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9 Smooth Rowing Machine Reviews — Pull a Low-Impact, High Intensity Cardio Workout in 2018

Sports & Outdoors

Are you interested in rowing but haven’t yet taken the plunge? Our buyer’s guide will help you navigate yourself to the best rowing machine.

Last updateAugust 11, 2018
Reading Timeloader Minutes
Helen Mao
Today’s expert
Helen Mao
9 Smooth Rowing Machine Reviews — Pull a Low-Impact, High Intensity Cardio Workout in 2018

Our leaders

Best of the best
Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing Machine
5 / 5

Pros

Smooth gliding operation

Large enough for heights up to 6’8”

Easy to assemble, disassemble, and reassemble

Cons

Pricey but worth it

Seat can be a bit uncomfortable

Learn more
Pros

Beautiful appearance

Simulates open water resistance better than other types of rowing machines

Hypnotic, meditative soft whooshing sounds

Cons

Expensive

Monitor and footrests seem cheap

Learn more
Best for the money
Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine
4.5 / 5

Pros

Good value

“Realistic” arm movements

Quiet

Easy to assemble

Folds for storage

Cons

Seat not comfortable for everyone

Footrests and straps poor

Learn more
Pros

Good value

Decent for working out

Easy-to-read LCD monitor

Folds for easy transport and storage

Cons

Seat not comfortable for all

Railing could be longer

Learn more
Runners up

Also good products

4 / 5

Advanced computer includes heart-rate monitor

3.5 / 5

Comfortable seat but it's not made for hardcore rowers

3.5 / 5

Smooth glides and pulls but the computer doesn’t track distance

3 / 5

Full range of arm motions but the piston gets hot during use

How We Decided

33Products
Tested
57Hours
Spent
03Experts
Interviewed
12Consumers
Consulted
Helen Mao
Today’s expert
Helen Mao

I’ve eyed my husband’s heavy-duty air resistance rowing machine for years but haven’t exercised on it much. Recently, I tried it a couple of times, but writing this piece has inspired me to learn proper rowing technique and work out on it. I just need to pull the rowing machine out of storage and commit to rowing more than five minutes at a time!

General shopping guide

Want a low-impact, full-body cardio workout without having to leave home? Then row, row, row your (imaginary) boat! So you’re not sculling a shell on the river like collegiate rowers Theodore Roosevelt, Hugh Laurie, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Victoria Murden McClure, and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Nonetheless, propelling yourself on the best rowing machine is a fine dry land substitute.

Imagine this:

You can build strength, increase heart rate, lose weight, and cross-train different muscle groups on an indoor rowing machine. In just 30 minutes, a 125-pound person can burn 255 calories, a 155-pound person 316 calories, and a 185-person 377 calories.

Sound good?

Get motivated with the “We are Rowers” video.

Well okay,

Real life may be more like these office rowers, but everyone needs inspiration. After all, if The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics overcame the odds, so can you!

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Research You Can Trust

To get the most out of your workout, you’ll need a smooth, high-quality erg (aka rowing machine). After poring over 30 of the most popular rowing machines, we edited the list down to these top picks.

Feedback from experienced and novice rowing athletes provided insights into these nine models.

What’s more...

For accuracy, we double-checked the manufacturer’s specifications of every model.

With so many different types of rowing machine in the sea, we want to help you navigate and choose the best model for your body’s needs and remain injury-free.

Get ready, set, go!

Let’s dive into buying information and detailed reviews of specific rowing machine models.

waterrower s1 rowing machine with s4 monitor waterrower s1 rowing machine   livestyle1 2000x2000 - 9 Smooth Rowing Machine  — Pull a Low-Impact, High Intensity Cardio Workout in 2018

Considerations

The 30-Second Review

When researching different rowing machines, scrutinize each model’s type and levels of resistance, overall size (especially its length for completing a full stroke as well as for determining how much space it will need), monitor/computer (if included), foldability (if any), and weight capacity.

Don’t forget!

You must be comfortable in order to sustain proper technique and row your best, so pay attention to the seat and handles. Smooth gliding of the seat and handles is paramount to fine performance.

giphy - 9 Smooth Rowing Machine  — Pull a Low-Impact, High Intensity Cardio Workout in 2018

 

Buyer’s Guide To Finding The Right Rowing Machine For You

Not all rowing machines are created equal.

