The ultimate guide you need before buying a rowing machine
Make sure you’ve read this guide before buying a rowing machine!
You definitely can add it to your athletic facility as a great piece. But before you plan to spend hundreds of dollars on it, you’d better dig deep into your needs instead of keeping up with joneses.
With tons of brands and models cramming the market, rowing machines covering a wide range of price, size and mechanism in which they work. It’s understandably confusing when you’re considering buying a rowing machine.
This is why I went ahead and created this guide.
Table of contents
1. What is your budget? (expensive vs. budget rower)
2. What type of resistance do you prefer? (differences between rowing resistance types)
3. Think about your needs
4. Buyer Beware: A great deal or waste of money?
5. Final thoughts
1. What is your budget?
How much you are willing to spend on a rowing machine? This is the first thing to consider that will help you narrow down your choices.
There are dozens of rowing machines that range in price from under ＄100 to over ＄3000. Like practically anything you buy, you can expect higher quality at a higher price.
Here is a quick estimate of quality and price:
- under ＄400 – “Low End”
- ＄400 to ＄700 – “Mid Range”
- over ＄700 – “Top End”
The cost of a rowing machine varies based on its quality and technology, but are generally more affordable than treadmills.
If the price is your primary determinant of buying, you might have an interest in:
· What can you expect from “Low End” rowing machines?
Most likely, you can purchase a hydraulic piston rowing machine or a magnetic one in this layer.
If your purpose is just to have something to work on it and don’t want to spend a lot of cash, this could be the solid choice. Lower-priced rowing machines are good for a few times a week and shorter periods of time.
Note: Do more research to find a great deal. The price at this range may result in poor built quality and short period of warranty. Also, the monitor will only track basic data (like time and speed) or even don’t have one.
· Rowing machines in “Mid Range”
It’s going to pop up variable choices of resistance type whether air-, magnetic- or water-based for you to pick up. You’ll get a rowing machine that’s solid build and with a high-spec monitor. Of cause, it will serve you for a long period and provide great workout experiences.
You can expect:
- Performance monitor, tracks time, speed ,calories burned, rowing strokes, Bluetooth function, etc.
- “On the Water” simulation, but the price will be closer to ＄700 than ＄400.
- Long period warranty (Up to 5 years, etc.), and a durable machine.
- Most people will be best off shopping in this price category.
- Motivation to insist on your fitness goal, cause you don’t want to waste your money. You are taking it seriously when you decide to own one of these rowing machines.
· “Top End” rowing machine
This is where you can get the best of the best. Compare to the “Mid Range” rowers, you’ll get advanced displays, connectively and mostly design/material use. No matter what kind of resistance it is, even dual resistance rowing machine (like Hydrow air+magnetic rowing machine, cost over ＄2,000.).
More than “On the Water” rowing experience, advanced monitors can be connected to 3rd party software like Kinomap. The accurate data also shows how you perform and guides you through the entire workout. In terms, you will achieve your fitness goal in a precise way and row like a pro.
2. What type of resistance do you prefer?
Before you choose a model, let’s get your head around 4 common resistance types of rowing machines. This makes managing your search a heck of a lot easier!
· Why resistance type matter?
Rowing machines have four different resistance types. Air, hydraulic-piston, magnetic, and water.
Each resistance type offers a distinct rowing experience for the user and typically has a list of unique features connected to them.
By the way, there is a primitive type which only bases on an elastic cord. Technically, I won’t consider this as an option since it is obsolete for a long time. I bet you don’t want to spend on this at all, let alone build it with your own hands.
Knowing which type you prefer will help you narrow down your search drastically. But before we jump into the introduction, there are some characteristics you want may match up to a particular rowing machine resistance type, like:
- If you’ve chosen a price range, which may only leave you with 1 or 2 options. For example, your budget is less than ＄500, then a hydraulic/magnetic rower with sturdy frame will become your first choice.
- Are you keen on kayaking and looking for lifelike rowing experience? In this matter, water or air rowers are recommended. These two types will provide dynamic resistance, depending on how hard you make the effort.
- How much space do you have for rowing? Hydraulic rowers are usually compact, making them ideal for people with minimal workout space. The others typically have a footprint of a basic love-seat sofa.
