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How do I Choose the Best Rowing Machine?

Henry Gaudet
Henry Gaudet

Rowing is an excellent form of exercise for the upper body, but finding the best rowing machine can be tricky. Unfortunately, there is no single perfect machine for every rower and every environment. Before buying a machine, you will need to consider a number of factors, including versatility, size and price to select a good rowing machine.

Price typically is the first criteria for selecting the best rowing machine. Shoppers should take the time to compare prices of different models from different outlets. Some manufacturers are able to sell their machines directly to the consumer. A good warranty will spare you the cost of repairs and also should be considered when comparing prices. Depending on your budget, display models and used machines might also be worth considering, if they are in good condition.

Man without a shirt
Man without a shirt

If you are a beginner, your probably will not need a top-of-the-line rowing machine and should consider a simpler model. Still, although you might not need a high performance model designed for professional athletes, a good rowing machine will be able to match your growing abilities. Savings on a basic model that is quickly outgrown will be short-lived if the rowing machine needs replacement.

Four primary methods are available to provide resistance during exercise: hydraulic, magnetic, air and water. Each has its own distinct advantages, best suiting particular exercise programs and environments. You will need to consider resistance in order to select the best rowing machine.

Shock absorbers, like those found on a car, are used for hydraulic resistance. This is a compact option, because machines with hydraulic resistance typically are smaller. They typically are the most affordable as well. Resistance can be adjusted, making these machines versatile as well. They do, however, suffer from a smaller range of motion than other models, and the shock absorbers hiss as they extend and compress.

Air resistance uses an adjustable fan wheel to offer a workout that more accurately simulates a rowing shell. The adjustable fan makes air resistance machines the most versatile, able to accommodate beginners and challenge serious athletes. This fan is, however, noisy and might not be suitable for all environments.

For silence, good rowing machines use magnetic resistance. Magnetic resistance also provides smooth, even resistance through the entire range of motion. Machines using magnetic resistance usually are quite expensive.

Water resistance uses a water flywheel and provides the most authentic rowing experience, including the sound of water. Some find this sound soothing, but others describe it as distracting. These machines also are the most expensive.

When selecting a good rowing machine, other considerations depend on your home and lifestyle. For instance, before selecting a machine, it is important to know how much space is available. Comfort also is important, because an unnatural position or range of motion might increase the risk of injury.

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Discussion Comments


If I were going to have a rowing type machine, I'd choose a weight machine because it's easier to change resistance, and there are different exercises you can do while you're on the machine to help work different muscle groups.

There's a rowing weight machine at the gym where I'm a member, but it's not my favorite. There are other machines that work the same muscle groups that I prefer.

Even though I've checked with the trainers to make sure I'm using the machine correctly and with proper form, it still makes my back ache, which isn't the point of the exercise.


Good grief. I didn't know they still made rowing machines! I've seen weight machines that work the same muscle groups, and I've seen resistance trainers like the bowflex machines that also work those muscles, but I don't think I've ever seen a rowing machine anywhere but on TV.

I think I'd rather have an apparatus that was more all in one, or worked different muscle groups, rather than focusing on my upper body only. I don't belong to a rowing team, so I don't need to work those muscles harder.

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