If you could pick the best exercise for your body, what would it be? Of course that will depend on what you enjoy and what state your body is in, but did you know that rowing is probably the best type of exercise there is? We’re taking a look at what we believe is the best home rowing machine 2018.
There are plenty of reasons and benefits as to why rowing is so good for you. Possibly the most important is that it gives a total body workout. It’s good for the upper and lower back, plus the shoulders. The arm action helps the biceps, triceps, pecs and even the abs.
Because you’re using your legs too, it also benefits the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and muscles in your backside too! Your wrists and hands will also get some benefit as well. This truly is an all-over exercise machine. Amazing, this is a low impact exercise but be careful of your joints – take a look at our article, Can Home Rowing Be Harmful?
You also get a cardio workout as this type of exercise is good for raising the heart rate. It’s recommended the average person gets around 30 – 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least 5 days a week or 20 – 60 minutes of high intensity exercise 3 days a week. This is easily achievable with an indoor rowing machine and a reason why you might want to include a hear rate monitor with the training.
We’ve picked what we believe are the 10 best home rowers, there are plenty to choose from and narrowing them down was difficult. You might not find what you’re looking for on our list, but at least it will hopefully give you a few ideas.
1. Concept2 Model D with PM5 – The Top Rated Rower
Concept2 practically dominate the indoor rowing machine market and have done so since the early 1980’s. They offer professional yet very affordable rowers for everyone, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner who’s just getting started and is looking for the best quality you can find.
This rower is a very popular model, in fact it’s one of the world’s bestselling rowing machines. The instructions are really simple to follow and there are diagrams which will help you to put it together.
There are eight screws which you’ll need to fix to the front legs, but apart from that the rest is assembled and you won’t need any special tools if you want to take it apart.
Carrying it around is easy as it’s very lightweight, it only weighs 57 pounds. The Model D is also really quiet to use and that’s because of a clever flywheel design. It’s an air rower, so an airflow controls the resistance. This is controlled by a spiral damper and give a very quiet and smooth operation.
This is particularly useful if you intend to use it in a spare room of your house, especially upstairs, so it shouldn’t bother the neighbors. The other good thing about the quiet running is that you can easily listen to music as you are working out!
The Performance monitor 5 (PM5) can be connected to your PC or Mac. The data it gives you is detailed and includes distance, speed, pace, calories burned, and watts. It has ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart connectivity so can be paired with a compatible heart monitor.
One interesting feature if you have a workout partner is that you’re able to connect this machine to other Concept2 rowing machines. Perhaps a feature that’s a little over the top, but you never know when it might come in handy!
The Concept2 Model D is a well-built machine with a 14inch seat height, a stainless steel chain and the PM5 monitor. The footrests are adjustable to accommodate all sizes of feet and it has an ergonomic handle which helps to achieve a natural position.
You’ll need an area of 9 x 4 feet to use it and it can carry up to 500 pounds. There’s a 30 day money back guarantee, a five-year frame warranty, with two years on the monitor and moving parts.
2. Stamina 35-1399 – Great Air Rower
With the name “air rower” you probably won’t be surprised to read that this rower uses wind resistance to control the settings, which can make a workout either really easy or as difficult you want it to be. Because it utilises wind resistance, it means you can get a very smooth rowing stroke.
Like most other similar rowing machines, the Stamina 35-1399 Air Rower has an on-board multi-function electronic performance monitor with several functions such as speed, distance, time and calories you’ve burned.
The seat is padded and well upholstered which is important for comfort when exercising and it has an over-sized, angled seat rail. It also has footplates which are suitable for all foot sizes and there are adjustable nylon foot straps so there shouldn’t be any danger of slipping while working out.
It’s very easy to put together and to take apart if you want to. Also it has built-in wheels so you can move it around easily. There are floor protectors to help prevent any skidding whilst it’s being used and when it’s not in use you can fold it up and easily store it away.
The warranty on this model is for three years on the frame (some other Stamina models have five years on the frame) and there’s ninety days on the moving parts. Bear in mind most rowers have different warranties for non-moving parts such as the frame, compared to moving parts like the monitor, but ninety days is pretty good for the price.
One clever little feature is the way it can compute the resistance that you would like it to give you. Because it works with wind resistance, all you have to do is to start rowing more quickly and it will increase the resistance. If you slow down your pace it will reduce the resistance.
It has a standard T bar grip fitted which is padded with textured hand grips to make it more comfortable for long sessions. The frame is a sturdy steel construction and it folds for easy storage.
