Concept2 is clearly the king of all rowing machines, but what can it offer you that other brands can’t?

We’re going to dive into that. We know that a Concept2 machine is probably going to be your first pick, and we can’t blame you: it’s a solid, beautiful piece of machinery.

Best Overall
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black
WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor
MaxKare Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine 16 Level Tension Resistance Exercise for Whole Body with LCD Monitor for Home Use
SereneLife Rowing Machine – Air and Magnetic Rowing Machine – Rowing Exercise Machine for Gym or Home Use – Measures Time, Distance, Stride, Calories Burned – Rowing Machine Cardio Workout for Fitness
Sunny Health & Fitness Rowing Machine Rower Ergometer with Digital Monitor, Inclined Slide Rail, 220 LB Max Weight and Foldable - SF-RW5606
Our Rating
9.9
9.5
9.4
9.2
9.1
MSPR
$1,588.90
Price not available
$219.99
$289.99
$138.76
Size
25” x 33” x 54”
83” x 24” x 21”
76” x 19” x 16”
77” x 16” x 30”
38” x 14” x 43”
Weight
57 lbs
61.7 lbs
64 lbs
63 lbs
43 lbs
Foldable
Resistance Type
Magnetic
Water
Magnetic
Magnetic, air
Magnetic
Best Overall
Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black
Our Rating
9.9
MSPR
$1,588.90
Size
25” x 33” x 54”
Weight
57 lbs
Foldable
Resistance Type
Magnetic
More Information
WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine in Black Walnut with S4 Monitor
Our Rating
9.5
MSPR
Price not available
Size
83” x 24” x 21”
Weight
61.7 lbs
Foldable
Resistance Type
Water
More Information
MaxKare Magnetic Rower Rowing Machine 16 Level Tension Resistance Exercise for Whole Body with LCD Monitor for Home Use
Our Rating
9.4
MSPR
$219.99
Size
76” x 19” x 16”
Weight
64 lbs
Foldable
Resistance Type
Magnetic
More Information
SereneLife Rowing Machine – Air and Magnetic Rowing Machine – Rowing Exercise Machine for Gym or Home Use – Measures Time, Distance, Stride, Calories Burned – Rowing Machine Cardio Workout for Fitness
Our Rating
9.2
MSPR
$289.99
Size
77” x 16” x 30”
Weight
63 lbs
Foldable
Resistance Type
Magnetic, air
More Information
Sunny Health & Fitness Rowing Machine Rower Ergometer with Digital Monitor, Inclined Slide Rail, 220 LB Max Weight and Foldable - SF-RW5606
Our Rating
9.1
MSPR
$138.76
Size
38” x 14” x 43”
Weight
43 lbs
Foldable
Resistance Type
Magnetic
More Information

Last update on 2020-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Spoiler alert: the king of this list is a Concept2 Model D machine, because it’s unavoidably the best rowing machine money can buy without hemorrhaging your wallet. But because we don’t want them to be a monopoly on the rowing machine business, we’re also going to cover the alternatives.

Here, you’re going to learn all about rowing machines, what the top five have to offer, and just how much time and effort has gone into making a Concept2 rowing machine. It’s the reigning champion for a reason.

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine w/ PM5 Monitor

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine w/ PM5 Monitor

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The Concept2 is the reigning champion, no doubt about it. You can do more with a Concept2 than you can with any other rowing machine out there, and a lot of it derives from the technological aspects behind this machine.

To start with the tech behind this, Concept2 includes a good app with their screen and design, but they actually encourage you to use third-party apps as well.

They invite innovation, even if that means pushing their own stock app out of the way. We’ve made a full list of the best six third-party apps you can use with your Concept 2 to take your experience to the next level.

Getting into the actual specs of the machine, you get a 500 lb weight limit, making this ideal for anyone trying to lose weight. That’s all thanks to the steel frame and support system.

