Top 5 Rowing Machines
Rowing has to be one of the most underrated exercises out there. Many people underestimate the effectiveness of this spectacular sport, that is capable of using upwards of 80% of your muscle capacity in just one stroke. A rowing machine is one of the best ways you can hit your weight loss goals, strengthen your core and improve your muscle tone all in one.
Not only this, but rowing is very often favoured by older fitness enthusiasts, those who have a larger build and those suffering from a sporting injury, as it provides a low-impact form of exercise that is gentle on the joints and back. This means that those at risk of injury or strain can find a safe way to get a serious workout without risking their health.
Rowing machines are a great option for home workout sessions as they tend to be compact and easy to stow away when not being used. Some models can usually be stored vertically, meaning they can be tucked away in a cupboard or corner, unlike heftier pieces of machinery such as treadmills, cross trainers or exercise bikes. This makes them an excellent choice for those seeking a home workout option with limited space on hand.
Rowing machines can come with resistance from either air, water, hydraulics or magnets, each of which have their own unique set of advantages. Whilst air rowers are the type you’ll most likely see at the gym, water rowers come with a tank that simulate the feeling and sound of rowing through water – if you don’t have a lake on your doorstep, they can provide the perfect alternative to the real thing!
Whether you’re looking to tone and build your muscles, blast away some calories, increase your stamina or simply improve your overall health, a rowing machine is sure to help you hit your targets. Despite common perceptions, rowing machines do not simply work out your arms. They also have a huge impact on your legs, back, chest and abdomen too. By using almost every muscle in your body, rowing truly is the miracle work out we’ve all been searching for!
For those seeking a serious aerobic workout that is more than capable of improving cardiovascular health and reducing risk of heart disease, then rowing is one of the best options out there. On top of this, regular sessions on a rowing machine have the ability to strengthen your immune system and enhance your mood through the release of endorphins, meaning it can not only improve your physical health but your mental health as well!
Most rowing machines come with adjustable resistance levels so you can switch between heavy-hitting workouts and more relaxed paces. Your average one-hour workout could see you burning 600 calories per hour, making it great for fast weight loss.
Due to the upper-body workout that a rowing machine will give you, it can help to reduce backpain and even improve posture too, as it will increase the strength of your back.
Some of the other key benefits of rowing machines is that they are convenient, easy to use and often very affordable. Unlike with many other forms of gym equipment, it is easy to learn to use a rower and to do it right.
We’ve tested some of the most popular models on the market for functionality, aesthetic, durability, ergonomics and value for money. What we found is that prices vary widely and so, it seems, does quality. A rowing machine is only worth the time if it is able to challenge you physically, so we took particular care to focus on the quality of the resistance. Whilst some models offered up impressive gym-quality push back, others simply weren’t up to the challenge.
If you’re shopping for a new rowing machine, then check out our reviews below of the 5 top picks across a range of different price brackets. From gym-level machinery that might well break the bank, to astoundingly low-cost options – how do they match up? Read on to find out.
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rower with PM5 Monitor Review – Our Number 1
Boasting status as one of the world’s best-selling rowers, the Concept2 Model D (CHECK PRICE HERE!) is trusted by competitive rowers and Olympic athletes for training and workouts, meaning it should be able to stand up against heavy use. It has Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, which will allow you to pair it with any compatible heart rate monitor, alongside wireless capabilities which is great for those who want to race others or connect it to a smartphone. Here’s a look at some of its other great features:
- Flywheel design makes for a smooth motion with minimal sound.
- Comes with in-built performance monitor with wireless connectivity, which provides accurate data so you can track your progress, measuring metres, pace, watts and calories burned.
- Ergonomic handle and adjustable footrests make for a comfortable workout.
- Machine can be separated into two parts without the use of tools and has caster wheels for easy movement and storage.
- Comes with 5-year frame warranty on the frame and 2 years on the parts for buyer’s peace of mind.
- Backlit monitor comes with 5 different display options: all data, force curve, bar chart, large print and having a pacer.
- Includes a range of pre-set workouts to inspire you on your fitness regime.
- Spiral damper allows for easy transition between different resistance levels.
This machine’s 5-year warranty is testament to the quality of the build – we found it to be a solid and dependable machine that feels like it’s really built to last. You can track all of your key data – calories burned, distance, speed, pace, etc – using its easy-to-read backlit screen display. It comes with great pre-set workouts that will motivate you to try new techniques, along with in-built games and a range of language settings. The batteries charge off the rower when in use, which is a great bonus.
