Had it with the go-go energy of Peleton? Not interested in going outside and jogging through slush and snow? Feeling strongly opposed to returning to in-person fitness classes? We get it, but don’t give up on exercise all together; instead, consider an at-home workout that’s got a lot more going for it than people give it credit for. We’re talking about rowing machines, which are getting lots of attention (and seed capital) in a rapidly changing fitness landscape.
Why Should You Choose a Rowing Machine?
Rowing works 86 percent of your muscles and a vigorous one-hour session can burn over 500 calories—much more than spinning. It’s at once strength training and cardio, which is not a given for other outside-the-gym exercises like running and cycling. And here’s the clincher—it’s low-impact. So a rowing machine isn’t going to hurt your knees or your ankles or wrench your back the way other high-impact workouts might. As a California man who rows in his garage explained in the New York Times: “As compared to a treadmill, in which the machine sets the pace and you try to keep up, the rowing machine will go as fast as you push it. You are the metronome, not the other way around.”
Okay, I’m Sold. What Should I Look For?
Short on space? You’ll want a folding rower, or one of the models that can be stowed against a wall and actually looks like a work of art. Have a low boredom threshold? Get a rower you can use with a membership that gives you access to rowing sessions filmed on exotic global waterways. Fancy yourself a type-A competition junkie? Consider a rower that has a robust community of users who race in live sessions. Indeed, there’s a model for everyone. Here, our 12 recommendations for the best rowing machines in 2021.
1. CityRow Go Classic
This stand-and-store model’s got a backlit monitor you pair via Bluetooth, and a rechargeable battery. Use Apple TV and Chromecast to cast classes to your television; you’ll get two weeks’ free classes, then afterwards it’s a $29 per month charge. Plus, the water flywheel simulates the experience of actually stroking across the water. The black-painted ash wood and aluminum chassis supports up to 325-pounds but it can easily be stored on its end, taking up less space than an end table.
2. Hydrow Rower
The founder of Hydrow is a national rowing champ and coach who lives blocks from the Charles River in Cambridge, MA. So you can trust his company is committed to offering a realistic rowing experience, with genuine coached motivation accompanied by stunning, on-the-water visuals on this machine’s 22-inch HD monitor. “We love that the workouts are all done out on the actual water,” one reviewer notes. He adds: “It’s so quiet that we can be watching TV in the next room and not hear a thing.” You’ll need to commit to a $38 per month for membership, but that price gets you unlimited classes for multiple household members, as well as yoga, Pilates, strength training and other workouts.
3. NordicTrack RW 600
Want a trainer to not only bark instructions, but actually fiddle with your rower’s controls? That’s what you’ll get with the new RW 600. When you buy your machine, you’ll get a free one-year subscription, so you can follow along on the 10-inch screen that displays real-time workout metrics as you cruise along the River Thames and other global waterways. You can also participate in a range of other classes from NordicTrack, including weight training and HIIT. When not in use, just fold this equipment in half and wheel it conveniently into a closet.
4. Teeter Power10 Rower with 2-Way Resistance Elliptical Motion
A patented elliptical path gives you a push-pull motion that results in more of a full-body workout than other rowers. There’s no big screen on Teeter’s model, but there is a time, calories, strokes-per-minute and Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor readout, as well as a free app with trainer-led workouts.
5. The Ergatta Rower
Let’s say you live in a Modernist showplace of a home, or a massive loft with exposed brick arches. (Or you just like to imagine that you do.) Then this beyond-gorgeous American cherry wood rowing machine is your love connection, because, as Vogue describes, “it looks more like an elegant piece of furniture than something that can be found on a cardio floor.” The user experience via the $29 per month membership that fills the 17.3-inch touch-screen with programming that is more like a video game than a studio class. You can competitively sprint against other users, work on beating your personal best time and, as you achieve goals, you’re rewarded with milestone acknowledgements.
6. Echelon Rower
“I was searching for one where the handle was higher up on the wheel versus mounted at the same level as my ankles, since that creates more unwanted lean,” says one reviewer, “And this model is perfect.” The Echelon Rower has 32-levels of magnetic resistance that can be changed right on the handles, rather than having to lean forward to move a dial on the wheel itself. At the front of the rower, there’s a tablet holder that swivels 180 degrees sideways, and 90 degrees up and down, so that even if you’re doing an off-machine exercise from the Echelon app ($40 per month), you can still get a good view of the instructor. The whole thing folds when not in use and has built-in wheels to move the 124-pound frame wherever you’d like.
7. Mr. Right Water Rowing Machine
This mid-priced option comes with a handy water pump for filling the tank, as well as a rower cover. Sure, this oak model doesn’t have a big screen like many of the higher-ticket models, but there is a workout metrics readout and you can increase the resistance of your rower by adding more water, made easier with the aforementioned pump. And we’ve got to admit, the oak and aluminum alloy construction is pretty minimalist-chic.
8. Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW1205 Rowing Machine
Weighing only 20 pounds and costing a fraction of the other rowers on this list, Sunny Health & Fitness’s hydraulic machine is a great option for newbies. It has a narrow profile, offers 12 resistance settings and can accommodate riders up to 220 pounds. There’s a digital monitor, equipped with time, count, count total, calories burned and scan functions. And no worries if you’re in close quarters with others; this machine runs quiet. Want to follow a trainer-led rowing class? You’ll need to get a stand for your tablet or phone, since there’s nothing here to rest it on; but at this price, that’s a quibble.
9. Stamiina DT Pro Rower
This mid-priced rower uses dual technology resistance (i.e., a combo of magnets and air), and its assembled weight of 87 pounds feels sturdy. “Very quiet,” confirms a reviewer. “I needed a quiet rower due to my exercise room being under my master bedroom and my early workout times.” Users report that it’s easy to assemble and they appreciate that it has a programmable LCD monitor, which allows you to gradually increase the intensity of each session.
10. LIT Strength Machine
Los Angeles-based exercise studio owners created this multi-functional water rower with a resistance band training system, bringing the versatility of multiple gym machines into of your living room. From their West Hollywood studio, the instructors create live daily classes, which, combined with more than 500 on-demand classes, are available for a monthly membership fee of $25. “I love how the instructors use the machine in different ways and more than just for traditional rowing,” one user reports. “Plus, alternating between rowing on the machine and floor work keeps these workouts interesting.”
11. ProForm 750R Rower
One user raves about this mid-range rower: “Easy to assemble and get going with it, and a perfect choice for someone like me who already has a tablet as the iFit app runs smoothly on it, thus saving [me] from buying a rower with the screen built in.” Two-inch speakers, a five-inch display (to track distance, time, resistance and intervals) and a one-month free iFit membership are the “extras” on this sturdy, steel-railed rowing machine; the inertia-enhanced flywheel lets you choose among 24 resistance settings, so you’ll always be challenged.
12. Concept 2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor
This air wheel-resistance flywheel model is the classic gym and boathouse rowing machine that’s got readouts for time, distance and intervals, and Bluetooth capabilities to record your heart rate monitor report. Plus, the Vermont-made machine is easy to assemble, with only eight screws standing between you and your new lat muscles; after your workout, pull upward and the machine folds into two for easy storage.
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