Best Rowing Machine 2021

P.S. This is a super long article, so if you want to cheat and see the one I would recommend then click here!

There is one often overlooked piece of equipment that you will find in almost any gym, which offers to ability to provide a complete workout whilst placing minimal stress on your joints – the rowing machine. Rowers are commonly highlighted as the most impressive athletes at any Olympic games, requiring the ability to combine raw strength and power with mind blowing endurance. The rowing machine is a staple of their training regimes and was a common foe in my own rowing career – read on as I take you through the options available to you as you look to identify the best rowing machine in 2021.

This ability to give a full body workout, in one compact machine makes the rowing machine a perfect item in any home gym, or as the only piece of exercise equipment you might want in your home. The rowing machine is perfect for all levels – from starting an exercise regime for the first time, or a seasoned pro looking to really challenge their endurance. Read on as I give a summary of the different types of rowing machines that are available on the market and my opinion on what is the best rowing machine for you.

In the video below, there is a more detailed look at six key models on the market in 2021:

  • Concept2 – Model E
  • Stamina – ATS Air Rower
  • WaterRower – Club
  • WaterRower – Gronk Edition
  • Sunny Health – Magnetic Rower
  • Stamina – 1110

The benefits of using a rowing machine

Rowing machines are a single, intuitive piece of exercise equipment which are easy to use and suitable for all fitness levels. Designed to replicate how rowing on open water feels, the best rowing machines are smooth in action, loaded with features to monitor performance, and have quick-adjust settings to amp up or slow down the session. One of the best rowing machine benefits is that you get a way to work most major upper and lower body muscle groups in the comfort of your own home. With a choice of high and low resistance training, you can build muscles or burn calories, or simply work on maintaining a toned physique.

Upper body benefits

From your hands to your buttocks, you’ve probably guessed already, but the benefits to your upper body from using an indoor rower are impressive. Expect to work your lower back, upper back, shoulders, abs, core and arms.

Lower body benefits

Some people are surprised to hear that it’s the lower body which benefits best from rowing machines. It is often cited that up to 70% of the power in a rowing stroke comes from the lower body! Really targeting the lower body can mean a greater ability to burn calories, and with the correct resistance and technique, the rowing machine can sculpt and tone all parts of your legs. Expect to feel various muscles burn, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.

Perfect for recovery

For anyone recovering from surgery, keeping moving is vital, but not over doing it is just as important. Recuperating after injury can be difficult, but rowers provide an easy-going option. Rowing doesn’t put joints under the same stress as many pieces of gym equipment do.

Easy on the heart

When it comes to exercise, being overweight has several risk factors: not only is there more pressure on leg and back joints, there’s extra strain on the heart too. Burning an average of 100 calories every 10 minutes, using a rower offers a gentle, low-impact option for starting a weight loss program and building cardiovascular strength and stamina.

Types of rowing machines

Like most pieces of gym equipment, rowers have seen many improvements over the years. Sold by mainstream retailers online as well in store, the best indoor rowing machines are no longer reserved for expensive gyms. Still, there’s only four main types of rowers, and they’re categorized by the mechanics they use for creating resistance: air, water, magnetic, and hydraulic. The three most popular brands all use a different type of Mechanism and I will share my thoughts on the benefits of each and I have used each of these throughout my career!

The Best Rowing Machine 2018 – Fan rowers

Fan (or air) rowing machines have been around for over 30 years and are highly popular. Using a flywheel design, fan rowers are well-known for their smooth action, and are the standard across the sport for indoor training and competition. Across international and club level rowing, scores are submitted using a Concept2 rowing machine set at a consistent drag factor in order to create a level playing field. This is why the Concept2 is a staple across all rowing clubs you will ever go in to and is largely considered as the best indoor rower.

The top models use dampers to change the airflow to alter the feel of the strokes, it’s this which give quality air rowers such a real feel. When you pull back the handles to produce the rowing stroke, the flywheel, connected by a chain to the handles, spins. Resistance is produced by air flowing over the wheel, and the harder you row, the faster it spins thus creating more resistance – just as it would in water. Concept2 are well-known for their air rowers, and their latest E model has received praise in various rowing machine reviews. It boasts many features, including a sophisticated performance monitor. It also stands the same height as a chair, making it easy to get in and out of. The Concept2 E model uses a flywheel and spiral damper combination, meaning quick-adjust airflow for changing the feel of each stroke, like the drag water gives. Fan rowers can be noisy, but Concept2 states that this is their quietest model yet!

Benefits of fan rowers

Close imitations of water rowing.

Smooth action and ability to change resistance.

Little maintenance.

