- Comparing the Best Rowing Machines of 2020
- 1. Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5: The Industry Gold Standard
- 2. WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor: Simply Put, it’s Beautiful
- 3. Stamina 15-9003 Deluxe Conversion II Recumbent Rower: Best Multifunction Option for Non Professionals
- 4. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower CHR-2001: High Tech Rowing Action
- 5. Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower: Sleek and Silent Rowing Workouts
- 6. LifeSpan RW1000 Indoor Rowing Machine
- 7. First Degree Fitness Newport AR Water Rower: A Quirky, Fun Rowing Machine Experience
- 8. Lifecore R100 Commercial Rowing Machine: Rugged and Reliable Rowing
- 9. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5515 Magnetic Rowing Machine
- 10. Kettler Favorit Hydraulic Rowing Machine
- A Complete Buying Guide on Rowing Machines
Welcome to my list of the Best Rowing Machines of 2020! This is going to be an examination of the top 10 rowing machines I’ve reviewed this year, and the benefits and drawbacks of each one as I’ve seen when using them.
A rowing machine is any workout machine that replicates the rowing action of an oar-powered boat. The motion is simple, both hands begin far forward on the grips of the “oars” and then are pulled back against resistance, before returning to the forward, resting position.
This kind of exercise is great for the arms and upper body, as well as strengthening the back and leg muscles. It’s a full body workout that combines lean muscle building with opportunities for some truly intense cardio.
The Cardio comes from the level of intensity you choose to set. By rowing faster and more frequently, you can seriously build up the heart rate. This means in addition to building up your body’s musculature, you get the heart and lungs positively racing.
This improves the quality of your breathing over time, and burns a truly outstanding number of calories. The only comparable low-impact exercise I know of for cardio work is cycling, and that doesn’t have as much of a whole-body muscular benefit as working out with a rowing machine.
Another reason I like to use high quality rower is that there is a very large rowing community on the web, and it tends to be very welcoming. Many rowers include very detailed and precise monitoring systems that allow you to track a number of valuable metrics; strokes per minute, distance over time, calories burned, heart rate per period, and other statistics still. Other users like to “compete,” either against themselves or against friends in amicable challenges. You can find advice on posture, routines, and techniques of all sorts, with people eager to help newcomers out and push them to be their best on the indoor rower machine.
You will find a variety of rowing machines at various gyms. Hydraulic rowers, water-resistance machines, magnetic rowers; there are a host of options, and I’ve done my best to include a variety of them in the list, discussing the pros and cons as I go.
As a final word before I dive into the list, I rated these in order of my personal standards, based on what the systems offered compared to both their own price and the features offered by the other systems. That does not mean my top choice is the one and only “best,” but rather what I preferred the most based on all these factors. Another system might be the best for you.
Comparing the Best Rowing Machines of 2020
Here are some of the very best rowers 2020 for you.
1. Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5: The Industry Gold Standard
One of the first things that should be said about the Concept 2 Model D is that it genuinely is the industry standard when it comes to indoor rowing machines. Why do I say this?
It’s because the Concept 2 Model D is the most commonly used rower used to submit benchmark results for recruiting and testing in rowing exams.
When people want to show a result to a trainer or professional group, they use this machine as the one they performed their test on. That’s a very serious recommendation.
I really like the design of the Model D in terms of how it feels to use. The motions feel entirely natural, with none of the targeted muscle groups neglected during a workout session.
The Concept 2 Model D rower uses an adaptive resistance system; the harder and faster I try to row, the more resistance it puts up. In addition, I can adjust the base resistance level of the flywheel so I can focus on fast reps or high intensity as I desire.
The PM5 monitor is also very easy to use. I find some monitors harder to read mid-exercise, but the PM5 is clear and easy to read while in use. It is a little tricky to adjust for updates on the go, but given the nature of the exercise, that’s going to be a problem no matter what monitor you use.
- Very solid construction.
- Easy to use, with 3 minutes to set up and minimal maintenance required.
- Rowing range of motion is very wide, adapting to many body sizes.
- PM5 Monitor very convenient and informative.
