Best Rowing Machines – CNET

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If you’re building a home gym, there’s a ton of great workout equipment out there. However, if you can only afford one machine, you’ll want something that works out your full body — and a rowing machine can do just that. Rowing machines can hit a number of different muscle groups, including your core, back, arms and lats as well as providing a good cardio workout. They’re also easier to fit in most rooms.

Rowing machines have evolved in design over the years. Now you have smart rowing machines that are a step up from traditional rowers. We tested different rowing machines to determine the best ones on the market. Keep reading to learn about our favorites. 

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

The Echelon Row-S is the ideal rowing machine if you’re a rowing beginner. Assembly was easy enough that only one person was needed to put it together. It’s not the fanciest looking machine, but it felt sturdy and smooth and got the job done. I found it less intimidating than the smart rowers and appreciated parts of its design, like that the handle’s protective covering to prevent blisters. I also liked the footplate design the most of all the rowing machines because it felt intuitive to use the fastener straps.

Additionally, the lever underneath the machine that allows you to store the rower upright was easy to find and lift. It’s also on the lighter side, which makes it easy to move around. Despite being light, the machine can hold up to 350 pounds (158.7 kg) comfortably; therefore, it’s versatile for people of all sizes and weights. 

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The traditional rowing machine has a small metric screen to measure distance, number of strokes per minute and your split time. Echelon upgraded this concept, making a 22-inch HD touchscreen with a 180-degree flip adjustment. You will need an Echelon Live and On-Demand class membership for an additional fee to use this machine. There are three levels of membership to fit your budget: a two-year membership ($29.16 a month); a year membership ($33.33 a month); or a $35 month-to-month option.

Echelon has a library of thousands of classes besides rowing, including yoga, cycling, HIIT or strength training. I liked that the library had beginner row classes, warmups and cooldowns, scenic, low impact and bootcamp rowing sessions. It’s easy to increase or decrease the resistance by clicking the buttons on each side of the handle. The onscreen metrics are easy to read and follow. Overall, with the classes included, I liked the Echelon Row-S as a good introduction to rowing or if you want a less bulky machine in your home. 

Pros

  • Light and easy to use if you’ve never rowed before
  • Versatile for people of various weights and heights
  • Easy to store upright

Cons

  • Plastic design looks like it may not be the most durable
  • Function is limited if you don’t sign up for Echelon class membership
  • Warranty only lasts for a year

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

If you don’t mind splurging on what’s considered the Peloton of rowing, then you’ll love the Hydrow. While testing rowing machines, I got input from the CNET Wellness team and we collectively agreed that Hydrow was the smoothest and highest quality rowing machine. Not only does Hydrow look sleek and futuristic, even the stride feels smoother and natural.

CNET Lab Technician Gianmarco helped assemble the rowing machines on this list and found the Hydrow to be one of the easier ones to put together. The biggest challenge was carrying the delivery box because the base is very heavy. Therefore, keep in mind you might need a second set of hands to help you carry this machine.

Hydrow works best wherever your Wi-Fi is strongest. This machine uses electromagnetic drag technology to mimic the outdoor rowing experience. It consists of a 22-inch touchscreen that gives you access to over 4,000 workouts whether you’re using the machine or the Hydrow app. To view the Hydrow classes, you will need an all-access membership which is an additional $38 a month, but gives you unlimited profiles for your family. 

I liked that the Hydrow looked more futuristic than other rowing machines I’ve seen. However, I wish the footplate was more updated to match the machine. Instead, it has the same nylon foot straps as most rowing machines, where you have to fiddle with the strap to tighten or loosen it. I find this style restrictive and can make it hard to get out of the machine if you’re doing a HIIT circuit, for example. 

Although high-tech, the Hydrow is easy to use, and the seat feels comfortable and smooth while gliding back and forth. The machine isn’t too loud, which is a plus and shows how far rowing machines have come from their original models. The programs offer a variety to choose from, and I liked that I could choose a shorter or longer workout depending on how much time I had. If you’re a seasoned rower, you can adjust the resistance on the machine before taking a class by going into the settings and changing the drag settings. The default resistance setting is set to 104 and is recommended if you’re just getting started with rowing. 