Most Popular Manufacturer – Concept2

The Best Rowing Machine 2019 – Water rowers

Water rowing machines are the new kid on the block and are fast gaining in popularity. Of course, hardcore air users are digging their heels in, but, because a water rower’s flywheel is actually in water (replicating true feel), they might change their minds soon. Water rowers create resistance similarly to air rowers, but use water instead of air. The water flywheel is housed inside a small water tank. When you pull back on the handle, the flywheel spins/paddles through the water and creates drag. Naturally, just like rowing a boat on water, the harder you row, the more resistance is created. Unlike some rowers, the action of water rowers is smooth throughout the entire stroke. The aptly named WaterRower has been mentioned in plenty of reviews looking for the best rowing machine, with buyers praising its beautiful wooden design and smooth action. The WaterRower is handmade from solid ash and has a patented water flywheel. Features include the Series 4 performance monitor, which monitors everything from heart rate to paddle rate. It will be interesting to see if Concept2 users are won over. The WaterRower is also a firm favorite of Television’s Frank Underwood as the House of Cards Rowing Machine.

Benefits of water rowers

No motorized parts: practically zero maintenance.

Quieter than air rowers.

Slick and stylish.

Most Popular Manufacturer – WaterRower

The Best Rowing Machine 2021 – Magnetic rowers

Magnetic rowers have always been popular and still stand strong today. Their size and quiet function makes them a favorite for home use. Resistance is created through the use of powerful magnets and a flywheel, and like all rowers, the action is performed by pulling on a handle attached to a chain. Depending on the quality and age, settings are controlled by either a digital monitor or by a hand-adjustable slide settings. Unfortunately, although the action is relatively smooth, magnetic rowers don’t imitate real rowing. However, they’re still an effective piece of fitness equipment and won’t fail to give your entire body a good workout. More budget machines like the Velocity are often overlooked when folks are looking for the best rowing machine to purchase, however for a beginner wanting to dip their toes in the water I think this is a safe investment and for the money one of the best indoor rowers available.

Benefits of magnetic rowers

Virtually no noise.

Decent resistance settings.


Most Popular Manufacturer – Velocity

The Best Rowing Machine 2021 – Hydraulic rowers

Hydraulic rowing machines differ from the other rowers because they don’t use a flywheel. Instead, hydraulics create resistance through the use of pistons. The pistons are connected to the handles, and when you pull back the handles, you’re working against the air or liquid inside the piston. In the past, many rowing enthusiasts have complained about using hydraulic rowers because of poor action, saying it’s not smooth like that of flywheel rowers. This was true enough, but, and this is an ongoing debate, despite talks about it being the end of the line for hydraulics, some new designs like the Stamina Precision Rower are also getting plenty of coverage in the rowing machine reviews. So, what’s changed? The Stamina Precision Rower boasts smooth action, a padded seat mounted on a deluxe ball-bearing roller system, yet remains lightweight and affordable. It’s also got a feature-rich monitor with plenty of resistance settings at your fingertips. Maybe there’s a future for hydraulics after all when looking for the best rowing machine.

Benefits of hydraulic rowers

Usually more affordable.

Compact: many models foldaway.

Quieter than flywheel rowers.

Most Popular Manufacturer – Stamina

What else?

Apart from being an ideal way to improve your overall fitness and health, rowing machines are quick to learn and simple to use. All you need to do is climb on, pull back on the handles, slide back and forth and you get in shape. Okay, there’s newer technology and fancy-sounding designs, but same goes for anything these days. Compared with lots of sports equipment, especially the flashy stuff inside most modern gyms, rowers are friendly. Friendly but with enough gadgets on board for those who like them. As well as being an easy piece of kit to get the hang of, rowers are suitable for all ages. The low-impact resistance training isn’t hard on fragile bones, stiff joints or weak limbs. If anything, a few gentle sessions a week will help keep joints supple and strengthen limbs. Rowing is particularly good for strengthening the back too, and a strong back, amongst other things, keeps us standing tall; improves posture. Crucially, using a rower is one of the safest ways to exercise.

Rowing machines are incredibly convenient

Just thinking about exercise makes some people sweat. And if you lean toward the lazy side, exercise is a swear word. Forget the gym. But rowers are convenient, and small enough to keep in the corner of any room. You can put a towel under the machine to catch any sweat, and even set up a laptop or tv in front of it to help you pass the time and encourage you to get in shape whilst not missing your favorite shows. Try setting yourself a goal of rowing for a full episode of your current tv series for 3 days a week and you will soon see results!

Rowing machines are renowned for burning the most calories per hour of all gym equipment, with swimming its biggest competitor in this regard. With practice, rowing for up to an hour or more will become second nature and the fat will soon start flying off! There’s lots more we could discuss, we’ll get down to some serious details in future posts.

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