When investing on an indoor rower to improve your health, there are some factors to take into consideration: benefits, resistance types, budget, noise level, monitor functions, etc. But apart from those factors, there are still some other specific rowing machine features that you need to ponder on.The problem, however, is that those specific features are often neglected and lack deep research.In this post, I will dig into those specific features and give you a new perspective of rowing macine buying guide to consider.Table of contents
  • Specific design features that are of extreme importance
  • a) Frame: foldable vs. non-foldable
  • b) Rail: dual rail vs. monorail
  • c) Seat rail: horizontal vs. inclined
  • d) Seat: cushioned vs. padded
  • e) Handle: straight vs. with bend
  • f) Footplates: pivoting vs. fixed
  • g) Footplates: with sliding footpads vs. without sliding footpads
  • h) Housing: near footplates vs. a little far away from footplates
  • i) Monitor: with tablet arm vs. without tablet arm

Before reading the following content, if you are new to rowing machine industry, you might need to have a look at rowing machine terminology.

a) Foldable frame vs. non-foldable frame

topiom rowing machine with non-foldable railRails of some rowing machines, such as Topiom, cannot be folded. Such rowing machines are often designed to store in an upright position after use.A woman rows with nordictrack rw500 rowing machineOn the other hand, some rowing machines, such as Nordictrack, feature foldable frame, as is shown in the picture above. After use, you can fold such rowing machine in order to store it.

Advantages and drawbacks of non-foldable rowing machine

As for the advantage and disadvantages of non-foldable design, it depends.Take Waterrower, and Topiom as example. When stored upright, they look like an elegant piece of furniture and exude a sense of nature.However, non-foldable rowing machines are not always good-looking from my perspective. Hydrow might be one example. (No offense. Though it does look fancy and futuristic during rowing, it looks a little dull in storage.)When it comes to the advantage of foldable rail design, many people might think such design will make the rowing machine more compact. So is that true?Well it’s yes and .. no.Let’s compare Topiom storage dimension with Nordictrack storage dimension. It is respectively 20″ x 22″ x 83″. When in storage, Nordictrack’s dimension is 52.4″ x 22.0″ x 47.2″. In this case, it’s a No.That’s because water rowing machines commonly have smaller footprint than air/magnetic rowing machines.If you are looking for compact rowing machines, the post of reviewing best space-efficient rowing machines is informative.So let’s get back to the question of which one is better? Foldable rail or non-foldable rail?Honest, it depends on your preference. For me personally, I would choose a piece of furniture.So what’s your choice? Please leave your comments below. 🙂

b) Rail: dual rail vs. monorail

You might have noticed that there are both dual rail and monoral rowing machines out there. Which one is more suitable for you?Well, each has its merits and drawbacks. Let’s take Waterrower as an example.waterrower rowing machine with dual railStart with dual rail design. Dual rail is good for stability.However, such design may get mixed comments on comfort.As you can see, between the rails, there are footboards with footplates placed on them. The space between rails are sometimes too narrow for some users. And when they put feets on the footplates, they do feel the rowing position too tight and uncomfortable.waterrower a1 series with monorailNow let’s talk about the monorail.It’s sometimes (not always) less stable than dual rail.The good side is that it features a little wider space between footrests.Take Waterrower A1 series as an example. The spacing on the WaterRower A1 is 8.0″ apart, compared to 5.5″ on the other WaterRower models.The space between footrests on rowing machines of other resistance types, let’s say air resistance rowing machines, are even wider.Concept 2 users are so accustomed to the wide space that they may feel quite uncomfortable on dual rail rowing machines. You can see the video here to fully get what I mean.

c) Seat rail: horizontal vs. inclined

Topiom water rowing machine with horizontal railNormally, rowing machine’s seat glides on a horizontal rail. That’s how major indoor rowing machines are designed, including Waterrower and Concept 2, the golden standard.sole sr500 rowing machineThere are though, rower models which feature a seat rail slightly inclined, such as Sole air rowing machine.On the good side, such design helps a user get more of a leg and thigh workout when pushing off and returning to the “catch” position.However, on the bad side, such inclined rail design doesn’t supply a completely natural rowing motion. That’s why it’s might not be the best choice for a professional rower, as it might lead the user to develop unwanted habits in their rowing.