Read about different factors to consider when choosing a rowing machine.

Type Of Resistance

Magnetic

Electromagnets and the erg’s metal flywheel interact to create resistance. When the magnets move closer to the flywheel, they increase resistance like a brake. When they move farther away from the flywheel, resistance becomes lighter.

You can control the level of resistance and set the exact amount you want–which will stay constant no matter how hard you row. Magnetic resistance rowing machines are quiet and great for preset workouts.

Air

Air or wind creates resistance/drag on the rowing machine’s flywheel. Spin the flywheel by pulling the handle on the end of a chain attached it.

The fan-like flywheel moves air around it. The faster it spins, the more air it moves to create greater resistance. Therefore, the harder and faster you row, the more wind the flywheel generates and the more drag you’ll feel.

You can control the level of resistance by rowing faster or slower. Air resistance rowing machines aren’t quiet but produce a “white noise” fan sound.

Hydraulic or piston

Piston(s) connected to the rowing machine’s handles contain hydraulic fluid. When you pull the handles, you work against the resistance of the hydraulic fluid in the pistons.

You can control the level of resistance by adjusting a control knob. On some machines, you can adjust the resistance level of each handlebar separately.

Hydraulic or piston machines tend to be quieter and smaller than other types of ergs. Unfortunately, pistons can:

  • heat up during use and cause burns when touched and
  • sometimes leak fluid, potentially damaging the surface underneath the machine.

Water

A flywheel in a water tank encounters resistance as it spins. When you pull the handle on the end of a chain attached to it, the flywheel moves through water, creating resistance/drag.

The harder and faster you row, the greater resistance the flywheel encounters when spinning against water. You can control the level of resistance by rowing faster or slower.

Also, you also can control resistance by adjusting the amount of water in the tank: the more (and thus heavier) water there is, the more drag works against the flywheel, which makes your workout harder.

Although quieter than air resistance ergs, water resistance ergs create a swooshing sound as water moves through the tank.

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Expert tip:

What resistance types simulate real rowing conditions?

As expected, water resistance rowing machines come the closest to simulating the sensation of sculling out on the open water.

Air resistance rowing machines mimic water resistance well but aren’t the real deal.

Both water and air machines are used for dry land conditioning and training by competitive crew (aka rowing) athletes.

Hydraulic/piston and magnetic resistance rowing machines, on the other hand, are great for working out but don’t recreate the sensation of water resistance in actual rowing.

Size

You’ll need enough room to accommodate the rowing machine for exercise as well as storage.

Also important, the machine’s rail (on which the seat slides back and forth as you row) must be long enough for you to maintain proper form and technique. You should be able to straighten your legs when the seat slides all the way to the back end of the railing.

So…

Your height–especially the length of your legs/inseam–will help determine which models are large enough for you.

But wait, that’s not all.

If you plan to move the rowing machine often, for either storage or relocation, be sure to consider its weight.

Speaking of weight…

Also, make sure the rowing machine can accommodate your weight. Many models vary in maximum weight capacity from 220 pounds to 265 pounds or more.

Folding Or Non-folding

For convenient storage, some models fold up neatly. Hydraulic piston and magnetic resistance rowing machines often can, but air and water resistance models sometimes don’t.

Monitor/Computer

In order to track your workout, you’ll want to find a model that has a monitor or computer that records variables, like the time, distance, speed, and calories you burned while rowing.

Advanced monitors can track heart rate, stroke rate, intensity, and more.

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Parts: Seat, Handlebars, and Footrests

Don’t overlook the importance of overall comfort. You don’t want your backside to hurt, causing you to compromise technique or end the workout early.

The seat should be large enough and contoured for a good fit.

A seat with padding is ideal, but you can purchase a rowing seat cushion if needed.

And…

The handle or handlebars should be comfortable to grip.

In our research, we found the footrests–positioning and size–is an area of concern for users.

Footrests need to accommodate users’ feet as they row, so even the foot platforms’ angle and size, as well as straps holding feet in place, are important.

Durability

A rowing machine is an investment, so you’ll want it to last awhile. Obviously, an erg’s lifespan is determined by its quality as well as its usage (e.g., how often, how hard and long during each workout).

A machine used daily by a top athlete is more likely to wear out faster than one used only a few times a week for moderate workouts.

In general, a high-end, high-quality model should last 10 years or longer. A moderately priced model may last only about five years.