Some assembly is required for the Stamina Air Rower, with the dimensions being 77 inches long, 18 inches wide and 22 inches high so it doesn’t take up too much space when in use. It isn’t able to take as much weight as our number one choice, with the maximum user weight on this one being 250 pounds.
3. Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 – With Arms on Either Side
If you’re looking for something that will give good value for the price you pay and your budget is limited, then it’s worth taking a look at the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050. It’s a very well-built, sturdy steel framed machine and is fairly compact with a footprint of only 23 ½ x 46 inches.
It has an adjustable gas-shock resistance from a hydraulic piston which is typical for lower priced rowers. The problem with these is that they can become very hot during use and over time they can sometimes begin to leak, which will affect the overall performance.
The monitor is fairly basic, showing the time, stroke count, and estimated calories burned. Comparing workouts to get an idea of progress made is better than looking at isolated ones. That way results can be relatively monitored rather relying on accuracy. Even though the price is fairly low it’s good to see that it has a monitor included, this is unusual as most at a similar price wouldn’t have one.
This is an almost tiny machine! Well it’s fairly small so it shouldn’t be a problem if space at home is limited. As you might expect with such a small machine, once you’ve finished your workout, you can fold it up for easy storage.
If you are on a budget, it’s quite likely you’re just starting out or just need something that isn’t too heavy duty but will help to keep you fit. Of course there are better models available at higher prices, but if you really don’t want to pay too much, this might be just right for you.
Even though Body Trac Glider 1050 is towards the lower end of the market, the best feature over and above the others has to be the oar rowing arms!
Most rowers (even the more expensive ones) have a T bar which you pull towards you, but this Stamina Rower has arms on each side so you can actually simulate the real thing! The beauty of this is that if you are a rower or just wanting to get fit, the workout you get from this will be just like doing it for real and therefore exercise your arm and leg muscles properly.
There are 12 levels of resistance which makes it excellent either for light use or heavy duty stamina building! It may be at the lower end but the Stamina Body Trac Glider 1050 certainly deserves a place in the best home rowing machine 2018 list.
4. Concept2 Model E – One of the Best Rowers Outside the Gym
So what is the difference between the two, why does it cost more and why have we rated the Model D higher?
The Model E is one of the better rowers, in fact it’s hard to find a better one outside of the gym, plus its better than many gym rowers too. It’s perfect for advanced users who need to get the edge into their workout or they need something really heavy duty. The results are as close as you are going to get to the real thing.
The first noticeable difference is that the Model E sits higher up off the floor compared to the Model D and as a rough guide it works out at about 20 inches above a normal dining room chair.
This gives added comfort when rowing, especially for anyone who has complaints such as bad knees.
It also includes the advanced PM5 Performance monitor which gives accurate, comparable data. It has USB flash drive compatibility and can be paired with smartphones or connect wirelessly to a heart rate monitor. The Model E monitor arm is longer, making it easy to reach everything.
The construction is to a very high standard, it’s solid and heavy duty, being built with durability in mind. The finish is excellent and is designed to protect against scratching. Like the Model D, the Model E also has a maximum user weight of 500 pounds.
The chain is nickel plated which means it doesn’t need oiling very often. The flywheel is designed to give enough resistance for anyone and it is super quiet due to the fact it’s an air rower. Although quiet, it does a make a little noise from the air pressure created from strokes, but not to any great degree.
You’re in control of the resistance by altering the speed and strength of your strokes. Surprisingly, even though this is a heavy duty home rower it separates into 2 parts for easy storage.
The Concept2 Model E rower is great for home and professional use, many gyms have them as part of their equipment. It could have easily been our number one choice, but the reason it wasn’t is that for home use, the Model D gives an almost as good performance, but at a lower price. If cost isn’t important, you won’t go wrong with the Model E.
5. Velocity Fitness CHR-2001 – Programmable Rower
The Velocity Fitness CHR-2001 Magnetic Rower is “up there” close to Concept2 as it performs well and also gives value for money, so it makes it onto the best home rowing machine 2018 list It has some good features, including the resistance control which is different to many other machines.
It has a drum magnetic control (DMC) resistance and an electronic tension control. The magnets are used as a braking system to control the resistance. The benefit of using this type of control is that there are no moving parts so there’s no surface to surface contact. The lack of friction means it runs virtually noise free and the parts don’t get worn.
Tension adjustment on the CHR-2001 is made with the electronic tension control on the monitor which sits close to the footplates. It has a back-light and is easy to read as you row. Data provided includes time, count, stroke/minutes, distance, calories, watts & pulse. It also has a motion sensor which can display your rowing motion. There are 12 programs with 6 pre-sets, one of which is a target heart rate program.
