Wolverson Air Rower review in a nutshell: it’s a tough, gym quality rower at a bargain home gym price.
When you're putting together the best home gym equipment, considering getting the best rowing machine is not something you should ever overlook. A rower's mix of intense cardio workouts and strength-building capabilities make it a great fitness all-rounder – even the best treadmill or exercise bike can’t quite match it in terms of bang for your buck.
When it comes to measuring fitness levels, the VO2 max figure, or the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, is often the magic marker for elite athletes. The more oxygen your body can use, the harder and further you can go during intense bouts of exercise. It comes as no surprise that professional rowers have some of the highest VO2 levels of any athletes, because rowing at full pelt for anything more than a couple of minutes is about as taxing as exercise gets. In short, if you want to burn fat, tone up and improve cardio in very short workout sessions, a rowing machine is for you.
The Wolverson Air Rower takes a tried-and-tested design, which looks mightily similar to the Concept2 RoweErg you may have experienced in a commercial gym or fitness centre, and adds its own unique touches. Oh, and drops the price a bit too. It's a good chunk cheaper than a Concept2, but packs the rugged, robust build quality that Wolverson is famous for. In fact, the frame, rails and drive chain feel like they are hewn from a solid block of industrial grade steel.
This is great for longevity and the rower itself feels like it can withstand a level of punishment someone of my build just can’t throw at it. That said, it’s not the smartest or slickest experience out there, with a fairly basic computer attached. Those wanting a more engaging, Peloton-style workout should check out my Hydrow review – it's the sleekest connected rower around. Alternatively, consider the iFit-enabled NordicTrack RW900.
Wolverson Air Rower Review: price
The Wolverson Air Rower is exclusive to Wolverson Fitness and retails at £799.99. If you see one, snap it up because, like most of the best home gym equipment, availability is 'variable' to put it mildly.
As far as I can tell, the Wolverson Air Rower is not available in the US or Australia.
Wolverson Air Rower Review: build quality and features
As previously mentioned, the Wolverson Air Rower is a solid piece of kit and shuns any kind of superfluous design flourish for pure substance. The main frame, rail and legs are fashioned from a similar material to Wolverson’s tough squat racks and feel built to last. The only real plastic elements are the fan housing and the monitor.
There’s the common fan adjustment lever on the massive flywheel case, which is easy enough to reach when the feet are placed in the foot straps for those of average height and above. Shorties might struggle a bit. The foot plates are comically beefy and are attached to the frame with industrial grade bolts.
Even the monitor arm is made from chunky steel but the entire thing feels fairly compact, as the frame and rails are skinny compared to something more design-led, like the aforementioned NordicTrack model. You’ll need at least 248cm x 62cm to house this thing, which sits 180cm tall at the tallest point of the monitor arm.
I’m not 100 per cent sold on the red plastic for the housing and the decals, which feel a bit 90s jet ski, rather than a slick and stylish piece of home fitness equipment. But who cares? It’s designed to sweat all over anyway and you can always peel them off.
The LCD computer monitor itself is fairly basic and lacks any kind of external speakers, Bluetooth functionality or fancy read-outs, but it deals with the most important pieces of information, which should be enough for most.
Wolverson Air Rower Review: the rowing experience
Anyone who has used a Concept2 RowErg will be very familiar with the experience, which uses a massive fan and flywheel to create the resistance. There are nine levels of resistance via a sliding lever on the side of the flywheel housing.
The reinforced plastic rowing handle is attached to the drivetrain via a mental chain and the seat fluidly slides along the rail via a pair of plastic seat rollers. The seat itself is fairly well cushioned but I did notice that the overall finish isn’t great, with a few rough rubber edges around the seat itself.
Rowing requires a little bit of technique to master properly, mainly remembering to drive with the legs, rather than pulling with the upper body and back, but the Wolverson Air Rower is a nice, non-threatening place to hone your skills, with the lowest resistance levels proving easy enough for the uninitiated.
The seat slides smoothly and the feet remain in position thanks to some properly tough foot plates and easily adjustable foot straps. But as with all of these fan resistance models, it’s bloody noisy when up to full speed. Plus, the fan on this test model emitted an irritating clicking noise when it’s winding down after a stroke.
As previously mentioned, the computer is basic and is powered by two large 1.5V D batteries, rather than taking a power feed from the flywheel. It dispalys all of the most important information, such as time/500m splits, strokes per minute, wattage output, calories, distance and more. But it lacks the fancy programmes and interactive elements of many rivals.
There is the option to programme in intervals, but it’s complicated and navigating the menu screens isn’t particularly intuitive. It’s far easier to stick a smartphone in the phone holder and run a separate app or timer.
The other irritating element is the heart rate monitor compatibility. Apparently, it can synch up with chest straps and the like, but I tried two Ant+ and Bluetooth models and just couldn’t get it to work properly. Again, it’s easier to run something like MyZone or Garmin Connect from a phone and be done with it.
Similarly, it’s also possible to fire up iFit or popular virtual rowing assistant Asensei on a smartphone or tablet and manually adjust resistance while indulging in an online session. You won’t be able to make the most of connected features but it’s a good option if you find motivation is low when simply rowing.
Wolverson Air Rower Review: storage, moving and living with it
The Wolverson Air Rower does feature a removable pin that is located near the foot plates, which should allow the unit to fold in on itself but I found it very difficult to work the mechanism. Instead, it’ easier to tip the unit onto its front transportation wheels, roll it towards a wall and simply stand it on its end when you want it out of the way.
Despite its tank-like build, it’s not particularly heavy and it’s easy enough for one person to move it around. That said, there are rival models out there that are easier to fold away and come with more compact packaging.
It’s also fairly noisy and certainly not something that you’d want to stick in your living room and use while others are trying to watch the telly. A WaterRower emits a much more pleasant sound, while those units that use electromagnetic resistance tend to be even quieter still. But then again, they are also more expensive to buy.
Wolverson Air Rower Review: verdict
Wolverson’s brief here was clearly very simple: to create something that can compete with a Concept2 model but come in at a cheaper price point. In that respect, it’s a resounding success and adds value thanks to the company’s renowned rugged build quality.
The computer isn’t the most high-tech and it is fiddly to use, but offers the most basic – read: important – information without really needing to press anything. It’s a proper, stripped-back rowing experience that will suit anyone who simply needs a tool to burn fat, improve strength or incorporate into CrossFit style workouts.