When it comes to getting a great combined cardio and muscular workout, it is hard to go past the rowing machine. Every stroke you take on a rower is working nine of the major muscles of your body, including the lats, deltoids, biceps and forearms.
At the same time, you are getting in a fantastic cardiovascular workout to improve the health of your heart and lungs, while also burning of calories to help you lose that extra weight. And all of this happens in a very low-impact environment that is friendly to your joints and lower back.
In this article, we reveal the 6 best home rowing machines on the market right now. After exhaustive analysis, we have pared the huge rowing machine market down to the top half dozen, including the best overall, the best for cardio endurance, and the best for muscle and strength gain. You’ll also find plenty of great advice on what to look for when buying a rowing machine and we’ve even thrown in a fantastic high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout to put you through your paces once you have unboxed your new rower.
We love this home rowing machine by Hop Sport!
Your Rowing Machine Options
There are four types of rowing machine on the home fitness market:
- Air rowers – an air rower is powered by a wheel that sits within a safety cage. Users have the ability to control the amount of air within the cage in order to adjust the resistance level. This is done by way of a damper adjustment. These types of rowing machines are very noisy and it is not possible to precisely adjust the resistance setting. However, they do provide you with a very natural rowing motion.
- Hydraulic rowers – hydraulic rowers make use of piston arms to provide the rowing motion. They are among the cheapest home rowing machine options but do not provide anything close to what you would get when rowing on the water. We do not recommend buying a hydraulic rower.
- Water rower – water rowers have become very popular due to their ability to closely mimic the rowing effect that you get on the water. That’s because they makes use of a large water tank that is fitted with internal paddles. As well as a smooth fluid rowing motion, many people find it quite soothing to watch the water rotating in the tank as they are exercising. However, this is among the most expensive rowing machine for the home market.
- Magnetic rowers – magnetic rowers use magnetic devices to control the resistance and rowing speed. Of the four options, they provide the smoothest and quietest operation but are unable to match the reactive power by either an air or a water rower. This type of rower is powered by a centrally located flywheel to provide a smooth natural resistance. The larger the flywheel, the smoother it will be and the more resistance it will provide.
Here are 5 features to look out for when considering buying a new rowing machine:
- Frame quality – when you buy a rowing machine, you expect it to last for many years. If you are training every day, however, you will be giving it quite a workout in its own right. You need to check that the frame, including the rail, is made of heavy-duty steel and features hardy plastic componentry. Check the manufacturer’s warranty; it should provide you at least 10 years cover on the frame.
- Console – your rowing machine should provide you with a complete data set of relevant training information on a running readout basis. Make sure that the LCD screen is big enough that you can clearly see it as you are going through the rowing motion. If you are rowing for a time or distance goal, you need to be able to see where you are up to at all times. Many rowing machines nowadays will allow you to connect directly to a training app and then download your training data for later analysis.
- Comfort level – if you don’t feel comfortable on the rowing machine, you will probably stop using it. When it comes to comfort, the seat is probably the most important feature. You want one that is ergonomically designed so that your glutes sit naturally on it. Some padding would also be a benefit. You should also look for ergonomically designed handgrips that provide some padding and that are sweat slip resistant.
- Smooth operation – the last thing you want is to be operating a rower that is choppy and jerky. For the smoothest operation you will want to invest in a water rower. However if this is beyond your price range, the top of the range flywheel operated machine will be almost as good. Whatever you decide on, check the reviews from real users (such as us!) to see how natural and jerk free the rowing motion is.
Our Rowing Machine Reviews:
Hop-Sport Home Rowing Machine Boost HS-030R
The Hop-Sport Home Rowing Machine Boost HS-030R is a budget priced magnetic rower. It provides you with 10 resistance levels and offers a relatively smooth jerk free rowing operation. The monitor features an LCD display that provides a running readout of your rpm, calories burned, stayed and training time. This is a foldable rowing machine that also comes with wheels to allow for easy storage.
The Boost HS-030R is well-made, with a set frame and rail, along with heavy duty plastic housing for the motor unit. The seat is ergonomically designed and relatively comfortable. The maximum user weight is 120 KG, which is quite generous for a rower at this price range.
Overall, we found this unit provides an extremely good rowing experience for a budget priced home use machine. As of 2020 it’s our best home rowing machine overall and our best budget rowing machine available to the UK home market today.