- How about cardio and resistance training? Losing weight? Or just for warm up? Basically any resistance type can serve you for these purposes. In this situation, learning the differences between them will guide you through the uncertainty.
· Hydraulic rowing machine
Price range: ~$100 – $600
Average: about $200
The hydraulic resistance rowers are typically the cheapest entry-level rowing machines and are usually small, compact machines.
This resistance is based around the cylinder which is underneath the sliding rail. When you pull against the fluid or air compressed inside the pistons, you get resistance.
They can be fixed or have an adjustable valve that increases or decreases the hydraulic resistance.
It has either one or two pistons, depending on the model. When it comes with 2 pistons on each side, allowing each arm works out independently of other. This can be great for rehab and correcting muscle imbalances.
Most models do not provide smooth action
A view prevails among the world is that the quality comes from price – although hydraulic indoor rowers are low-cost usually they are not as durable as other types of rowers.
Also, they differ from air, magnetic and water rowers because the rowing machine technique doesn’t allow you to pull in a straight line. Because of this, you are unable to naturally synchronize your arm and leg movements together.
- 1. Cheapest price.
- 2. Quieter than air resistance rower.
- 3. Most are foldable or small in size.
- 4. Portability.
- 5. Movement of arms – With dual piston machine your arms can be spread a little bit.
- Don’t provide a smooth rowing action.
- Doesn’t mimic authentic rowing on water.
- Not for high-intensity workout or marathon training (like 5KM).
- The friction will heat up the fluid inside the piston. This will change the drag factor and may leak oil due to overheated.
- Require regular maintenance which can turn out to be costly.
- Not ideal for tall or heavy user since its compact instruction.
· Magnetic rowing machine
Price range: ~$200 – $1,400
Average: about $400
The magnetic resistance rowing machines are amongst the cheapest in the market.
They provide the benefit of reduced noise by using a magnetic mechanical brake and flywheel to control the level of resistance.
Unlike air or water resistance rowers that provide more resistance as the flywheel is spining faster, magnetic resistance is constant and requires an adequately weighted and balanced flywheel to maintain a smooth, consistent motion.
- Almost silent in operation.
- Adjustable resistance levels.
- Require little maintenance.
- Usually smaller than water or air rowers.
- They don’t replicate the action of rowing on water.
- Resistance is sometimes less than what is found on air or water.
· Water rowing machine
Price range: ~$700 – $2,000
Average: about $600
This kind of rowing machine is the most proficient and result-inducing rower on the market.
They work using paddles spin that is suspended inside an enclosed tank for resistance. That makes it provide lifelike rowing motion and variable resistance that mimics a boat in the water over your workout.
Similar to air resistance rowers, the resistance level will determine by your pace and stroke intensity.
One major difference, though, is that water rowers are much quieter than the air type.
Usually, these rowers are beautiful wooden pieces and design worked. They are popular for use at home for 4 reasons: aesthetics, their silence, their real experience and maintenance close to zero.
- Quiet in operation.
- Consistent and smooth resistance. Don’t have a ‘flat spot’ where the resistance drops during the stroke cycle.
- Requires very little maintenance.
- Have the ‘ whoosh’ sound of water as the flywheel spins in the tank, make people feel natural.
- Mimic the feel of on the water rowing the best.
- Larger than other types.
- Expensive. The price ranges above ＄600.
- Heavy weights due to the water tank.
· Air rowing machine
Price range: ~$300 – $1,300
Average: about $600
This is the most common resistance type in gyms.
Between the blades, it doesn’t have the medium to provide resistance before you activate the flywheel. This is quite different from fluid resistance mechanism.
The resistance only occurs when you complete the first stroke. Then, the flywheel spin and cause the airflow. It requires you to speed up as fast as possible to meet the resistance level at the beginning.
Higher intensity implies more resistance.
Same to the fluid resistance rower, the resistance level will automatically adjust to your pace and stroke intensity.
But for some novices, it results in less effort – they just pull the handlebar at ease. So, they may won’t have the good condition of the resistance level. This will not be going to exercise the body well.
The flywheel works in noise.
The resistance is created by fan blades and offers you a smooth stroke. Just like a drum fan, it make a fair amount of noise when rotating, if you’re on the top floor it might irritate the tenants underneath you.
