The 5 Best Rowing Machines for a Full Body Workout at Home

Rowing machines are one of the best ways to get a full-body workout. Rowing is low-impact and using a rowing machine provides not only a good cardio workout but a wide range of muscle work as well. Your upper body, lower body, and core will all benefit from a workout on a rowing machine. The type of workout you get from a rowing machine is also great for your muscular and cardiovascular systems as well as your immune system. If you suffer from joint pain or other issues that prevent you from performing certain workouts, consider rowing. You will experience little to no impact while using a rowing machine and the workout will not cause any orthopedic trauma while still giving you a great aerobic workout.

Why Buy a Rowing Machine for Your Home?

Efficiently burn calories

Using a rowing machine helps you to burn calories more efficiently. The workout is low-impact and you will expend less energy than other workouts while burning more calories. 

Full body workout

Your upper body, lower body, and core will all be worked when using a rowing machine. Very few stationary exercise machines offer an upper-body workout element but this one does! Your back, shoulders, and arms are worked when pulling the rowing handle and your glutes, thighs, and calves work as you push off from the foot platform.

Low-impact workout

Rowing machine workouts do not involve any jumping or bouncing and your feet never leave the pedals/foot platform. This makes rowing a good workout for people with joint or muscular issues that prevent them from being able to do high-impact workouts.

Cardiovascular health

Rowing is an aerobic workout. It works all your body’s large muscle groups. Cardiovascular benefits include lowered cholesterol, boosted immune system, and reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Helps with pre-existing health conditions

This is a good workout if you need help managing your weight, diabetes, cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Obviously, consult with a doctor about your workout, but because rowing is low-impact and aerobic, this is a safe way to help manage certain health conditions. Some people have also found that rowing helps with their joint pain and helps to soothe sore muscles.

Calming experience

This isn’t exactly scientifically proven but many people find the experience of using a rowing machine to be calming and soothing. The repetitive motion and the soft, quiet “whir” the machines can be relaxing and since the workout is not super intensive, your mind won’t be focused on the burn. 

Exercise quietly

Rowing machines do not make a lot of noise or move around and cause bumping noises. This is great if you live on the upper floor of an apartment, are using the rowing machine in a room with a shared wall to another apartment or in a duplex, or just if you like to exercise at times other people in your home might be sleeping or in need of quiet.

Easy to store

The rowing machines designed for home use are typically easy to store. Many are designed to fold up or come apart so that you can easily store them in a closet or other small area. They also take up little floor space even if you do store them out in the open.

The 5 Best Rowing Machines of 2019

Sunny Health and Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine

This budget-friendly rowing machine has a large LCD console to manage and track your workout. It has eight levels of resistance and uses a magnetic tension system. The LCD display tracks your time, row count, and calories. There are anti-slip pedals, a full-padded seat, and non-slip handlebars for a comfortable workout experience. This machine comes with built-in wheels for easy transportation when you need to move it. When fully assembled, it measures 82”x19”x23 and when folded up it is 37”x19”x53.5”.

The Good

  • The console runs on batteries so you don’t have to worry about being near a wall outlet when placing the rowing machine in your home.
  • Great for tall people. You can get full extension with room to spare if you’re up to about 6’9”. 
  • Due to this being a magnetic machine, it is extremely quiet when in use. You may hear the occasional squeak from the plastic or the pullies but nothing that will bother other people in an apartment building or people sleeping in other rooms in your home.
  • Only takes up about 4’ of floor space when folded.
  • Easy assembly. The instructions are easy to follow and total assembly time is about 30 minutes.

The Bad

  • The 1-year manufacturer warranty is only on the frame of the machine. If other parts break or become defective, they aren’t covered unless you buy a separate, extended warranty.
  • The highest setting doesn’t offer as much resistance as other machines and may be too easy for seasoned rowers.
  • The calorie counter on the display isn’t the most accurate. It often doesn’t account for the change in resistance and even on the lowest resistance, it still doesn’t get the same calorie count as other calorie counters or calorie calculation methods.
  • Not the most long-lasting. You can’t beat the price but if you want something that you’ll be able to use for many years, look at another unit. This is great for first-time rowers who don’t want to invest too much into a machine, though.

Body Xtreme Fitness Home Rowing Machine

This is an inexpensive unit that is great for beginners. It has a 16 lb magnetic tension system and uses a dial to adjust the tension level. Comfort features include non-slip handles, toe straps on the pedals, and an ergonomic seat. It comes with a display screen that shows time, count, scan, calories, and count per minute. It has a sturdy pull strap and a heavy-duty frame that is easily folded up for storage. The unit measures 69.5”x20.1”x18.9” when assembled. 

