You don’t need to know anything about the sport of rowing to get a good workout with a rowing machine. While they aren’t as mainstream as treadmills, ellipticals or the Peloton Bike, these machines have been gaining popularity in recent years and deserve a spot in your home gym. A rowing machine can give you a whole-body workout that engages your arms, legs, core and back — and it can help improve your posture as you build strength. Rowing is also a low-impact exercise that’s easy on your joints. While there are a lot of rowing machines that can get the job done, the best rowing machine for you depends on your budget, goals and fitness level.
There are a lot of different rowing machine options out there, each with their own features and resistance type. You can go for a rower with hydraulic resistance, one with magnetic resistance, or one with an adjustable resistance mechanism. You can get a smart rower; you could even get a foldable rowing machine if you don’t have a lot of space. It all depends on your exercise equipment preference.
If you’re not sure where to start looking for a rower, below, I’ve highlighted five of the best rowing machines that will work well for most people. I also included two highly rated home gym picks that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to test. Each rowing machine has something different to offer, such as advanced smart capabilities, a budget-friendly price or additional features like magnetic resistance that help you get in some resistance training while you row (which can assist in strength training). But all of my picks have a user-friendly interface and a smooth pull and flywheel (if applicable). We’ll update this list periodically as we test out new machines, so keep checking back for updates.
Oprah recently named the Hydrow Rower one of her favorite things for 2021, and for good reason. Hydrow rowing machine wowed me right from the start. Aside from the fact that it has an upscale, beautiful design, everything about it just worked. The strokes were smooth, the adjustable footbeds were comfortable, and the seat rail was long enough to allow for full range of motion without any bumping against the stoppers. The only gripe I had with the design of this home rowing machine is that the handle is set a little far back and I could barely reach it without a decent stretch, but it’s hard to take points off for that since we all have different arm lengths.
Rather than having an exposed flywheel like some of the other models on this list, it works on an electromagnetic resistance drag mechanism that you can adjust from 1 to 300. At default, it’s set to 104, which mimics the feel of rowing on the water — and this is suitable for most workouts and most fitness levels. I rowed at this drag setting most of the time, and I left each workout feeling spent in all of the right ways.
The Hydrow App experience was just as enjoyable. The trainers are set up in boats in the water in different destinations, so you could really immerse yourself in the water rower experience if you wanted to. I would have preferred a different point of view — rather than looking at the trainers, it would have been nice to see things from their eyes as if you were outdoor rowing on the river yourself — but this is just a minor complaint. Synchronization with Strava App track and measure your progress, heart rate, and more.
With a list price of $1,795, the Hydrow Rower home rowing machine is the most expensive rowing machine on this list, but it looks and performs the part.
If you’re looking for a truly immersive experience rather than just a simple workout, the NordicTrack RW900 brings all of the smart features you need. It has a 22-inch touchscreen (one of the best you’ll find on a home rower) and live resistance control that gives iFit trainers the power to change your fitness reality experience during a rowing workout. This magnetic rowing machine combines air and magnetic resistance that really upped the ante on workout intensity. I felt like I got the most intense workout with the NordicTrack RW900 rower, since you can set the rowing machine workout resistance levels yourself.
I also found this indoor rowing machine to be the most comfortable. In addition to having an ultrasmooth glide, it allows for full range of motion and has pivoting pedals and a soft-touch handle that was easy to grip and hold on to as I went through the motions. The recommended user height for this machine is 78 inches and the weight capacity is 250 Lbs.
Of course, like all NordicTrack and ProForm machines, it comes with the option to connect an iFit membership, and your first year is free with purchase. That’s where the real magic happens. iFit gives you access to hundreds of trainers that take you through workouts for every fitness level to help you meet your fitness goals. You can also opt for studio classes, which involve exercises both on and off the rower. For these exercises, you can turn the touchscreen, just like with the Peloton Bike, so you can follow along with the trainer.
It’s almost a disservice to call the LIT Strength Machine a rowing machine since it does so much more. It’s designed to be a rower, reformer and resistance trainer in one — and it delivers. Using it as a basic rowing machine was straightforward and simple. Not only does the seat glide smoothly, I was also able to achieve full range of motion on the seat rail without hitting the stopper, even at higher speeds. The adjustable foot pedals are comfortable, and the pull is smooth. All of my movements on this machine felt really natural.