There is a built-in heart receiver and a chest strap is also included. Many other rowing machines have an option for a heart rate monitor but it usually comes at an extra cost. Heart rate monitoring is an important part of any cardiovascular workout.
The seat is very comfortable as it’s padded and made from PU molded plastic. The main frame or beam is made from anodized aluminum with a rectangular tubing support. This ensures the up and down movement of the seat is very smooth and stable.
To ensure the grip is comfortable, the handles are padded. This is something that can be overlooked, it’s easy to get blisters on the hand, so padded handles will help to prevent them and it means gloves aren’t really necessary.
The footplates on the Velocity Fitness CHR-2001 are large, so should be able to take all sizes. They’re non-slip and also have Velcro straps. It’s obviously important that your feet are secured during rowing with no chance of slipping off.
It has twelve levels of resistance, with level one being very easy and level twelve being the hardest, which gives an amount of flexibility. Resistance is provided by a hydraulic cylinder, but there’s a tendency for it to heat up if you row for a lengthy session.
The seat is adequate and fairly comfortable which is obviously important if you’re sitting for any length of time. It runs very smoothly up and down as you do your rowing motions.
Many home rowers, including this one, have footplates that pivot which adds to your comfort.
This means as your legs move, so do your feet on the plate, making it feel more comfortable. Foot straps are useful, preventing your feet slipping off the plates.
The monitor, which is very good for a budget rower, is battery powered by two 1.5 AA batteries and is simple to use. The instruction manual goes into detail on how to use it, but it measures the count and calories burned.
It’s safe to say that the SF-RW1205 isn’t “cheap and cheerful” piece of equipment, but it is fairly low priced for what you might expect to pay for a home rower. Because of its low price it can’t come up to the standard of one of the more expensive models.
As with most cylinder (hydraulic) resistance rowers, it gets hot as you row. This will have an effect on the amount of resistance so you may have to increase it to a higher level to maintain it. This should only affect you if you row for an extended period.
Although it will give you a good amount of body exercise, because of the way it’s built, it does have a limited range for motion compared to some other more expensive rowers.
Assembly of the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 is very easy with full instructions in the accompanying manual. There isn’t much to do as it comes part assembled. It’s a well-built piece of equipment which is very lightweight at just over 20 pounds. Storage is easy as it folds flat so you could possibly keep it under your bed!
7. WaterRower Natural – With Water Flywheel
This machine takes home rowers to the next level. It’s a handcrafted machine which is designed for ultimate performance, natural exercise, durability and smooth running.
One thing that sets it apart from the rest is the water flywheel. It’s a patented design and is what helps to give you the experience similar to actual rowing. The flywheel is housed in a water tank, with two paddles which provide the resistance via their drag in the water. This is the same dynamic as using paddles on a boat, so it’s a natural resistance.
As it’s a natural resistance there’s no need to have any controls. The faster you row, the more drag each peddle has in the water and so the higher the resistance. This obviously works the other way when you slow down your strokes. You can further control the amount of drag and resistance by adjusting the amount of water in the tank. The good thing with the mechanism working in this way is that there are no moving parts to wear out.
The Series 4 performance monitor on the WaterRower Natural is a complex piece of equipment, but has been designed to be easy to use with many advanced features. It has a QuickStart feature so you can push one button and start rowing, but there are many settings for monitoring such as meters per second, miles per hour, watts and calories per hour, if you wish to use them.
It’s also able to monitor your heart rate with the optional attachment, plus distance, strokes and duration can also be recorded. It even has a PC interface so it can be connected to 3rd party software.
The frame is made from premium hardwood, handcrafted solid ash and stained honey oak. Unlike metal, wood is good for absorbing sounds so much of the noise generated during use is dampened. There’s obviously no metallic noises, so this machine runs fairly silently, which makes it good for home use.
It’s by no means a small rower but it can be stored quite easily. The design enables it to stand upright on one end, so the space it takes up is easily manageable.
Although not at the cheaper end of rowers, the benefits of owning a WaterRower Natural are clear to see. Another well-deserved place on the best home rowing machine 2018 list.
8. Stamina 15-9003 – Recumbent Bike/Rower
The best home rowing machine 2018 list has to include the Stamina 15-9003 Deluxe Conversion II Recumbent Bike/Rower as it’s at the top end, plus it’s more than just a rower as it is also an exercise bike. This means that you get a piece of equipment that can give you two different cardiovascular workouts from a single machine. In fact, you can also do other exercises using the wheel and cord. This is good for back and abdominal exercises, plus you can also do bicep curls.
