Rowing Machine Buying Guide: Full Guide For Beginners


Buying your first rower can feel a bit daunting. There are so many types and models out there, that it becomes hard to choose and know what’s right for you. I did some research and here is what you need to know before buying. It won’t tell you exactly which one to buy but try to help you know what to look for.

Everyone has different budgets and requirements. The most important factors are how much you can spend and which resistance type is right for you. Besides that there are different features, qualities and warranties that you should take into account when shopping for a rower.

Here’s everything you need to know before buying your first rowing machine. Or just click here to find my favorite one.


Rowing machine buying deciding factors

If you’re looking to buy your first rowing machine, it’s difficult to know what to look for. So here are the six most important factors that go into deciding which rower is best for you. When you are a first time buyer it can be very difficult to know what to look out for.

Here is a description and possibilities within every factor. This isn’t a recommendation of what you should choose. (You can find that lower down). These are the things you should be aware of.

This post doesn’t directly recommend a certain rower. If you want to know which rower I recommend for a home gym and why, click here.


Price

The first thing everyone looks at and is pretty obvious when buying anything is the price. 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?

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).

For ease of reading, here is a summary of what you need to know about rower pricing.

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.


Resistance type

Next up is a factor that isn’t immediately obvious to first time buyers: The resistance type. How a rowing machine creates resistance has a big impact on the feel but also a few other things.

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

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

  • Air: Uses a fan to create resistance. Has a natural feel. The resistance increases the faster you row.
  • Liquid: You move a fan blade through liquid which creates resistance. Natural feeling like air. Slightly more control over resistance than air by controlling water level. It’s quieter than water and many people prefer the noise of water.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

This post doesn’t directly recommend a certain rower. If you want to know which rower I recommend for a home gym and why, click here.


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.


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.


What should you look for?

Now you know all the factors that are important in deciding which rowing machine is right for you. That doesn’t really help you in deciding which combination of factors the right one (for you).

So here are the most important questions you can answer for yourself to get a clearer view of what you need exactly.

9 Amazing benefits rowing has on your body


What can you afford?

I’ve put the most obvious question first. Decide what kind of budget you have. Of course there is always something better you can get if you spend more (up to a point). Maybe you see something you really want but it’s $25 more than your budget. Maybe then you can think about it. However, you don’t even have to look at something that’s way too expensive. This makes selecting the best rower for you a bit easier.

Of course don’t spend more than you can afford. But also don’t set your budget so low you can’t get anything good or at least something that does what you want.


What type of workout are you looking for?

That leads us to the next question. What are your goals for working out? Very few people work out for the sake of just working out. What are you trying to accomplish?

  • Weight loss
  • Improve cardio
  • Muscle growth
  • Become better at rowing

All of those things are possible on a rowing machine but not all rowers can do all those things.

Does rowing tone your body?

It mainly comes back to the type of resistance again. For weight loss and improving your cardio you can use any rower. As long as you can raise your heart rate and burn calories, it doesn’t really matter.

For muscle growth you want a rower where you have a high degree of control over the resistance level and you want the maximum resistance to be quite high. Air + Magnetic and liquid rowers are your best bet here.

If you want to practice rowing so you become better at it, air and liquid are going to be feeling the closest to rowing outside. With these types the resistance goes up the faster you go. That’s similar to rowing outside.


Which features do you want/need?

You might want all the features available. That’s fine, but you’ll have to pay for them. If you’re on a budget, you might want to cut some features you don’t necessarily use. In general, more features cost more money so why not just shop for the ones that only have the ones you need.

So which features do you need?

If you want to store it after a workout, you’ll need a foldable rower with wheels. This makes storage so much easier. If you’ll leave your rower in the same place and don’t need the space between workouts, these aren’t necessary.

For working out, you’ll want a basic display that can show you calories, time, stroke speed and distance. This display doesn’t have to be big, just easily readable.

For beginners, preset workouts are a good thing to have. You don’t need hundreds but a few to get started can really help you get on your way.

Connectivity and a phone holder are really personal. You want it and it fits in your budget? Go for it. But they’re not necessary.


How much space do you have?

This is a relatively minor deciding factor but if you get it wrong, you can be put in a position where you can’t use the rower. Oops!

There are two choices;

  • Long and thin (Air, liquid, magnetic) +- 100” x 25”
  • Short and thick (hydraulic) +- 55” X 35”

If you have enough length in your workout space to fit the first type, go for it. They are much better than hydraulic rowers in general. Also, most of these rowers have a foldable slide rail. That means that you only have to have the 100” available during workouts. After that, you simply fold it up and it’ll less than 50” long.

If there is no way you can fit that in anywhere, a hydraulic rower is your only option. Make sure to check the dimensions of the specific model you want to buy since there is much more variability in hydraulic machines than in other types.


Do want to do other things during rowing?

If you’re trying to do any other activities during rowing like watching TV, talking to other people, etc. you might want to pay attention to the noise created by the rower you pick. Some can be pretty noise. So noisy you might even bother your neighbors if you live in an apartment.

If that’s the case for you, avoid air and air + magnetic rowers since they are the noisiest. Liquid rowers make some noise but less than air and most people prefer the sound.

However, an air rower doesn’t have to mean you can’t do anything else. A set of good headphones can help you reduce the noise and make it much easier to do hear other things.

Also, a rower with a belt drive instead of chain tends to be a bit quieter.


How long do you plan to keep the rower?

This might seem like a strange question but it’s worth thinking about. If you’re planning to keep the rower for 10 years and use it multiple times a week, it’s a good idea to spend a little bit more money and get something you really like.

This post doesn’t directly recommend a certain rower. If you want to know which rower I recommend for a home gym and why, click here.

Favorite Cardio Machine Accessories

Check out these accessories that improve a home cardio workout:

  • Equipment mat: All cardio equipment should be put on an equipment mat. The Rubber-Cal mat (Amazon) is an affordable yet very high quality choice.
  • Tablet holder: Cardio can be boring. With this tablet holder (Amazon) you can follow along with on-demand workouts or just watch a movie on any cardio machine.
  • Heart rate monitor: Monitoring your heart rate is very important while doing cardio. The Polar H10 (Amazon) connects to almost anything you can imagine and is very accurate.

To find which cardio machines I recommend for home gyms, click here.

Matt

Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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