Best Rowing Machine for Crossfit

Crossfit is a 21st century phenomenon that is revolutionising the way in which athletes are combining strength, cardiovascular and mobility training. The sport has had a meteoric rise with crossfit gyms across the world, a host of smash hit TV shows (Fittest on Earth) and most of all a single thriving and supportive community of over 13,000 athletes across all abilities.    

I have enjoyed watching the rise of Crossfit as many years ago an emerging Crossfit athlete and coach used my rowing club to test a host of his sessions and this brought a new era of fitness and power to our squad.    

Above all else though, what I really love about Crossfit is its usage and advocacy of the humble rowing machine.  

What is Crossfit?

At its simplest, Crossfit is a fitness programme which sees athletes given a new programme each day that could incorporate any elements of HIIT (Hight Intensity Interval Training), weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics and plyometrics.  Each workout is called a WOD which stands for “Workout Of the Day”.

Doing Crossfit at Home

One drawback to Crossfit is that it encompasses so many exercises and routines that to do this at home would require a significant amount of equipment across barbells, lifting mats, pull up bars, gymnastic rings, kettlebells etc. The list goes on! However my experience is that there is one area that people really want to train and get fit on outside of the strength aspects and this is the rowing aspects, which in Crossfit have been known to go from intervals of 6-8 calories (circa 20 seconds) all the way to the famous Marathon row (40km!).    

If you’re going to buy a rowing machine to use at home, with the main intention of getting fit and powerful for Crossfit, you have an important decision to make – which rowing machine is the best option?    

I have previously written a much broader view of the rowing machine market, taking into account all types of buyers but in this shorter article I will aim my analysis purely on Crossfit and the best machine for your rowing WODs!

What is the best rowing machine for Crossfit?

In order to really drill into this there are a couple of key criteria to look at:  

  • Which machine does Crossfit endorse?
  • Accuracy of time and power reporting
  • Durability
  • Track record

This is something I will dig into a bit, but I am ultimately going to narrow this down to the only two models that I think would be considered by a serious crossfitter – Concept2 and WaterRower. Again, I have previously done a comprehensive review of both brands before, but I am going to drill into the key information that would inform a Crossfit purchaser.

Best Crossfit Rowing Machine: Concept2 vs WaterRower

In summary – the Concept2 is the original and best known in the rowing machine world. Across the world, international and club athletes use this machine as the standard for doing time trials and official timed tests on. For this reason alone, this is a machine that will continually be supported well, has significant build quality and can cover any type of usage.

Which machine does Crossfit Endorse?

Similar to the world of olympic rowing, Crossfit uses the same rowing machine across all of its athletes and events to ensure an even playing field and experience for its athletes. You can’t have people competing on different machines, and you also don’t want athletes training on one type of machine but competing on another as ultimately all machines feel the same. Training on a WaterRower but then competing on a Concept2 will be a huge shock to the system.   This is a pretty big reason to choose a Concept2 machine, but this really depends on your desires as a Crossfit athlete. If you aren’t aiming for big competitions, this doesn’t need to be the reason that makes your decision for you.  


Accuracy of reporting

Crossfit generally uses the Calorie unit for its WODs (a unit I have literally never used until a big burly coach commanded me to!), although in some sessions the WOD is set up on distance covered in time, or time to cover a distance.    

Using the calorie as the unit can be done on both a Concept2 and a WaterRower. In the world of “you vs you” (knowing your time, then beating it the next time) it doesn’t matter which machine you use, as long as you stick with the same one each time. The only area of reporting scores that is important is if you plan to do a WOD at home but share your times with others – in this scenario the times and distances between a Concept2 and a WaterRower can vary and create the uneven playing field that I discussed earlier.    



One quite obvious feature of any WOD is that athletes really attack the rowing machine with venom. The Crossfit way is to give it your all, and I am always impressed with the power and energy that I see athletes give to the rowing parts of their WODs.  

My own personal experience is that a Concept2 is so heavy duty that it can take literally anything you throw at it. Most rowing clubs have tens of athletes using rowing machines back to back, with Concept2s taking hours and hours of continual and high power usage. Whilst they need the occasional service and TLC, they are made to challenge you.    

WaterRowers are a bit different in my experience – whilst they can handle short bursts of power, they have not been built for extensive use in gyms or rowing clubs, but rather to be a slick, good looking machine giving a different feel (that some would call more natural). I do love WaterRowers, and they have a huge array of benefits, but I would not buy one if I was planning to be jumping on it and doing bursts of full power for 20 seconds at a time for worry of risk of damaging the system over time.  


Track Record

I hate to sound like a broken record – but you simply can’t look past the fact that Concept2 has for decades been the standard for international rowing, and is now being used across Crossfit Games events worldwide.    

For home users more interested in losing weight, getting fit or just having a piece of equipment that they use infrequently I think the WaterRower is one of the best on the market. For athletes, or those looking to level up their Crossfit game – the Concept2 has to be the choice.    


In summary – the Concept2 is the clearly the best rowing machine to use for Crossfit WODs and improving Crossfit specific fitness.

The next question you will be faced with is which model, which I review here: Concept2 Model D vs Concept2 Model E

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