d) Seat: cushioned vs. padded

Most of rowing machines have a rather hard seat padded with a sheet of rubber. concept 2 rowing machine with a padded seatConcept 2 rowing machine is one example. Concept 2 features a padded and contured seat. A contoured seat can help with the rowing motion, as inexperienced users may find it difficult to maintain the correct position, and have to readjust frequently.If you find such padded seat uncomfortable, you can always purchase a seat cushion.2k test seat cushion with memory foam2k test seat cushion with memory foam is one of the seat cushion best sellers on the market.You can also read this post of guide of upgrading rowing experience to choose a seat cushion. Or you can see this video of reviewing different seat cushions.On the other hand, there are some rowing machines fashion cushioned seats on the market. This type of seat may seem more comfortable, and especially to users with lower back problems.

e) Footplates: pivoting vs. fixed

topiom rowing machine with fixed footplatesSome traditional rowing machines have adjustable footplates. You can adjust the height of the heelrests according to your height. But those footplates don’t pivot, which means you can’t change its angle.The angle of such footrests is correctly selected after laborious research, and is fixed in order to facilitate the optiomal rowing form.Such design is welcome by most users and professional users. This is also good for beginners because fixed footrests will encourage good rowing form.But it might bring about issues to those who lack the flexibility of ankles.On the other hand, there are also some rowing machines that have pivoting footrests, allowing your feet to find their best position during every phase of the rowing motion.Pivoting footplates relieve some of the impact on your ankles, which may be great for an elderly user, or those who have flexibility issues.However, some users, especially beginners, may find pivoting footplates somewhat “uncertain”, as they would prefer solid support from their footrests.All in all, if you are new to rowing and in the process of learning correct form, fixed footrests are more suitable. If you lack flexibility, pivoting design might be good for you.But, one thing that you need to take note of is that some rowing machines are flawed-designed and the pivoting angle isn’t correctly researched and set. Therefore, it results in bad rowing form. Read the article of buyer beware to avoid flawed designed rowing machines.

f) Footplates: with sliding footpads vs. without sliding footpads

topiom rowing machine with sliding footpadsSome rowing machines such as Topiom feature footplates with sliding footpads. Such design does exist for a good reason.In general, foot position is relative to height and specifically shin length. The longer your shin, the lower your feet need to be.But following are some scenarios that require specific adjustments.For example, if you are a barefoot rowing lover, raise your footpads higher as you don’t have the cushion or sole of shoes getting in the way. A video by dark horse rowing will give you a clear idea of how to row properly without shoes.And for those who suffer knee pains, raising footpads up a little bit might a good idea. This will relieve strain on the Achilles tendon. This video might give you a better explanation of why adjusting footpads will help relieve knee pain.And for those who have big belly or are pregnant, lowering the footpads might provide more comfortable rowing posture. If you are pregnant and still wanna row, this video might be helpful to you.But, please avoid setting footplates too low. If that happens, the backs of your thighs may rest harder against the front edge of the seat, which may cut off circulation to the seat area.stamina air rowing machine without sliding footpadsThat being said, the rowing machines that don’t feature sliding footpads prevent rowers from comfortable rowing. And the lack of such design might even encourage bad rowing form. Please beware. You can check the article of rowing machine buyer beware to learn more.

g) Handlebar & Housing: near footplates vs. a little far away from footplates

concept 2 air rowing machineNow, it is the biggest design flaw of many rowing machines. Even some of the bestsellers on Amazon are no exception.The correct design is that handlebar and housing should be a little far away from footplates, just like Concept 2. On concept 2, there are large space betweem the footplates and handlebar & housing.Such design is of extreme importance. At the catch stage, users need to be fully compressed, keep their shin vertical, maintain their body straight and stretch their arms. Therefore, rowers need a large space to make a correct catch form.That being said, if the handlebar & housing are too near the footrests, there will be less space left for rowers, which prevent rowers from enjoying a full stroke. Read the writing of buyer beware to avoid such flawed-designed rowing machines.

h) Monitor: position of the monitor

hydrow monitor screen at eye levelAnother specific feature to consider when choosing a rowing machine is the position of its monitor.If the monitor is in the level of users’ eyes, your head will feel comfortable and stay relaxed and neutral.On the contrary, if the monitor is too low or too high, this might lead to neck pain.It’s better if the rowing machine features a tablet arm, so that you can adjust the monitor level according to your needs.

Final thoughts

Hope this article will give you a new idea of rowing machine specific features and help you make the wisest investment.Still in need of more information about rowing machine buying guide? Read this article of all-in-one buying guide.