How To Buy a Rowing Machine

Health & FitnessExercise & Meditation

  • Author Edwin Murray
  • Published November 13, 2012
  • Word count 1,205

A rowing machine is arguably the best full-body workout machine you should have in your home today. Anyone can use it and it offers a great low-impact cardiovascular workout so you won't be placing any unnecessary stress on your joints. And with the constant pulling and pushing done while rowing, you'll build and define muscles in your upper and lower body. Figuring out that buying a rowing machine because of the multitude of benefits it will provide you is the easy part. Trying to narrow down which one to get out of the dozens available on the market today is the difficult part. To make things much easier for you, I'll go over the key steps you should follow that will show you how to buy a rowing machine.

Step 1 - Determine if you have enough space

A typical rowing machine requires the same amount of floor space an average two-seat sofa takes up so make sure you have enough space. Keep in mind that your back and head will be extended past the length of the seat rail when pulling the handle so the more space you have available the better.

Step 2 - Determine what your budget is

The price range for a rowing machine is ~$125 - $4,200 and there's a lot to choose from so determining a budget will naturally narrow down the field. It will also prevent you from falling in love with a higher-priced rowing machine with extensive features you don't need. Making a budget is important but sticking with is key and will end up saving you money.

Step 3 - Determine what you plan to use it for

Yes, you're going to use the rower to workout but there are a few things you need to consider:

  1. Is this for home or commercial use?

All machines are ready for home use, but most are not built tough enough to withstand the punishment it would receive at a health club. Make sure if you intend to purchase a rower for commercial use that you pick one that's commercial-grade.

  1. Are you an off-season rower planning to use this machine to train?

The great thing about rowing machines is that everyone - people of all fitness levels - can use it including off-season rowers. If you're an off-season rower looking for a machine to train on, your best bet is to pick a machine that best simulates the rowing experience you're used to on water such as an air or water resistance rower (I go over all resistance types in Step 4 below).

  1. How many people are going to use it?

If you're not going to be the only one using it, chances are the other people who are have different strength and fitness levels. Make sure to pick a machine with adjustable resistance so people of all fitness levels can enjoy the rower. Even if the machine is just for you, adjustable resistance is a great option because as your strength and fitness level increase, so does the resistance offered by the machine so you won't have to worry about "outgrowing" it.

Step 4 - Learn about the different resistance types

Rowing machines have 4 different resistance types and each one has a set of characteristics unique to that type. Learning about each resistance type will give you a better idea about how rowers work and can also help you narrow down your search further if you end up preferring one resistance type over the others.

Here's a brief overview of each resistance type:

Hydraulic Piston

Resistance is provided by hydraulic pistons and the resistance is usually adjustable meaning people with different fitness levels will be able to use this machine type. They typically have a smaller frame, which make it great for people who don't have a lot of workout space and it's quiet so it's perfect to use in front of the television. Out of all the resistance types, this one least resembles the feel of rowing on water but it's still a great full-body workout machine. They're usually the lowest-priced out of all the resistance types.


This is the most common type you see at health clubs/ boathouses. A spinning flywheel is what provides resistance and the amount of air that flows in the flywheel creates the resistance. Resistance-level is determined by the intensity of the rowing session so if you row with more intensity, the resistance will be more difficult; if you row with less intensity, the resistance will be less difficult. The rowing motion is similar to rowing on water and is the preferred machine for off-season rowers and athletes. Because it produces wind, the rower makes a bit of noise and has a longer seat rail, which makes it a great machine for taller people. The benefit of the longer seat rail means it takes up more floor space than a typical rowing machine, which makes it difficult to own if you have limited space to use it in. Their typically priced higher than hydraulic pistons, but less than magnetic and water rowers.


Resistance is provided by an electromagnetic brake system that creates no friction and is very quiet. Resistance is usually adjustable and its features are similar to an air-resistance rower (longer seat rail, fairly-large footprint, rowing motion that mimics rowing on water) without the noise, but the rowing motion typically isn't as smooth and the price is usually higher.


Paddles suspended in a tank of water create resistance. Similar to an air-resistance rower, resistance-level is determined by the user's rowing intensity (row harder/ faster = more resistance; row easier/ slower = less resistance). In addition, resistance can be further adjusted by adjusting the amount of water in the water tank; more water = more resistance; less water = less resistance. This resistance-type simulates the rowing motion on water the best. It makes a fair amount of noise while in use because of the paddles spinning in the water, but it adds to the overall rowing experience because it's refreshing and sounds similar to actually rowing on the water. The frame is typically long and the unit is heavier than the other resistance types because of the water tank. It's also the most expensive so this type is recommended for hard-core rowers or those that want a true-to-life rowing on water experience.

Step 5 - Read Reviews of Rowing Machines

At this point you should have a better idea of what you're looking for. Now, it's time to read reviews of rowing machines you're targeting since you have your budget (and possibly preferred resistance-type) already determined. Having a budget and other preferences in mind before you start reading reviews will save you a lot of time because you won't be wasting any on machines you're not interested in. A good rowing machine review site will go over all of the details of every machine including resistance type, an overview of the fitness monitor, build quality, comfort, storage options, user capacity limits, assembly and warranty information, pros and cons, and most importantly will let you know what owners of the machines have to say about the rower.

Buying a rowing machine is not an easy task but if you follow these 5 steps, it will not only save you time but money too.

To find thorough and unbiased reviews of rowing machines from the top manufacturers, click here. You can compare models side-by-side, find out everything about the machines such as resistance type, build quality, and comfort level, and read up on key terminology and features.

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