Even with all that heavy metal included in the construction, this is still only 57 lbs in total. Not too bad, and it’s still easy to stand it up straight and store it somewhere else when not in use.

The Concept2 fails at one point, and that’s the seat distance. It caps out a bit early, and while that’s not bad, taller users are going to have a harder time using this without scrunching up their knees.

Concept2 doesn’t have a longer option, so you’ll have to either meet the requirements or consider another option.

When you get into the magnetic resistance types and settings, you have a lot to work with. This works for beginners all the way up to more experienced rowers and cardio enthusiasts.

Rowing machines build a dozen different muscles in your body, and Concept2 has resistance levels to help you go from slender to toned like no other cardio machine can offer.

Assembly is… well, not going to be a fun time. Individually, these long pieces of metal are heavy because of the lack of leverage you have while assembling it. The magnetic rowing plate is extremely heavy, so you might have some difficulties assembling this part at first.

To wrap things up, I want to track back to the PM5 monitor that feeds information to your apps. It self-regulates based on the information you input and the speeds you use, so even if you exceed your goals and your workout times are all over the place, it self-regulates that information as it happens, all in real time.

But what’s the real reason to get a Concept2 over these alternatives? Noise reduction, smoothness on the coil, and an overall durable design that’s under a great warranty from a reputable company you can trust. Five years on the frame, two years on everything else—what more could you ask for?

 

WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine

WaterRower Classic Rowing Machine

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Water rowing indoors isn’t an easy, nor an inexpensive thing. Emulating the same resistance you get from outdoor rowing is insanely difficult, which is why WaterRower is the only brand that’s really trusted to handle it properly.

This all-wood, water tank resistance style rowing machine comes in a beautiful walnut color, and because of how solid and durable the wood is, you actually have a better weight cap than any steel machines on the market.

The user here can be up to 1,000 lbs, which is just overkill – that’s power that you’re never going to need, but it’s there and it’s made tough.

Because of the unique way this water resistance is, you actually work up to 84% of your muscle mass. It just works differently than magnetic resistance types.

Working with a water resistance tank isn’t easy though, and it’s going to come with a learning curve that you just don’t get with other resistance types.

Filling and emptying the tank is not only going to get messy based on where it is, but setting everything back up so that you can actually row is going to be a pain as well.

There’s no knob or dial you can just slide around to toy with the resistance rating. Your first time on this is going to be a trial and error, filling and emptying the tank until you find a good resistance, and so on.

WaterRower makes a solid tank, and the coil works like a charm. Because the wood here is painted but not treated, if you get the frame wet, you’re going to want to use a fan and dry it out immediately.

I would say that the LCD screen is one of the best on any rowing machine out there. That’s because it not only displays a lot of information in a compact way, but the buttons are intuitive – you know exactly what you have to do just by looking at the dashboard, making it easy to track your progress.

So who should consider a water rowing machine?

Anyone who’s already used a rowing machine knows the ins and outs and understands how imperative it is for their overall health and fitness lifestyle.

Water rowers have a higher maintenance threshold than magnetic and metal rowers, as well as a higher price tag to get into in the first place. If you know you like rowing and that it’s a long-term fitness strategy for you, that’s when you should consider a WaterRower.

 

MaxKare Magnetic Rower Machine

MaxKare Magnetic Rower Machine

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Budgets. Everybody has one, and some people find themselves in the middle with no idea which way to go. MaxKare is that middle-of-the-road choice, with a good price tag and fair amount of space.

The seat is comfortable, the sliding motion on the frame is smooth, and the magnetic resistance flywheel works like a dream.

MaxKare excels in creating cohesive pieces of machinery. You can basically put this in any home gym, anywhere in your home, and you’re going to feel it fit with your current gym equipment.

That being said, it’s not a lightweight piece. It’s 64 lbs, which for a machine that has most of the weight in the flywheel, that’s actually pretty heavy.

It’s not going to be simple to stand upright and store, but it’s still possible if you get the right leverage on it. You have 16 levels of magnetic resistance that you can toy with, as well as an LCD monitor that displays real-time information based on the input you’re giving into the machine.