The Good

  • Great for people of all heights, short, tall, and everything in between. Taller people don’t have to worry about being able to achieve full extension and shorter people can still easily use the machine and have it glide back smoothly after extending. 
  • Foot straps are great. They hold your feet in and keep them from slipping while extending and gliding back.
  • Very inexpensive, considering the quality. Great for a first-time rower, occasional rowers, or for anyone on a budget.
  • The machine is very sturdy. No problems with any of the parts becoming defective or becoming loud over time.
  • Comes with a free cooling towel. This is a nice little add-on.

The Bad

  • This machine is a little difficult to assemble. It’s not impossible but you might have to spend more time on it. When purchasing from a site like Amazon, you can pay for expert assembly if you are worried about being able to put it together on your own.
  • No travel wheels to roll it when you need to move the machine. The way it folds up also makes it awkward to transport without wheels.

Stamina Conversion II Recumbent Exercise Bike/Rower

This dual recumbent bike and rower machine is more expensive than some other rowers but is still budget-friendly compared to buying separate recumbent bikes and rowers. The frame comes in two colors, metallic gray or black with gray. The rowing handle portion allows for additional upper body exercises other rowing machines do not, including bicep curls and tricep kickbacks. The large electronic LCD monitor displays time, calories, speed, distance, and heart rate. It comes with textured, non-slip bike pedals, a comfortable rowing handle, a padded seat, and pivoting footplates. It also comes with an adjustable knob to move between eight levels of resistance. There are transport wheels to help easily move the machine wherever you need it.

The Good

  • It’s easy to switch between using this machine as a rower and using it as a recumbent bike. You can also do exercises like bicep curls with the rowing handle while using the machine as a recumbent bike. This makes it easy to get a full body workout that has both cardio and strength-building elements. 
  • The way the machine folds up along with the transportation wheels make this a breeze to move around.
  • You can use the rowing handle for upright rows in addition to regular, seated rows.
  • The seat is adjustable.
  • Comes with temporary tools that can be used during assembly if you do not have your own tools.
  • Easy to assemble and takes about 45 minutes. Some parts come pre-assembled as well.

The Bad

  • The padding on the seat is rather thin. It’s not the most comfortable, especially if sitting for longer sessions. I’d suggest adding a separate seat cover to added comfort if the machine otherwise suits your needs.
  • The LCD display does not have a backlight. Unless you are in a well-lit room it can be hard to read.
  • The calorie tracker does not take the resistance into account when calculating calories burned.
  • When programming the duration of your workout into the monitor, you need to press the button once per minute of duration, as in you would have to press it 60 times for a 60-minute workout.
  • Check the nuts and bolts on the machine and tighten them before use. The pre-assembled portions of the machine can sometimes not come properly tightened.
  • Best for people over 5’1” and under 6’2”. Depending on the length of your legs, if you are outside of that range you may find the machine uncomfortable.

Water Rower Club Rowing Machine with S4 Monitor

This is a truly professional unit that seasoned rowers will love. It is handcrafted and comes with a water flywheel to replicate the feeling of actually rowing better than other rowing machines. The flywheel sits within a water tank and allows for smooth resistance during your workout. You can adjust the resistance as needed and still feel as if you are rowing naturally. The included monitor keeps track of heart rate, the number of strokes, intensity, and calories burned. The solid ash parts of the machine absorb sound and vibration, making for a quiet workout. The machine measures 84”x21”x22”.

The Good

  • Has a weight limit of 1,000 lbs. This is 4-5 times that of some of the less expensive rowers out there. You won’t need to worry about being able to use this machine regardless of your weight. 
  • This is a beautiful unit. I like the ash wood design and overall look of it.
  • Comes disassembled and is shipped in two separate boxes. The machine is heavy so this makes it easier to move before assembling.
  • Has wheels on the heavier end of the unit for easy transportation.
  • Easy to assemble.
  • Sturdy, high-quality parts and design. This is a machine built to last and holds up great even with extensive daily use. 

The Bad

  • This is expensive, easily 4-5 times the price of the less expensive machines on this list. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is taking up rowing for the first time or who will use the machine only occasionally as it is a big investment. 
  • The seat isn’t very wide. Depending on your size you may need to add a different seat in order to be comfortable during your workout. 
  • The instruction booklet leaves out some vital information like how to fill the water tank. You can find videos online to help with this.

