My beloved rowing machine has justifiably earned its place as the cornerstone of my fitness regimen. After all, rowing is arguably the king of in-home total body cardiovascular conditioners. With one simple back-and-forth movement, more than 80 percent of the muscles in the body are trained, with significant benefits to the legs, abdominals, back, shoulders and biceps.
No matter what type of cardio you intend to engage in — whether it’s hours of steady-state cardio, a few minutes of a HIIT-inspired workout, a precision Tabata protocol session or even a time trial of an established competitive rowing distance — your in-home rower can provide you with all of these simultaneous training options. Thankfully, too, there’s nothing about a rowing machine that requires you to keep up with an automated milling motion. In fact, nothing on the rower moves until you do, which makes all of the performance readings more reliable, and leaves you secure with the sweaty realization that nothing is doing any of the work for you.
The Three Things You Should Look for in a Rower — Particularly Those Sold on Amazon
1) Realism. For many people, rowing machines aren’t merely about providing cardiovascular exercise; they also need to replicate the genuine feel of rowing out upon the open water. This means the most attractive rowing machines must mimic the feeling of momentum being gained and lost with every stroke.
2) Applicability. A treadmill always knows the speed at which its tread is moving, along with how many miles a person would have covered if they’d kept pace with the moving tread. Can a rowing machine adequately track the ground a fake boat traveling along imaginary water would have covered if it was placed upon an authentic waterway? For some people, that’s the most critical piece of knowledge in the entire training session, so accurate tracking is of critical importance.
3) Durability. As basic as a rower’s motion is, the function of the machines invariably involves a handle attached to a chain or a strap that connects to a contraption that pulls a doohickey, thereby causing a kajigger to rotate… or something. The point is, there are a lot of connection points on a rowing machine where a breakdown can occur, and if one does, the entire machine can be forced out of commission. It’s best to get a rower that’s slow to wear down at all points where such deficiencies are likely, or at least one that can function with minimal maintenance.
Okay, now let’s set sail with the five best rowers you can purchase on Amazon…
Best Rowing Machine Ever Made: Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine
Why You Should Row, Row, Row This Boat: The Concept2 is the gold standard that everyone who rows competitively will judge your rowing machine against. The resistance is provided by an air-resistant flywheel, which is designed to replicate the natural feel of rowing along the water in a crew team’s shell. It also plugs into a vast online network where you can upload your workout information, engage in formal challenges and compete in global competitions with people all around the world.
Why You Should Abandon Ship: Some people just want the resistance without all of the bells and whistles, and they couldn’t care any less about replicating the on-water feel of authentic rowing. They may also have no desire to log their information online or interact with other rowers. If that description overlaps with your personal feelings about rowing, then you’ll probably feel like you’re vastly overspending by paying around $1,200 for a rower when there are so many rowing machines that can provide you with the fundamental rowing motion for less than half of that.
The Last Word: If you’re dead serious about rowing and fully intend to make it part of your everyday life, the Concept2 is a highly advisable purchase. It will provide you with a real-world feel, reliable performance feedback and an online community that you can tap into for motivation, workouts and competitions. Not to mention, indoor rowing on the Concept2 is a legitimate sport, so you’re training for full-fledged competition every time you take a seat on one.
Best Magnetic Rowing Machine: Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rower
Why You Should Row, Row, Row This Boat: For well under $300, Amazon will ship you a rowing machine that replicates the fundamental motion of rowing that will meet the standards of most people. Its magnetic resistance will provide you with sufficient tension to feel like you’re rowing a legitimate boat, provided that it’s not a feeling that you have much familiarity with.
Why You Should Abandon Ship: If your expectation of a rowing machine goes beyond the application of tension to your muscles, the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rower may not be a satisfactory purchase. Without a flywheel to provide your muscles with the feeling of actually piloting a boat that’s gaining and losing momentum, it may feel like a lightweight cable row with a highly unstable support seat.
The Last Word: Again, if you have no expectation for what rowing should feel like and you want to test the dry waters of stationary rowing, the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rower will provide you with a low-dollar starting point before you splurge on one of the big boys.
Best Water Rowing Machine: Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 5000
Why You Should Row, Row, Row This Boat: If you’re something of a purist, and want to feel like you’re at least superficially interacting with actual water while you’re tugging away at a set of handles that are theoretically replicating a real-life row, the Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 5000 will enable you to scratch that itch. It’s also quieter than a Concept2.
Why You Should Abandon Ship: Sometimes specialized features merely add to the number of things that can go wrong with a machine. Many purchasers of this rower have complained about leaks in the water tank, which is a problem non-aquatic rowing machines typically don’t introduce you to. Aside from that, another common complaint is that the Obsidian Surge 5000 can’t match the maximum resistance levels provided by other rowers, and that the pull often feels too easy.
The Last Word: Some people enjoy communing with nature, and the water contained within the Obsidian Surge 5000 provides trainees with an element to interact with other than the fans contained within more common rowing models.
Best Wood and Water Rowing Machine: BATTIFE Water Rowing Machine
Why You Should Row, Row, Row This Boat: On the other hand, you have the purest of the pure purists who want the feeling of rowing their wooden boat gently down a stream. Not only will the BATTIFE Water Rowing Machine provide that group with that feeling — at least as well as it can be supplied on a compact indoor rowing machine — but its quiet functionality will leave them feeling merrily indeed.
Why You Should Abandon Ship: The most frequent complaints all have to do with its monitor, which apparently doesn’t track performance in a realistic fashion, and leaves several users feeling like the statistical output that accompanies the workout is worthless. There are also complaints that the entire machine slides when it’s set upon a smooth surface, which means you may be relegated to rowing on the carpet if you’d prefer not to be preoccupied with the literal distance you’re traveling during what’s intended to be a stationary workout.
The Last Word: Whether you require a wooden rowing machine because you love the look, feel and sound of wood, or because you want your training equipment to match the wood-grain aesthetics of your living room, the BATTIFE Water Rowing Machine will accomplish both while also providing you with a quality rowing option.
Best Two-Way Elliptical Rower: Teeter Power10 Rower with 2-Way Magnetic Resistance Elliptical Motion
Why You Should Row, Row, Row This Boat: The Teeter Power10 addresses what are often the two most common complaints about rowing: No direct pectoral engagement, and no opportunity to tailor the rowing stroke to focus on different muscles. This machine provides resistance during the stroke recovery, along with four practical hand positions to target different parts of the back, and to incorporate the biceps in a more practical fashion.
Why You Should Abandon Ship: The Teeter Power10 takes the pretense of attempting to replicate real rowing and chucks it out the window. It’s true that rowing doesn’t optimally work the chest, but if you add direct resistance to what’s intended to be the recovery of the rowing stroke, it’s no longer rowing as it’s morphed into something else entirely. Plus, the flow of the movement provided is much closer to that of an elliptical machine, which is a good analogy for describing this unit: It is to rowing what the traditional elliptical is to cross-country skiing.
The Last Word: If you’re in the market for a cardio workout that very loosely replicates the motion of a straight barbell row, a deadlift and a bench press, the Teeter Power10 will fulfill those needs. But it will leave you thoroughly disabused of the notion that you’re engaged in an authentic rowing exercise.