Also, how well a rowing machine is maintained and cared for affects its lifespan.

Let’s row!

The most important deciding factors may be the price and how much you’re willing to spend.

Hydraulic or piston models tend to be more economical. Nonetheless, many benefits of magnetic, air, and water models may be well worth the higher cost.

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The Best Rowing Machine Reviews

01

Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing Machine

Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing Machine

Users rave over the Concept2 Model D, stating it sets the gold standard for rowing machines.

We found praises from a wide range of people: as short as 5’0”, as tall as 6’8”, new to rowing, advanced, with arthritic knees, and in their 60’s and 70’s.

It’s solid with aluminum front legs and steel rear legs…and not small; one person warns you’ll need about 9' x 4' of space to use it.

What’s not to love?

The air resistance Concept2 Model D is quiet and smooth for an efficient workout.

Although not silent, it operates softly enough for listening to music or the television at a normal volume. It has an ergonomically designed handle and secure adjustable footrests.

The seat glides “like butter,” producing sliding action crucial for completing continuous strokes. The seat draws a little criticism: it’s firm and takes getting used to. Many users purchase seat cushions for padding.

Also,

51BRbI3y6zL. SL1000  300x248 - Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing MachineThe easy-to-read performance monitor (PM5) that tracks stroke rate, calories expended, distance, pace, and watts displays large, backlit numbers.

It has many built-in programmable workouts and games to motivate exercisers. The PM5 is mounted on an adjustable arm for visibility during workouts.

User praise the Model D for being quick and easy to assemble. It disassembles into two pieces for rolling into storage.

In fact, processes of taking it apart and putting it back together are so simple some people store it after every workout and aren’t dissuaded from setting it up and working out each time.

What’s the catch?

The Concept2 Model Rowing Machine is pricey, but worth it as an investment in health.

Many users believe even though they spend a lot the erg, they save money on gym fees–not to mention travel time–and gain motivation to exercise on this high-quality piece of equipment.

A few last notes...

To care for this investment, be sure to clean the seat rail periodically to maintain its smooth gliding operation.

Also, oil the nickel-plated steel chain and vacuum the flywheel apparatus regularly.

This brochure details all of the rowing machine’s features and online communities.

To witness the unboxing and a review of the Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing Machine, watch this video.

Features

  • Overall length: 96” (244 cm)
  • Width: 24” (61 cm)
  • Seat height: 14” (36 cm)
  • Seat rail length: 54” (137 cm)
  • Space recommendations
    • when assembled: 8’ x 2’ (244 cm x 61 cm)
    • with clearance for use: 9’ x 4’ (274 cm x 122 cm)
    • for storage: 25” x 33” x 54” (63.5 cm x 83.8 cm x 137.2 cm)
  • Weight: 57 pounds (26 kg)
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 500 pounds (227 kg)
  • Partially enclosed chain/cord housing
  • Limited five- and two-year warranty and 30-day money-back guarantee


Pros

Smooth gliding operation

Large enough for heights up to 6’8”

Easy to assemble, disassemble, and reassemble

Cons

Pricey but worth it

Seat can be a bit uncomfortable


02

Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine

Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine

Hopefully, you’re not a Machiavellian sociopath like Frank Underwood, but you might want his rowing machine as shown on House of Cards.

It’s the Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine, an elegant erg with an ash wood frame with gorgeous aesthetics and solid construction. Users gush this lovely piece of exercise equipment actually looks like art or a fine piece of furniture. Even though it’s easy to store upright, it doesn’t need to be hidden from sight.

Beauty is more than skin deep.

51WTs9gH8S. SL1000  e1532529781603 300x134 - Water Rower Natural Rowing MachineThe Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine isn’t just a pretty face.

It’s quiet enough to watch television as well as stable with a seat that rolls easily for a fine workout. The flywheel’s paddles engage water in a tank to sustain smooth resistance.

Rowers like water resistance because it creates a natural feeling of tension as well as “hypnotic” and “meditative” soft whooshing sounds.

On the other hand...

People seem less pleased with the “basic” S4 monitor. It displays how long and far someone has rowed and the calories burned.

For the Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine’s high price, however, consumers expect more from its monitor/computer: more functions (e.g., a heart monitor), a higher quality and higher positioned mount, and greater visibility.