You can also utilise the Concept2 Ergdata app with your workout, where your data can be handily uploaded directly from your machine to the app for easy progress tracking. Your data will also be uploaded to the Concept2 website, which includes an online logbook of your progress, comparison to other users, plus plenty of helpful guides, videos and challenges to help push you forward as part of a worldwide community – and the connectivity is excellent. If you want a gym-quality piece of equipment and are serious about getting fit, then it’s certainly worth forking out for this model.
Features: Flywheel Design – Pre-Set Workout Modes – Backlit Performance Monitor – 5-Year Frame Warranty – Bluetooth Smart – USB Compatible
JLL® R200 Luxury Home Rowing Machine, 2018 Model Review – Number 2
If you’re looking to ‘train like a pro’ then the JLL R200 luxury rowing machine claims to be the one for you. Despite this claim, this model represents one of the cheaper options on the list, so we were keen to see how it matched up. It certainly looks like a decent, compact piece of equipment that would fit right in at a home gym. Here’s a look at its main features:
- 10 levels of magnetic resistance for an adjustable workout session and quiet running.
- 7 function LCD display showcases calories, count, count/min., distance, scan and time.
- Advanced belt driving system offers rapid engagement for high-level training.
- Comes with wheels for easy transportation.
- Compact and foldable for easy storage.
- user weight of 100kg.
- Foam padded handlebars for a comfortable grip and soft foam seat for maximum comfort.
- Secure, adjustable footplates can be amended to suit you.
This model comes with a good range of resistance modes, meaning it is easily adjusted for beginners and experienced aficionados alike. The belt-driven mechanism really does make for a smooth and quiet operation and it feels like a sturdy machine. This piece of kit was simple enough to assemble and comes equipped with all the tools necessary to get the job done.
It is also useful that it splits in two for easy storage in limited spaces. For the most accomplished of rowers, the resistance may not quite cut the mustard, but for your average user it’s perfectly adequate. One point to note is its relatively low maximum user weight (100kg) – so, if you’re of a larger build, you may need to look elsewhere. Also, without an option to connect to a heart rate monitor, we’re unsure how accurate the calorie-counter can really be, and the computer system is a lot more basic than the Concept2, but at the price – who’s complaining?
Features: 7 Function LCD Screen – 10 Levels of Magnetic Resistance – Belt Driving System – Splits in Two for Easy Storage – Max. User Weight 100kg
Pricing: Mid Range
Sportplus Indoor Rower Review – Number 3
The Sportplus indoor rower is a relatively low-price piece of equipment that promises to pack a big punch. If you’re looking to improve your strength, endurance, agility and coordination, then could this machine be the one for you? It certainly seems to have an impressive array of features and fits the part visually. We’ve done a rundown of some of its key attributes:
- 24 resistance levels allow for a wide range of difficulty settings that can be controlled via a computer.
- Magnetic breaking system is smooth and quiet.
- 8kg flywheel.
- Screen displays all necessary data, including total number of strokes, approx. energy and calorie consumption, stroke frequency, time, pulse and distance.
- Comes with computer integrated pulse receiver for wireless 5 kHz chest straps (not included).
- High quality with ball-bearing rowing seat and aluminium roller rails.
- user weight of 150kg.
- Comes with rollers and is foldable for ease of storage.
- Pedals come with non-slip surface and safety straps.
The magnetic braking system on this model truly is almost soundless, which is great if you’re concerned about disrupting others in the house or are looking to watch a movie whilst working out. The adjustable display is clear and easy to read, showing all of the important stats. It was easy to connect to a heart rate monitoring belt, with accurate readings being fed back to your phone via Bluetooth.
The machine itself can be connected back to your phone, from where it can be connected to the app for more accurate calorie readings and a greater range of programmes. This rower is a little larger than average, but it is very sturdy and capable of withstanding far greater weights than the JLL R200. We found it provided good resistance, even when using the lower settings, making it a highly functional piece of equipment at a very reasonable price.
Features: 24 Resistance Levels – 8kg Flywheel – Magnetic Breaking System – Foldable for Easy Storage – Max. User Weight 150kg
Pricing: Mid Range
Body Sculpture Rower and Gym Review – Number 4
The Body Sculpture rower and gym is a 2-in1 system with a suspiciously low-price tag. We were excited to see how this one would match up to the others because if it works, then this really is a good deal. In theory, it should be great for an all-round workout as its multiple features cover every part of your body. The machine is neat and compact but doesn’t strike us as the most durable option on the list. Here are some of its main features:
- Folds up for easy storage.
- Comes with adjustable resistance in 3 levels.
- Gym function allows you to work all parts of your body with ease, making it a 2-in-1 piece of equipment.
- Monitor displays time, stroke count, total count, calories and scan
- Large pivoting footplates and secure straps make for easy handling.
- Includes full instructional DVD including workout suggestions.
- Sturdy steel frame for high durability.
