Indoor Rowing Machine Buying Guide: How To Choose

Buying a rowing machine can be a bit difficult. There are so many and they are all a little or very different. How can you choose the right one for you? Here’s what you want to know.

Setting a budget should be the first decision when choosing a rowing machine. A good rower can be bought from $600 to $1200. Size, build quality, noise, drive mechanism, resistance type and warranty are also important to choose correctly.

Let’s get into all the different factors for buying an indoor rowing machine below.

How To Select An Indoor Rowing Machine

You don’t buy a new rower every week so it can be a bit confusing. This article is going to make very clear what to look for. So here are the eight most important factors that go into deciding which rower is best for you. 

1. Rower Price

The budget you’ve got for a rowing machine is important. Money makes the world go round and (almost) everyone has to be mindful of how much they spend. So what’s the amount of money you can expect to pay for a rowing machine? If you spend more money, you can expect a better rower but spending more than you can afford isn’t good either. 

Spend as much as you can afford but don’t get yourself into trouble. 

I’ve written a whole post going into detail of rowing machine pricing and what you can expect for your money. Find it here (click).

Indoor rowing machines can cost anywhere from $100 to $2500. Most good rowing machines cost from $600 to $1200 depending on resistance type. Water rowers are the most expensive followed by (high quality) air rowers while magnetic resistance rowers are quite a bit cheaper.

Is that too much? Check out the best rowers under $400 in this post.

2. Resistance type

How the rowing machine creates resistance is actually a very important decision. There are a few different resistance types in rowers and it’s important to pick the right one for you. 

For a fully in depth explanation on the different types and their pros and cons, click here.

Here is a quick summary of what the different types of resistance and their uses.

  • Air: Rowing spins a fan blade which then creates resistance because it has to move air to spin. This has a natural feel and is low maintenance. The best choice for most people. 
  • Liquid: You move a fan blade through water which creates resistance. It feels natural like air and has the real water sounds. It gives you slightly more control over the resistance than air by controlling water level. It’s quieter than water but requires more maintenance. 
  • Magnetic: Rowing moves a flywheel. You control the magnetic brake that acts on the flywheel. It’s quiet, easy to maintain and available for cheap. Has a less natural feel than water or air but works well. 
  • Air + Magnetic: Combines the best of air and magnetic resistance. Natural feeling but also a lot of control over the resistance level. Although you don’t have the very quiet action of a purely magnetic rower.
  • Hydraulic: Moves a piston through an oil filled tube. (like a car shock absorber). Doesn’t have a sliding seat which means no ‘real’ movement pattern. Quiet, small. Lot of control over resistance although maximum resistance isn’t enough for more advanced rowers.

If you like HIIT workouts, an air rower is the best option. Because the resistance is so flexible, Air rowers are amazing for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) This is a great way to burn more calories in a short period of time and also improve your cardiovascular health. A good interval timer is going to make HIIT workouts much more enjoyable.Check out the GymNext Flex timer. It’s super easy to set up and control contrary to most other interval timers making the set up for any workout a breeze. 

Air rowers are very low maintenance while water rowers require more upkeep. 

3. Rowing Machine Noise

Noise is a factor in choosing a rowing machine that’s more important to some people than others. The amount of noise a rower produces (when in use) depends on the construction but most importantly the type of resistance.

The type of resistance has the biggest impact on how much noise is created while rowing.

Air rowers product the most noise. While it’s not super loud, it can be enough to make it difficult to understand people talking on TV for example. Because you’re spinning a big fan on an air rower, the noise is roughly similar. However, in my experience, air rowers create a bit more/a different noise than fans used for cooling because the design is different. More resistance means more air turbulence which results in more noise.  Air + Magnetic rowers are the same since you still have same fan blade you’re moving.

Suggested post: Are air bikes too loud to use at home?

Liquid resistance rowers move a fan blade through a liquid, usually just water. This still makes some noise although quite a bit less than air. Most people actually like this types of noise since it is kind of calming and makes the rowing feel a bit more realistic. This type will be quiet enough to watch TV, talk or do other things during your workout.

The quietest options are magnetic and hydraulic rowers. There are still some moving parts so they aren’t completely quiet but certainly quiet enough to hear anything and not disturb other people. Hydraulic rowing machines have a lot of pivot points so they tend to develop some squeaks over time if not properly maintained.

4. Indoor Rower Size

There isn’t as much size variation in rowers as there is in some other types of gym equipment. Actually, most rowers have very similar dimensions. They are long and narrow.

The exception to this rule is the hydraulic type rower. Hydraulic rowing machines usually don’t have a slide rail like other rowers which means that it doesn’t have a sliding seat. This makes them shorter in general. They can be a bit wider though.