They also expect a leak-free tank (we found three reports of leaking) and better footrests with straps to keep small feet in place and prevent heels from slipping off the platforms.

It did get some mixed views...

Some people find putting together the Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine reasonably easy without tools and appreciate the included assembly instructional DVD. Others describe fitting parts together as “tricky”.

Filling the tank with water via a siphon pump is straightforward but “slow.” A few users feel this model’s resistance isn’t strong enough for high-intensity workouts.

Care and feeding

The machine comes with an owner’s manual that contains use, assembly, and maintenance directions; S4 monitor instructions; and warranty information.

As the wood expands and contracts due to environmental conditions, bolts may need tightening every once in a while.

Also, water purification tablets (put in the water tank every six to twelve months) helps keep the water clear.

To protect your floor, users advise putting a mat under the rowing machine.

For an introduction to the Water Rower Natural Rowing Machine, watch this video.

Features

  • Solid ash wood with honey oak stain
  • Includes S4 Performance Monitor, home training DVD, owner’s manual, siphon pump, water purification tablets, and Allen key
  • Dimensions: 82.25” (209 cm) long x 22.25” (57 cm) wide x 20” (51 cm) high
  • Weight: 66.5 pounds (30.5 kg) when dry; 103.5 pounds (47 kg) with 17 liters of water
  • Three-year parts/five-year frame warranty


Pros

Beautiful appearance

Simulates open water resistance better than other types of rowing machines

Hypnotic, meditative soft whooshing sounds

Cons

Expensive

Monitor and footrests seem cheap


03

Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Compact and economical, the Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine is perfect for a home rower who wants to get a good workout and then stow the erg away easily. With “insect-like” arms, it offers a full range of “realistic” rowing motions.

What’s more...

81J35IugI5L. SL1500  e1532112329304 300x196 - Harvil Hydraulic Rowing MachineSimply turn a knob to adjust the level of hydraulic resistance for your needs. One person notes even when the pistons become hot through use–as expected with this type of rowing machine–resistance still works well.

The good:

Described as “sturdy” and “stable”, the Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine is smooth and quiet in operation. Users can watch television while gliding back and forth with each stroke. The seat is fairly comfortable, although at least two reviewers find it “not comfy” and suggest purchasing a seat cover/cushion.

The bad:

The most common complaints were about the footrests.

People find them “flimsy” with feet slipping off the rests easily. Although the manufacturer Dazadi notes the machine has large pivoting footplates with safety straps in two positions to hold any size feet, many users disagree.

Two people with big (size 11 ½) feet dislike the footrests while someone with small feet finds the rests fine.

Many reviewers note the Velcro straps are poorly positioned to secure their feet without them having to interrupt a workout in order to stop and adjust the straps.

The definitely not ugly:

What people do love about the Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine is its ease of assembly, as described in the assembly manual. For a video demonstration of assembly, watch this.

The machine folds up conveniently when not in use and stands up to lean against the wall for storage–definitely saving space.

The manufacturer Dazadi will repair or replace defective parts at no cost during the warranty period. It describes the return policy here.

Features

  • Dimensions: 50” long x 36.22” wide x 20” high
  • 35.4”-long steel frame
  • Weight: 34 pounds
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 265 pounds
  • Includes LCD monitor which displays time, row count, and calories burned


Pros

Good value

“Realistic” arm movements

Quiet

Easy to assemble

Folds for storage

Cons

Seat not comfortable for everyone

Footrests and straps poor


04

Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine

Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine

Go exercise on the Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine–it has ten levels of magnetic resistance simply adjusted by a knob for any workout.

This sturdy indoor rower operates quietly and smoothly.

61mMoPC8l6L. SL1200  e1532112873206 300x241 - Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing MachineA padded seat glides along a 49”-long steel track for a rower pulling a non-slip handle at the end of an elastic cord attached to the magnetic resistance flywheel.

A few people wish for a longer track and a more comfortable seat.

Nonetheless...

Nearly everyone can agree the large LCD monitor is very readable and positioned well for visibility during exercise.

It tracks time, distance, speed, and calories burned. Also, the Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine is easy to assemble as well as to fold up for storage. This lightweight unit has built-in transport wheels for rolling it away.

Finally...

It has anti-slip pivoting pedals or footrests with adjustable Velcro straps. One reviewer feels the straps are not good quality and don’t adjust enough to keep feet from falling off the pedals.