- Warranty quite comprehensive.
- Adaptable resistance means easy to control workout intensity.
- Basic money back guarantee only 30 days. For such an investment, this feels a bit thin, though that’s my personal opinion more than a common complaint.
- Massive amount of space required to use the rower.
- Seat is not comfortable at all, and extended use makes it worse. Probably requires investing in an after-market seat.
- Fan is obnoxiously noisy.
2. WaterRower Natural Rowing Machine in Ash Wood with S4 Monitor: Simply Put, it’s Beautiful
Let me start this entry by saying that I absolutely adore the aesthetics of this model of indoor rower. The ash wood finish is just beautiful to behold, and the clever placement of the flywheel in the horizontal position “under” the machine, rather than vertically at the end of it, gives this rower a compact look that’s unobtrusive and gorgeous.
I mentioned that this is a flywheel design, and that’s something many rowing machines have in common. This is of a different type than our previous entry however, as the WaterRower gives away in its name. This uses a water-filled tank, in which the flywheel is contained.
The WaterRower comes with the S4 Monitor, a similar monitoring package to the PM5. The thing is, while similar, it has some drawbacks. The screen is much less clear and precise, looking a lot like a bad LCD clock face. It isn’t as easy to read as the PM5 design. It’s serviceable enough in its functions, offering similar metrics, but it just isn’t as easy to read while mid-exercise, and that’s a down point. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it does disappoint somewhat.
- Just beautiful rower to have in a home, much less obtrusive than other exercise equipment.
- Easy to assemble, and easy flip-over storage.
- Extremely smooth and comfortable rowing motion.
- Seat is extremely comfortable.
- Handles are very comfortable as well.
- Water flywheel allows intuitive, variable resistance.
- Water level easily adjustable for additional resistance control.
- S4 monitor can actually synch with computer to compare metrics to other rowers. Also good for informing a trainer of your progress.
- The footrests seem a little flimsy, and might not stand up to heavy rowing use.
- S4 monitor hard to read.
- WaterRower is significantly heavier than it looks when filled with water.
- Heel rests on the foot pedals are actually pretty rough, and make it hard if not impossible to row without shoe.
3. Stamina 15-9003 Deluxe Conversion II Recumbent Rower: Best Multifunction Option for Non Professionals
“The Stamina 15-9003 Deluxe Conversion II Recumbent Rower.” That name is definitely a mouthful, so I will call it the DC-II for the sake of convenience.
The DC-II is an interesting high quality rower, being designed to offer two distinct workout types in one package. This isn’t rare in the world of workout machines – the legendary Bowflex workout machines are famous for offering a variety of different exercises in one stand.
The DC-II rower only offers two, since both take advantage of the basic flywheel design.
The core of the machine is a rower, as one would hope it is given the topic of this article! However, it also comes with a pair of pedals mounted externally, meaning it can serve as a recumbent stationary bicycle as well.
- A great machine for developing cardiovascular and muscular fitness.
- Adaptable to two different workout styles, saving space and money overall.
- Surprisingly comfortable for a fairly utilitarian design in other respects.
- Resistance is adjustable as you go.
- Multipurpose approach reduces benefit of the two exercises it offers. Not awful, but not spectacular at focusing on one exercise.
- Somewhat expensive for the quality of workout it offers.
4. Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower CHR-2001: High Tech Rowing Action
- DRUM MAGNETIC CONTROL SYSTEM – This rower features a DRM system for and electronic tensions control to produce the optimum friction needed to build muscle strength and...
Here we come to yet another type of device. Many rowers use the flywheel design; a flywheel is a big wheel that gets turned by the mechanism of your rowing action.
A belt or gear turns the machine wheel as you row. Most provide resistance through air against the fan blades, the belt against the wheel, or through the wheel moving through water as a means of resistance.
The Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower once again gives the secret away in the name, offering a different kind of function. A drum magnet uses magnetism to resist the motion of the wheel.
This is really a quite interesting and rather high tech approach to the use of rowing machines, as it counters problems with the other kinds.
