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How to Choose the Best Rowing Machine for You – The Ultimate Guide

How to Choose the Best Rowing Machine for You – The Ultimate Guide

Let’s face it. This pandemic hasn’t exactly been kind to your ballooning waistline. And, let’s not get started on those love handles on your back. Those need to go ASAP! There's no excuse for letting yourself go.

So, put down that bag of chips, get off the couch, and get your workout in! There’s no better time than now to work on getting the body you’ve always dreamed of. The kind that startles you every time you walk past a mirror and catch a glimpse of your reflection.

But, it’s not enough to lose the pounds. You also need to build lean muscle. That’s how you get that toned athletic look – which, if we’re being quite honest, is what you want.

A rowing machine is the only piece of indoor exercise equipment that gives you a full body workout and strengthens your muscles while at it. But, to reap its fat-burning, aerobic-boosting, and muscle-strengthening benefits, you need to get the best rowing machine to help you do that.

Lucky for you, we’re experts. So, without further ado, here’s the ultimate guide to choosing the best one.

Table of Contents

How to Choose the Best Rowing Machine for You – The Ultimate Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Choosing the Best Rowing Machine 101 – Get to Know the Different Types That Exist

Air Rowing Machine

Magnetic Rowing Machine

Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Water Rowing Machines

Top Pick – First Degree Fitness NEON PRO V

  1. Specifications and Features of the Best Rowing Machine

Length of the Monorail

Top Pick for Tall Rowers – First Degree Fitness VX-3 FA Fluid Rower

Weight of the Rower

Maximum User Weight

Storage

Console

Top Pick – The Apollo Pro V AR Fluid Rower

Range of Motion

Noise Level

  1. Price
  2. Brand Reputation and Warranty
  3. Handlebar – Belt/Chain Drive Assembly

Row Your Way to Your Dream Body

1. Choosing the Best Rowing Machine 101 – Get to Know the Different Types That Exist

The first thing you’ll need to consider is the resistance type that a particular rowing machine has. So, you need to pick the one that aligns with your overall fitness goals, as well as your personal preferences. They usually come in four flavors.

Air Rowing Machine

This is no doubt the most common type of rower you’ll come across. If you're a newbie, we recommend starting with this one. Here’s why.

The resistance mechanism that comes with air rowers is designed to automatically adjust to the pace and stroke intensity you’re rowing at. Your efforts are what determine the resistance-level, meaning there’s virtually zero percent chance of injury.

Air rowers come equipped with an internal flywheel that’s connected to the rowing handle via a chain. As you pull on it, the flywheel spins through the air, which is what gives you the air resistance.

The faster your rowing motion is, the higher the resistance you get. Some models come with built-in dampers that alter the direction of airflow for even greater resistance.

Keep in mind, though, that you might find them to be a bit on the noisy side. So, if you’re the kind of person who loves to train while listening to your favorite jam, the noise they generate might get in the way of that.

On the plus side, the fact that they use air as resistance means that they give you a relatively smooth rowing action. This minimizes the wear and tear on the machine. So, you’ll be able to use it for several years to come.

Magnetic Rowing Machine

The majority of commercial gyms and health centers usually have this particular type of rowing machine. This is mainly because of how affordable and low maintenance they are. So, if you're shopping for a reliable piece of indoor fitness equipment, a magnetic rowing machine would be the best way to go.

The flywheel has built-in magnets that generate resistance. You’ll, therefore, need to set your desired resistance-level by varying the distance between the magnets.

Magnetic rowing machines work differently compared to air rowers. The intensity of your strokes and the speed at which you row, have no bearing whatsoever on the resistance you get. But, make no mistake about it. They still offer a physically demanding full body workout that will leave you drenched in sweat once you’re through.

There are several benefits of using magnetic rowers, one of which is how remarkably quiet they are. Seriously – you could be in the next room rowing away, and no one would ever know.