This rower is low cost and, unfortunately, it shows in some aspects. With only 3 levels of resistance, you are a little limited in your workout and we didn’t find the resistance all that strong, even at the highest level. The resistance is attained via bungee cords, which are a little fiddley to attach, too.
We also found this model to be a little noisy as the cords squeak as you move, which can be a little irritating. The computer monitor is basic but efficient, although you may end up having to resort to your phone for the timer as it can be a little temperamental. Having said that, it is comfortable to use and with the in-built gym system an added bonus, it does represent particularly good value for money. If you really are on a strict budget, then this machine could do the job, but you’d be far better off forking out a little more for one of the better models if you can.
Features: 3 Resistance Levels – 2-in-1 Rower and Gym – Includes Instructional DVD – Foldable for Easy Storage
Hammer COBRA XT Folding Rowing Machine Review – Number 5
The Hammer COBRA XT is a German-built machine that looks set to last. Its engineered steel and aluminium frame are designed to be durable and a good range of resistance settings that promise to challenge the user. It is a hefty piece of machinery that takes up a good amount of space, so be sure that you have enough room for it. However, it looks professional and sturdy, which gave us high hopes when we took it to the test, and it certainly didn’t fail us. Here are some of its great features:
- 10 range adjustable resistance for multiple intensity workouts via adjustment knob.
- Folding design and transport wheels for easy storage.
- 120kg max. user weight.
- 2-year warranty on all parts.
- Sturdy steel and aluminium frame.
- 5kg magnetic resistance flywheel for quiet running.
- LCD display monitors distance, time, calories burnt and pulse.
- Built-in receiver compatible with radio pulse sensor (not included).
- Manufactured to exacting German quality standards.
This machine certainly does live up to the hype – it runs incredibly smoothly and quietly and the resistance is strong, even at a low setting, with a wide range allowing for progress over time. It was easy to assemble and seems to be made of industrial quality materials.
One downside of this machine is that the display is not backlit, meaning that it fades in and out of visibility as you row, which can be problematic if you’re trying to track your progress. It is also on the larger side so, although it is foldable, it will take up a little more storage space than others on this list. On the flipside, this definitely gives it a sturdy feel. If you want a machine that will last well into the future and that will be capable of challenging you, then this is a great choice. It is a little more expensive than the lower range products on this list but it is well worth the added cost.
Features: 10 Resistance Levels – 120kg Max. User Weight. – 2-Year Warranty – Foldable for Easy Storage
Having a rowing machine in the comfort of your own home is one of the best ways you can get motivated to up your fitness levels. They are one of the most capable pieces of equipment when it comes to improving cardiovascular health and general overall fitness.
However, as you can see from these reviews, rowing machines can come is vastly varying forms – some of which are far more effective than others. A good rowing machine must offer decent resistance in a range of levels in order for it to be useful in improving your fitness in the long run.
If you’re going for a cheap model, such as the Body Sculpture, you’ll get what you paid for. Whilst this product is in no way a match for gym-quality options like the Concept2, at an eighth of the price, it’s easy to see why people are sucked in. Whilst this machine can be useful as a part of your exercise regime, it is unlikely to offer you enough power to be able to stay fit using it alone.
If you’re looking for an option on the cheaper side of the spectrum, we recommend forking out just that little bit more for the JLL R200. This model still comes at a very affordable price but with a far greater range of resistance levels than the Body Sculpture, making it much greater value for money. We reckon it definitely beats its slightly costlier competitor, the Sportplus.
For those with cash to spare, it comes as no surprise that the gym-quality Concept2 Model D cannot be beaten when it comes to functionality.
This machine is smooth-running, quiet, ergonomic and durable. It offers levels of resistance that can’t be found on cheaper machines, making it easy to see why gyms worldwide put their trust in this brand. It is also really helpful being part of a larger community through the app and the website, as it motivates you to push yourself forward and compete with your peers. This is also the only model on the list with built-in pre-sets, which are great for those who need inspiration on their workout.
However, if £800+ is simply too much to swallow (as it is for most people), then the COBRA XT is up there as the best compromise on the market. This machine comes with great resistance that will continue to challenge you as you progress. It comes with all the pluses of German engineering: quality build, well thought out design, long lasting materials. If you want a rower that is both highly functional and relatively affordable, then you can’t get better than this sturdy machine.
With rowing machines, quality ranges a lot from one end of the price spectrum to the other. By selecting a machine that you can afford, you may end up making a bad investment. We recommend saving up just that little bit longer so you can get your hands on a decent and well-built machine that will stand the test of time. A poorly functioning machine is only likely to end up as a disused part of the furniture or a broken and useless eyesore. If possible, you should always opt for a quality machine over a cheap one.