Overall, the Goplus Magnetic Folding Rowing Machine is a great addition to your home gym.

Features

  • Dimensions: 70” long x 21” wide x 19” high
  • Folded height: 49"
  • Seat size: 10” x 14”
  • Pedal size: 5.3" x 12"
  • Weight: 49 pounds
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 220 pounds
  • 10 levels of magnetic resistance

Pros

Good value

Decent for working out

Easy-to-read LCD monitor

Folds for easy transport and storage

Cons

Seat not comfortable for all

Railing could be longer


05

Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine

Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine

Stable and relatively economical, the Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine is good home-gym erg, especially as an entry-level model for beginning rowers.

It has eight levels of magnetic that can be adjusted for various intensities. Users report level two is good for warming up before progressing to levels three and four for a harder workout.

Levels five and above are more intense, with someone suggesting levels five or six for cardio-building long rows and level seven for endurance and sprints. Interestingly, we also found feedback from several users (who claim to NOT be professional athletes) that the highest levels of resistance aren’t strong enough.

71iGkPEV1IL. SL1500  e1532113733938 300x214 - Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing MachineSimilarly...

We also encountered conflicting opinions on the Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine’s suitability for tall rowers.

A few people believe this model may be too short for people over 6’2”.

However, several comparable and taller users (e.g., 6’1” with a 36” inseam, 6’3” with a 34” inseam, 6’4”, even 6’7”) like this model and are able to straighten their legs and maintain proper form.

Smooth operator?

The Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine’s seat glides smoothly for the most part.

While some describe the resistance smooth as well, a couple reviewers think the magnetic resistance is a bit “jerky”.

While the rowing mechanism itself is very quiet, the seat’s rolling action make a little (but not much) noise.

The seat is padded and comfortable for most users, better than with many rowing machine models we’ve investigated.

The Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine folds up and has built-on transportation wheels for easy moving and storage.

It is reportedly easy to assembly (within 15 minutes) and accompanied by a manual with well-written instructions.

Okay, here’s the not-so-good part:

The three components that draw the most criticism are the monitor, the “exit hole” for the cord connecting the handle and the flywheel, and the footrests and straps.

Why?

Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine’s monitor tracks stroke counts, time, and calories burned. However, users question the accuracy of the calorie counter and dislike the monitor’s inability to track the number of meters rowed.

The display is small and not easy to read.

In fact, its low position makes it difficult to read during workouts, unless the rower breaks proper form and leans down.

Also:

The machine’s design puzzles some consumers.

Several note when the nylon cord comes out of the flywheel’s casing/housing, it rubs the upper lip of the “exit hole”.

A person would need to lift his or her arms a little to prevent this rubbing, which compromises proper form. In other words, what’s good for the machine may not be best for the body.

Many users wonder how long the cord will last before fraying and breaking.

Finally...

Some describe the footrests and Velcro foot straps as cheap.

Just imagine:

Two users report this erg actually rows across the floor. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but to prevent the machine from scooting, they suggest using a mat to keep it in place.

We recommend one like the ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat to protect your floor.

For an introduction to the Sunny Health & Fitness (SF-RW5515) Magnetic Rowing Machine, take a look at this video.

Features

  • Dimensions: 82” long x 19” wide x 23” high
  • Weight: 59 pounds
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Built-in transportation wheels for easy portability
  • Eight levels of magnetic resistance
  • Three-year warranty on frame, 90-day warranty on parts
  • Made in China


Pros

Economical

Stable

Cons

Monitor limited in functions

Housing design may fray cord


06

Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower

Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower

At last, we encounter a rower with a heart monitor. The Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower includes an LCD computer that tracks time, distance, calories, stroke count, and strokes per minute.

To monitor your pulse/heart-rate, simply strap onto your chest the included electronic heart transmitter.

But wait, there’s more!

91FuYh4FHOL. SL1500  199x300 - Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise RowerThe fitness computer has 12 workout programs: six cardio profiles, one manual and four custom-user programs, and one heart-rate program that adjusts the magnetic resistance according to your heart rate detected by the transmitter.

In fact, seven of the preset programs automatically adjust the erg’s magnetic tension so you don’t have to stop and interrupt your workout.

But we’re jumping ahead

The Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower’s seat rolls smoothly along an 81”-long aluminum beam. Users describe its movement as “silent” or at most “whisper quiet”, which makes the erg perfect for an apartment or townhouse.