They are also quite small and compact compared to other rowers, which is great if you have limited space in your home but are committed to getting and staying in shape.

Many of the magnetic models you’ll find in the market are foldable. So, you can easily store it away when it’s not in use. They also don’t require as much maintenance as some of the other types you’ll cross.

One disadvantage of magnetic rowers is that they don’t simulate rowing on the water quite as well as the others. But that shouldn’t be a problem per se if an intense workout is all you’re after.

Hydraulic Rowing Machine

Now, if you’re looking to get in shape but don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it, a hydraulic rowing machine might be just what the doctor ordered. They are super cheap and much quieter than rowers that use a flywheel for resistance.

The fact that they are also compact is a definite plus, which is ideally what you want in a piece of indoor fitness equipment that’s intended for home use. Unless, of course, you have an entire room in your house that you can convert into a fully functional home gym – in which case size doesn’t matter.

Although a hydraulic rower won’t give you the same gliding sensation you get from machines that use a flywheel for resistance, it’ll get the job done. Besides, for the amount of money it’ll save you, the tradeoff is probably worth it.

Hydraulic machines have a fluid-filled cylinder in place of a flywheel, with pistons attached to elastic cords, which then attach to the handles. They have two oars on either side, which is perfect for anyone looking for a more engaging arm workout as well. You can adjust the resistance using levels or clamps.

Keep in mind that these rowers aren’t as durable as the other types you’ll come across. The drive’s elastic cord is prone to slipping and also loses its elasticity over time, meaning that you’ll have to eventually replace it.

Additionally, since most of the models in this category of rowers are small and compact, they may not be ideal for taller or heavier individuals. So, if that's you, we recommend getting one of the larger, more robust rowers.

All in all, if you're just starting and don't want to break the bank just to get in shape, then hydraulic rowing machines are a great choice to ease you into the fitness lifestyle. Once you get the hang of it, you can save up and upgrade to more sophisticated and durable models.

Water Rowing Machines

We saved the best for last – the water rowing machine. Fitness experts all agree on one thing: Water rowing machines are the most effective, result-oriented models available on the market today.

They use water and paddles (handlebars) that perfectly simulate real on-water rowing. The gentle “whoosh” you get with every stroke of the paddle has a calming and somewhat therapeutic effect that sends you into a trance-like state.

It makes you want to work out harder for longer, which partly why users of water rowers report seeing results after a relatively short duration.

And, let’s not get started on how beautiful most of them are. You’ll come across several models made from hardwood and polished to look elegant and sleek. This allows them to blend seamlessly into the home setting.

Although water-based rowers tend to cost considerably more than the other types, the fact that they are built to last a lifetime, with very little maintenance required, makes them a worthwhile investment in your health and future.

The only drawback we could find with these models is that adjusting the resistance might be a bit of a hassle for some people. It requires taking water out of the active tank to decrease the resistance and adding water back in to increase it.

They’re also quite large and cumbersome to store since most of them don’t fold down or dismantle easily. Nonetheless, the fact that most of them come in elegant designs more than makes up for this fact.

Top Pick – First Degree Fitness NEON PRO V

If performance and fast results matter to you, the NEON PRO V Black Edition from First Degree Fitness guarantees to deliver all that and more.

One of the things we love about it is just how beautiful and sleek it looks. There’s something so badass about its color and design that tells you it means business.

It is large, durable, and robust, which makes it ideal for taller and heavier individuals looking for a rowing machine that was built with them in mind.

The NEON PRO V uses advanced fluid-resistance automatic-adjustment technology to modify the resistance level of your workout based on your performance parameters. That way, you can focus on what matters – your workout.

