How to Choose the Right Rowing Machine?

rowingThere is a reason way more and more fitness-conscious people make the decision to acquire a rowing machine for their homes. Rowing simultaneously provides a great full-body exercise and a killer cardiovascular workout, while being low-impact. This means that rowing gives you fantastic physical benefits without putting as much pressure on your joints as e.g. running, skipping or weight-lifting. In addition, a rowing machine is easy to operate, as well as surprisingly diverse in terms of types of workouts which can be performed on it. See this article to learn more about benefits of rowing.

With an impressive array of fitness brands and models out there, one may need some help with choosing the right rower for themselves. Here at Rowing Machines Online, we’ve done part of the hard work by pre-selecting industry leading rowers, so you can be confident all our rowers are of highest standard, using high quality materials. To help you narrow down the choice further, we’ve asked industry professionals, such as fitness instructors and our brand partners, about some tips for our buyers. We’ve put their joined advise into this guide.


  1. How much space do you have?

An average rowing machine takes up the space of about a two-seater sofa. Have this in mind, if you don’t have a dedicated gym space at home. The space available to you may determine the type of rowing machine you choose. E.g. some wooden models are considered rather good-looking, and you may choose to have it always on display in your living room. If you have smaller space available which requires smart management, you may wish to to opt in for a foldable model. Water and air resistance machines are usually larger than magnetic or hydraulic types (more about resistance types below).

Final word: decide where at home you would be having your rower and how much space you have available, as well as if you would need to fold your machine after each use.

  1. Which type of resistance would you prefer?

Different resistance mechanism of rowing machines not only influence the overall look of your machine, but also determine such factors as sound, smoothness of motion, adjustability, real-life rowing simulation and more.

There are typically five rowing resistance types in use today: water, magnetic, air, hydraulic and a combination (usually air and magnetic). Here’s a breakdown of each:


Water rowers provide a realistic rowing motion that feels and sounds like you’re rowing on water. The resistance is determined by the user’s rowing intensity, as the paddles/blades move through the water. The motion is natural, resistance responds to user’s input and create a fair amount of splashing sound but most users find it therapeutic. Since it resembles noise heard when rowing outdoors, it is often the very reason why people choose this type of resistance. It is also believed to be the most visually attractive type of rower. If you’re looking for a solid, visually striking machine, which provides a responsive workout to your muscle input, which feels just like rowing on water, water rower may be your best choice.


Magnetic rowers are usually compact and extremely quiet. Magnetic resistance operates by moving a magnet closer or farther from a metal flywheel - the closer it is, the greater the resistance. The rowing motion on these machines is smooth and regular - the resistance is adjustable and it will not change depending on the power you put in your strokes. This means, that, as opposed to air or water rower, magnetic rowers will still provide a strong resistance when rowing slowly. At the same time, its resistance won’t increase the harder or faster you pull, which can limit muscle gain. Also, the magnetic resistance is sometimes less than what is found on air and water rowers. If a steady, measured, quiet workout is your preference, magnetic rower can be for you.


Air rowing machines use the flywheel to generate resistance as you pull back. The resistance will become greater, the harder and faster you pull. This machine replicates the experience of rowing on water more closely than magnetic resistance but not as close as water rowers. Air rowers are the most common ones in gyms and fitness clubs, they are usually light and provide smooth motion but can be quite loud. If you’re looking for a rower which still will give you the smooth, responsive, on-the-water-motion likeness without the weight of the water tank, an air rower may be your choice.


Hydraulic resistance is usually adjustable and the hydraulic pistons used to create resistance are very quiet. The tension is pulled from the air or fluid that's compressed in a piston. The fixed handles of these machines only allow you to pull in a straight line, whereas most machines have handles attached to a wire that let you more naturally replicate the movement of moving oars into and out of the water. This limits the workout to help develop the strength of only fixed muscle groups, as well as does not offer a cardiovascular workout. Hydraulic rowers are compact and quiet but its limited capabilities slowly phase them out of the market. If you’re looking for an economy version of a rowing machine only for your upper body strength workout, the hydraulic rower may be for you.


Some models use mixed types of resistance, usually you would find a combination of an air and magnetic rower. They have the ability to adjust magnetic tension by moving a magnetic closer or farther from a metal flywheel. These rowers will also let you row faster and feel more resistance from the added “air” resistance. In this way, users will enjoy the benefit of having the low-end power of magnetic resistance and the high-end power of air resistance. However, this rower’s action does not simulate the natural on the water rowing, which for some people is a downside. If you’re looking for a machine with both adjustable and responsive resistance, the combination rower may be for you.

  1. Who else is going to use your rower?

In order to have a safe, effective workout you need to have correctly adjusted your machine to your individual body measurements. If you’re not the only person who would be using the rower, see if the model you are interested in allows for swift adjustment of its parameters for the next person.

  1. What else to look out for - features and terminology

A lot of the rowing machine buying decision will be based on your personal preference regarding not just the space, type and looks of your rower, but also a combination of other features and functionality. Below, we’ve summarised everything else you need to know about rowers to understand on-site specifications of our models:

  • Manual or electric – if a rower is described as ‘manual’, its display runs on a battery and the machine does not need electricity to operate. If the model is electric, remember it would need to be placed near a plug socket.
  • Display monitor – as standard, most rowing machines today display basic information such as time, distance, strokes, calories and rpm. Some models have more personalised options, such as average intensity and split time.
  • Workout tracker – smart models of rowing machines have the option to connect to an app on your phone so you can record and track your fitness journey.
  • Interactive coaching – a number of rowing machine models have in-built or app-compatible interactive coaching programmes to help with your rowing techniques.
  • Pre-programmed workouts – your rower can mimic different types of rowing to give you the extra variety or help working on specific areas.
  • Seat rail – if you’re over 6ft tall, check the measurements of the seat rail - that’s the long bar to which the seat is attached to. Make sure it is long enough for you to be able to stretch your legs and complete a full stroke.
  • Wheels – if you’re planning on moving your machine regularly, wheels on your rower would be a definite help.
  • Pedals – some models have fixed pedals, while others swivel to release pressure off your ankles.
  • Weight capacity – most modern high-quality rowing machines have high weight capacity but it was not always the case. In the past, only the most expensive models were suitable for heavier users. As precaution, always check the weight capacity of your rower before purchase.

We hope you find our rowing machine purchase guide helpful and you are more confident in making an educated choice of your rower. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by phone or email - we are always happy to help!

The Rowing Machines Online Team







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