To have a comfortable exercise experience, it requires some extra space around the flywheel house so it won’t blow directly against the wall.
- They offer a wide range of resistance options.
- Smooth action.
- Always matches your capabilities. If you go slower, the resistance becomes lower. if you go faster, it goes up.
- Can be noisy particularly for indoor use.
- Require more rowing techniques than other types.
3. Think about personal needs.
what capacity do you need? Do you have enough space to use the rower? Do you need your rower to fold for storage? Or maybe you need the rower to fit under your bed or be lightweight to transport. It seems intricate, but you can sort it out by answer the question below :
· Scenario 1: Enhance health, losing weight, cardio exercise on rowing machines
By means of these goals, you will decide what kind of monitor you need (basic or advance).
Console basics for general exercise
Nearly every rowing machine monitor will calculate your time, distance, strokes and spm. Some low-end monitor also index calories burned (incorrectly).
If you want to learn more about your exercise sessions such as calories and average intensity, you will need a rower with a more advanced display.
· Scenario 2: Rowing machines for tall users
You must make sure the rower has ample seat rail length that allows full extension of your legs. Most rowers fit people up to 6’4″ but some compact rowers can be less than this height.
Before you shop for a rowing machine, you’ll need to take a measurement of your own body. Besides your weight, there is another dimension you should learn about is the inseam length.
Inseam is the length of your inside legs while rowing. The height of a person can be the same, but the inseam length differs.
This is the key factor to ensure you have sufficient length in the rail to fully extend your legs and pull the handlebar to your lower abdomen without restriction.
You can check this inseam length chart to pick the right one. Be sure to remove your shoes prior to taking this measurement. If multiple people will be sharing the rowing machine, then you will have to consider their needs as well.
· Scenario 3: Be aware of rowing machine weight capacity
Like many other aerobic exercise facilities, rowing machines do have weight limits. So, pay attention to the weight limits if someone who weighs over 250 lbs. is going to use the machine.
Higher weight capacities guarantee great frame solidness. Regarding safety, it’s necessary for you to buy a rower that offers extended weight capacity.
· Scenario 4: Any storage needs?
In case to store it properly, check the dimension before you buy. To sum up, air and magnetic rowers are both about the same size. Both usually stand upright for storage.
Or, you’re concerned because you either don’t have a lot of space or you don’t want a huge machine becoming an eyesore in your home. Luckily, there are many rowers on the market that also have the ability to be great space savers. You can refer to the best compact rowing machine for home use and grab the one you need.
Are foldable rowing machines all suited for small rooms?
Not exactly! You can’t ignore the height of the rails and the seat. Turns out, when stored in folded, it takes up more space than when it is not folded. Take this rower as an example: when it’s unfolds, it only takes 19.3″ x 12.6″ of footprint, obviously smaller than the other.
Also, it may cause stability or durability issues. According to a lot of feedbacks, the foldable rails turn to give abnormal sounds. They might need a bit more maintenance than others, oiling the joint regularly to make sure you won’t hear the creak during exercise.
Do you need to move the machine around regularly?
Most rowing machines weigh about 100 lb. and aren’t easy to lift. It’s better to choose a rowing machine that has attached wheels if you plan to regularly move your machine.
· Scenario 5: Rowing machine for seniors (or injury rehab)
Rowing exercise is great for your joints as you don’t need to put much pressure to work out. Not only do you strengthen your bones and muscles, but also enhance your cardiovascular health. So in this situation, a functional monitor with Bluetooth and heart rate index is required. This article may help you generate the idea.
Except for choosing the suitable machine, a decent rowing form and a workout plan are more critical. You can refer to this video to learn more about injury rehab tools. And this video is going to show you the perfect workout for seniors.
Do you have bad knees or suffer from lower back pain?
It can be the excuse that you won’t get on your rowing machine and leave it idle. If you have, there is a specific feature to ponder on: seat height. Most standard rowing machines seat about 14 in off the ground, so you will need a higher seat to get on and off easily.
Consider the model which elevates the seat at office chair height (20″ in off the ground):
However, if you are young and mobile, then the height of the actual seat isn’t really too much of an issue.