Sunny Health and Fitness Water Rowing Machine

This is a mid-priced unit that uses a water tank for resistance. It has a foldable design and transportation wheels for easy moving and storage. It is constructed with an aluminum side rail for both a sturdy and quiet workout experience. This unit comes with adjustable footpads that are comfortable and no-slip as well as non-slip handlebars and an oversized seat for additional comfort and accommodation of people of different sizes. The battery-operated display tracks distance, number of strokes, time, and number of calories burned. This has six adjustable water levels and four water blades that help to create progressive resistance throughout your workout. It measures 48”x23”x55” when folded.

The Good

  • Comes with a 3-year warranty on the frame and 180-day warranty on parts. This is a much better warranty than some other rowing machines.
  • The footpads are very comfortable and easy to adjust. They fit my feet well and I like that they aren’t slipping while I workout. 
  • The handlebar is also extremely comfortable as it is padded and easy to grip.
  • Other water rowing machines only contain two water blades but this one has four. This allows the machine to push more water and create more progressive resistance while you workout.
  • You create resistance by pulling harder as you row but you can also adjust the level of the water in the tank to help with resistance levels.

The Bad

  • The manual isn’t as clear as it could be. Find some videos online to show you how to fill the water tank and use the display monitor if you’re having trouble.

Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5

This high-quality rowing machine comes with a backlit Performance 5 Monitor that tracks your workout reliably in real time and self-calibrates as you work out for more accurate data. It easily hooks up wirelessly to various heart rate monitors and fitness apps and also comes with preset workouts, games, and the ability to save workouts on a USB. The air-resistant flywheel offers smooth resistance while the 14 inch high seat keeps you low to the ground and secure with adjustable foot rests. Last but not least, it separates into two pieces for easy storage and has wheels that make it easy to move around for storage. Dimensions are 8’x2’ when assembled.

The Good

  • 500 lb weight capacity. Not as much as the Water Club Rowing Machine but it still has the second highest weight limit of all the machines on this list. 
  • Very easy to assemble. You only have to screw in eight screws so it is quick as well.
  • This has a 5-year warranty on the frame. This is the longest warranty of all the machines on this list.
  • The software allows you to join online challenges and rank yourself against others using the same software. I also like that it connects to pretty much as fitness app you can think of and that the free app it comes with stores all your workout data on your phone.
  • You can sign up for Workout of the Day emails from Concept 2 and program these into your machine.
  • Good for people up to 7’ tall. If you do happen to be taller, you can purchase an add-on so the machine can accommodate your height. 
  • Can be used by people with pain issues like arthritis without causing additional pain.
  • Long-lasting and durable.

The Bad

  • Not a major concern or a detraction from the device but keep in mind that you need to oil the steel chain on the machine after about 40 hours of use. Depending on your usage this will need to occur every couple of months.
  • Doesn’t fold up, you have to separate it into two pieces.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Rowing Machine

Rowing machines can be an expensive investment. The last thing you want is to end up with one that is low quality and will break down easily or one that just doesn’t suit your needs. Here are some factors to consider before you take the plunge and purchase a rowing machine.