Hydrow also has beginner classes that teach you how to properly row to get used to the movement. This to be something most of the rowing machines I tested offered, which is optimal since some people may initially struggle to get proper form.

My main concern with Hydrow was that it was bigger than I anticipated for a modern rowing machine. You also have to purchase the anchor separately to store it upright; it retails for $80 and is essentially a strap screwed to the wall. I found this pricey, especially since the unit itself is expensive. Without the ability to store the machine upright, it made me question if people with smaller spaces could own it. However, there is a smaller version, the Hydrow Wave (more on this machine later). 

Pros

  • High-end rower with a smooth ride
  • Easy to assemble on your own
  • Well built

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Bigger than standard rowing machine, won’t fit all spaces
  • You have to pay extra for the anchor that stores it upright

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

Aviron offers two types of rowers to choose from: the Aviron Impact Series and Aviron Tough Series rower. For this review, I tested the Aviron Impact Series version. Aviron gives a unique spin to indoor rowing with its interactive workout programs. This is especially appealing if you enjoy video games. The machine’s resistance is made up of dual air and magnetic resistance. It is one of the lighter machines on the list, weighing only 97 pounds (43.9 kg), and its base folds upright for easy storage. Another thing to note is that you’ll want to place your rower in an area with strong Wi-Fi connection to get the best gaming experience.

Similar to the other smart rowing machines, Aviron has a 22-inch touchscreen where you can access various workouts, including scenic tours, competing with family and friends, guided programs, arcades and virtual games. You can even log into your streaming services accounts such as Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus and YouTube while you row. 

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To access Aviron’s programs, you will need an Aviron membership ($25 a month). The downside is there aren’t live classes, so this might not be the right machine for you if that’s something you want.

I liked that the design included a padded handle since I’m prone to blisters. The seat sat higher from the ground than the other rowers, which makes it user-friendly if you’re a tall individual and prefer the extra room to hop on and off. The foot placement is a little wider than other rowing machines, which is helpful because when placed too close together it’s uncomfortable, particularly if you have longer legs. The seat had a little more padding than your traditional rower seat and comfortably glided up and down the base. 

I’m not a big gamer, but I tried out some of the games Aviron offers and found them entertaining enough that it was a distraction from realizing you’re working out. If you dread the idea of working out, this could be a good option for you since exercising will feel more like entertainment than a task. 

If you prefer to opt for Aviron’s upgraded rower, the Tough series will cost you another $300. The difference between the two is that the latest version has a heavy-duty frame and is intended to hold up to 507 pounds (230 kg). This makes Aviron the ideal rower for taller people who want to ensure the machine can withstand their height and weight.

Pros

  • Video games make you forget you’re exercising
  • Seat is comfortably padded
  • Design is even ideal for tall people

Cons

  • Machine plastic design makes it appear less durable
  • No live classes
  • Expensive

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

I was super excited to try EnergyFit’s Ski-Row because I love the idea of a rowing machine being two-in-one. The Ski-Row does just that by combining skiing and rowing. It offers two machines: The Ski-Row Air + Pwr and the Ski-Row Air. For this review, I tested out a Ski-Row Air+Pwr. Having used other two-in-one fitness machines like the Concept 2 rowers and Ski Ergs before, I knew I would have to compare the Ski-Row to them to see if the design does it justice.

I first came across the Ski-Row after seeing it on a social media ad and thought it was a clever concept. Our lab technician found this machine the most time-consuming one to assemble because he followed the manual instruction guide. However, EnergyFit told us that most customers follow a video tutorial that can be found on YouTube which makes it easier to put the machine together. 

I was surprised at how sturdy and well-made it was to withstand two types of fitness activity. I did think some details could use some upgrading. For example, the monitor you use to adjust the resistance looked dated, the lever used to lower and raise the base was made of plastic… which made me question if it would break off after a lot of wear and tear, and the rope attached to the handle didn’t look as durable as the ones on other rowing machines. When adjusted to the skiing position, I thought the ski handles looked and felt legit, and it was the right height (for grabbing the handles), even for shorter individuals.