A rower belt doesn’t wear out from running against the wheel. You don’t have to adjust water levels. You don’t have a noisy “fan” blade running through the air as the wheel moves.
This thing is quiet, beautifully so. The sound of it operating is among the quietest rower I’ve ever used in my life.
- Very good quality of variable resistance, with 16 adjustable levels of intensity.
- Almost completely silent rower when working out.
- Sturdy yet light, with a 75 lbs aluminium frame.
- Decently functional workout monitor, that’s backlit for ease of viewing during workouts.
- Workout adjustments are very easily done with a button press through the monitor.
- Seat generously padded and comfortable.
- Constant passive additional price paid through electricity usage.
- Some other reviewers have consistently cited defective rowers on delivery (I did not experience this in my time with this machine, but it is out there).
- Max resistance levels not on par with those of higher-end water or air-fan, so not a “competitive” choice for a pro or dedicated user.
5. Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower: Sleek and Silent Rowing Workouts
- 12 workout programs including 6 cardio Profiles, 1 Manual, 4 Custom user programs and 1 Heart rate program
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but how about a rowing machine that uses magnetic resistance instead of water or air resistance? Crazy, right?
Again, I’m having a bit of a joke, but the Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower (or PMER) is another magnetic resistance design like the Velocity design.
I’ve gone into what makes magnetic designs interesting, but there are some distinct features that I think really do make the PMER an interesting choice in its own right.
Firstly, it comes with a chest-strap heart monitor. Most exercise machines monitor through sensors in the grips, but I’ve found there’s something especially accurate about a chest-strap design. It’s right against the heart, so it can measure cardiovascular function and respiratory performance right at the source. Short of sticking electrodes directly into your heart and lungs, which I think we can agree is probably not the healthiest choice, this is in my opinion the best way to get accurate rowing results vis a vis your body’s performance.
The device has a blue backlit display showing off your performance metrics, and since this device’s resistance is not powered by your own efforts, you can adjust the resistance level via “workouts.”
Allow me to explain; if the resistance is adaptive, and increases based on whether you adjust the machine and how intensely you row, the entire impetus for the workout is down to your own approaches. This makes it easy to get into ruts, or to cheat a bit by performing the same exercises. A magnetic device can adjust resistance during your workout routine, as the monitor can change the resistance on the go, as it were. This allows the PMER to store 12 different workout routines of its own, and 4 routines that the user can design for themselves. I like this kind of programmable routine, as it lets me “switch off” my brain a bit and simply work through the routine without stopping to make adjustments.
The PMER has the same drawbacks as other magnetic devices; it needs a constant power supply, it’s fairly bulky to account for the magnets, and it isn’t quite as intense at the highest end as water or air resistance designs. Also, I find the display a bit lackluster. The computer works very well as a monitoring device and the programmed exercises are a lot of fun. However, the display is curiously hard to read mid-workout for a backlit device.
- Nearly silent operation.
- Variable resistance without having to stop your exercises.
- Reasonable amount of space taken up for the performance it offers.
- 5-year warranty on the rower’s frame.
- I really, really don’t like the seat. The texture is obviously meant to be non-slip, but it’s just uncomfortable, especially for guys with a tendency to bony rear ends, like me.
- Once again, multiple users have complained about the rower not working on arrival, with defective monitors the most common problem.
- Very limited 90 day parts and labor warranty on the rower is not a device you want to have serviced within 4 months of purchase.
Speaking of various flywheel rowing types, this one is another I’ve mentioned but haven’t covered yet. In this one, the resistance isn’t provided by air, water, or magnets, but by that fourth type; direct motion of the wheel by the rowing strap.
This offers a very simple design; your body does all the work of moving the wheel as you row. It’s a simple design, and not prone to breakdowns, kicking up dust that builds up on the wheel, and doesn’t need adjusted water levels. It’s a very straightforward, assemble and go sort of machine.
This one isn’t quite as silent as the magnetic resistance models, and it doesn’t have the soft, pleasant “whoosh” of a water rowing machine. However, it is still very quiet, with a quiet little “whirr” of activity as you work out. It definitely isn’t a loud machine, and I like any machine that isn’t distracting me from books or listening to Cheap Trick when working out.
