The Best Rowing Machine: Concept2 vs WaterRower
This is without doubt my most popular and divisive article – Concept2 vs WaterRower. You will have come to notice from my previous posts that I believe that the rowing machine is the ultimate piece of equipment for home workouts. If you could only have one piece of equipment, for me it has to be the rowing machine! With this in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts on the two main models of rowing machine, and given their completely different mechanisms we need to put them up against each other – its time to do Concept2 vs WaterRower!
P.S. If this post is too long for you, or you just can’t wait to see which one I vote the winner – click here for a sneak preview or watch the video below for a summary I have created for Concept2 vs WaterRower:
Simply put, the Concept2 is the gold standard of rowing machine for rowing clubs and competitive rowers. All official scores are done on a Concept2, and this will keep the machine as the heart of the rowing world for years to come, and for that reason is considered by the professionals as simply the best rowing machine available. The Concept2 has a sleek design and given it is built for rowing clubs who will be churning out the miles day after day, it is highly durable and reliable. As a home user, you will not be able to wear this out for decades!
Measuring 54” by 24”, it can be easily incorporated into any living area and if space is a major concern, it features a quick-release frame lock mechanism that makes it easy to disassemble and store out of the way, best done so upright in a cupboard or in the corner. Available in light grey or black, the aesthetics of this machine make it very stylish and for those with an at-home gym, it is a wonderful addition.
The Concept2 is a fan rower, and this will cause a bit of noise at home, so if you plan to use in a room around other people – they might not be too happy if they are watching tv! The good news is that newer models significantly cut down the noise.
One of the greatest things about Concept2 machines is the display and the level of information you can get from it – this is one of the key requirements when assessing the best rowing machine. You can track by speed, watts or calories. I personally only use speed, as my goals dictated so, but it is great at each. Using an approved heart rate strap also means you can get your HR up on the screen. I personally stick to a normal heart rate monitor (see my post about HR Monitors here). You can now even download your stats via USB if you are feeling extra keen.
Comfort-wise, this indoor rowing machine takes mobility considerations very seriously. The footrests are adjustable, the handle is very ergonomic and the caster wheels means it can be easily repositioned. With a seat height of 20”, little effort is needed to get on and off, which is ideal for those who suffer with knee complaints. Also, the seat is slightly tilted forwards which makes it a better option for those with lower back issues. There are now also two options that exist when you are decided on a Concept2 – the Model D or the Model E, which I have also reviewed in more detail.
All in all – for me, there is a reason that the Concept2 has been the best rowing machine for competitive rowers – it has everything you need and is genuinely suitable for all standards up to Olympic rowers!
See below for a pretty epic video of the World’s quickest pair (New Zealand) on their Concept2’s setting HUGE scores.
The WaterRower is relatively new to the market, and is causing a storm. It uses a very different method of power, but it is a great piece of equipment for those who have no intentions of moving to the river with their rowing! Aesthetically, it’s one of the best looking indoor rowing machines you can buy as it is made of solid ash wood and finished with a honey-oak stain. This is great for those who need to keep it in their living room as it is unobtrusive and is more likely to match your interior décor. An added bonus here is that if it is incorporated into a living area, you’re much more likely to use it. Even if it isn’t out on display, it easily folds up without the need to disassemble it and it has been designed to be sorted upright – perfect for saving space.
As the name suggests, this is water powered, and with the added fact that this machine is handcrafted from wood, it absorbs noise and vibrations. In fact, the only noise it produces is the gentle sloshing of the water in the tank. Much quieter than the Concept2 and could be a better option for a home gym in close proximity of others in the house.
On the subject of the tank, this wonderfully smooth rowing machine features a patented water flywheel. Enclosed in a tank of water, the flywheel is not only very quiet, but is designed to simulate the feel of being in an actual rowing boat. In a way it does, as you can’t just hammer your strokes out, you need to build the pace and be a bit more considered. However to those used to the Concept2, it is a very big change! The self-regulated resistance provided by this water flywheel means that the faster you row, the more resistance you feel.
The computer on the machine – whilst not as advanced as that on a Concept2 which is aimed at competitive rowers – is very user-friendly. The monitor tracks intensity, stroke rate, heart rate, duration, distance and other statistics. For a home user wanting just to be able to track their progress over time, it has all that you need.