I started by testing the rowing aspect of it. Ski-Row has your traditional footplate with nylon straps and an adjustable base. The machine uses air and magnetic resistance as you are rowing or skiing. This is unlike the Ski-Row Air, which only uses air to power its machine. The monitor on the Ski-Row reads time, distance, stroke rate, pace, resistance level and calories burned. It functions more or less the same way as a Concept 2 rowing machine and lets you connect via Bluetooth to an ANT Plus Heart Rate monitor. Ski-Row is also connected to Gymtrakr, an iOS and Android app that can sync your phone to the console. 

From the rowing perspective, it is similar to a traditional rowing machine but can get boring if you’re looking for a more interactive experience. If you’re adding circuits to your usual workout, it may be less of an issue since you’ll probably just focus on the time or distance on the monitor. 

My favorite part about this machine was using the ski trainer option. It’s also a quick transition changing the rower into a ski trainer by the press of a lever. Ski trainers are still a fairly new concept, and not many of these exist on the market. I’m a short woman, so I was glad I could comfortably reach up to grab each of the handles while the machine was upright.

The skiing option was reminiscent of using a Concept 2 Ski Erg, which I considered a plus. I think the Ski-Row is a great piece of equipment to have at home (or at the gym) if you’re looking for a two-in-one machine that won’t take up extra room. Even though it has room for improvement, it’s a solid piece if you’re an experienced rower or ski enthusiast who wants the ability to train indoors.

Pros

  • Unique design makes it two machines in one
  • Ideal if you’re limited in space and want two machines
  • Sturdy enough to withstand both rowing and indoor skiing

Cons

  • Heavy machine that requires at least two people to assemble
  • Monitor is dated and doesn’t have a touchscreen
  • Certain pieces don’t look as durable as they should be

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

The LIT Strength Machine impressed me by how the creators challenged the traditional rowing machine. This machine is an all-in-one rower, Pilates reformer and strength trainer. 

Unlike other machines on the list, LIT is a water rower withs resistance ranging from 10 to 40 pounds (4.5 to 18.1 kg) of water in a dual-tank drum. The good thing is you won’t ever have to change the water, because the machine comes with a lifetime supply of chlorine tablets. 

Even though I tested this machine in the brand’s showroom, I learned that LIT makes assembly easy for customers by delivering it 85% preassembled. The black and red design makes it look sleek and futuristic. The machine also has resistance bands (up to 100 pounds or 45.3 kg of resistance) looped around both sides of the rower handle, ready for strength training or Pilates exercises. 

LIT currently offers three packages. There’s Starter, which includes resistance bands, ankle cuffs (for Pilates) and handles. Then there’s Performance, which offers everything in the bundle, including a heart rate sensor, machine mat, strength bar, speed bands and power bands. The final current package is July 4th, which includes everything Performance offers minus the heart rate sensor and a machine mat.

I liked that this machine (similar to the Aviron) had a wider footplate, so if you’re tall or have wider feet, it offers plenty of room. I also learned it was designed to allow you to use your hamstrings more during the workout. The rowing handle is also properly coated with protective rubber layering to minimize the chances of blisters. 

This is one of the few machines that doesn’t have a touchscreen or monitor, but classes are offered through the LIT On-Demand app, which you can access on your smartphone and is both IOS and Android compatible. LIT’s membership costs $25 a month and comes with a three-month complimentary trial upon receiving your rower. The machine has a small device holder so you can view the class from your streaming device comfortably. 

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Upon using this machine, it felt like what the true rowing experience should be like. Even though I was on land, it felt nice to hear the water as I rowed instead of a fan. Adjusting the resistance was easy since it has a dial that is labeled with levels 1 through 4. However, this may not be the machine for you if you’re into keeping track of your stats or looking at a monitor.

LIT had the most comfortable seat because it was padded and helped me feel more supported while rowing. I was put through a demo to try the different aspects of the machine and appreciated its versatility. Once you’re done, you can store the machine by folding it up vertically and rolling it to the desired area. If you’re into the idea of having a versatile machine that challenges the traditional rowing practice, you’ll love the LIT Strength Machine.