Also, it’s compact when open and folds for storage–two more factors well suited to small living spaces.

Despite its built-in wheels for portability, though, some users say it’s heavy and not easy to roll over a carpeted surface.

Guess what?

Although the Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower is compact, it’s still large enough for tall rowers. We heard from people ranging from 6’1” to 6’4” (with a 34” inseam) stating they have plenty of room to extend their legs.

What goes up must come down.

Not all feedback for the Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower is positive.

Some believe it doesn’t offer enough resistance for serious rowers and the resistance on the highest level wears out. The seat isn’t very comfortable, the “cheap” Velcro foot straps break, and the cord frayed for two people (which customer service replaced).

For several people, the erg was delivered in a damaged box and the computer broke soon after beginning use or arrived broken.

At least the Stamina Avari Programmable Magnetic Exercise Rower is easy to assemble and comes with a manual of assembly and operating instructions.

For an introduction to and instructions for using this model, watch this video.

Features

  • Dimensions (open): 81” long x 20” wide x 24.5” high
  • Dimensions (folded): 36” long x 20" wide x 53.5" high
  • Weight: 75 pounds
  • 12 exercise programs with adjustable magnetic resistance
  • Three-year frame, 90-day parts warranty


Pros

Advanced computer includes heart-rate monitor

Silent

Compact

Cons

Highest level of resistance not strong enough for serious rowers

Quality control issues with parts and computer


07

Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing Machine

Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing Machine

The Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing Machine is a compact and reasonably priced erg for the beginner and casual rower–but not for the hardcore rower.

Hefty and durable, it operates smoothly and quietly for a good indoor workout.

61Sqh G9zRL. SL1200  300x202 - Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing MachineWhat’s good?

The Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing Machine is one of the few models we’ve encountered where users actually like the “firm” and “comfortable” seat.

The padded and upholstered seat runs along a 15°-angled rail, which also is fairly unique.

People describe assembly as “fairly easy.” To see an actual customer unbox, assemble, use, and fold up this rowing machine, watch this detailed demonstration video.

What’s not so good?

The main complaint of the Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing Machine is the railing may be too short for someone taller than 5’10”. We did find two tall reviewers (6’0” and 6’3”) who fit the rower comfortably.

The 6’3”er, however, admits to taking off the rubber stop at end of the rail to give him another inch to straighten his legs. A 6’1”-tall user can’t extend his legs more than halfway.

And

The LCD monitor displays time, live second-by-second rowing count, calories, and total rowing count.

Unfortunately, it’s small, positioned low, not backlit, and for some, didn’t come with instructions.

To learn about warranty information, contact the manufacturer Merax here.

To protect your floor, place this mat under the Merax Magnetic Rower Folding Rowing Machine.

Features

  • Dimensions (open): 73” long x 16” wide x 21” high
  • Dimensions (folded): 26” long x 16” wide x 49” high
  • Weight: 68 pounds
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 264 pounds
  • Eight levels of magnetic resistance


Pros

Quiet

Smooth

Comfortable seat

Cons

Not for hardcore rowers

Seat rail may be too short for taller users


08

Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower

Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower

The Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower is a fairly economical erg that wins points for its quiet operation. Its seat smoothly glides over dual aluminum slide rails mounted to a steel frame for stable movement.

Its pull with each stroke is smooth as well.

Will it last?

At least a few users religiously row on this “durable” and “sturdy” machine every night (some already for a few months) and haven’t seen any breakdown in operation.

71OS nXocL. SL1500  e1532116724780 300x272 - Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance RowerOne person does think the footrests are cheap.

But?

Even the maximum level of resistance isn’t high enough for users wanting to build muscles.

One person concedes while the limited resistance isn't strong enough to build “fast-twitch muscle fibers,” the Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower still is adequate for building “slow-twitch muscle fibers” as well as cardiovascular endurance.

The erg’s computer with a 3.7" LCD monitor display tracks elapsed time, stroke count, calories, and total count. It doesn’t, however, calculate distance.

This is interesting…

The Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower is compact and easy to fold and store upright in a corner.

Despite having four wheels, it’s not easy to move on carpet. Ironically, though, it can slide on a hardwood floor during use.

One person says the machine slowly moves a little forward with every “row” or “pull”, and thus uses it on a carpet or on an exercise mat.