- 10 resistance levels
- Budget priced
- Max user weight of 120 kg
We R Sports RowX2 Magnetic Rowing Machine
The We R Sports RowX2 Magnetic Rowing Machine is a solidly constructed rowing machine that, while being made from heavy duty aluminium, is still relatively light at 27.2 KG. This is a foldable rower that can easily be stored under a bed when not in use. It also comes with transportation wheels for ease of movement.
The power of the rower comes from a 7 KG flywheel that allows for 8 resistance levels. The rowing movement is impressively smooth and the transition between resistance levels fluid and stutter free. The console on this unit provides you with a readout of your strokes, total strokes, calories, strokes per minute and resistance level. Unfortunately, the console is not backlit.
The six wheeled carriage that connects the seat to the rail ensures that you get a very smooth seat action as you row. The machine is easy to set up and very user-friendly to operate. The soft grip handles are designed for comfort and have sweat slip resistance. The maximum user weight on this rowing machine is 100 KG.
- 8 resistance levels
- 6-wheeled carriage
- 7 kg flywheel
- Solid construction
- Max user weight of 100 kg
Skandika Nemo II Aqua Rower Liquid Rowing Machine
Best for Muscle & Strength
The Skandika Nemo II Aqua Rower is a cross between a water rowing machine and a conventional rower. As such, it provides the experience of rowing against liquid resistance while also allowing the convenience of a console monitoring system. Most water rowers do not feature any electronic tracking system. This rower features a triple bladed propeller which churns through the water to provide your resistance. You have nine different resistance levels to choose from.
The Nemo II Aqua Rower is well constructed, being made from heavy duty steel componentry. This is attested to by its 150 KG maximum user weight. It also features a longer than usual rail to allow you to get a maximum range of motion while rowing. The foot plates are also larger than usual to allow for ideal lower body placement.
This water rower provides you with a very natural, smooth, flowing rowing motion. However, the addition of the computer monitor detracts somewhat from the meditative experience that you get with more basic water rowers. That being said, if you are more after a great rowing experience rather than a meditative session, then the Nemo II Aqua Rower is a great choice for you.
- Water rower
- Long rail
- Large footplates
- Maximum user weight of 150 kg
Sportstech RSX400 Rowing Machine
The Sportstech RSX400 Rowing Machine is a compact rower that is pretty basic and performs its task well. It comes on wheels to allow for ease of movement. A highlight of this rowing machine is the high quality of the rail. It is sets at 15 degrees to provide a more smooth, realistic range of motion while rowing. This results in an impressively smooth, natural, jerk free action.
The Sportstech RSX400 Rowing Machine is fully enabled to work with the Sportstech fitness app. This allows you to monitor your training diagnostics for later analysis. It also comes with a tablet holder. The monitor is quite basic but it is functional, allowing you to get a running record of your RPM, training time, and strokes per minute. You get 8 different resistance levels on this rowing machine. The maximum user weight on this machine is 100 KG.
Sportstech are a German manufacturing company, who are well known for the quality of their product and after sales service.
- 15 degree rail positioning
- Training app
- 8 resistance levels
- Maximum user weight of 100kg
Sportstech RSX500 Rowing Machine
The Sportstech RSX500 Rowing Machine is the big brother of the RSX400 we’ve reviewed above. It has a longer rail and looks sturdier and more rugged. The seat is also more comfortable with quite generous padding. The handgrips are padded for extra comfort. This is a folding rower that can be easily stored away when not in use.
The highlight of the Sportstech RSX500 is the feature packed console. It contains 16 programmed training workouts that have been created by fitness professionals. Because the unit includes a pulse belt, the programs include pulse generated workouts. There are a number of user profiles and all of your training diagnostics can be transferred to your tablet or computer via the Sportstech training app.
This rower features a 7 KG flywheel, which does its job well, providing for a very fluid, smooth and natural rowing action. You get 16 levels, allowing you to progress through your training over a long duration. It has a maximum user weight of 120 KG.
- 16 resistance levels
- Lomg rail
- Sturdy build
- 7 kg flywheel
- Maximum user weight of 120 KG
SportPlus Indoor Rower
The SportPlus Indoor Rower is a magnetic rowing machine that provides you with eight different resistance levels, along with an extremely quiet magnetic brake system. The seat is generously padded and fitted with high quality ball bearings can provide a very smooth action on the rail. The overall rowing motion is natural and jitter free and the machine rail allows you to get a full range of motion.