That said, no review is complete without an honest look at the problems in a device, and this one had a few I noticed.
First, the machine’s max user weight is set at about 300 lbs. Now, with the average male weight somewhere around 200lbs, that isn’t a huge problem per se. However, rowing exercises are some of the best exercises for people who are seriously overweight to lose the pounds. It’s virtually non-impact, so it’s great for people who have joint issues and similar problems that come from excess weight. This low threshold puts it out of the running as a weight loss machine for people seriously overweight, and that’s a problem worth noting.
The other issue is that the choice of a fairly modest cloth strap for the rowing mechanism is not the best, to my mind. Since it’s acting directly on the wheel constantly, it is very likely to wear out with extended use. Since this is the central function of the machine, it does give me a bit of pause. It’s not going to fray and snap in even a year of use, but it does put a definitively shorter max lifespan on the machine than a sturdier choice would have.
- Acceptably quiet operation.
- Very easy to use, with no extra power or “fill up” considerations required.
- Very good warranties, with 5 for frame, 2 for parts, 1 for labor.
- Monitor system quite basic, with no active monitoring equipment for the user’s vitals.
- Pedal straps kept coming unsecured, stopping the workout as I re-secured them.
- Poor long-term choice of pull-chain strap in using cloth.
- Somewhat low max user weight.
7. First Degree Fitness Newport AR Water Rower: A Quirky, Fun Rowing Machine Experience
Of course, that wouldn’t matter much if it didn’t work well. I’ve seen a lot of gear that looks great but wimps out in the end. Fortunately, that was not the case here. I really quite enjoyed the AR Rower.
Like the title says, the AR is a water-resistance machine, and uses a similar low-situated, horizontal water tank to the WaterRower we discussed earlier. It’s a much more prominent machine, however, with a much more robust looking metal frame. You can flip it and easily store it, but it’s a substantial beast even in a vertical posture. This is an idol in the Iron Church, and it deserves a dedicated space.
Also, it may sound odd to compare this to other water rowers because water is water, but I quite liked the sound of the machine as I used it. It’s a bit noisier than the WaterRower, but the sound just sounded so natural I ended up enjoying it. It sounded like I was genuinely rowing. I also appreciated the USB connectivity for computers running fitness apps, allowing easy connection to my online monitoring of my workout.
There are some quirks I wasn’t as fond of, of course. Water does provide a degree of dynamic resistance, but eventually you have to adjust a dial to increase or decrease the resistance levels to suit a workout. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the change in resistance lagged a bit; it frequently took up to a minute for me to feel the change in the resistance levels, which threw off my rhythm a bit.
That said, it’s a comfortable ride and the fixed footing surfaces meant balance problems never plagued my rowing.
- Very comfortable, natural feeling rowing ride.
- USB and app support for monitoring.
- Chest-strap compatible.
- Substantial max user weight capacity.
- Long Warranty.
- Quirky, unique appearance.
- Nicely priced for a water-resistance rower.
- Weird delay in resistance changes.
- On-board monitor a bit basic.
- Rather light max resistance for a water-rower, disappointingly so in the end.
8. Lifecore R100 Commercial Rowing Machine: Rugged and Reliable Rowing
A lot of these choices have mentioned they’re more for the average user than for the dedicated fitness enthusiast. That changes with the Lifecore. This thing is made for people who are serious about their rowing for one reason or another.
The maximum weight threshold for this baby is 600 pounds for a user! I don’t believe there are any users who DO weigh that much in the end, so no matter what your weight situation, this glorious machine can handle it. As I’ve said, since rowing is an excellent choice for people who want to shed pounds with low-impact exercises, that makes this a very attractive contender.
This machine offers some very strong resistance at its higher settings, meaning it will definitely challenge people at the higher end of their workouts. This is very good, as it means it will give good service for a longer period than machines with a lower maximum intensity.
This does come with a weird drawback. It felt like the basic rowing speed was slower than with other rowing machines. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, particularly if the goal is to lose weight. However, compared to a machine like the Concept 2, it just feels odd.