This model is easy to assemble, but directions “could be better”. Peruse this manual of assembly and operating instructions.

To learn even more about the Xterra Fitness ERG 200 Folding Magnetic Resistance Rower, watch this informative video.

Features

  • Dimensions: 71.9” long x 20.7” wide x 31.5” high
  • Folded length: 36.4”
  • Weight: 59.5 pounds
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Eight levels of magnetic resistance
  • One-year warranty on frame


Pros

Relatively economical

Smooth glides and pulls

Durable and sturdy

Cons

Resistance at highest level may not be strong enough for some

Computer doesn’t track distance


09

Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine

Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine

A good value, the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine is sturdy, fairly smooth, and versatile in arm movements (more on that later). With a ball-bearing roller system, the seat glides back and forth.

The hydraulic resistance also is smooth for continuous rowing to work the legs, core, arms, and back.

What does it sound like?

810EwGQkFL. SL1500  e1532117448558 300x188 - Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing MachineOne hydraulic piston/cylinder positioned under the back of the sliding beam provides the resistance.

Overall, users describe this erg as “very quiet”–quiet enough to hear the television or listen to music, but “not silent.”

Nonetheless, we read several reports of squeaking from loose or rubbing parts needing tightening or oiling, like the seat rail, footrests, arms, bolts, etc.

Going down?

Resistance stays consistent for 15 to 25 minutes of hard rowing. Several people note, however, as they use the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine for a longer period of time, the resistance started to decrease.

Therefore, if you plan to row longer than 25 or 30 minutes, you may need to stop and increase the resistance setting.

Warning:

As the fluid in the hydraulic piston heats up from use during a rowing session, be careful when adjusting the resistance: turn the dial itself, not the heated piston/cylinder.

Many reviewers also note a burning smell as the piston gets hot. Also, we noticed several reports of the piston leaking oil, which reduces resistance and could ruin the floor.

As a proactive measure, place a mat under the rowing machine.

Here’s the good part

What users really like about the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine is the pair of arms that allow a full range of motion.

Unlike many models where rowers pull a single handle attached to a chain or cord, this machine has two separate arms which provide more versatility in movement and can even operate independently of each other.

What does this mean?

Rowers love that they can:

  • row forward or backward
  • move their arms in more circular motions, simulating actual sculling
  • pull the grips close together for conventional rowing machine stroke
  • hold the grips apart to work different arm, shoulder, and upper back muscles
  • keep the seat in one place and do curls for the arms and chest
  • keep one arm low in order to work the other arm and side of the body
  • and perform whatever other movements/exercises they want

This “free-arm” versatility makes the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine very appealing.

Positive news

This compact machine is fairly quick and easy to assemble, requiring about 20 to 50 minutes and only one person. Directions for assembly, operation, and maintenance are in this manual. The machine is easily folded and stored standing on one end. Just be careful not to grab the hot cylinder/piston when folding the machine after a long rowing session.

By contrast

The main parts disliked by reviewers are the footrests, the foot straps, and the computer. The wide footrests are “flimsy” with a “low lip” to prevent heels from slipping off. The straps don’t hold feet securely against the footrests. Although easy to use with just one button, the machine’s computer earned negative feedback because of mediocre quality, inaccurate calorie count, and simply not working early on (unless replaced by customer service or hit to start).

To see the Stamina BodyTrac Glider 1050 Rowing Machine in action, watch this demonstration video.

Features

  • Dimensions: (unfolded) 71.9” long x 20.7” wide x 31.5” high
  • Dimensions (folded): 36.4” long x 20.7” wide x 47.3” high
  • Weight: 55.1 pounds
  • Maximum user weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Eight levels of hydraulic resistance
  • Two arms instead of one handle for pulling
  • 90 days parts/1year frame warranty


Pros

Independent arms

Easy to assemble and fold

Cons

Resistance level wanes during long rowing sessions

Footrests, straps, and computer are mediocre


Why Is Rowing So Wonderful?

Rowing is a great low-impact, high-cardio exercise for all ages, from high school and college through retiremen

Easy on the joints, rowing is popular among people over 60.

In fact, British Rowing has sculling competitors in their 80s. “You can be 13 or 93; you’re always the right age to row,” said Susan Smith, membership director at USRowing, the United States’ governing body for the sport.