Pros

  • Versatile 3-in-1 machine
  • Comfortable, well-cushioned seat
  • Can be stored after use
  • Wide footplate to accommodate tall rowers
  • Affordable membership
  • Doesn’t need to be plugged in to use

Cons

  • Doesn’t have a touchscreen; you have to use your smartphone or tablet
  • Costs extra to buy accessories 

Giselle Castro-Sloboda/CNET

Earlier in the list we mentioned the Hydrow. Now, we’re focusing on its newest and smaller model, the Hydrow Wave. One of my original issues with the Hydrow was the size of the machine. It rectified the issue by shrinking the original model by a few inches. I had this one delivered to my home and was impressed by its size. It fit in the space I had in mind in my apartment with ease. When it was delivered, the Hydrow team assembled it incredibly fast and ensured I could access my account before they left. 

Similar to Hydrow, you will need to set up this machine in a space with a power outlet and good Wi-Fi connection. The Hydrow Wave design looks more like a standard Flywheel rowing machine and uses a smaller footprint than its predecessor. It still has the same high-tech qualities as the Hydrow, like the electromagnetic drag technology, a touch screen and access to Hydrow’s workout programs. It’s also $1,000 cheaper than the Hydrow, making it a more affordable option. However, you will still need to pay for the all-access membership for classes.

A couple of things I observed that I wish had been upgraded this time around is the design of the straps on the footplate. It still had the same design as the Hydrow with the adjustable nylon straps. I also would’ve liked the handle to have a more protective covering to prevent blisters. Additionally, you will still need to purchase an anchor if you intend on storing the machine upright. The plus side is you can get away with not storing the machine upright since it isn’t as big as the original Hydrow. You can also lower the screen when it’s not in use to help save you some space. 

The rowing experience, on the other hand, was similar to the Hydrow, so I’m glad that aspect remained the same. It wasn’t too loud, and everything was smooth and comfortable between the seat and the pulling motion. I think a good way to upgrade this experience is by adding a more cushioned seat since there were times my glutes felt achy the longer I used the machine.

Overall, the Hydrow Wave is a great option for your home if you’re limited in space, but still want the smart rowing experience. 

Pros

  • Small enough to fit in an apartment
  • Same great features as the original rower
  • $1,000 cheaper than the Hydrow

Cons

  • No new upgrades, except for size
  • Vertical storage kit still not included

How we chose the best rowing machines

Since rowing machines are very specific machines, there were several factors we considered to determine which were best. We narrowed it down to these rowing machines based on the following guidelines. 

  • Assembly: We took into consideration how easy it would be for the average person to assemble the machine.
  • Ease of use: We looked at how easy it was to set yourself up on a machine as well as the ease of use on the metrics monitor. 
  • Noise level: We checked to see how loud or silent the machine was during rowing sessions.
  • Features: We observed unique features that made the rowing machine stand out and/or improved the user experience.
  • Storage: We looked to see how easy it was to store when not in use. 

Factors to consider

  • Make sure you measure out the space where you’d keep the rowing machine. Account for a little extra space outside the arms so you can row freely without obstructions. 
  • Consider if you need to be able to store the rower upright or if there is enough room to spare.
  • If multiple people are going to be using the machine, make sure it’s user-friendly for all heights and fitness levels.
  • Rowing machines can be expensive. Determine if your budget fits a standard or high-tech rower.
  • There are various rowing machine styles to pick from such as hydraulic, flywheel, water and magnetic. Do your research (and test them out) to determine which is the right fit for you.

Rowing machine FAQs

What are the different types of rowing machines?

There are four types of rowing machines: hydraulic, flywheel, water and magnetic

Hydraulic machines tend to be the most affordable and the resistance is created from the amount of air or fluid that’s constricted with a hydraulic cylinder.

Flywheels work with fan blades to create resistance using air. This is the traditional rower that you might’ve seen at your local gym.

Water and magnetic rowers are newer machines that are quieter and intended to mimic outdoor rowing the best. The difference is magnetic rowers use magnets, while water rowers use water in their tank to generate resistance.

How much do rowing machines cost?

Depending on the type of rowing machine you’re shopping for, some cheaper machines can cost about $500, while more expensive ones can cost between $1,000 to $2,000 plus. 

Is rowing a good workout?

Yes, rowing is a full-body workout and targets 85% of your body. It targets your arms, back, core, legs and chest, and can help build up your endurance and strength.

How long should I row for?

Rowing is so efficient that you can get a good workout in as little as 20 minutes. Most of the classes offered through memberships on this list have classes lasting 20 to 45 minutes.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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