Comfort-wise, the WaterRower doesn’t quite match the luxury of the Concept2. The seat is tilted backwards which puts more pressure on the lower back and the footrests are made of moulded plastic that have sharp edges – not great for those who like to row barefoot or in socks. On the plus side, the flat rail gives less knee compression and so is a bit gentler on the knees.
Finally – it is also the rowing machine of choice for Frank Underwood in House of Cards – House of Cards Rowing Machine
Below is a great video of the WaterRower in action.
Concept2 vs WaterRower – Head to Head – Which is better?
Now that we have reviewed each individually, below I will compare the two for the ultimate Concept2 vs WaterRower comparison across a range of categories as we look to make a decision for the best rowing machine. I have summarised in a table below too.
This is the greatest difference between the Concept2 and WaterRower with the Concept2 being an air rower/fan rower and the WaterRower being powered by water.
Concept2 – this is the traditional method for rowing machines with air rowers being the mechanism that we have all grown up with and used in our lifetime. Not only is it the mechanism we are used to, but it is also simply the way in which calculations for speed in rowing have been calculated and refined over time meaning the Concept2 display is much more accurate when it comes to watts and speed. I also much prefer the feeling of a Concept2 with it being much easier to chance your pace and power without any awkward feelings from the machine.
WaterRower – the water based mechanism for the WaterRower is interesting as it is both a brilliant innovation whilst also being incredibly obvious (when you consider that rowing is on water!). This mechanism is new and such a change from the traditional approach that some of its drawbacks are for those who want to do competitive indoor rowing as the times just don’t compare to those done on a Concept2. There are positives however, I think the noise is much more therapeutic and quieter which is a huge plus for those using at home.
Overall – for me it has to be the Concept2 that wins in this category.
Concept2 – the feeling of a rowing stroke on a Concept2 is beautiful. The fan slows at a comfortable pace, you get much greater allowance to be inconsistent and it is also very responsive to a change in power. I never have any concerns that a Concept2 will struggle with me putting in a huge power 10.
WaterRower – this might be influenced by experience but I just do not enjoy the overall feel of using a WaterRower when you might be changing your speed or power during the course of a workout. When you are doing a consistent session I think it is easy to get into a rhythm but it is a real struggle for anything resembling intervals or pyramid training.
Overall – Again, the Concept2 wins this for me for sheer feel and performance.
Concept2 – the years of dominance across rowing clubs and indoor rowing has seen the Concept2 built for speed and performance and not for comfort. There have been improvements over the years – most notably the shape of the handle (from flat to a V shape) and the height of the Model E (higher than any other models).
WaterRower – conversely to the Concept2, the WaterRower’s primary market is home gym users and a more premium and refined customer than Concept2.
Overall – easily the WaterRower here. I would also say that both are very easily improved for comfort with a rowing seat cushion!
Concept2 – it is very easy to chance a few key variables on the Concept2. The feel height and straps are very easy to change and have a huge range – from kids to the biggest of adults. The resistance (drag) is also very easy to adjust on the machine, and through the computer screen.
WaterRower – the resistance on a WaterRower is more difficult to change, but there is a good range of resistance available. The feet are also adjustable – but both of these are less accessible than the Concept2.
Overall – this is marginal, but the key features for the Concept2 have greater range of chance and are easier to do so.
Concept2 – as with comfort the Concept2 is designed for power and speed, not for looking good. For me, it looks sturdy, sleek and entices you in to lay down the power.
WaterRower – it really is a masterpiece in design and engineering. The water bucket, the exposed wood. The WaterRower can also much more easily fold into the corner of your room.