Except for the seat height, there are two features you need to pay attention to:
- Footplate: pivoting or fixed? (Please refer to the excerpt in Buyer Beware below)
- Pedal spacing
Why the pedal spacing is important for you?
There are three main connection points while you are rowing: the seat, the foot stretchers and the arms. The most critical point is the foot stretchers because it’s the plate where the “push” motion happens.
This spacing will vary with the rower design and where the seat rail fixes to the main body. Mostly, the foot spacing is designed for an average size person to have their legs extend straight and parallel from their pelvis to their feet. Look for the narrowest location possible if you have any joint injuries.
But, if you’re a bigger guy with a gut, when you reach the catch, you have to somewhat splay your knees outward to accommodate a bit more room for the old gut. Splaying your knees out to the sides can cause knee pain, but at your size there’s considerable stress on your knees/joints in general.
To tackle this issue, you may have to buy separate foot straps and accessories to attach to the new structure. Something like flexfoot retrofit kit.
· Scenario 6: Need to improve stamina, or high intensity workout (marathon)
So far, you can eliminate hydraulic-piston rowing machine from your list.
If you are planning on using it for off-season rowing, then water or air resistance will be your searching scope.
You can expect a durable machine with great quality, providing smooth stroke. At this point, you may want to opt for a semi-commercial rowing machine. Price range from ＄400 to ＄700 will meet your requirements.
Beyond that, another thing you should look for is the seat padding.
Avoid butt pain while rowing
Let’s face it: the butt works hard during rowing. These are common reasons for rowing butt pain:
- Bad seat form
- Poor seat padding
- Muscle Soreness/Inexperience
- Improper rowing habits
You might also want to check out the design of the seat as well because some will have more fillings than others. A well-padded seat will bring you great comfort, especially you row the marathon.
As you get more butt-in-seat time, you may find your buns starts to hurt and gets a little bit uncomfortable, rocking back and forth at the seat.
From beginners, all the way up to high-level rowers use seat pads as the way to just make the row more comfortable.
Just like rowing machine models, tons of seat pads cramming the marketplace. There some just barely like thick memory foam pads, the problem with these is they elevate you so much that it actually changes the physiological approach to the stroke on the machine.
So make sure you choose the right seat pad made with great materials and appropriate thickness (no more than an inch but not too thin either) that will maximize your rowing experiences.
4. Buyer Beware: A great deal or waste of money?
You may be fascinated by those flattering descriptions and think all things are going to be perfect. Then, you forgot everything about what you should beware of and end up in a sad shopping experience.
But don’t worry, I’ll tell you about what sort of things should be aware of. They are:
- Machine with design flaws, against ergonomics which won’t provide a full stroke.
- Poor workmanship and bad materials used.
- Monitor swindle.
- Other critical features to ponder on.
· Rowing machine with design flaws
When buying a rowing machine, there is no compromise on that your rower should allow you to do the right rowing motion smoothly.
Rowing on a machine with flawed design will cause incorrect form and may lead to sore and major strain. You can refer to this article about models with flawed designs.
The 3 connection points (handlebar, footplate and the seat) play roles during your rowing motion. The design of these critical areas should be in accordance with ergonomics. Unfortunately, it’s hard for you to tell without expertise and experimental measurement. But you still have ways to play it safe (it will save your money):
- Don’t be obsessed with marketing gimmicks (like the uncommon one). Sometimes it is great for you to stay conservative. Rowing machines are using in rehab facilities can’t go wrong if used properly.
- Learn about how to row in proper motion, and check if the provider is professional by viewing their product description (images, videos, etc). Just like this one:
This rowing machine will never become an option. The model is tilted too over at the “stroking” stage (technically, we call it “drive” motion), which is a very unnatural rowing motion. Now you can tell: they aren’t taking it seriously, and it’s unprofessional. To be specific, you should start about 5 degrees forward, and swing about 5 degrees backward. The picture below shows you how to complete a correct stroke:
· Poor workmanship and bad materials
The rowing machine frame can be made up of a variety of materials like hardwood or steel. These frames may fold, split or be stood at their ends to save room for home use. You can choose any of them as you like, no matter what it’s made of (wood or steel). It’s all about the quality.