The Lifecore rower accommodates a very large foot size, up to 14 size shoes, with very little trouble. The foot pads are a bit awkwardly placed, making extended workouts perhaps a bit uncomfortable, but bearable.
Weirdly, the Lifecore is a dual-mode resistance machine. It uses a combination of unpowered magnets AND an air-resistance fan blade system. This has some nice advantages, primarily that you get the benefits of magnetic resistance without having to plug it in, and you get the dynamic resistance of a fan in that more intense rowing produces more intense resistance.
On the downside, it’s just as noisy as other fan-based designs.
- Extraordinary construction.
- Very high resistance levels.
- Adaptable resistance.
- Backlit, easy to read and use monitor and exercise program.
- A noisy design.
- Footrests can pinch at the heels, and are uncomfortable in extended rowing workouts.
- Very pricey, putting it out of the casual user’s range, and even pinching some more dedicated users who don’t want to wreck their wallet.
- DIGITAL MONITOR - The large LCD console displays time, count, calories, total count, scan. The convenient scan mode displays your progress to assist you in tracking all...
I take back my earlier joke about rowing machine names that are a mouthful. the SF-RW5515 (which I will call the 5515 from now on) is just a terrible name. I know this machine made my top 10 for 2020, but I can’t lie, Sunny Health & Fitness pick awful names for their products.
That said, the product itself is far from awful. Previous models had a very…so-so reputation. They weren’t bad, but they had enough flaws that made it pretty easy to pass them over in favor of other models.
It isn’t hard to guess why, the designs they offer are budget-priced, and in exercise equipment, you frequently get what you pay for. In the case of the 5515, however, you do get a bit more than you pay for, as I like this little magnetic rowing machine for what it is.
It offers a decent range of resistance modes, it doesn’t require constant power to its magnet, and it has a very solid feel with an all-steel construction.
It does have its flaws. The maximum user weight is back to 300 lbs, so if you are seriously overweight, or if you have bulked up through weight training and want a rowing machine, this isn’t the device for you.
However, the people it is for are the more cash-strapped home users. The price tag is right under $300. That’s insanely low; very few machines come in at under $500, for a very basic set of features. This one offers a comparable workout experience at the beginner or casual levels, at a modest fraction of the price.
Perhaps the best way to explain it is that with the 5515, you don’t “lose” other features so much as trade them. You’re trading a high end monitor, dynamic resistance, and active monitoring for a simple, easily affordable machine.
- Simple, easy to use display monitor.
- 8 Resistance levels adjusted by dial.
- Fairly easy to store rower and transport.
- Simple to assemble.
- Extremely, pleasantly affordable machine.
- Consistent performance due to magnetic resistance.
- Magnetic resistance is “stiff” meaning it’s harder to practice for timed, fast rowing.
- Low maximum user weight. Still good overall, but not an option for the large.
- Relatively cheap velcro on the footpads, leading to frequent adjustments.
- Noisy both in terms of the flywheel, and the seat slide.
- Seat surprisingly hard and uncomfortable with extended use – invest in some manner of extra cushion for the seat, or an after-market replacement.
- Displays 6 functions simultaneously: Time, Distance, Energy Consumed, Strokes, Pulse Rate and Frequency; Includes a recovery feature which provides a cardio wellness...
At last we come to the final type of rowing machine, the hydraulic type. The Kettler Favorit falls into this category, and I include it for the complete range of options.
Hydraulic machines use hydraulic pistons to achieve their action. There are better places than this review to go into how they work; suffice to say they are relatively simple and tend toward the inexpensive side of the table.
Kettler offers a series of fairly affordable budget options, and their Favorit is intended to be such a design. It’s a comfortable fit for most wallets at about $500 for the unit. It isn’t quite as cheap as the 5515, but also isn’t going to wreck your credit rating.
What I liked best is that this is a very comfortable ride. The grips are well designed and pleasant to use, the seat is quite comfortable to sit in, and the sliding motion of the seat along the central bar is surprisingly smooth for the price range.