If you’re interested in other forms of exercise, like racquet sports (e.g., pickleball), dance (e.g., Zumba), basketball, and just having fun jumping on the trampoline, rowing supplements them nicely.

avari rowing machines - 9 Smooth Rowing Machine  — Pull a Low-Impact, High Intensity Cardio Workout in 2018

Proper Indoor Rowing Technique and Form

Now you’ve decided on an erg for your home gym. Let’s examine proper indoor rowing technique to get the most out of your workouts and to prevent injury.

Before you start rowing, please visit this page published by British Rowing, England’s governing body of outdoor and indoor rowing and rowing.

It provides clear photos of the correct moves in indoor rowing as well as step-by-step instructions.

Let’s break it down.

There are two phases in rowing: the drive and the recovery.

  • The Drive
  1. The drive phase is initiated with a push from the legs.
  2. As the legs reach half their extension, the hip angle begins to open.
  3. Once the legs are fully extended and the back is vertical the arms begin to draw the handle to the body.
  4. The handle finishes about halfway up the body. The elbows follow the line of the handle and the wrists stay in line with the forearm.

Remember this order of movement: legs, body core, and then arms.

You should now be in the finish position with your legs and back straight. Now you’re ready for the next stage.

  • The Recovery
  1. The recovery is initiated with the arms straightening.
  2. The body pivots from the hips before the legs bend.
  3. The legs flex until the shins are vertical.

Remember this order of movement: arms, body core, and then legs.

During both phases, be sure to keep your back flat and in a neutral position.

Don’t bend your back forward or backward, but pivot from the hip. This movement helps “transmit the power generated from the legs to the handle and allow[s] the force to be evenly spread throughout the spine” to minimize the chance of injury.

Also, watch these two very helpful instructional videos to see proper technique broken down and in action:

For examples of improper technique and common errors, see this video, How Not to Erg.

Expert Tips

  • Rowing works all major muscle groups. Sometimes people focus on the arms and forget about the rest of the body. Don’t!
  • Think of 60% of power for rowing coming from your legs, 20% from your core, and 20% from your arms.
  • Focus on your legs when pushing off to begin the drive stage. As in rock climbing or lifting, concentrate power in your legs.
  • Don’t twist or moving around on the seat while rowing.
  • Think power, not speed. Try not to row as quickly as possible, but concentrate on form and power. Keep your stroke count to 30 or fewer strokes per minute.
  • There’s no special attire for indoor rowing for exercise, but be sure to wear snug, form-fitting clothes to prevent anything from getting caught in the machine.

Ready, Set, Row!

You’ve now seen a variety of ergs and know to look for various features–including type and levels of resistance, size, monitor/computer, foldability, and weight capacity–when shopping for one.

Find the best rowing machine for your needs, execute proper rowing technique and form, and you’re ready to row!

Leaders comparison
The winners

Best products from range

Best of the best

Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing Machine

Users love the Concept2 Model D with PM5 Performance Monitor Indoor Rowing Machine accommodates all heights, has quiet and “butter” smooth operation, and is easy to assemble and disassemble. This air resistance erg comes with a very readable, multifunctional monitor/computer. Although this model is expensive, it’s well worth the investment in health, time, and saved gym fees.

Best for the money

Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Compact and economical, the Harvil Hydraulic Rowing Machine is perfect for a home rower who wants to get a good workout and then stow the erg away easily. With “insect-like” arms, it offers a full range of “realistic” rowing motions.

We’d love to hear from any rowers of all levels: novice, recreational, experienced, competitors, etc. Please let us know if we missed anything and if you have anything to add or correct.

Runner-up

FAQ
Faq

Frequently asked questions

Q:

What muscles does rowing work?

The drive stage works the back muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, abdominals, triceps, chest muscles, shoulder muscles, wrist flexors, extensors, and glutes. The recovery stage works the biceps and oblique muscles.

Q:

Why is an indoor rowing machine called an “erg”?

“Erg” is short for ergometer, a device that measures the amount of work being performed. An erg, or indoor rowing machine, calculates the amount of energy used by a rower on that piece the equipment. You can’t capture this data easily in a boat out on the open water.


The team
The team

We made this review

Helen Mao
Writer Helen Mao
Tiffany Mueller
Editorial Director Tiffany Mueller
Valeria Garcia
Graphic Editor Valeria Garcia
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