Construction materials have an effect on many aspects such as durability, weight and aesthetics.
While some brands use wood in their models, aluminum and stainless steel are the materials that you will find the most often.
The quality and gauge (thickness) of steel can differ from domestic in-home machines to the specification of the commercial industry.
The wooden frame can be made of oak, ash wood, walnut, ebony and so on. Different kinds of wood have their own texture and colour, you can choose the one you like to match the style of your home decoration. The Pros & Cons of Different Types of Wood. But the quality of wooden rowing machine is determined by multiple factors. While the well-growing timber is the basics, the main point is about workmanship.
In some cases, manufacturers produce substandard rowing machines with timber in bad condition, in order to gain high profits or compete on price with others.
What’s worse is the poor handcraft, caused a very glossy or cloudy surface, splintered edges, scratches, dents, or dust specks, etc. That’s self-deceiving and irresponsible.
TOPIOM always insists on high requirements, no matter the woods that we use or the workmanship when producing, and we have a group of QC engineers to be the guard of every stage of the process.
With the strict quality control procedures, every part of TOPIOM’s rowing machine will be cross-checked before it goes to the assembling line.
· Choose the monitor wisely
The digital monitor is like “the brain” of the rowing machine that eases the problem about knowing how well you exercise and guide you to row scientifically.
Basically, you can lay on these features:
- External visual perception
- Data display and accuracy
- Wireless connectively
· Physical location – should be at the center of your sight
It should be in the middle and at the level of the eye so that you can watch it clearly while you’re sitting on the rower. In some cases, the monitor on an extending arm is able to be adjusted up and down. You can tuck it away when storing the machine.
· Big and clear
The monitor isn’t of much usage if all of your exercise data is shown but you’re not able to see it. Choose a monitor that has a big screen.
The backlit monitor gains ground if you tend to work out in places where the lights are dim.
· What data are monitoring
Most provide distance, speed, pace, Calories, and watts for each workout you do. Some can also display your heart rate, with the assistance of devices (like Polar chest belt, Garmin Watch).
“They claim they have it, but that doesn’t mean it works that well.” A monitor that displays inaccurate value is skimble-skamble.
To make sure the rower has a great monitor, you’d better do some research on how the monitor performs.
· Performance monitor with Bluetooth & App
Trust me, it’s totally worth it that you spending more on it. So what steps can you take to ensure the best Bluetooth experience with the rower monitor and apps?
If you’re considering purchasing a rowing machine with a Bluetooth-enabled monitor, here’s how to do that:
- To look at the reviews and consumer forums to see if people commonly report errors with Bluetooth pairing the rower monitor you would use.
- Search the internet and check the Compatible Apps of a certain brand. (Search the internet for “compatibility check- app name” )
- Go into the App Store on whatever mobile device you have, Android or iPhone, and search for the app name or the product name.
Many commercial suppliers of top-end rowing machines are developing their own rowing programs and racing games to cater to individuals. With these guides, users can strengthen and advance their rowing technique in amused.
You’ll generally get an idea of if apps even exist to support the rowing machine you’re considering or not and that will tell you whether or not you’re going to be moving into a higher-tech product or a lower-tech product.
That’s ultimately up to you as to whether it’s important to have a fancy monitor or not. Maybe you just want some basic information like duration, distance, SPM, etc.
Maybe you don’t even want information when it comes to your workouts. That’s up to you to decide, but it’s sth you should put into your consideration. As the type of monitor you choose will influence the price of the value.
· Programming workouts
This is the key factor to make your workout more interesting and challenging.
While if you’re trying to get the heart rate into the upper zones and lose fat, most rowing machines offer workout programs that cater to interval training.
Monitors on the “Top End” rowing machines that have different user profiles to store workouts and programs for each user. More than that, you may find some provide training video or rowing live through the APP.
TOPIOM rowing machine with V2 Performance Monitor
The Bluetooth enabled TOPIOM V2 performance monitor is equipped with Fitshow Smart BTM and is therefore compatible with the Fitshow app (available on both App Store and Google Play). This app allows you to choose a workout and will then program the monitor for you.
In the end, it will save your data and give you an analysis of your performance. Free to download, login required, in-app paid upgrades.