  • You need to know how to row properly. You won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of rowing and in fact, could even hurt yourself if you are not using the machine correctly. Read tutorials, watch videos, or even consult with a trainer or friend who is skilled at rowing in order to get the proper form down.
  • Resistance type. There are four main types of rowing machine, based on their method of resistance: air resistance, magnetic resistance, water resistance, and hydraulic resistance.
  • Hydraulic: This type of rowing machine is best if you are concerned about space, budget, or both. These types of machines provide tension with air or fluid that is compressed inside a piston or cylinder. The drawback of this type of machine is that you cannot pull in a straight line and the exercise position isn’t as natural compared to other machines. You may find it difficult to naturally move your arms and legs together.
  • Air/flywheel: This type of machine has a very natural feel to it, quite similar to actual outdoor rowing. The resistance is caused by your pulling motion spinning a wheel with blades attached. To increase resistance, you pull harder and spin the flywheel faster. To lower resistance, you ease up and spin the flywheel slower. 
  • Magnetic: People like this type of rowing machine because it is very quiet and provides a smooth workout. Magnetic rowing machines get their resistance from a magnetic brake system. 
  • Magnetic/air combination: While you can get machines that only utilize magnetic resistance, you can also get them with a combination of magnetic and air resistance. These typically contain both a magnetic brake system for less friction and noise and a type of flywheel.
  • Water: This is the favored type of rowing machine by professional rowers and those who prefer outdoor rowing. These machines have a water flywheel that creates resistance the same way actually rowing in a boat does, by dragging blades over water that is within a water tank. When you pull and move the blades, you experience resistance just like if you were rowing outdoors on the water. These are popular models of rowing as they are constructed with a wooden frame that is both aesthetically pleasing and helps dampen noise from the rower. The one drawback is that these tend to be the most expensive out of all the types of rowing machines available.
  • Your height and inseam. Your height and inseam are very important factors to consider when purchasing a rowing machine. Taller people and those with long inseams will need rowers with longer rails so that they are able to achieve full extension of the legs while rowing. If the rail is too long for you and the seat doesn’t pull in enough, you may not be able to reach the pedals or extend and pull in comfortably. The product specs will typically tell you how long the rail is or the maximum inseam it will accommodate. Some rowing machines have the option of purchasing a separate add-on to make them longer though this is typically only available in higher-end machines and only necessary for people who are extremely tall, 7’ or taller.
  • Your weight. The maximum weight capacity of rowing machines varies dramatically from machine to machine. Some machines have a weight limit as low as 200 lbs while others can accommodate weights of up to 1,000 lbs. You want a machine that will comfortably handle your weight. Using a machine with a weight capacity below your weight can also make it difficult to take advantage of your warranty should the machine break so be sure to find one that suits you.
  • The seat. The size and height of the seat matters when it comes to choosing a rowing machine. A seat being oversized or too large is typically not a problem as you will be able to fit comfortably on it but a seat that is too small will cause problems. You may easily slip off the seat and even if you don’t, it won’t be a comfortable exercise experience. The height of the seat also matters and it is usually better to find a rowing machine with an adjustable seat so that you can move it to where it is most comfortable for you. Another thing to consider is how well-padded the seat is. If it is padded poorly or the padding is too thin, the seat won’t be comfortable no matter how well it fits.
  • The foot pedals. Foot pedals come in a variety of styles and materials. They may have strips that go over your feet to keep them in place or they may be completely open pedals. Some feature no-slip or textured surfaces. They also come in different sizes and some are even adjustable. If your feet are slipping around while you workout, you won’t be able to achieve the proper form and the experience won’t be a great one. Make sure the pedals are secure and that they fit your feet.
  • The display console. Display consoles come with a wide range of included options and vary greatly, from simple battery operated ones that show only the most vital workout statistics to extremely sophisticated ones. Some rowing machines don’t include one at all. Others have high-tech ones that wirelessly connect to apps, fitness watches, heart rate belts, etc. Basic display consoles typically show you your time, resistance, and the number of strokes and may include other things like your caloric burn and strokes per minute or hour. Ones that connect to an outside pulse monitor will also display heartrate and pulse. Display consoles may or may not be backlit and personally, that is something I like to keep in mind as ones that are not backlit can be difficult to read depending on the lighting in the room you’re working out in.
  • Warranty. Carefully look at the warranty of any rowing machine before you buy it. This is another factor with a wide variation. The warranty length is typically related to the price of the machine; less expensive machines have shorter warranties while the high-end, expensive machines have longer ones but this isn’t always a perfect 1-to-1 correlation. You will typically see machines with two separate warranties: one for the frame and one for the parts and components. The one for the frame is usually longer while the parts and components warranty is shorter and limited. For example, the machine may have a 3-year warranty on the frame and a 1-year limited warranty on parts and components.

The Verdict

For me, the Concept 2 Model D is the obvious winner. It is by no means the least expensive product on this list so if budget is your top priority you may want to consider another machine. It is definitely worth the price, however, and is still less expensive than other high-quality machines. This is a versatile machine that should work for most people, as it has a high weight limit, adjustable footrests, and is comfortable for people up to 7’ tall (taller if you buy the add-on). I love how quick and easy to assemble the machine was so I could start using it right away. It is also durable and I had absolutely no problem with any of the pre-assembled portions needing to be fixed or adjusted. The machine offers a smooth, comfortable workout that the majority of people will benefit from and it is even safe to use for people with issues like arthritis or knee pain.

One of the main draws for me is the monitor, honestly. It is hands down the best one on this list. You can program your own workout or choose from preset ones and you can even get Workout of the Day emails from the company to put into your machine as well. I like being able to hook the monitor up to my phone and store workouts on the app and also being able to join online challenges and see how I compare to other rowers. The added competitive element makes for a fun experience. 

Overall, I would recommend this machine to anyone. If you are a first-time rower and are worried about the investment, do keep in mind that this has a great warranty: 2-year limited warranty on parts and components and a 5-year warranty on the frame. Concept 2 also has great customer service so if you do encounter a problem or need to return the rower, you’ll find them easy to work with. This is a good investment as well as it won’t break down after a year or so like some of the budget rowing machines can. Rowers of all levels will love this machine.