However, there are of course considerations that must be observed.
A common problem with hydraulic machines is that as the fluid in the chambers warms up, particularly with intense use, it tends to become less resistant. This means that just as I would hit my stride, the resistance level would drop off, rather than increasing or remaining steady. This can throw off a workout routine for sure.
The other issue is that it has the lowest max weight support of any of the models I’ve reviewed, topping out at about 275 pounds. Honestly, since I weigh 270, this caused me some worry. I didn’t notice any problems with the machine, but I could sense that it was near capacity as I used it.
It is one of the best rowing machine for seniors.
- Hydraulic operation is quite quiet, on par with a magnetic flywheel system.
- The Favorit is very compact at just 52″ in length.
- The monitoring system is actually wireless compatible, for more active monitoring of your vitals.
- The seating and central rowing motions are very smooth and comfortable.
- 3 Year rower warranty.
- Criminally low maximum weight for user.
- Jerky resistance changes at high intensity.
A Complete Buying Guide on Rowing Machines
There are a number of considerations that I touched on in the rowing machine reviews above, so I figured I’d recap some of them here in the buyer’s guide, so that you know what to look for when you’re shopping for a good rowing machine.
1. Know Your Goal
What do you want out of your rowing machine?
Do you want to train for rowing competition?
Then you will probably prefer something more precise like the Concept 2 Model D.
On the other hand, if you want to experience the best workouts for weight loss but don’t have a massive amount of money to spend, a product like the AR or even the SF-RW 5515 home rower might be a more sensible choice for your needs.
Look at your personal goals, and see how each of these top rowers might benefit you before selecting one.
2. Pay Attention to Special Features
Are you a data-junkie? Do you just LOVE breaking information down as fine as possible?
Then you want to search for a rowing machine with precise, more active monitoring panel.
On the other hand if you just want the basics, then you don’t have to pay attention to what kind of monitor you’re using.
Maybe you simply want a quiet workout, which means you want a water or magnetic system, most likely.
Pay attention to the extra features, and not simply the core promises. A workout is much more than the exercise, it’s an entire experience and what works for someone else, may not work for you.
When checking out the special features, you will probably figure out the top rowing technique as well.
3. How Much Work Do You Want Done For You?
Some of these machines offer programs that change the resistance of the rowing machine for you, and some require your own input to make adjustments.
Do you have a plan in mind and intend to follow through on it? Then you won’t need to consider a rower that changes the workout routine for you.
On the other hand if you find yourself in need of help, the ability of a machine to change resistance on the go may help you achieve your goals.
A popular thread on reddit called “best rowing machine reddit” also seems to agree with my opinion.
4. How Much Space Do You Have?
My Dad used to tell me that you should look at a man’s house and see what he’s made room for. Did the things this man had fit sensibly into his life? It wasn’t about making room for the biggest things, but rather finding things that fit into his life and made it better.
Don’t feel that the biggest machine you can fit into your place is automatically the best.
The Concept 2 may be the industry standard for competitive rowers; that doesn’t mean it’s the one that fits into your life.
Select the best rower that can easily and comfortably fit into the living space you have.
You’ll be using this machine for a long time, hopefully – you want it to seem a natural part of your life rather than an intrusion.
Fortunately, the Concept 2 Model D is the best rowing machine for home that can easily fit in compact apartments as well.
5. Try Out Different Models
This isn’t as simple as it might sound, of course.
There isn’t a service bringing a series of comparisons to your house at an affordable price. Even taking advantage of 90-day money back periods can be difficult, as you still have to have the machines delivered, assembled, and used before you can send them back (which of course requires disassembly and repacking).
Still, there are ways to go about it. Get to your gym and try out different kinds of equipment if available. Go to fitness stores and ask to try out machines. Compare and see which ones feel the best to you, and work with your exercise goals.
(*The star rating shown above is our own)
So there you have it, my top 10 Best Rowing Machines for 2020. I hope that you have a chance to try out some or even all of these devices like I did. I found the experience rewarding and interesting, and I would love for you to have the same chance as well. Cheers!
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