You should never rely on your foot straps too much with any rowing machine. They can be a hindrance and mess with your form if you aren’t careful, and these oversized straps on the MaxKare are a perfect example of how and why.

I will say that the actual pedals themselves have good foot traction, you just have to be wary on the straps.

MaxKare doesn’t have the best customer service, though. You can get through to them to get your warranty fulfillment, but it’s not going to be the most fun time contacting them.

It’s something to consider, though MaxKare does have a long history of delivering high-quality machinery without defects, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

 

SereneLife Rowing Machine

SereneLife Rowing Machine

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They keep it simple: that’s what I like about SereneLife.

This rowing machine comes with an air and magnetic resistance type, which makes it feel super unique whenever you pull back on the cord. Adjusting this flywheel can be a bit of a chore, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to customize your workout like nobody else possibly could.

When it comes to the boots on the stands, they grab the carpet fairly well, which is certainly helpful if you’re on carpeting. I would recommend getting a mat for this if you plan on using it on hardwood in any capacity.

There are no stabilizers on the bottom, so your motion rocks this back and forth if you don’t have stable footing.

There’s decent glide on the seat, but you might have to WD-40 this in the future if it starts to feel a bit shifty. Cardio workouts, strength training, and overall resistance training are all achievable on SereneLife, especially when you work in the LCd screen that displays real-time information based on your input as you row.

You can track progress and extend that data to an app to build a profile of your overarching use of the rowing machine. It’s versatile and easy to use, however, SereneLife only includes a one-year warranty with your purchase.

This basically only covers you against manufacturer defects, which means that long-term damages aren’t going to be covered unless it can be directly linked to a problem during manufacturing. That’s going to be hard to do.[

Ideally, you won’t need to call on that warranty. Fortunately, you have a good customer service team behind SereneLife, so even if you do run into problems you’re good to go.

They’re a good brand to deal with and make an excellent machine, albeit a bit heavy and hard to store. Once this is built, you’re going to need leverage to tilt this up and store it vertically in the room.

 

Sunny Health & Fitness Elastic Cord Rower

Sunny Health & Fitness Elastic Cord Rower

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We could all do with sticking to a budget, and when it comes to your personal health equipment, there are certainly big costs that come into play. One of those comes down to brand new machinery, which is why Sunny Health & Fitness creates a lineup of inexpensive home gym equipment.

Starting from the top down, this inexpensive design is made with lightweight construction. This entire unit only weighs 43 lbs, making it extremely simple to store in your home when you’re not using it.

Position it upright, stow it in the closet; it’s easy enough to move based on the weight distribution. The heaviest part is going to be the resistance plating.

However, with a lightweight design comes a few disparities in the build. The maximum user weight limit here is only 220 lbs, which isn’t much at all. If you’re getting a rowing machine for weight loss, this might be a deal-breaker, because you really don’t want to exceed the maximum weight cap.

Sunny Health & Fitness is better suited for maintaining an already trimmed body or just trying to maintain a good workout regimen with extremely low weight loss goals in mind.

The resistance type here is magnetic, which is exactly what you want to see. The only difference is that you’re using an elastic cord to row with instead of a more durable material. It’s built thick and sturdy, so you won’t run into tearing or major issues, but it’s still not the most comfortable thing to row with.

I don’t want to come down on Sunny Health & Fitness. They made a great budget-friendly rowing machine, and it comes with some awesome benefits.

For once, there are performance stabilizers, which are designed to keep your rowing machine nice and rigid during use. Nothing is worse than everything rattling around while you’re just trying to bring up the intensity level of your workout.

Your resistance knob is easy to use, and the digital monitor is bright enough to be usable.

The thing is, it doesn’t display a whole ton of information, so if you’re looking for trending info on your health to track your progress over time, you’re going to need a Garmin watch, FitBit, or some additional apps. That’s one of the main reasons that Concept2 tops this list—they give it to you all.

