall people.
4. Seating Size
Beyond the height of the seat and the weight capacity, the sizing of the seat itself is also an important feature to consider. Some people prefer a smaller, more compact seat for ease of use and storage, while others find ample seating to be optimal. As silly as it might sound, even a couple inches wider or more narrow can drastically impact your workout. If an exercise machine is not comfortable, you are not as likely to use it on a regular basis. Measure either a seat that you find comfortable, or lay out a measuring tape (the soft kind you use for sewing), have a seat so that there is some length on either side of you and mark it in a straight line down from the broadest points at your hip. This will tell you what size seat to look for when selecting a rowing machine.
The mark of any worthwhile standard, or professional, rowing machine is one that has grips built into the footrests and handles/bars. Lower end, or “budget” models tend to be a bit sparse on the amount of padding and gripping they include. Look for models that both picture and list specific grip features to be sure you get a model that is both comfortable, and safe.
6. Digital Display Screen & Tracking
Common in both standard and professional quality machines, digital display screens provide not only a clear method of communication in regards to control settings, but for readouts as well. For example, the Concept2 PM5 display is known for being well lit, easy to read, which makes it easy to adjust the machine’s controls and track simple statistics (like heart rate, calories burned, and distanced rowed). To help ensure you can get the most out of your workout with a rowing machine, it is important to be able to track your basic statics and vitals, so be sure to look for this feature on even basic models. When you can track your rowing you can also better follow a training schedule, you can find many workout routines online, for example this article from Dailyburn.com provides 3 helpful schedules to improve your cardio and strength.
One of the hottest names in rowing machines, Concept2 has a range of models available to meet spacing and user’s needs. With 30+ years in the industry, their focus has always been and remains on the quality and reliability of their machines; they aim to help anyone train for competitive rowing and peak personal fitness. It is this focus and dedication that have helped them to be named number one on the lists for global sellers for more than one year at a time. Trademarks of the brand include the unique PM5 lit up monitor, 500lb weight capacity on all models, and easy to store frames that weight less than 100lbs (with some as light as 52lbs).
Known for being the first to turn home fitness systems into infomercial-based products, Stamina began selling persona fitness equipment in 1987. While their reputation is for being diverse in their offerings, Stamina has remained true to their core concept; bring quality home fitness equipment to everyday people at everyday prices. On more than one top selling lists, Stamina continues to rank highly; often with the top three and almost always within the top ten. The key traits to look for in a Stamina rowing machine are affordability and value, as well as durability. Their diverse selection of rowers include hydraulic, air, and magnetic resistance models, with a focus on sturdy hydraulic and air resistance designs that have upper weight limits of 300lbs.
WaterRower brand rowing machines could be considered a class unto themselves. They are one of the few top selling brands for water-based resistance machines on the market today. Sourced from renewable resources, they are quite unique in having solid wood frames. They have a large floor print in terms of length, but then also having the ability to be securely stood upright for an extremely minimized footprint in the room for storage. They sell both professional and home quality variations of their designs, but both varieties carry their quality assurance and unique storage system.
4. LifeSpan Fitness
One of the younger fitness companies that has a competitor in the market for home rowing machines, LifeSpan Fitness started up in 2001. They offer a wide selection of home and professional quality fitness equipment, including their RW1000 Rowing Machine that is no stranger to the top ten for best selling lists. The company’s driving goal is to provide quality equipment that is sourced from sustainable resources. Their only rowing machine is well made, reasonably priced, and features a patented Eddy pulley system that is ultra quiet and easy to adjust.
1. Higher Weight Capacity and Adaptability
One of the big differences between home and professional quality rowing machines is the sturdiness and adaptability of the design. Professional quality designs tend to almost always meet or exceed the higher quality 300-lb weight limit (the upper limits on commercial quality models can be anywhere between 500 to 900 lbs) that is standard among home rowing machines. If you want a fully professional level rowing machine, like the ones champion rowers train with, look for an extremely solid frame, adaptability for different heights, and an extended weight capacity.
Another major distinction between standard home quality level machines and professional is the years of warranty or guarantees that come with it. In order to know you are getting a high quality product, from a company that is reliable, look for a warranty of no less than three to five years.
3. Advanced Monitoring & Gaming
Aside from basic monitors, professional and commercial grade models have more advanced monitors, and sometimes even games. Not only do they offer basic tracking like heart rate, speed, distance, and calories burned, some include attachments to help monitor respiration as well (WaterRower’s Natural model includes a chest strap monitor). In terms of games, Concept2 machines come with built in games to help engage users and keep them motivated to workout (their machines have amusing fishing and darts games, as well as biathlon and target training programs). If you want more in depth monitoring, as well as engaging assistance/motivation to keep up with workouts, then look for higher quality models that feature more in depth monitors and games on crisp digital displays.