There are eight levels of resistance. It operates very smoothly with a very quiet, magnetic resistance. It can easily be adjusted while working out so there’s no need to stop when you want to make it easier or harder.
The LCD display on the Stamina 15-9003 is quite large making it easy to read as you work out. It’s tracks your speed, distance, time, calories burned and your pulse rate. Having all this in front of you is not only really useful but it can also be very motivating.
The seat has a back to it and is made from moulded padded foam for extra comfort. It has a ball bearing roller system fitted so it can glide smoothly for rowing and you can also make it stationary to fit different leg lengths when it’s being used as a bike.
Heavy duty nylon rowing straps with a foam hand grip add to the comfort but will also keep your hands stable as you row. The rowing pedals rotate for extra comfort.
For Cycling, the foot pedals are large with adjustable foot straps which securely hold your feet in position so you get the advantage of both a push and pull motion rather than just the push as some exercise bike without these straps.
The manual for the Stamina 15-9003 is very comprehensive with detailed instructions for assembly and use. It also gives advice on different ways to use the machine and ways to train. It folds away, making it easy to store and it also has wheels for easy movement when folded.
9. Stamina 1215 – With Free Motion Arms
This is a “budget real rower”! A real rowing experience isn’t really necessary if you just want to get fit by exercising at home. Some home rowers do offer this experience but it comes at a price, but not with the Stamina 1215.
It has rowing arms, each with a hydraulic piston which controls the resistance. These arms are described as “free motion arms”, which means they’re able to move in any direction the user wants.
The good thing about this is that by having free motion means they don’t need to be synchronised with their movement as they’re independent of each other. There are 5 levels of resistance that can be set and each arm can be set to a different level than the other. If you want to make your workout harder, you’re able to increase the beam climb to do so. This gives you a little more control over how you plan your exercising.
This free movement, together with the resistance is what gives the “real rowing” experience. The arms are adjustable to control the resistance, they have foam grips for added comfort and they help with the overall stability.
The seat is padded so is comfortable, but it might become less comfortable after an extended length of time. It moves backwards and forwards on a ball bearing system which keeps the glide smooth.
Stamina is known for producing strong machines, so as you would expect, the construction is solid with the frame made from steel and the beam from aluminum. The footplates are able to pivot which makes it more comfortable to use.
The Stamina 1215 is fairly compact with dimensions of 48 x 32 ½ x 23 ½ inches and it only weighs around 52 pounds which is amazingly light for a rower. This is just right if you are limited on space, but remember space is needed when moving the arms around, although they do fold away for easy storage.
The on board monitor has a single button and can show speed, distance, time, row count, calories burnt off and how many miles have been rowed. The monitor can be turned on manually or automatically by moving the seat. It will turn itself off after 4 minutes of inactivity.
10. Stamina 1205 – With Side Handles
The final best home rowing machine 2018 contender is the Stamina 1205 Precision Rower won’t take up too much space in your home, it’s easily portable and not difficult to put together. The resistance is controlled by hydraulics and has adjustable tension controls.
There’s a hydraulic piston on both of the arms and each can be adjusted separately. This is particularly useful if you have different strengths in each arm, so you can set the resistance in the pistons to compensate for this. Whilst this might not be a priority feature, it does offer some flexibility and gives you more control of your workout.
As with any hydraulic piston rower, it gets hotter as you use it, which can weaken the resistance and adjustments may need to be made. Piston rowers tend to be at the lower end of the market, they will wear over time and in some cases, oil can leak.
One good thing about a piston resistance rower is that it runs very quietly so there shouldn’t be any problem if you live in an apartment with people below you.
The frame on the Stamina 1205 is remarkably sturdy as it’s built from steel with an aluminum beam. Despite the sturdiness, it’s very lightweight at only 47 pounds.
It has a deluxe ball bearing rolling systems as part of the seat for a smooth movement. The seat itself is thickly padded to make it extra comfortable, the handles are padded for comfort and the pivoting footplates also add to the comfort and stability.
If you are limited in the amount of space you have, this rower may be a good choice for you as it’s only 32 ½ inches wide and 48 inches in length. Probably the biggest drawback to the Stamina 1205 though, is that it doesn’t fold up, so it needs to be kept on the floor or it can be leant up against a wall.
The monitor, like other Stamina rowing machines, shows your speed, distance, time, stroke count and calories burned. This data shouldn’t be taken as completely accurate, but is more to compare your workouts. It’s more about a comparative view rather than using an isolated workout to measure your progress.
