The best rowing machine might not be the cheapest, but it's an investment in health, not just an expensive piece of home gym equipment, as some might think. The best rowers are the perfect tools to get a full-body workout at home, not to mention their ability to improve cardio endurance (i.e. VO2 max), tone muscle and make you more resilient overall.
But failing that, it can shift some of that stubborn, unwanted fat that tends to accumulate around the waist when people happen to binge a bit too much Netflix and move too little.
It's true to all types of exercise, but it's that indoor rowing can help you get fit sooner than just following a strict diet alone. In fact, very few pieces of fitness kit deliver a workout quite like the not-so-humble rowing machine. If you've got the space to stash one at home (or in a garage), it could be your best home gym buddy as you work to get in shape for those sunnier days.
Thinking about upgrading your home gym? Discover all the best exercise bikes, best treadmills (or best foldable treadmills, should you not have an awful lot of space at home) and best elliptical options in our dedicated buying guides.
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The best rowing machines, in order of preference
Just take a few moments to admire the beauty of the WaterRower. Fashioned from solid ash and stained honey oak, it is designed to resemble the glorious vessels found spearing down the Thames during the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.
This is more than just a seductive household ornament, though. This cleverly conceived rower features a decidedly moist flywheel that's designed to mimic the feeling of gliding across the watery surface.
Rather than the irksome humming of a fan and clanking of a chain, users are greeted by the sound of rushing water with every stroke. The unique resistance mechanism adapts to the user's input: pull harder, and the resistance increases. It's that simple.
The result is a seriously heart-pounding, all-over workout that targets up to nine muscle groups in one fell swoop.
According to its US maker, every WaterRower Natural frame is hand-built using solid ash wood, sustainably sourced from the Appalachians. It is then stained in honey oak and finished with light Danish oil.
A small S4 Performance Monitor comes with the package and displays distance, stroke rate, workout duration and distance without plugging into the mains.
Although not foldable, the relatively clunky 50kg unit does feature guide wheels at the rear and is designed to be stored vertically when not in use, although with a body like that, maybe you'll want to show it off to house guests.
The Nordictrack RW900 rower is great, a beginner-friendly rower for those with a larger budget to spend on home gym equipment. The large touchscreen makes this rower extremely user-friendly, not to mention the automatic resistance system and foldable, space-saver design that's ideal for smaller living spaces.
Thanks to the iFit workout library and live workouts, both amateurs and pros are likely to find at least a few dozens of exercises to follow along. The family membership also allows more than one person to set up a profile and track progress using the single rower alone.
If you are happy to spend this much money on a rower, we can wholeheartedly recommend the Nordictrack RW900. It will provide a fun full-body workout and improve fitness and endurance at home.
Hydrow takes a leaf out of the Peloton book of indoor fitness and offers live or on-demand fitness sessions led by rowing professionals and elite level athletes. But rather than being stuck in a softly lit studio, these workouts take place in authentic and stunning locations, meaning your mind is transported somewhere nice while you are sweating all over your living room floor.
Powered by a patented electromagnetic resistance system, Hydrow aims to offer a realistic rowing stroke that offers a great level of adjustability to suit different fitness levels. Although not as natural and fluid as a WaterRower, every stroke is designed to mimic rowing on water, although we found Technogym's Skillrow (see below) to offer one of the best pure overall rowing experiences in the game.
High definition workouts come courtesy of a crisp 22-inch display, which links up with Bluetooth heart rate monitors and wireless headphones. At the same time, built-in speakers are powerful enough to drown out the little noise of an electromagnetic rowing stroke.
On top of rowing, many off-machine fitness classes range from improving pilates to core strength sessions. These aren't as in-depth or as varied as Peloton Tread or Bike, but Hydrow is new, which will only improve with time.
I was breaking my mind over whether I should recommend the Echelon Smart Rower or not. It is a decent rower with added smart functionality as well as being ergonomically designed and foldable. It's not a bad package overall.
But, the Echelon Smart Rower is also quite expensive for a rower with virtually no screen, not even a small LCD screen to display basic stats. And when you take into account the price of a non-micro-sized tablet – 11-inch iPad Pro costs approx.£900/$1,000 – you realise that you can get a rower with a built-in screen for the price. The NordicTrack RW600 is $999, and that has a 10-inch screen and comes with a 1-year iFit membership included in the price.
I would still recommend the Echelon Smart Rower for people who have tablets (or a smart TV) and want a quiet indoor rowing machine to work out with. I would definitely recommend going for at least the yearly payment option: which includes free delivery a 1-year Echelon App subscription.
With its aluminium construction and nickel-plated steel chain, the JTX Freedom Rowing Machine feels like a sturdy piece of kit. In fact, it has got one of the highest user maximum weight ratings on this list (135 kg, if you're interested), along with primo features, such as a wide padded seat and adjustable footplates.
A built-in computer offers a plethora of rowing read-outs, while the 16 levels of resistance and multiple training programmes ensure there's a workout for all abilities.
That said, the overall construction and tough air resistance offered here makes it more suitable for those with a bit of rowing experience rather than someone new to the business, seeing as it tickles the more premium end of the budget spectrum.
With its muscular front legs, oversized air resistance flywheel and adjustable footplates, the ProForm R600 belies its very reasonable price tag and will look pretty professional stashed in any living room.