It’s the only machine on this list that uses actual water resistance, which most closely mimics the outdoor rowing feel you would get as an actual rower out on the open water. If you want a little more oomph, you can customize the resistance level with a turn knob, but I enjoyed relying on the water to work against me most of the time. Filling it up was a pretty lengthy process — the machine comes with a siphon that you can use to transfer water from a bucket into the water reservoir, but I ended up carefully pouring water in with my blender pitcher, which moved the process along a lot more quickly.
The major thing that makes this workout machine stand out, though, is the accessory pack that comes with it. There are different kits to choose from, but you can add on various strength bands and power bands that allow you to use the machine as an anchor (the accessories attach right to the machine) as you do resistance exercises. The main goal here is to create an all-in-one machine that allows you combine cardio and resistance training, but with a focus on low-impact exercises that prevent injury. And that goal has been accomplished. During the testing period, I could successfully complete all of my workouts using this setup alone.
While the LIT Strength Machine doesn’t have any smart features, there is an app and an on-demand digital platform that gives you access to all types of workouts, from basic rowing to mindfulness to barre. These fitness classes were hands-down my favorite of any of the other platforms — they’re fun, high energy and adaptable and there are so many options to choose from that you never get bored. I set my machine up in front of a TV, but you can also attach your own tablet with the holder and you’re good to go. The service is free for the first 30 days, and after that costs $25 per month.
Rowing machines aren’t especially bulky, but they do take up a fair amount of horizontal space, which can make them inconvenient to have around if you don’t have a dedicated gym area. The ProForm 750R Rower solves this home gym problem with its Space Saver design. With the literal pull of a handle, it folds up and its footprint goes from 7 feet to about 3 — probably one of the easiest stow-away processes I’ve ever experienced in a cardio machine.
Using this exercise equipment is just as straightforward. The pull wasn’t as smooth as some of the other options on this list, but I was able to achieve full range of motion and the inertia-enhanced flywheel allowed for a smooth rotation without any wobbling or jerkiness, even at higher speeds.
This machine is on the less-expensive side as far as midrange rowing machines go, but it doesn’t feel like a budget option aside from the fact that it doesn’t have a video display on the console. You can view your calories, time and distance, but if you want to immerse yourself into an interactive rowing experience you’ll have to hook up your tablet in the included holder. It does have the ability to connect to iFit, it’s just not as seamless as the NordicTrack RW900, since you’ll need to bring your own viewing screen.
If you want all of the bells and whistles, you’re definitely not going to get it with the Stamina ATS rower, but this is a good option if you properly manage your expectations. It has a very basic digital interface that shows speed, distance, time and calories — and that’s it. There’s no way to digitally control resistance, but one of the perks of a machine with air resistance is that it automatically adjusts to match your speed without the need for too much technology.
On that note, there’s no immersive iFit-like experience here, but for around $320 you get a fairly smooth rowing stroke and seat glide, although there were several times I hit the stopper at the end of the seat rail, which prevented me from achieving a full range of motion like with some of the larger, more expensive models. This was my biggest gripe, but it likely wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for casual rowers or anyone who’s just starting out with a rowing machine workout.
It’s impossible to pull together a list of the best rowing machines without at least mentioning Concept2, probably the most well-known rowing machine out there (at least by CrossFitters). I haven’t had a chance to properly test a Concept2 rower yet, but the Concept2 model indoor rower consistently gets high marks across the board. While the RowErg doesn’t have any advanced technology — its digital display just highlights the basics — it’s smooth and can take heavy day-to-day use, which is ideal for serious rowers. And at $900 for the standard model (the “tall legs” model is $1,050), you really can’t beat this fitness equipment value.
Another favorite of serious athletes, the AssaultRower Elite is a beast of a rower machine. It was designed by professional athletes and trainers to take a beating, and thanks to its solid steel construction, it likely does just that. Like the Concept 2, the AssaultRower has a basic digital interface that tells you only what you need to know — no frills or leisurely digital immersive experiences here — and works on air resistance, so the harder you work, the harder the workout gets.
How I tested
For two weeks per rowing machine, I put each home gym machine through the same series of workouts. I started each rowing machine workout with a beginner or welcome workout, moved on to a series of adaptive workouts (if the machine had smart capabilities) and then played around with the resistance myself with manually-controlled 20-minute rows. I also did each workout at the same time of day so I would have a similar energy level (at least, in theory).
For the Lit Strength Machine, I went through the on-demand classes and did separate workouts using the resistance training accessories. Since this was the only machine with this additional feature, there was nothing to compare it to, but I judged it independently on ease of use and whether it was a useful addition to the machine.
Our Health & Wellness newsletter puts the best products, updates and advice in your inbox.
More fitness recommendations
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.