For the majority of people I don’t recommend a hydraulic type rower, unless you’ve got a really low budget. The experience is just not the same as ‘real’ rowing. So if you can fit the length of a ‘normal’ rower, go for it.

The vast majority of rowers with a slide rail, have the option to fold this rail up when not in use. So they are stored pretty easily in a small space. Almost everyone can find a spot to use a rower for a workout. Then fold it up and store it somewhere else so it’s not in space.

5. Rowing Machine Features

The basics are the most important but features can make a difference and some people might really want/need a certain feature. So which features are available on rowers?

Console. This is one of the most obvious features of any rower. At the low end you get a very simple display that shows you the bare basics. On the upper end you can get something that’s more like a tablet which tells you everything you could possibly want to know and more.

Common features include; Time, distance, speed/Intensity, stroke rate and heart rate

Workout presets. Of course you can always create your own workouts but for many of us, especially when starting out, it’s easier to be told what to do. Higher end models tend to have more presets to choose from.

Suggested: Is 30 minutes on a rowing machine enough to see results?

Connectivity. Connectivity also has reached the world of rowing. Workout tracking and interactive workouts are available on some select models.

Phone/tablet holder. A holder for your tablet or phone that places it in full view. This can be useful for people that want to have their device in a safe position, easily accessible to see and use.

Foldable. This allows you to fold up the long slide rail of the rower, making it easier to store. This helps you store it somewhere where it doesn’t stand in the way. Rowers are pretty big but if you only need the full space when working out, and put it away after, you don’t need as much space.

Wheels. If you want to move your rower before and after every workout, having a foldable rower helps but wheels make it much easier to move it around. This makes storing it even easier.

6. Drive Mechanism

You have the handle and whatever creates resistance. Those are two different parts. Something has to connect them. Manufacturers use different things to do this. The most common ones are;

  • Chain
  • Belt

The tradeoff is pretty simple. A Chain is more expensive and noisier but more durable.

A belt is cheaper and quieter but wears. Belts can feel a bit smoother but if engineered correctly, both types should feel perfectly smooth. Chain noise can be kept to a minimum if regularly cleaned and lubricated. 

7. Build Quality

Of course you want a high quality rower. Or at least the best quality you can get for your money. It’s a difficult factor to know before you’re buying however.

There is more than one facet of quality;

  • Build quality
  • Smoothness of operation

While it doesn’t track exactly, price is a good indicator of quality. But not just overall price. The price compared to other rowers of the same resistance types. Hydraulic rowers are much cheaper than liquid rowers so buying both for the same price will get you two machines with very different qualities.

Another indicator of quality is the smoothness of the rowing motion. A smoothly operating rower is an indication of a well build and well-designed machine.

Maintenance helps keeping everything smooth and operating as it should. Check out what rower maintenance looks like here.

8. Rowing Machine Warranty

Finally it’s worth to take the time to look at the warranty conditions. A good warranty can give you an idea of the confidence of the manufacturer in their product. It also gives you piece of mind when buying something as expensive as a rowing machine.

Most rowing machines are not cheap by any means so you would expect it to be a high quality product. However, things can always go wrong and it helps if you got a good warranty to back you up. Even the highest quality products can have some kind of manufacturer defect. If you’ve got a warranty with lower coverage, you might be forced to pay for fixing a problem while it wouldn’t be any problem with a better warranty.

Maintenance will help keep your rower in good condition much longer. Read up on what you can do to maintain yours here.

How To Choose An Indoor Rower?

Above you can see which factors are important for choosing and indoor rowing machine. Let’s quickly summarize so you can quickly see what to look for. 

  1. Set a budget: At least $300 is necessary but $600 to $1200 will get you a great rowing machine. 
  2. Pick a resistance type: Air resistance is low maintenance, feels natural and lasts forever. It is a bit noisy though.
  3. Noise: If quietness is important, get a water or magnetic rower. Water feels more natural but is more expensive and often bigger. 
  4. Space: Make sure a rower fits in your space. Most are roughly the same size and can be folded for storage. 
  5. Features: A rower doesn’t need many features but a performance monitor with distance, time, stroke speed is nice to have. 
  6. Drive: A rowing machine with a chain is preferable but costs slightly more. 
  7. Build Quality: You want a machine that’s sturdy and doesn’t move. A high user weight limit is a decent indication of sturdiness and build quality. 
  8. Warranty: A good, long warranty gives you peace of mind and tells you something about how long the rower is supposed to last. 

Recommended Rowing Machines

The best rowing machine for most people is the Concept2 model D or E. They are found in gyms around the world and are used by high level athletes. These things are bulletproof and just work. They feel smooth and will give you a great workout.

Concept2 rowers have air resistance, a chain drive, are backed by a good warranty, have a complete performance monitor and are compact. They are not cheap though.

If you’re looking for cheaper rowers, take a look at the following articles:


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

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