Designed for home use, this 10-setting bad boy might not offer the most natural rowing feeling around. Still, a small, AA battery-powered display gives boredom busting readouts on speed, time, distance, rpm, and an estimated calorie burn.
It folds, it wheels around, it's not that heavy, and it is pitched at a very reasonable price – a top pick for those looking to add a little CV workout to their home routine.
This rower sits very much at the cheaper end of the scale, but, unlike lots of rivals in this price bracket, it uses clever magnetic resistance technology to deliver not only a more realistic rowing experience but also offers seven different resistance levels.
There's a basic LCD monitor that counts calories, reps and time exercising, but that's really where the gizmos end. Instead, this is a well built and affordable rower with a smooth action and the ability to fold and store away when not in use.
So long as you're not expecting to train for the next Olympic Games on this thing, it will more than suffice as a fat-burning tool.
We love the NordicTrack RW900: it's like the Peloton bike of rowing machines. It has a large, HD touchscreen on which you can stream loads of workouts through iFit, a comfortable, oversized seat, easy controls, silent resistance and more.
The NordicTrack RW600 provides almost the same experience bar with a large screen. You get the 1-Year iFit Family membership ($468 value, apparently), 26 resistance levels, dual air/magnetic resistance system, real-time, on-screen resistance controls, quick-adjust pedals, SpaceSaver foldable design, Bluetooth audio and more.
Essentially, if you are happy to stare at a 10" screen instead of a 22" display, you can save $600. If you ask us, that's a no-brainer. Better still, it seems like NordicTrack actually have this rower in stock. This might not be the cheapest rower you can get, but it won't fall apart either after two months.
When it comes to outdoor rowing experience recreated indoors, nothing beats working out with the WaterRower. The sound of water splashing around in the tank, the way the resistance is adjusted based on your efforts makes you feel like you are actually rowing on water. Plus, given the high-quality materials used in the rower, it feels like a premium piece of equipment too.
Now, all that said, not everyone has $1,000+ to spend on a rowing machine but fear not as WaterRower-style rowers are aplenty. Take, for example, Marcy Pro Deluxe Water Rower. It has 'Pro' and 'Deluxe' in its name, so you know Marcy at least tried to make it look and feel like a premium machine.
Granted, you won't get a nice big touchscreen like the ones found on NordicTrack machines but a smaller one, similar to the WaterRower's. Moving around the rower is also relatively effortless: all you have to do is tip over the machine and use the built-in castor wheels to trolley it around the house.
Like much of the product in Technogym's latest range, the Skillrow is ridiculously high-tech, offering the user way more than just a platform to idly row in front of 4Music for an hour.
The system uses Multidrive Technology, which basically adds further resistance to the usual air resistance unit, allowing users to switch between training for cardiovascular fitness and back-bulging strength at the twist of a dial.
On top of this, it has some excellent connectivity, including its own clever app that offers a virtual cox to get you through those really punishing sessions. Get several Skillrows in a room, wheel in a large screen, and an entire class can start competing against one another or rowing in total synchronicity for a more entertaining workout.
How to buy the best rowing machine
Once the slightly tricky technique of rowing a machine (or rowing anything, in fact) is mastered, you'll benefit from an all-over shakedown that targets most of the major muscle groups, as well as sculpting a lean upper body and improving the all-important respiratory system.
Rowers are the machine of choice for cross-fit nuts, Olympic athletes and professional sports stars. If it's good enough for the fittest folk on earth, it's perfectly suitable for those who want to tame a beer belly.
A rowing machine is also, perhaps surprisingly, less cumbersome than the likes of a cross-trainer or running machine, with many lightweight models folding flat and/or standing up for easy storage in cupboards or corners of rooms.
Prices start at around £160 for the more basic magnetic resistance machines and rise to nearly £2,000 for the units that boast all bells and whistles.
Before setting foot in the Rowing Machines R Us, there are several other factors to consider, the first being space. Also worthy of thought: how much noise you and your loved ones can put up with and your exercise intensity needs.
Box-fresh oarsfolk will not be able to tell the difference between a machine that uses air resistance and one that favours water or some trick electromagnetic unit. Still, these factors will be important to more experienced rowers.
Most units tend to favour an air resistance system, which is the tried and tested formula in the mock rowing world but also one of the noisiest.
Water and magnetic resistance technology are much quieter, and the former is said to offer the most natural rowing experience.
Those on a really tight budget with minimal floor space can look to old-school hydraulic rowers, which use dual handles and hydraulic pistons to replicate resistance. They tend to deliver a less realistic experience and don't target the spread of muscle groups that the more traditional rail, handle, and chain models offer. And for that reason, we'll focus on those.
Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine?
Indoor rowing is an excellent way of losing belly fat. Rowing is a moderate-intensity exercise that is perfect for losing weight. It also provides a full-body workout, unlike cycling, meaning that it works the upper and the lower body. You'll need to use those glutes and quads plus the arms (mainly the biceps) and the back too.
If your goal is to lose weight, we recommend going easy and sticking to low to moderate-intensity rowing workouts, especially if you're new to rowing. It can take a while to get used to the movement, and it's really easy to overdo it initially, tiring yourself out early on the workout. Slow and steady wins the race, be patient with both the rowing and the weight loss process.