It’s time for a revolution — a rowing revolution. For too long, the rowing machine has been the default loner in the corner of the gym that seems to always be available. The desperation needs to end, because the modality is a marvel of full-body fitness. Engaging 86 percent of your muscles — nearly twice as many as running or cycling, including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, upper back, arms and core — rowing burns more calories than any other single piece of equipment.
“The rowing machine makes for the most efficient workouts, and intervals on the rowing machine are great,” says Bryan Volpenheim, two-time Olympic medalist and previous head coach of the US Men’s National Rowing Team. “You don’t have to do it for hours like you would running or cycling. You can get an incredible workout in thirty minutes… and it’s low impact so it’s not hard on your joints.”
With a combination of testing and scouring the internet, we've rounded up a few of the best. Scroll down and you're sure to find one that will help you row your way to a fitter physique, fast.
- Online access to live classes, challenges and leaderboards
- Pricing may be too steep for some users
Yes, it’s pricey. But you get what you pay for, and in this case that means not only a top-notch rower but a whole online community that’ll keep you motivated and moving. The Hydro boasts a computer-controlled electromagnetic drag system for a real on-the-water feel, plus a 22-inch HD touchscreen monitor to unlock a world of rowing experience. Through a membership ($38/month), you gain access to expert trainer-led live classes plus more than 1,000 streaming river and studio rowing sessions. The connected setup also lets you track your progress and compete with others via leaderboards, daily rows, challenges and special events.
- Water resistance provides a true outdoor rowing feel
- Slow internet connection can lead to buffering issues
CityRow has close to a dozen energizing row-centric gyms across the country, with more on the way, and this unit is the rower of choice. So, even when you use it at home, you get that dynamic gym feel, especially with the app and subscription ($29/month), which lets you tap into all sorts of pumped-up trainer-led classes — rowing plus HIIT, strength, yoga and more. The rower itself is based on the classic WaterRower (see below) and its original WaterFlywheel, but it's updated with a rotating touchscreen, hi-fi speakers, Bluetooth connectivity and real-time performance data.
- Resistance easily adjusts for varying workout difficulty
- Distance not displayed, so no time trials
If you want to bring home a reliable rower for less than $300, this may be your best bet. Relatively easy to jump on and use (or fold up and store), the SF-RW5515 features an LCD screen displaying time, count, calories and other key data. Meanwhile, a twist of the dial near your feet lets you access eight levels of magnetic resistance, so you can challenge yourself as you get stronger. You'll have to supply your own motivation however — there's no fancy screen on this unit, nor is there any place to add one.
First launched in 1976, Concept2 churns out high-quality equipment that can be found in gyms nationwide, as well as at the indoor world rowing championships. Elite athletes use Concept2 machines to push themselves to new levels. The Model D is easy to use: on the performance monitor, just hit row to get going. The harder you pull, the more muscles you’ll engage and the more intensity you’ll feel. You can also raise and lower the damper to control how much air gets into the flywheel housing. To store, separate the machine in the middle, tuck away the arm and roll the resistance sphere to a closet or corner.
While the WaterRower has been around since 1988, it experienced a revival of sorts after its starring role in House of Cards. The beauty of the machine is that it’s built to blend in with its surroundings, so you don’t have to banish it to your gym dungeon. The machine is smooth, easy-to-use and works for everyone from beginners to experts. Even with its classic aesthetics, it has modern touches, too — most notably a performance monitor that tracks speed, intensity, time, distance and stroke rate. Of course, the soothing sound of water rushing around the base of the machine is also a plus.
If Peloton and Concept 2 were to have a baby, you’d get the RW900. Included in this impressive rower is a complimentary 30-day family membership to NordicTrack’s iFIT personal training services, so you can enjoy expert-led workouts for not only rowing but also cross training, boot camp, HIIT, active recovery and more. The digital screen transports you to majestic spots around the world, immersing you in the rowing experience right from your living room. And not unlike the latest Peloton screen, it also rotates for easy viewing when you transition to other workout modalities.