The monitor of the rowing machine computer provides a view of the LCD display from any angle that provides a running readout of your time, distance, strokes per minute, total strokes and calories burned. This is a foldable rowing machine that comes with wheels, making it easy to move around your home. It weighs in at a relatively light 26.5 KG and allows for a maximum user weight of 150 KG.
The large pedals of the SportPlus Indoor Rower have a non-safety tread and come with safety straps. The unit is also fitted with floor levelersto ensure that the unit is sitting correctly.
- 8 resistance levels
- Quiet operation
- Large pedals
- Padded seat
- Maximum user weight of 150 kg
Home Rowing Machine FAQ
How do you use a rowing machine properly?
There are actually four stages to a properly executed row:
- The catch – this is the beginning position where your knees should be bent and you arms reaching out to hold the handles. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and your spine has a natural curvature (not rounded).
- The drive – this is the power part of the movement. It begins by pushing powerfully with your heels to extend your legs and simultaneously pulling the handles in to the chest.
- The finish – this is the end part of the drive where your hands should be at chest level, your upper body slightly leaning back and your legs fully extended.
- The recovery – this is when you return to the starting position.
What are the benefits of using a rowing machine?
The rowing machine is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. It will improve the health of your heart and your lungs. Rowing is an exercise that involves virtually every muscle in your body to deliver a great cardio workout. The heart is forced to pump the blood all over your system in order to provide the energy and nutrients you need to continue training while also carrying away waste products, lactic acid and carbon dioxide.
Rowing improves your muscular strength and endurance. The constant repetitive rowing brings about physiological adaptations at the cellular level of your muscles. In the same manner that increasing the weight you are lifting in the weight room progressively over time makes your muscles bigger and stronger, when you increase the training resistance of your rowing workout you will also bring about increases in strength and hypertrophy. The rowing machine is especially good for working the muscles of your upper back, shoulders and arms. Your quadriceps will also get a pretty decent workout.
Rowing is one of the lowest impact exercises out there. In fact, so long as you keep your feet on the foot pedals and your hands in contact with the rower handles, you will have virtually no impact at all on your joints. For that reason, the rowing machine is a perfect exercise for those who are suffering from osteoarthritis, or who are coming back from an injury.
Sample HIIT Workout
Because it is so low impact, rowing is the smart choice when you are wanting to do a high intensity interval training workout.
High intensity interval training, more commonly known as HIIT, involves performing sharper bursts of maximum intensity work followed by shorter recovery periods. These are repeated for a number of cycles.
The original HIIT protocol involved a max sprint for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. This is preceded and followed by a two minute low intensity warmup and warm down. This gives a total work time of just eight minutes. However, it will probably feel like 10 times that, as the intensity level is extremely high.
You will burn a ton of calories while you are working out, but will also engage what is known as the EPOC system, or excess post-workout oxygen consumption. This means that for at least the 24-hours following your HIIT workout, you will be having to speed up your metabolism in order to accommodate for the higher oxygen demands required to fully recover.
Here is how to perform a six minute HIIT workout on your rowing machine:
- Perform a low intensity two minute warmup.
- As you enter the last 30 seconds of your warmup, start increasing the speed of your row until, at exactly 2 minutes, you are rowing at maximum intensity.
- Continue rowing at full capacity for exactly 20 seconds.
- Allow yourself exactly 10 seconds for recovery (i.e. no rowing).
- Immediately go to your second maximum intensity sprint – your goal is to maintain the same speed that you did on your first sprint!
- You have now completed one round – continue this pattern until you have completed eight rounds.
- Finish with a low intensity two minute warm down.
Our Final Picks!
The best home rowing machine on the UK market right now is the Hop-Sport Home Rowing Machine Boost HS-030R, which features 10 resistance levels, a max weight of 120 Kg and a compact, foldable design. We love it because it’s beautifully built and super affordable for a home gym piece. Coincidentally it is also the best rowing machine under £300.
The best rower for specifically cardio and endurance workouts is the We R Sports RowX2 Magnetic Rower, with its 7 kg flywheel and 6-wheel trail track.
Finally, the best rower for building muscle & strength is the Skandika Nemo II Aqua Rower Liquid Rowing Machine. There’s just no match for the water resistance it provides for an extra heavy and intense workout.
If you’re putting together a home gym, we think the rower is a fantastic addition, especially if you’re recovering from injury or plan to have various family members using it. It’s an extremely versatile piece of equipment, gentle on the body, but with the potential to put in a serious sweat fest as well!
Ready to buy? Click here to jump back to our top picks.
Last update on 2020-10-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API