 

Rowing Machine Buying Guide & FAQ

Is Rowing Good if You Have Bad Knees?

Is Rowing Good if You Have Bad Knees?

Everything is situational, of course. It depends on the user, it depends on health conditions, but generally rowing is actually good for your knees. Even though you are engaging your knees during rowing, you’re actually strengthening the muscles instead of wearing them down or damaging them.

Because rowing can be about 70% arms and 30% legs, you’re starting out small with dynamic movements.

It’s like working up from 10 lb dumbbells before you get to the 40 lb ones – your legs and knees endure low-level, low-stress engagement and build those critical muscles before you start engaging in other physical activities.

What Are the Main Benefits of Rowing Machines Compared to Other Cardio Machines?

Cardio in general is a good thing, but there’s a reason that other machines exist and that people have their preferences. Each cardio machine works out different muscles, and has a different maximum caloric burn on an hourly basis.

  • Minimal Joint Impact: Every dynamic movement you make reduces the impact on your joints, maximizing your overall effectiveness without degrading your body. Some exercises and other cardio machines put your joints through their paces and calcify certain areas, but with a rowing machine, you don’t have to worry about that intensity.
  • Burn More Calories: I can row for thirty minutes. I might struggle running on a treadmill for thirty minutes. The difference is in the dynamic movements: you’re burning calories in a completely different way, instead of solely focusing on just elevating your heart rate by running as fast as you can. Because you’re engaging more muscle zones—which we’re going to talk about in a minute—you burn more calories in a less stressful way.
  • Muscle Workout: It’s not just about cardio: you can work out anywhere from ten to twelve muscles all at once, which burns calories in different parts of your bodies. You have fat cells everywhere, even if you’re fit and toned. If you only practice cardio on a treadmill, there’s less movement and less areas are being exercised and accessed. With a rowing machine, all that engagement helps to evenly burn calories across your entire body.
  • Compact Design: Treadmills aren’t convenient. With a magnetic rowing machine, you can easily pick it up from one side, stand it upright, and strap it to the wall or put it into your closet. It’s not a big deal. You can then put other workout equipment in its place, which is extremely helpful if you have a smaller home or available home gym area.

Why is Rowing on the Machine Better Than Running on the Treadmill?

Why is Rowing on the Machine Better Than Running on the Treadmill?

Impact. Most of the reasons that people choose a rowing machine over a treadmill or recumbent bike is because of the impact on your joints. Rowing machines still require you to bend your knees, but like we talked about earlier, the pressure and tension is distributed elsewhere. It’s not all in your joints.

With a rowing machine, you can get in excellent, core cardio without having to use your legs nearly as much as you would on a treadmill or bike. You have the ability to put more of the pressure in your arms, so long as you keep your legs positioned appropriately for sliding on the seat.

Over time, stress on your joints can cause long-term pain that might impair your ability to exercise in the first place. That’s obviously the last thing that any of us want to happen, so it’s important to keep joint health in mind.

You can position yourself to mostly row with your arms, simply using your legs/knees to keep your form proper and mitigate the stress on them.

How Long Will a Concept2 Rower Last?

Concept2 is known as the most durable, long-lasting rower on the market, and for good reason: they’re not built cheap, they include state-of-the-art technology, and they include outstanding warranties (as well as replacement parts). Essentially, they’re the most durable piece of home gym equipment you could buy.

A Concept2 rower will last for ten to twenty years with moderate maintenance and levels of care.

You could easily get one of these to last for thirty years if you actually take care of it properly and get replacement parts directly from Concept2. I would not recommend using third-party aftermarket parts here, but otherwise, you’ll do okay.

Rowing to a Leaner You

Rowing is one of the best full-body workouts that you can possibly do. While the Concept2 is still the best rowing machine out there, these alternatives still give you an excellent workout regardless of what your goals are. It doesn’t take a lot of money to get started with indoor rowing.