Features

  • Dimensions: 85.03" x 21.25”
  • Comes with 5 levels of adjustable resistance
  • Has resistance auto-adjust technology
  • Offers 15% more resistance than standard models
  • It is ideal for tall and heavier users

2. Specifications and Features of the Best Rowing Machine

The next thing you need to consider when choosing a rowing machine is its specs. A rower may be easy on the eye, but that’s only part of the story. Ensure that the features of the product you intend to get, deliver in the following areas:

Length of the Monorail

Rowers come in different shapes, sizes, and, more importantly, length. Unfortunately, not all rowing machines are designed with tall users in mind, even though the sport itself has long been known to be for the taller-than-average individual.

So, what is the best rowing machine for tall people?

Just to clarify, the definition of “tall” in the context of this guide is anyone who’s 6ft 2in and up. If that’s you, then you need to look for a machine whose monorail length is at least 52 inches. This will comfortably accommodate anyone who’s up to 6ft 4in tall.

Now, if you’re 6ft 5in and up, it is possible to find models that’ll fit you. But, just be prepared to pay more than you would for an average rowing machine.

Top Pick for Tall Rowers – First Degree Fitness VX-3 FA Fluid Rower

The VX-3 FA Fluid Rower from First Degree Fitness was designed with the tall rower in mind. Its design is inspired by the movement and form of professional rowers and is no doubt the closest you can get to a real on-water rowing experience, right in the comfort of your home.

It comes with a wireless smart handle for instant resistance change at the touch of a button. It has an extra-long rail, super-comfortable seat, and stores away easily when you’re not using it. It's certainly worth checking out.

Features

  • Dimensions: 76.77" x 31.89”
  • Comes with 20 levels of adjustable resistance
  • Vertical compact storage
  • Max user weight: 330 lbs.
  • Extra-long rail

Weight of the Rower

The last thing you want when you’re in the middle of an intense rowing session is for the machine to lift at the front and maybe even tip over backward. Weight is, therefore, an important factor to consider when picking the best rowing machine.

You want to go with something bulky and heavy, regardless of its size. That way, you get the stability you need for the machine to stay put even in the most intense rowing sessions. The sweet spot is somewhere in the ballpark of 77 lbs. or more.

Maximum User Weight

Rowing machines, as you know, have lots of moving parts. Over time, these parts are prone to wear and tear particularly, if they were not designed with the heavier rower in mind.

It’s therefore important to look for a machine that has a high user weight capacity that can bear a maximum user weight of up to 300 pounds or more. Anything less than 250 lbs. is unacceptable and will break down after a couple of uses.

Storage

Most rowers are designed to fold and store away easily. Reducing the footprint of your rowing machine is critical, especially if space is an elusive luxury in your abode. The folding process should be relatively simple, typically requiring you to remove a few screws or knobs.

You can then fold it up before replacing the screws or knobs to secure it in its new position. It’s always better to get rowers that store upright so that you can tuck them away in a closet out of sight.

However, depending on how your storage conditions are set up, you could also opt for the ones that fold horizontally. These come in handy if you would rather place your rower under a bed or in any other horizontal space.

Now, you might have heard some rowing enthusiasts say that a foldable rower compromises its stability and integrity. Well, this is true – to some extent. If you’re purchasing a rower for home use, then that’s not a problem per se.

But, if it’s for a commercial gym, opting for a non-foldable option would make the most sense, since it is bound to get a lot of traffic. If every single person had to unfold and fold it before and after use, then you can immediately see why that would be a problem.

Console

If you don’t know where you are, how on earth will you ever know where you’re going? That’s why the best rowing machine comes with a built-in console.

At the very least, a basic console should provide feedback on the total number of strokes, the distance, time and speed, and the overall number of calories burned. That way, you can track your progression towards your goals. It’s also great for that added boost of motivation.

Different manufacturers use different algorithms in their products to calculate performance. Some even come with a variety of pre-programmed profiles, designed to gradually increase the level of resistance throughout your workout session.

This may be done based on your heart rate, distance covered, user-defined inputs, or race profiles. More often than not, the more features a console has and the feedback it’s able to provide, the pricier the rower will be.

