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Rowing Machine Benefits and Buying Guide

Rowing Machine Benefits and Buying Guide

This rowing machine buyer’s guide will assist you in researching and finding the best rowing machine for you and your needs. We take you through the benefits of a rowing machine, the different types of rowing machines and features, and which type will help you reach your fitness goals and fit your personal style.


A study in the Journal of American Medical Association compared several types of home cardio machines and determined that the rowing machine was the second most effective machine for burning calories, with the treadmill being the highest rated. Combine this calorie-burning effect with its full body muscle toning effects and we may have the best cardio machine for home use. Below are some more great reasons to buy a rowing machine.



What are the health benefits of rowing machines?

The health benefits of rowing machines include getting a full-body workout, cardio and strength training to improve heart health and muscle tone throughout the body, low impact exercise that is easy on our body's joints, and a high calorie burning effect for weight loss. Let's go further into detail on these benefits.


Is a rowing machine a full body workout? 

The rowing machine is one of the most effective pieces of indoor fitness equipment when it comes to getting a full-body workout. Many muscles are used in the rowing motion; from your legs, through the core, and on to the upper body muscles. Both your upper and lower body are required equally when performing one complete rowing repetition, which will mean a more complete workout each session. You can watch a very basic demonstration in this video:



Is a rowing machine cardio or strength training?

Rowing machines get your cardiovascular system working while at the same time stimulating your muscles and increasing strength throughout your body. The faster you go on a rower, the more calories you will burn all while working against the resistance of the machine to increase muscle strength, mass, and bone density. If done on a regular basis a person can lose unwanted fat, increase stamina, and feel good overall. 

Which muscles do rowing machines work?

Rowing machines work many muscles in our body to include calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, pecs, delts, traps, shoulders, forearms and biceps. Smaller muscles also get worked such as those in the feet and hands. This is truly a full-body workout machine. 


Are rowing machines good for bad knees?

Yes, rowing machines can be good for bad knees since they provide a low impact exercise experience. Indoor rowing provides a smooth range of motion for your body and is a natural choice for those who are suffering from joint pain that may be irritated by higher impact activities such as running, jumping, or lifting heavy weights. The key to staying minimizing any existing  knee pain or staying pain-free with a rowing machine is to use proper form with each stroke. Do not over extend the knees at the end of the drive and then you don't want to bend the knees too much at the end of the recovery portion of the rowing motion, which is just before you push off again.  

Rowing is also a great choice for those who are not in pain and are simply conscious of how to stay pain-free by performing low impact exercises on a prolonged basis. It’s also a safe choice for people who want to enjoy a vigorous workout without the risk of falling or slipping or even the possibility of drowning. 


How many calories are burned on a rowing machine?

210 to 311 calories can be burned every 30 minutes on a rowing machine for people who weigh in at 125 pounds to 185 pounds respectively. This is according to Harvard Health Publishing and can increase to 255 to 377 calories by increasing the intensity of a 30-minute workout session. So a rowing machine is a calorie-burning machine and not just a rower.



You don’t have to brave the stormy seas to get an incredible workout from rowing. Indoor rowing has just as many health benefits as outdoor rowing, so much so, indoor rowing has even become its own event. A home rowing machine is a convenient and reliable fitness option throughout the year.


A rowing machine can be fairly easy to set up and its portability makes it a great choice for your home.  This is true especially because of a rower being lighter in weight compared to bulkier cardio choices. We recommend a rowing machine no less than 77 pounds which one person could reasonably maneuver given most models have wheels. This comes in handy if you want to move it around every so often.  Rowers also don’t take up as much floor space as other fitness equipment as they are not as wide. Stand up models are also a great choice and enhance the space-saving and portability factors even more. Nearly every model of First Degree Fitness rowers have the ability to stand them on end when not in use.


Now let’s move from the benefits of a rowing machine to the buying considerations.


Rowing Machine Buying Guide 

The guidance below will help you decide which rowing machine best fits your personal needs and goals.  There are many important factors to consider before selecting and purchasing a rowing machine and the following guidelines will assist you in sorting out the best rower for your home gym.


Factors to Consider

    Types of Rowing Machine

    Features of Each Type


    Additional Considerations



Rowing machines are typically grouped together depending on the kind of resistance they offer. Resistance type affects the intensity of your workouts as well as how smooth and realistic the rowing motion is. There are 4 main types of rowing machines widely available in the U.S. and are summarized below.





Air rowing machines are quite popular and can be seen in some commercial gyms and rowing clubs. Generally, these machines are preferred by Olympic rowers and enthusiasts. Price can range from a cheap machine around $250 to the higher quality $2000 and over models.

FEATURES: When you row, you pull a flywheel into a spinning motion. The resistance is created as the blades of the flywheel push against the surrounding air. Rowing faster creates more resistance on the flywheel blades which in turn makes it harder to row. The main advantage of air rowers is that the resistance created is directly proportional to the stroke intensity. This results in a feeling similar to rowing an actual boat on the water.  One of the disadvantages of an air rower is that the fan produces a swooshing sound that some find undesirable. 

AIR ROWING MACHINE BENEFITS: Air rowing machines provide the user with the ability to control the resistance and intensity of the machine by virtue of just pulling harder and going faster. On the other hand, if you want less resistance, simply slow down and pull softer. Some models allow you to adjust the airflow to the fan area by using a damper.  This, in turn, will control the amount of air entering the fan chamber. Less air means less resistance and more air will provide greater resistance.