In order to avoid data inaccuracy as much as possible, TOPIOM applies a magnetoelectric sensor that is more suitable for our rowing machine.
Compared with infrared sensors that are sensitive to temperature changes, photoelectric sensors are prone to interference from changes in light.
The performance stability and measurement accuracy of magnetoelectric sensors in various environments are excellent.
Its accuracy in the operating temperature zone can be within an error range of 1%. Therefore, magnetoelectric sensors are also widely used in aero-engines.
It’s appropriate to use such an accurate and stable sensor to measure the rotation of the blades in the water tank of our rowing machine.
At present, we are constantly following the leading technologies, using high-precision sensors that are a perfect fit for our rowing machine.
Specific features to ponder on:
These critical things will determine your rowing experience.
· The seat: gliding or fixed?
It is far more important than you have previously thought. It is the point where the majority of your weight rests.
Most rowers have a gliding seat. This kind of seat, it goes without saying, emulates a real racing shell’s rowing motion that gives you a full-body workout.
Hydraulic machines that feature a fixed seat are usually with low-price tags, and evidently, by working out on it, your leg will pretty much be left out even though you benefit from a decent cardio workout.
In a word, the gliding seat rowing machine gains ground.
· Seat rail: Horizontal/Inclined
Some rowing machines are inclined so as to add to the work performed by the leg muscles and lessening the intentional low-friction effect built into the machine.
However, the evidence shows the inclined seat rail doesn’t supply a optimal rowing motion and might lead the user to develop bad habits during rowing.
With all, I recommend you to choose the rowing machine with a horizontal seat rail, especially you are new to rowing machine. This is how many indoor rowing machines are designed.
· Footplates: pivoting or fixed?
Rowing machines with pivoting or rotating footplates can move with the user. Others are fixed mounting plates that can be adjustable with a heel clip.
The pivoting one can’t be locked in place, allowing your feet to find their best position during every phase of the rowing motion.
In some cases, it relieves some of the impacts on ankles who have flexibility issues. But, some users may find it somewhat ‘uncertain’, as they prefer solid support from their footplates.
As most users prefer to fixed footplates. They could have solid support from their footrest while doing the “drive” movement.
The angle of such footrests is correctly selected after laborious research, and is fixed to facilitate the optional rowing form.
One thing that you need to take seriously to think 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, especially for beginners.
5. Final thought
By the time you reach this step, you may have a general idea of what rowing machine you’re interested in buying.
However, there are still some aspects you need to consider before making the final choice. These factors will guarantee your rowing journey with great satisfaction for the next couple years.
· Start reading rowing machine reviews
It’s important to find out specific details about the machine before purchasing. You can find in-depth details including build quality, performance monitor, comfort, services, warranty, pros and cons, and much more. But be careful about what people say about fitness equipment, not everything is right.
You should read about:
- 1. Build quality and material?
- 2. Guarantee and after-sales service?
- 3. Functionality – Whether or not it makes loud noises while in use?
- 4. Monitor – What workout data it records?
- 5. Are there spare parts available for replacement?
Of course, there’s a lot more need you to find out. But it’s worth, so make sure you’ve done enough before buying a rower.
When our customers tell us that, “TOPIOM is among those elite and rare companies that actually deliver on their promises,” it is our responsibility to live up to that image every single day.
Designed by craftsmen and manufactured to standards that are far above those of any competitor, TOPIOM rowing machine (and exclusive Full Body Ergometers) are manufactured to available at all levels.
Compare feature, aesthetic and quality, side by side with other brands, and the difference is obvious. Value for money equipment, which guarantees a great investment in your future health, is the hallmark of TOPIOM. Learn more about the TOPIOM guarantee.
One last step: Buying your own rowing machine
I’m sure you’re able to evaluate all of the machines that are in the spectrum against one another after reading the content above.
And that’s gonna help you reach a faster, more effective conclusion finding the right machine for you.
The most important thing is: make the evaluation for yourself, and you’ll be happy in the long run. You are more than just buying a rowing machine, but making a great investment in wellness.
If you found this article useful, please give it a share. It would really mean a lot to me.
Still having a hard time deciding? Don’t hesitate to ask me personally at email@example.com.