Top Pick – The Apollo Pro V AR Fluid Rower

The Apollo Pro V Indoor Rower is an amazing piece of ingenuity mixed with an inviting design. Its most outstanding feature, however, has to be the built-in advanced computer monitoring system it comes with. It gives you measurable performance output that lets you track your workouts. It is the latest model in the First Degree Fitness rower line.

It is Bluetooth capable and can connect with your smart device’s rowing app. This rower also features 5 levels of adjustable resistance compared to the standard 4.. This rower’s overall strength and endurance capability are simply unlike any other in the market right now.

Features

  • Dimensions: 83.86" x 21.25”
  • Allows you to adjust from "featherlight" to "Olympic sprint" resistance
  • Has an ergonomic handle
  • The advanced multi-level exercise monitor
  • Bluetooth compatible to your smart device
  • 330 lbs max user weight

Range of Motion

When choosing a rower, ensure that you pick one that accommodates a wide range of movement. It should allow you to fully extend your legs and pull the handlebar to your chest or abdomen without any restriction.

The position of the console or flywheel/fan blade and handlebar assembly should also not get in the way of your movement. Taller users, in particular, have to pay close attention to this.

Some machines also come with stationary seats, meaning that they remain rooted in a single position. The workout comes from you, pulling on the handlebars.

Others don’t even have a handlebar. Instead, they have two oars/arms attached on either side. You pull and push them back and forth during each drive movement. These are common in hydraulic resistance machines.

There isn’t any standard blueprint of what a rower should be. The best rowing machine all boils down to what you like, what feels comfortable to use, and what your budget allows.

Noise Level

While it’s easy to find treadmills and stationary bikes that come with built-in MP3 docking stations, video screens, and a wide variety of different kinds of entertainment features, you can’t say the same for rowing machines.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean you won’t want to listen to your favorite music to give you the extra push you need to bump up the intensity.

If the level of noise output matters a great deal to you, then you might want to steer clear of air rowers. They tend to get pretty noisy, which can be a problem for your neighbors if you live in an apartment, condominium, or townhouse with shared walls. Water-based or magnetic rowers are your best bet if silence is golden to you.

3. Price

Rowing machines vary in price, ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand. Remember – you get what you pay for. So, given the fact that rowing machines are designed to give you a full body workout, it’s always a good idea to invest in a solid piece of equipment that’s guaranteed to last a lifetime.

You don’t want to have to replace it entirely or buy new parts for it after a couple of uses. It’s important to get value for your money. Besides, it’s a one-time purchase. There are plenty of rowing enthusiasts out there who’ve been using the same machine for well over 10 years. That’s what you want to aim for when choosing a durable rower.

4. Brand Reputation and Warranty

Pick a manufacturer brand that has a solid reputation for excellence and rugged performance. Check what comes with the warranty and guarantee before you settle for a particular rower.

You need to make sure that you’re not just getting value for your money, but that you can also get any damaged components replaced without having to pay out-of-pocket for them. The ideal warranty duration for the best rowing machine should be no less than two years. The longer it is – the better.

5. Handlebar – Belt/Chain Drive Assembly

The handles you’ll find on rowing machines are usually rounded. However, some of the ones with the new tear-drop design have become a popular choice among individuals who have arthritis or any other joint ailments.

If durability matters a great deal to you, opt for a chain system that connects the handlebar to the flywheel/fan blades. It is more hard-wearing compared to those made from cable or elastic.

It is, however, generally noisier than the two alternatives and will require regular maintenance. Cable or elastic is less noisy but are bound to lose their elasticity after a couple of years of frequent use.

Row Your Way to Your Dream Body

Now that you know what to look for in the best rowing machine, it’s time to get this show on the road. No more excuses. Figure out what matters the most to you and pick a rower that aligns with your fitness goals. Use this guide to help you pick the right one.

In the meantime, check out our top 10 picks for the best home rowing machines for indoor cardio workouts.

 


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