Setting it up isn’t really difficult but it can be a little tricky as there is some assembly required. The manufacturer says it’s better as a two-person job and it may take around 20 minutes or so, but longer if you do it by yourself. The warranty is fairly good as you get 90 days for the parts, but there’s 5 years on the frame.
Overall the Stamina 1205 Precision Rower is an excellent machine which will help you to get the benefits of rowing at a very good price as long as you have enough storage space and you’re not looking for a top professional rower.
Home Rower Buyers Guide
If you’ve decided on a rower to help you with your workouts, there are a few things to consider before you make your purchase. Although cost will probably be an important factor in helping you to make a decision, it’s best to look beyond that.
There are four types of rowing machine, based on how they provide resistance. Each type has advantages and disadvantages so it will come down to weighing each of them up to see which is best for you.
These tend to be the most popular for home users because they’re normally cheaper. They’re also normally smaller and quieter than other types. The hydraulics work with one or more pistons which are filled with oil.
Obviously the more you pay, the better the quality and durability will be, but they can have problems.
As you do your workout, the friction within the piston heats the oil a little. This affects the amount of resistance, making it weaker. The level of resistance will get less as the oil gets hotter, so adjustments will need to be made during the workout.
Because the oil heats and the resistance changes, the type of row you’ll get won’t be one of the smoothest. After a lot of use, the oil can begin to leak, which might make a mess on the floor or carpet and it’s at this point the piston will need replacing.
If you’re on a budget, a hydraulic resistance rower is a good option, as long as you’re prepared to carry out some maintenance and replace parts every now and again.
These are also popular for home use, but they can be a little more costly than hydraulic rowers. They work in much the same way as magnetic resistance exercise bikes.
Strong magnets are mounted close to the flywheel and moving them closer or further away is what controls the level of resistance. They’re either controlled by a mechanical slider or digitally from the console controls, depending on which model you go for.
The big advantage of these is that they run very quietly because there’s no friction to the flywheel. This makes it great for home use if noise could cause a problem and because no parts come into contact, there’s very little maintenance needed.
There’s normally a wide range of resistance, but some models don’t have set levels. This can make it difficult if you want to keep a track of your progress.
Air rowers are probably the best and are often main type used in gyms, with models such as Concept2. The way they work is simple, with the handle connected to the flywheel by a chain. As the handle is worked, the flywheel spins and an airflow is created. Resistance is created as the air flows over the flywheel.
Rowing faster causes more airflow, creating more resistance and slowing down reduces the airflow, creating less resistance. Some models do have resistance adjustments, but most rely on rowing faster or slower.
This type of action creates a rowing experience similar to that of being in water and it gives a very smooth performance too. There isn’t much wear and tear, so there isn’t much maintenance needed.
Probably the biggest disadvantage of an air rower is that they can be quite noisy, particularly as you speed up the strokes. That’s not usually a problem in a gym, but at home it may be a different story, so you might want to consider this if there are family members who may be nearby when you row.
These can be described as almost a luxury because they can give a rowing experience probably as close to the real thing as you can get. The flywheel is situated in a water tank and acts as paddles. The handles connect to a chain which is attached to the flywheel and it’s the water that provides the resistance.
As with an air rower, the faster your strokes, the greater the resistance. The effect is a very smooth and consistent operation. It’s very quiet although there is some noise made by the water but it adds to the experience of feeling like you’re rowing a boat.
Water rowers need very little maintenance, but the water will need changing from time to time. They’re normally larger and heavier than other types of rowers, they also tend to be more expensive. They’re not practical for everyone, but if you have the space and cash, then it worth considering one.
It might seem obvious but it’s important to know how well the rower is built. Look out for a sturdy construction with a strong frame and comfortable seat. The maximum weight load is a good indicator of its strength. The sliding track should run smoothly and be long enough so your legs stretch out far enough as you pull back.
If there’s a nylon strap rather than a chain connected to the flywheel, you may find over time it will fray and need replacing. With some machines this can be a tricky job, although replacements are usually readily available from the manufacturer.
Depending on how serious you are about your training, you might want to consider whether or not a data console is important to you. Many people aren’t too bothered about it, they’re happy to set a resistance and row for a certain amount of time. If you want to keep a track of your progress and see the data, go for a model that has a console.
Remember, going cheap isn’t necessarily a bad thing, many people are happy to buy a budget rowing machine and get a lot of benefit from it. On the other hand, it can turn out to be a false economy if you’re taking rowing seriously. For the best rowing machine 2018, we’ve picked the Concept2 Model D as the best choice when it comes to performance, reliability and price.