As the name indicates a magnetic rowing machine uses magnets which creates the resistance the user will feel when rowing. Magnets cause resistance by creating a braking action on the flywheel when the person using the machine pulls. You’ll find them from $150 on the low end to around $3000 on the higher-end models. Like most products, the quality of these machines on the low end of cost means they are often not as durable and you will sacrifice features and comfort. A good reason to buy one of these magnetic type rowers would be the fact that they are relatively quiet when compared to the air and water rowers.

FEATURES: Due to the magnetic resistance, a person cannot adjust the resistance by simply pulling harder or going faster like the air and water rowers.  Resistance must be changed manually during the workout, which can be distracting when you have a good exercise rhythm going.



Water rowing machines provide resistance via water resistance (imagine that). Usually, a see-through water tank is featured on the rower in which paddles are pulled through the water as the exerciser pulls the rowing cord or chain. This water type of resistance creates a realistic water rowing experience complete with the sound of rushing water. Although, this sound may become an annoyance after some time.  They are typically available from $330 to over $2700.

FEATURES: The water rowing machine has seen a surge in popularity as they have an attractive design with models that have a frame made from real wood.  They have also been shown in some popular television shows being used in an upscale home setting. First Degree Fitness has selection of water rowers that have a great look but more importantly provide a terrific training and workout opportunity for the beginner to the elite competitive rower.  FDF have designed their rowers to be very home friendly with wood, metal, and combo metal/wood models that are aesthetically pleasing to show off. 



Hydraulic rowers are a good fit for someone who is smaller in height and weight and not really interested in getting a full-body workout since most models are not suited for that. These types of rowing machines use a piston-type hydraulic system to provide resistance to the user.  They are much cheaper than the other types and are not of good quality for constant use most of the time. They also have shorter rail length where the seat slides and this will be a con for taller rowers. On the upside, these models are quiet and very portable and lightweight. However, lightweight also means not built as well as other types. With these machines, a person should check to see if a good warranty is provided that will cover parts and services over a couple of years.



When you buy a rowing machine, look in the specifications for these important features. If you think you've found a good buy at a good price, don't buy until you're sure the product will deliver in these areas. 


Some of the cheaper rowing machines will have a very short monorail and be unsuitable for taller rowers. Look for a monorail (seat rail) length of 51 inches will be a safe bet for rowers up to 6’4".  If you don’t see the rail length then look for seat travel to be about 34 inches for taller people. The Bodycraft VR500 is a great choice for a person up to 6’8” with a seat travel distance of 38.5”.  


If a rowing machine is too light it can lift up at the front while rowing, which makes for an unpleasant rowing experience. Make sure the rowing machine’s weight is above 77 lbs. at a minimum. Lighter machines can also float around on the floor during use which can be annoying, but more importantly, that movement could damage your flooring. 


User weight is important not only for a bigger individual but it also can give you an idea about the rower’s quality and durability. Specifications for maximum user weight should show above 265 lbs. 


When you buy a rowing machine, you'll want to make sure it stores easily when you're not using it. A folding rowing machine, or one that separates easily into two pieces, is a good option for small spaces.



The following is a list of more options and features that you can consider before making a decision on the type of rower for you. 

FRAME: Folding vs Non-folding 

This one is fairly straight forward.  Fold-able models will give you the flexibility for easier storage. However, non-folding models tend to be sturdy and built to last yet take up more space. 

SEAT: Cushioned vs Padded 

This is more of a personal preference than an informed decision.  In terms of comfort and performance, there is not a lot of difference between cushioned and padded. If you find the seat on your rower turns out to be uncomfortable you can order a padded seat cover to go over the seat. 

SEAT: Gliding vs Fixed 

Hydraulic rowers are typically the only type of rower that will have a fixed seat. This can defeat the purpose of having a rower so it is recommended to buy a gliding seat so you can experience proper form and all the benefits of a good rowing machine. 

SEAT RAIL: Horizontal vs Inclined 

Some rowing machines will offer a model with an incline.  This can provide a more challenging workout in that it will be using gravity to provide the extra resistance while you row. This also means that it will provide a less natural rower movement and could cause bad form in those that want to maintain a proper rowing motion and good mechanics. It is our opinion that if you want an inclined rower it is best to just add some type of thickness under the rear of the machine to create the incline.  Some thicker mats would be an excellent choice to add that incline and this way the rower will remain stable. If you decide you don’t want the incline or just want to vary your workout, the mat or mats can be adjusted accordingly. 

Pulling Strap vs Chain 

Manufacturers may choose a chain or a strap/cable to connect the handles of a rower to the body of the machine. A chain is the strongest but will require maintenance in the form of lubrication every so often per the user manual.  Nylon type cables are strong but may wear over time with constant use. This is where a good warranty comes into play. 

FOOTPLATES: Pivoting vs Fixed 

Another factor to consider is whether to get a pivoting footplate or a fixed type footplate on your rowing machine.  Some people may feel more comfortable and stable with a fixed type which seems to be the most popular choice. Others might like the flexibility and freedom of the pivoting footplate. 

Performance Monitor 

You will definitely want a performance monitor on the machine you decide to purchase.  With a monitor you can track time, distance and calories burned at the most basic level.  A good performance monitor can actually keep you occupied during your workout as you can better monitor your progress throughout.  Having this at eye level in front of you is also a plus.



There are many great reasons to buy a rowing machine and picking the best one for you involves having the proper knowledge on what machine types are out there and what features you need to be aware of. Overall the rowing machine is a great choice for your home gym and a great choice if it is the only exercise machine you want to purchase because of its many health benefits to include an intense full-body workout.  Thank you for reading!