Overall – this is subjective but you have to say that the WaterRower is a much better looking piece of gym equipment.
|Mechanism||Fan / air rower – I have grown up using a fan based rowing machine so this is just what I am used to. I love it, and it offers scope to throw big powerful strokes in when required.||Water rower – this makes a much more theraputic sound, at a significantly reduced volume. For home use, I think this makes the WaterRower a more pleasant option than the Concept2.||Concept2 – for me as a lifelong rower – I could just never stray from an air rowing machine. However, if you do want to be noise conscious, the WaterRower might be the better choice here.|
|Drive feel||Smooth – the fan and drive mechanism has been perfected over decades to make a machine that is responsive to any change in power of the drive.||Requires more feel – you need to be gentle and purposeful with the water. What I don’t like about the feel of a WaterRower is the lack of height for the handle – it just doesn’t feel as it should do for my liking.||Concept2 – I still struggle to find the feel of a WaterRower to be what I want. The Concept2 is just so much smoother than the WaterRower.|
|Comfort||The Concept2 is not really built for comfort, it has to be said. A lot of people I know purchase seat cushions, although I have yet to do so myself. I love the change of handle they made, which is much more ergonomic than older models.||The WaterRower has been primarily designed for the home user, and for this reason is much more tailored for casual use. As with the Concept2, seat cushions are a great supplemental purchase.||WaterRower – this machine has been designed with the home user in mind and for this reason beats the Concept2 for comfort.|
|Flexibility||Drag and Foot Height – the ability to make this machine well suited for different heights and different abilities so easily is a major plus.||Adjusting the resistance in the water tank is arduous and the foot straps are a lot less moveable than the Concept2||Concept2 – over the years, developments to this machine have made is customisable to all abilities of user.|
|Aesthetics||For me, the Concept2 is what a rowing machine should look like – mechanical and strong – ready for you to get on and do your best to break it as you aim for a new Personal Best.||For a nice house location, rather than out in a garage, I could see the WaterRower being a much better looking machine to have hanging around. Plus it stores upright a lot better.||WaterRower – for pure aesthetics, the WaterRower is much sleeker and eye catching than the Concept2|
Concept2 vs WaterRower: Conclusion
All in all, the decision between Concept2 vs WaterRower comes down to the individual. Both of these indoor rowing machines are fantastic pieces of equipment and offer many benefits that make them ideal additions to any fitness-conscious home. If it’s aesthetics that concern you, the WaterRower is definitely the best choice as the oak frame is very pleasing to the eye and it is far less mechanical than the Concept2 – plus it is available in two shades of wood. On the other hand, for those who are more serious about fitness, the Concept2 is definitely the way to go as the monitor provides more detail, and the Concept2 is the benchmark for comparing your times over various distances to others.
For me, as an ex rower, I would never stray from a Concept2, especially as they now do a black version!
Other Questions People Ask
Are WaterRowers easier than Concept2?
I get asked this often, and the reality is that both machines can be as easy or as hard as you make them. Both the Concept2 and the WaterRower have variable resistance which means at the simplest level you can make both easy or difficult. However – the best way to address difficulty is in how you use the machine from a technique point of view, and the workout that you are doing.
In short – no, they are not easier.
Can you lose belly fat on a rowing machine?
This is an age old question, and there has been proven in many many studies that you can’t spot reduce fat (i.e. you can’t target the fat on your stomach over say the fat in your arms).
What I believe the rowing machine has in its favour is its low-impact nature on your joints meaning it is easier to do for longer than say running. You have a much easier ability to chance the pace unlike say swimming. The rowing machine is also very good at being used for the different types of workouts that help burn calories the most (a combination of Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)). If you so a good combination of both of these consistently with a good nutrition approach you will definitely lose fat!
How much noise does the Concept2 or WaterRower make?
First of all – noise always depends on what you are comparing it to. Both machines are loud, and if you are using in a quiet home people in other rooms will be able to hear the noise of the mechanisms on both.
These are both top quality machines, and the noise of the seat moving is minimal which is a very good thing.
Concept2 – the air rower mechanism definitely makes noise as the fan spins faster. The noise generally goes up as your power goes up and in a fashion consistent with every stroke.
WaterRower – the water bucket is enclosed that helps minimise a lot of noise but the nature of the mechanism looking to push the drive against water means there will always be noise. It is a bit quieter than a Concept2 but not ‘quiet’ as a machine.
For both I think it is also worth comparing to alternatives – both machines are quieter than if you were using a treadmill but are louder than a normal spin bike. However, I think they are quieter than a setup that might be a bike on a turbo trainer or a wattbike.
Hope this helps, but as with most things – it depends!