Indoor rowing doesn’t have the distinctive charm of being on a skiff on a river but a top-notch rowing machine will still give you a good workout. Luckily, between smart rowers like Hydrow and industry stalwarts like Concept2, there are plenty of quality rowing machine options on the market. If you’re looking for a great rowing experience right at home—without the unexpected sprays of water and breeze in your hair–a rowing machine is for you.
Indoor rowing machines have been in high demand among people outfitting their home gyms over the last couple years, but when it comes to choosing the right rowing machine, there are three important points for comparison worth noting. According to trainers and coaches you should consider rowing resistance, machine durability, and experience level when buying a rowing machine.
There are four different mechanisms used by rowers to provide resistance, says Ben Walker, C.P.T., owner of Anywhere Fitness in Dublin, Ireland. Those include hydraulic, air, water, or magnetic resistance. If noise is an issue and you prefer a quiet workout—the downstairs neighbors are distracting you, for example—then a hydraulic or water-based model is ideal, he suggests, because they are quieter.
But if you’re more concerned about performance, many people opt for an air-based or magnetic rower because they’re easier to maintain, more affordable, and less likely to break. Like other features, though, it tends to come down to personal preference in terms of how much you like the feel of the rower.
Look for companies that have had time to perfect their design and have good reviews in terms of durability and maintenance, suggests former elite rower Maria Brezler. Quality isn’t just about a financial investment, she adds, it can change how you feel when you’re doing a workout.
“You can get on one machine and it feels like you’re riding in an old beat-up Rav-4, while another will feel like driving a Mercedes,” she says.
Are you happy with the motion of rowing and the ability to change resistance levels, or did you want to see your data, like speed, stroke rate, heart rate, and distance? Do you want a built-in LCD screen that lets you compete with others, or do you want all the extra frills, like live rowing classes led by a rowing instructor?
“Only you will know what it will take to become more competitive with yourself, and what fuels your motivation,” Brezler says. If you’re just starting out, you might need more nudges like those live classes and leaderboards. But if you’re using a rower only as a fill-in machine until you can get back on the water, you may need a more stripped-down version.
When it comes to specific brands, favorites can vary as much as they do among treadmills or exercise bikes, but we’ve talked to a bunch of rowing fanatics on what they consider the best home rowers for mimicking the feeling of being on the water and looked at bestselling models at retailers like Amazon, as well. Read on to find the best rowing machine for all your strength training, cardio, and full-body workout needs.